writing

Curiosity Cultivates Creativity

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“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” - Albert Einstein

“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.” - Leo Burnett

Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most diversely talented individuals ever, was infinitely curious. He carried a notebook with him wherever he went and wrote down or sketched anything that aroused his curiosity. While best known for his paintings, the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, he was also a sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer and inventor.

Being curious is a way of inviting creativity and can open us up to our unique genius. It opens our mind to make new connections and consider new possibilities. Albert Einstein attributed his brilliance to being passionately curious. Writer Henry James suggested to help your writing, “Try to be someone on whom nothing is lost.” With my writing students and coaching clients, I ask them to shake things up and do new things or visit a place they have never been before. Without curiosity, without "I wonder what would happen if I tried. . .", we would never create anything new.

Between my own creative work as a writer and my interest in nature, my curiosity about the world is finely honed. I love to eavesdrop on conversations or watch people in cafes, not out of noisiness, but a real interest in other people's lives and the wonderful range of possibilities for being human. I often get ideas for my writing that way. I'll make up stories about people to exercise my imagination.

Paying attention and being curious as I walk in Nature is a great way to practice mindfulness and live in the moment. It also allows me to feel connected to and nourished by a larger world. Observing Nature's great capacity as an artist also provides inspiration for my own creative work.

One of the things that ages us is doing the same old, same old over and over again. We do the same thing everyday, drive the same way to work, eat the same foods. The neural nets in our brain actually get rutted by our habits. Developing a habit of being curious and trying new things can keep us open to new possibilities and help keep us young as well as increasing our ability to be more creative.

TRY THIS: What are you curious about? It could be about trying a new recipe or visiting a new store that just opened. It could involve exploring a new place to walk or reading a book about a field you don’t know anything about but feel a pull toward. What can you do today to start building the muscle of your curiosity?

How Ireland Supports Creativity

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Every May for a number of year I have lead a small group of travelers to explore the music, myths, magic and mystery of the place, the people and the culture.

I am always struck for the support for the arts in Ireland and just discovered a poetry walking tour in Galway City that honors a couple of dozen prominent Irish poets.

One of my favorite stories about the support for creativity in Ireland comes from an experience I had in the village of Doolin, County Clare which has been the epicenter for Celtic music revival in Ireland. Some of the best musicians in the country live there and play in the pubs.

One evening I went up to McGann’s pub to listen in. At one point a young boy about ten years old joined the group with his tin whistle. I learned that his parents brought him now and then, a two hour drive from their home, to encourage his desire to make music.

As he began to play the entire pub went quiet and as he continued one of the experienced musicians picked up his own tin whistle to support the lad through the places he couldn’t quite carry the notes on his own. At the end of the song the entire pub erupted into wild applause.

What if we all got that kind of support for our creative urges? What difference would it make? In Ireland with this kind of encouragement people come together in pubs all over the country to make music. It is a vibrant part of the culture. Three years after first hearing the boy with the tin whistle I was back in Doolin in a different pub and the same boy stepped up to play with a great deal more skill than before.

It’s not just music that is supported. In Ireland up until recently writers didn’t pay income tax and still artists don’t pay tax on what they make on the sale of their work. This honoring of the writers and poets has produced per capita more Nobel prize winning writers than any other country. With a population of 4 million, Ireland claims four Nobel laureates in literature along with a number of other writers of great stature.

How can we find ways to support our children, our grandchildren and ourselves in this vital part of being human. How can we honor the creative gifts that each of us hold in our own way and the world so deeply needs now.

What if it was as simple as a willingness to open up and play with however the creative process calls to us. Can we honor these creative yearnings and find community that supports our explorations. What would this look like for you? How would it feel?

Can you sense of joy fluttering in your heart at your willingness to play and create for no reason and see where the process leads. That will help you unplug from the pressure of feeling like you have to produce something. Rather being creative feeds our spirit and inspiration and support can show up for us in wonderful ways.

