Why Your Creative Outlet Is More Powerful Than You Realise

At school we’re encouraged to be all-rounders. Our report cards cover arts, math, science, and sports, and to acquire multiple skills in order to achieve is the definition of success. Our creativity was celebrated, and extra-curricular activities were eagerly participated in and supported by our teachers and parents.

And then came adulthood.

The reality of being an adult is that it often seems impossible to be an all-rounder. The importance of responsibility is placed far higher in society than that of creativity. And by design, it’s rare to find a job that allows you to do everything you love. Employers seek specific skill-sets and we’re all striving to be experts in our field. I mean, you can be a Breathing Consultant these days.

Lifehack notes that, “According to a TIME Magazine poll, 91% of people say that unleashing creativity is vital to our personal lives and 83% believe it’s important for our professional development. But an Adobe survey shows that only 25% of us think of ourselves as creative.”

Author Elizabeth Gilbert rejects this sentiment, saying in her book Big Magic, “To even call somebody ‘a creative person’ is almost laughably redundant; creativity is the hallmark of our species.”

But at a time when 24 hours doesn’t feel like enough time to do basic tasks, making time for creative outlets and hobbies can be a tall order, even though these projects are the stuff that invokes our senses and makes out hearts soar.

Making time for your creative outlet will be precisely the way to introduce more productivity, happiness and overall balance into your life.

So maybe it’s time for a reminder on how powerful creative pursuits can be.

Thank you, @myfairletters for making this! Hooray, hummingbirds!❤️ #bigmagic

A photo posted by Elizabeth Gilbert (@elizabeth_gilbert_writer) on


Creativity puts you in ‘flow’, the key to happiness

When you’re engaged in a creative activity, you lose track of time. You get lost within it and the pressures and anxieties of daily life melt away. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first described the phenomenon as flow: a few moments in time when you are so totally absorbed by an activity that nothing else seems to matter. There are those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of ‘flow’ and it is this state, he says, that is the secret to happiness. “When we are involved in (creativity), we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life,” Csikszentmihalyi says during his TED talk. “Sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger.”

Creative activities promote healing

CNN spoke to occupational therapist Victoria Schindler, who notes the effects of flow are similar to those of meditation. Science has shown meditation can, among other things, reduce stress and fight inflammation in the body. “Our bodies are in a constant state of stress because our brain can’t tell the difference between an upcoming meeting with the boss and an upcoming bear attack,” Schindler says. “The repetitive motions of knitting, for example, activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which quiets that ‘fight or flight’ response.” When you have to consider your next dance move or your next brush stroke rather than the format of your next email, you’ll begin to see and feel things differently. We weren’t born in black and white, and doing something creative will have you seeing the world through rainbow-coloured glasses in no time.

Creative outlets are essentially a holiday for your mind

The awesome thing about holidays is that you don’t have to think. Want to read a book? Be our guest! Want to stare at the ocean for an entire afternoon? Great idea! So imagine if you could create this feeling of freedom, mid-winter, mid-project, mid-week. Cue creativity. The state of flow it induces is the quick-fix mental equivalent of a tropical island holiday.

Depending on the creative actions you’re undertaking, you descend delightfully into a child-like space of play and distraction, where incessant thoughts literally can’t exist. And you can do it anywhere, any time. You can even do it wearing a suit.

Being creative makes you more productive, cooperative and innovative

Ever had that moment where a friend asks you what you’ve been doing and the only answer you have is ‘oh, you know … just work’? Conversation over.

It’s nice to have a few extra-curricular strings to our bow. We weren’t made to be robots but technology has made it quite easy for us to adapt to expect a barrage of fragmented information that our little screen helpfully supplies to us whenever and wherever we want. We forget about the stuff that makes us really feel alive, emotionally and spiritually.

When we’re stuck in a routine, our thoughts struggle to break this pattern also. Innovative thought can be hard to come by. Google recognised the importance of creative outlets when it began the famous 20% rule (employees could spend 20% of their time exploring fun, passionate side projects). The result? A more productive, more creative 80%. It was hard to argue against the understanding that creative side projects boosted work performance.

Buffer mentions research that backs up this phenomenon. “San Francisco State psychology professor Dr. Kevin Eschleman and his colleagues measured the effect of creative hobbies on over 400 employees. In two separate groups—one rated by coworkers and one self-rated—those with a creative hobby were more likely to be helpful, collaborative, and creative with their job performance.”

Successful people and companies know that to be clever, content and innovative, you need to be more than just your job, and the best way to do that is by way of a creative hobby or side project.

It connects you with a #gang

While some creative options are tailored to the individual, others are all about the team and the results can be seriously positive. In the old days humans made connections at clubs – sports, drama, youth-group, knitting circles – where they met others with similar interests.

But thanks to technology, our lives have shifted online. We’ve got an app for everything and even the most primal of connections, the act of falling in love, doesn’t require actually leaving the house. If you’ve started to consider your iPhone as your BFF, a creative pursuit can radically change your social life.

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You might scoff at those guys who act out sword fights in the park, but they’ve got a gang – and that gang has come together through a creative common interest that sparks joy. It helps you find your people.

From creating the cognitive space to think laterally, therefore producing great ideas and being more productive, to descending into a state of flow, which enables us to connect to something larger than ourselves and let go of our worries, a creative pursuit is an absolute no-brainer addition to your life.

Zoe Davis is a Sydney-based freelance writer, consultant and lecturer specialising in partnerships, marketing and music.  Find her on Twitter and Instagram @agirlcalledzoe