Busyness Kills Creativity—Slow Down and Care for Your Muse

Busyness Kills Creativity—Slow Down and Care for Your Muse

Busyness wreaks havoc on your creativity (and your health and well-being). When you fill all the crevices with work, running around, and noise, you don’t let inspiration come to you or notice things that might spark your imagination. You don’t give your muse what she needs to thrive.

In my last two posts, we’ve been talking about how to transform your relationship with time. If you’re wondering why this matters, here are some key reasons. Plus, a couple of wonderful practices to put a stop to the painful habit of busyness.

Creativity Thrives in Idleness

“How are you? Keeping busy?” It’s incredible to me that people will start a conversation with these words. As if keeping busy were an ideal or a sign that you are a good person.

We celebrate busyness in contemporary society, and often feel anxious when we don’t have something to do. So much so that if we have a few idle minutes, many of us will check our phones. Instead of looking around and taking in our environment. Or letting ourselves enjoy a few deep breaths.

But, when we’re tired, overwhelmed, multi-tasking, or rushing, we are not sparking creativity, which needs idleness to thrive. Long walks, naps, daydreaming, and puttering around are music to the muse’s ears. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way writes about the kinds of simple, repetitive activities that stimulate the artist’s brain, things like knitting, gardening, cooking, driving, and showering.

I am a go-getter myself, and I have trouble sitting still for long without doing something. I will often fill my time with reading a book, watching a movie, or taking care of items on my to-do list. It’s not that any of those things are bad or wrong, but creativity needs open space to thrive. 

The Biggest Obstacle to Creativity Is Busyness

Emma Seppala has studied what provokes our best creativity. As Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, she found that the biggest obstacle to creativity is busyness. She writes, “creativity happens when your mind is unfocused, daydreaming or idle.” And she goes on to say, “We need to find ways to give our brains a break. If our minds are constantly processing information, we never get a chance to let our thoughts roam and our imagination drift.”

Andrew Smart, author of Autopilot: The Art & Science of Doing Nothing, looked at neuroscience and discovered that your brain is healthier, happier, and more creative when it’s idle. Smart writes, “busyness destroys creativity, self-knowledge, emotional well-being, your ability to be social— and it can damage your cardiovascular health.”

So, how do we stop the habit of busyness and let our brains and our muses recharge?

Here are two simple, but powerful practices.

Stop Telling People How Busy You Are

When you notice yourself telling others how busy you are, stop yourself and change your language. Start affirming a more positive relationship with time. You might say, “My life is very full right now.” You might even say, “I’ve been doing too much, and now I’m going to commit to slowing down more.”

Stop affirming how busy you are and that you don’t have enough time. Stop trying to get approval or sympathy for being busy.

Work with the time you have and give thanks for the abundance of time you’ve been given on Earth. You might use a favorite affirmation of mine whenever I start getting anxious about all I have to do:

“I always have enough time to do what I love and need to do.”

When you are feeling panicked about how you will get everything done, stop and remind yourself that you always get everything done that has to get done. Look at the past. Isn’t this true?

Then, let the rest go. If there is too much to do, it’s time to make another plan. Make new agreements with others if you had deadlines you were supposed to make that are impossible or you took on too many commitments. Delegate tasks to others where you can. Eliminate things from your list or postpone them. Be reasonable about what you can and cannot do.

Practice Being Inside of Time

This is my favorite practice as it is quite magical how it opens up time in your life. I call it Being Inside of Time.

Do only one thing at a time and don’t think of the future while you do it.

Stop multi-tasking. Stop letting yourself get interrupted and distracted by emails, social media, your phone, or other people. Close the open tabs on your browser. Turn off all the beeps and notifications that you can on your phone and computer permanently. They wreak havoc on your nervous system and your ability to concentrate. Put your phone in another room whenever you can, and/or use my favorite setting: Do Not Disturb. Ask others to honor when you need to focus on what you are doing.

I find that the most essential aspect of this is to not run a list in my mind of what I have to do next or that day or on that project while doing something else. Running the list of what else needs doing takes me out of the moment, out of the task at hand, and tends to leave me feeling harried.

So, practice giving yourself entirely to what you are doing in each moment. And then, when the time is up for that activity, go on to the next. Do one thing fully, whether you are brushing your teeth or composing a sonnet. Be inside of time.

This will open time and slow it down in the most amazing ways. I’ve had the experience of things that I thought would take hours getting done in strangely little time when I do this. And it helps my mood and nervous system, and my whole feeling about my life, enormously.

In upcoming posts, we’ll get into some practical tools for sorting through all the many things you feel you have to do, want to do, and should do, and making space in your life for what matters most. In the meantime, I encourage you to try these two practices and let me know what you discover.

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