Playing with the Imagination

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Imagination is more important than knowledge. - Albert Einstein

You must give birth to your images.
They are the future waiting to be born . . .
Fear not the strangeness you feel.
The future must enter you
long before it happens.
Just wait for the birth,
for the hour of new clarity

- Rainer Maria Rilke

I often say to my writing and creativity coaching clients that your imagination is smarter than you are; like intuition it gives you a deeper, faster, more expanded means of gaining critical insights and making important connections than the more limited workings of your linear, rational mind. Whether you want to write, engage your creativity more fully or develop an ability for creative problem solving, your imagination is an essential tool. To exercise your imagination try the age old favorite of looking for shapes in the clouds; or go sit outside on a bench to watch people go by and make up stories about their lives; or go to a park and lean against a tree and imagine what it would say to you if it could talk; or lay down on the earth and ask her what simple thing you could do to help the planet. Then be open to the ideas, images or thought that arise in your mind.

One exercise I like to work with is asking advice of an imaginary mentor. You think of a question and then write the answer yourself as if you are getting a response from someone you admire. You can ask Einstein, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson or your grandmother. A woman I worked with did this exercise and received what was clearly really good advice. Unaccustomed to using her imagination in this way she asked, "how do I know if I am actually channeling this person or if I'm making it up". It's a great question because when we use our imagination it will feel and seem like we are making it up. And that's exactly how the imagination works.

We have a hard time trusting the information and ideas we get because we live in a culture that dismisses the power of the imagination but saying, "oh, you're just making that up" or we tell our children "it's just your imagination". Imagination is a tool of human consciousness that is underdeveloped in the modern world. Yet the more you engage it and play with it the stronger the connection becomes and you will begin to feel the quiet excitement and joy that comes from expanding this ability, that will give you new ways to looking at problems and solving them.

You can even ask your imagination for suggestions on how best to cultivate it. Sit quietly for five minutes following the flow of your breath and calming your mind. Then be open to what your imagination has to say to you. Try writing without thinking for ten minutes as if you were taking dictation from your imagination. Or you could ask your imagination what it wants from you and then answer the question by writing or drawing or even spontaneous movement where you let the thoughts and feelings flow.

Imagination is one way we access our deeper mind. It is a place where you shed your everyday self, where sparks fly and time stands still. It requires a bit of solitude and idleness. It asks that you slow down and sit still with your mind clear and expectant. It asks that you be willing to play.

Creativity: Being Part of Creation

Well, you're right in the work, you lose your sense of time, you're completely enraptured, you're completely caught up in what you're doing, and you're sort of swayed by the possibilities you see in this work. . . .The idea is to be. . .so saturated with it that there's no future or past, it"s just an extended present in which you're making meaning. - Mark Strand, poet

The thoughts that come to you are more valuable than the ones you seek. - Joubert

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Some years ago I read a wonderful book by Matthew Fox, titled, Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet. In this book Fox, a former Catholic priest who had been censured by the Church for putting forth a doctrine of original blessing as opposed to original sin, suggests that when we are creative we become co-creators with creation.

I had been involved with creativity for a long time by the time I read his book; first with dance and photography and then a couple of decades spent writing so I knew immediately the truth of what he was saying. I remember the first time I really got on a roll with my writing and I knew that something good was coming out of my pen, I actually stopped and looked around the room to see where it was coming from because I knew it wasn't exactly coming from me. Since then I've come to the sense that it's Spirit or my Higher Self working through me and I've been able to integrate working with these mysterious forces as I write.

The word Muse has its origins in being intiated into the mysteries. And its important to understand that this connection is available to everyone not just a select few who are somehow born with this special gift. It is also not restricted to the arts.

The gift of creativity is woven deep into our being. Everytime we solve a problem we didn't "think" we could solve we are drawing on this invisible resource. We experience it in cooking, gardening, decorating our homes, raising our children, healing, teaching and business when we get the inspiration to do something in a new and expanded way. When we tap into this ability it feels great, it feels divine.

Regardless of where this creative inspiration comes from I've found that the more I show up to the practice of writing or anything else, the more I have a feel for working with this creative flow. It's like a muscle that gets stronger with use.

Joan King, a neuroscientist who has studied brain activity describes in her book Cellular Wisdom, "While such brainstorming [found in creative flow] is occurring, more and more neurons and neural pathways are being activated in the neural net. Consciousness acts like a spotlight, shining here and there, making connections, illuminating thought and memories, trying out possible solutions. As the process continues, more and more neurons are recruited, activating more of the great intermediate [neural] net." The key here is to stop thinking with your linear mind and let the creative imagination really run. Our linear mind has to get out of the way to let our big mind make its leaps and forge its connections.

Consider all the ways you are already being creative and what it feels like. Is there a sense of excitement and expansion when you exercise your creativity?. What would it takes for you to build more muscle in this area? I think the changes and challenges in the world today are actually calling forth this ability in each of us. They are asking us to embody our creativity in every area of our lives and in our contributions to the world. The beauty is that creation is waiting to help. We just need to show up, let go and step into the flow of being a co-creator. Our willingess is our invitation.


Are You Embracing Joy or Chasing Happiness

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We can spend so much of our lives in the pursuit of happiness that we often neglect to savor or even notice our moments of joy. Happiness feels more a long term goal, something we can be ever in search of. Joy is more an in the moment experience that has the quality of deep satisfaction.

There are certain experiences that universally ignite joy in a person. The sight of a rainbow or a hummingbird or a dolphin or cherry blossoms. A single flower has the capacity to fill us with joy if we let it. Joy is our reward for following what feeds our heart and soul. Our joy drives us toward what feels good to us.

Creativity can be a great source of joy. The act of being creative whether we finish anything or make anything that we consider good has at its core a sense of joyful satisfaction. As a writer with decades of experience it is that pleasure in the process that has sustained me over the years. 

Recently I’ve started working with watercolors having been drawn to purchase a wonderful little instruction kit. My mind thinks I’m not very good but my creative spirit is having fun just playing and learning something new. 

The joy at the heart of creativity is the deep soul satisfaction that comes from creating anything new. We open to the flow of something greater than ourselves and find ourselves fully present in the moment where we seem to have all the time in the world.

Embracing joy is like taking time out to appreciate being alive. Consider for yourself what brings you joy and intentionally increase that presence in your world. What else can you do to feed your creative soul? As we regularly embrace what brings us joy we may just find our happiness.

The Importance of Play

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If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play. - John Cleese

Play is our brain's favorite way of learning. - Diane Ackerman

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct. - Carl Jung

In my recent work with both creativity and writing coaching clients I've found that the key element in getting them out of the doldrums or a sense of being stuck or not being sure where to go with their work is play. Play gets us out of the mind's need for doing and it's focus on product and puts us in the place of being and enjoying the process.

Since creativity comes out of the alchemy of subconscious working in union with the mysteries, play is essential in accessing expanded states of awareness and putting us back into the flow.

This is true not just for art and creative expression but innovation and discoveries in science and technology. I always really enjoyed the books written for popular audiences by Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman that illuminated the way he thought and made his remarkable discoveries. One of the founders of theory of quantum physics. Feynman had an IQ of around 123 which is above average but not close to the genius he was considered to be.

He described his process that lead to his astonishing discoveries as "noodling around", his term for play. He was passionate about the subject and he would just play with different ideas and vantage points and let his mind run with the possibilities.

Ultimately when we engage in creative play in any endeavor it feels good.. Bright ideas, insights and inspiration stream in, time slows down so that hours feels like minutes and we are infused with a feeling of well being. On top of that play encourages variation and doing things in new ways actually builds new neural pathways in the brain which expands our ability to be creative.

So ask yourself, what can I do to add more play to my life and see what ideas pop into your mind as you go about your day. And then have fun!


Creating with All Your Heart

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If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing. - Marc Chagall

Love is a sacred reserve of energy; it is like the blood of spiritual evolution. - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I recently saw a short film tribute to Chuck Berry, the undisputed father of rock and roll, with comments from John Lennon of the Beatles and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones both saying how much they admired Berry and tried to emulate his guitar work. Berry himself said that his secret was that he felt the music. Berry played with all his heart.

In my own creative work, especially with my writing, I have long been aware of the importance of connecting to the heart; both in the context of finding subjects and themes that make our hearts sing but also creating from the feeling place of the heart, from what we love and care about.

As Robert Frost said, “No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader.” I always know that if I am moved in my own heart by a piece of my writing then it will genuinely touch other people.

For whatever you want to create, imagine dropping down into your heart and drawing on that feeling place for your inspiration and guidance. One of my clients envisions a wooden staircase leading from her mind to her heart and sees herself walking down them and when she reaches the bottom she immediately feels the clarity and expansiveness her heart has to offer.

Centering in our heart gives us access to our connection to all of creation which inspires and informs the highest expression of our creative self. It allows us to live and create from the place of expanded possibilities.



How Do We Allow Creativity to Flow

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When we get lost in a good book it’s because the writer got lost in letting the story come through as they wrote. I remember the first time when I got on a roll with my writing, where I knew I was writing something good. I stopped and looked around the room to see where it was coming from because I knew it wasn’t coming from my everyday self.

Since then I have come to understand writing comes from a dream-like state of consciousness of allowing what wants to be written to unfold. It doesn’t involve thinking or trying to figure it out but rather feeling and sensing what wants to be born and following that golden thread.

All creativity comes from this place of allowing something beyond our understanding to lead us. We can even create our lives from this place of expanded awareness. The trick is to let go of our need figure things out with our mind and our need try to control things to make things happen the way we think we want. Rather we let ourselves be surprised by what wants to unfold. We let go of the resistance we feel to letting go and letting our creativity and life flow.

We focus more on our heart and intuitive knowing. We pay attention to the inspiration that comes from that place and take action from there. We relax into being and let go of the need to push to complete our to do list. We are more present in the moment, paying attention to the world around us.

From this place we can pick up on the clues the universe or our creative self is giving us. Life becomes an adventure in allowing, an exploration of infinite possibilities. What if we think of our creativity and lives as a good book that we get lost in, where we can’t want to see happens next.

How Getting Creative Can Help Our World

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I just watched a video of a 42 year old neurosurgeon from California who dances for his patients to cheer them up during their check ups. He gets them dancing too, including a young woman in a wheelchair seen waving her arms and shimmying her chair. I love that this doctor had found such a creative way to tend his patients spirits as well as their bodies. I imagine it’s a great help to their healing.

It has me thinking more about how being creative can help heal our world. Creativity allows us to access new ways of looking at a problem and find fresh solutions. We touch expanded capacities and find ourselves capable of more we think. We connect more to our heart and spirit. We are often surprised and delighted by the unexpected inspirations that arrive. We can learn to bring the creative process into every area of our lives to help ourselves, each other and the world.

The simplest way to work with this process is to ask a question like “how can I help the world today” or “how can I bring more creativity into my life” or "how can this problem I am having in my life", and then let it go. Don’t try to figure out the answer with your mind. Rather let the response drop in as an awareness or intuition, a flash of insight or an ah..ha moment where you sense you are on to something.

I do this all the time, especially when I don’t know what to do. Like with this newsletter. Three days before the first of the month I had no idea what to write about. I felt completely uninspired. So I silently asked the question “what’s my topic this month?”. The next day I saw the video about the dancing doctor. That inspired the subject of how to work with creativity to help each other and the world.

When faced with the events in the world today and the constant bombardment of information we can easily feel overwhelmed and helpless to affect change. Knowing that our creative self is eager to assist us can help. So ask a question on an issue concerning you, someone or something you care about or the world at large, and see what comes. Then take some kind of action on the awareness, no matter how small. See where it takes you.

Be willing to step out of your comfort zone. That’s part of being creative. We expand beyond who we think we are into more of who we really are. The rewards are many including an increased sense of empowerment and happiness. Play with this. The world, as you know, needs our gifts and inspirations now more than ever.

Looking for Inspiration in Unlikely Places

Recently on a trip to the Montana mountains, where we spent a week camped near a river that slowly snakes through a broad meadow, I noticed a pair of baby ducks who were clearly without their mother. I walked down to the water several times a day to check on them and was always relieved when I found them actively feeding and looking to be in good health.

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I have been interested in birds since I was a teenager and enjoy simply watching them. The more I watched these two ducks I was startled to realize that they were two different species, two very different kinds of duck. One was clearly a diving duck as it keep arching it’s body down into the river in search of food. The other was a dabbling duck incapable of diving, feeding instead on the pondweed and aquatic insects floating on the surface.

I have never seen anything like these two orphaned ducks so different yet so a home with each other. They never strayed more than a few feet from each other’s side. Baby ducks instinctively have a strong urge for the sense of safety in being part of a flock and they had somehow found each other to satisfy that need.

It occurred to me that nature was offering me a wonderful example of creative problem solving and inspiration for how we human may benefit from forming unlikely alliances in these challenging times. The ducks reminded me of the importance of letting go of how we think things should be and opening to being surprised by new possibilities.

This really is the heart of creativity, a willingness to play outside the box, to try new things and imagine new ways of being. Since this experience I have found myself more open to conversations with strangers who I might have previously perceived as quite different from me.

Along that same river I spoke with a stock broker from Chicago who has been fly fishing the region for 40 years and has a deep commitment to the environment. I met a rancher from South Dakota who is on a treasure hunt with his daughter and grandchildren, who explained that the directions to buried treasure was left in the form of a poem that, to my amazement, he recited by heart.

Being more open allows for more inspiration to flow into our creativity as well. I am finding it’s enriching my life in wonderful ways and new ideas keep popping into my mind. So try this. Consider the ways that you can be more open to unexpected inspiration and play with it. See if it doesn’t bring more joy to your life.

Why Does Being Creative Feel So Good?

Why should we use all our creative power? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate. - Brenda Ueland

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Why does really engaging our creative power feel so good? It brings us into the moment. It brings more of our heart, soul and spirit into play. We are allowing the forces of creation to move through so we feel uplifted and inspired. We find we can do more that we thought we could. This isn’t just about creating art but creative action and problem solving in all its myriad forms.

We have all had the experience of being a work trying to solve a problem with the limited capacities of our mind. Finally we give up in frustration, get in the car, drive home, and as we pull into our driveway the solution pops into our head. We have a sense of ah…ha. The uplifting feeling that bit of magic was at work. Where did that come from we might stop to ask if we weren’t so happy to have an answer. That’s how creative inspiration works. We need to allow for it, rather than try to force it.

When we experience this flow of creativity, whether for a moment or for hours we feel as if we have touched the heart of the universe, something bigger than our everyday selves. There aren’t really words to describe it. We just know if feels good and expanded. This applies whether we are writing a poem or designing our garden, cooking without a recipe or anything where we are doing something in a new way.

You can begin to play with expanding your creative capacities by looking for ways you already feel creative or things you feel drawn to and play more with those. Let go of thinking you aren’t creative or that you have to good at it. Better yet, ask your creative spirit what she would like, let the question go, watch what pops in and follow that lead.

See if the act of bringing more of your creative power to your everyday life doesn’t help you feel better about yourself and the world.

Walking Can Really Enhance Your Creativity

All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking. - Frederick Nietzsche

Me thinks that the moment my legs being to move, my thoughts begin to flow. - Henry David Thoreau

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When you are engaged in a project and feel the creative inspiration has dried up, take a break. Anything that occupies the consciousness mind in a physical way can open you to the flow of fresh ideas and insights. Doing the dishes or taking a shower are good ways. One of my favorites is taking a walk. You could simply stroll around the block or walk deep into nature.

I have not been alone in my awareness that walking opens creative channels. There is a long list of well known creatives who walked to allow ideas and connections to flow . Charles Darwin, Virginia Woolf, William Wordsworth, Nikola Tesla, Aristotle, Sigmund Freud, Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Beethoven to name but a few.

Scientific studies have now found that creative problems can indeed be solved by walking, especially in nature. While walking the brain undergoes physiological changes that lower frustration and stress, increase your awareness and engagement with the world, allow for a natural meditative state and improve your mood. All of this helps you to experience more creative connections and flow.

Walking also allows you to balance two states that enhance creativity. Mindfulness, where you are present in the moment, and mind wandering or daydreaming, where you allow ideas, connections, dreams and visions for the future to come to us from the deeper realms of consciousness.

Try it. Next time you are looking for some creative inspiration take a walk. If you aren’t used to walking or don’t have a lot of time, simply start with a walk around the block. Find a park or a trail in nature and see how your muse opens up for you. Your body and health will love it too.

Feel the Satisfaction of Playing with your Creativity?

True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist. - Albert Einstein

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We are all creative. It’s a natural capacity, that when we are willing to play with it in new and evolving ways, feeds something deep within us. As Irene Claremont de Castillejo insists, “nothing is more satisfying to the human soul than creating something new. . . “. It doesn’t have to be a complicated art project. It can be a simple as cooking without a recipe like I did this holiday season.

I had the inspiration to add chopped pecans to the apple crisp topping. It turned out especially delicious and everyone love it. Granted I had learned the basics of cooking long ago and made apple crisp many times, so I had the foundation to play with. I enjoy playing with new dishes in the kitchen as one aspect of being creative.

What keeps us from exercising a sense of creative play more often? I recently re-watched Ken Robinson’s brilliant TED talk on YouTube, “Does school kills creativity?”. It’s the most watched TED talk ever, with 50 million views. Clearly it’s a subject that resonates with a lot of people. The heart of his thesis is that school discourages creativity by making us terrified of making mistakes.

In school a mistake has serious consequences. We can fail. It can affect jour entire life, so we learn to fit ourselves in the box of what teachers want and expect based on standardized criteria. There is not a lot of room for creativity.

Then there is social pressure that inhibits creativity. Along with the apple crisp I tried a new way of cooking brussel sprouts. I oven roasted the sprouts and the tossed them in a mixture of applesauce and sriracha. As I was about to pour the sauce over the sprouts, a friend leaned in and said with disbelief dripping from his voice, “is that applesauce?”. They turned out pretty good. Everyone ate them including my friend. I learned that next time I’ll try using half the amount of sauce.

The story is the same for all my creative endeavors from the countless rolls of film I used in learning to do black and white photography to the reams of paper as I went through as I practiced the art of writing. I have made a vast quantity of mistakes as I discovered what worked and what didn’t and built the muscles of my creative capacities.

What I learned along the way following my urge to create was to fall in love with the process, mistakes and all. Our creative self is less concerned with a finished product than the satisfaction experienced from the act of creating. When we are willing to play with the process without attachment to outcome we are often surprised and delighted by what comes through us.

As we enter the new year I want to invite you to creative play. Take a minute and check in with your creative self. What would she really like to do. Start with ten minutes a day to ease through any resistance, breathe into any fear of making a mistake, be curious and ask “what else is possible here” and see what comes. Above all have fun.



Did School Kill Your Creativity?

I believe this passionately: that we don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it. - Ken Robinson

The most watched TED talk ever with 54 million views is by acclaimed educator and visionary Sir Ken Robinson. It is titled Does school kill creativity? Schools teach us that it's not okay to think outside the box or draw outside the lines. From an early age we are taught to conform to a set norm which offers little room for being creative.

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Long after we leave school we continue to repress our creative self. We have often decided that we just aren't creative. Robinson insists that when people tell him they aren't creative he assumes that they don't understand what is involved. Creativity is actually a process that can be learned. New advancements in neuroscience have shown that it's not a matter of right brain/left brain but rather that different networks of brain regions are enlisted during different stage of creativity. We all have the capacity to access these parts of our brain.

In the past several years top CEOs and educators around the world are insisting that creativity is the top trait needed to do well in the twenty first century. Creativity has so much to add to our lives. It gives us a deeper understand of ourselves and the world around us. It can improve our performance at work and our pleasure in our daily life.

In working as a creativity coach where I essentially act as a midwife to help others reawaken and reclaim the creativity that is their natural birthright, I have found that it is always alive and well just below the surface waiting for a bit of encouragement and nurturing to come forth.

To begin to do this for yourself, stop telling yourself that you are not creative and start looking for all the ways you already engage your creative capacities. Any time you come up with a solution to a problem you are being creative. Since creativity has a strong subconscious element, exercising our intuition, intention and focus as well as an awareness of those flashes of inspiration are key element in building our creative muscles and experiencing how the process works.

To nurture your creativity play with it. Let yourself be pleasantly surprised. Have fun. Resist the urge to take it seriously or feel you have to do it right or perfectly. The only way to be creative is to try something and see what works and what doesn't, then play with it some more.