Category Archives: Mindset

water colours and various papers

The enemies and friends of creativity

My great grandfather was a tailor. One of his sons took over the business. Their studio was a brick building at the back of a four-storey building in the centre of Innsbruck, a city in Austria. When my great uncle died, we had to clear it out. I was fairly young and have only patchy memories, but I do remember the balls of fabric, boxes and boxes of buttons and spools of thread. There were proper tailor scissors, too heavy for me to lift. The studio was surrounded by some fruit trees and garden space. Maybe that’s where my dream of having my own studio one day began.

The idea of working in a studio has clearly moved something inside me when I was very young. I loved the dedicated space to create and the idea of collaborating and creating together with others. I dreamed of large communal tables, open studios and the conversations that flow while we’re also engaged in an activity. I dreamed of collective making, women’s circles, community quilts and collaborative writing projects.

Deep down, I must have known two truths about creativity.

Both are deeply anchored on our neurobiology and our wiring to be creative and social creatures.

It feels good to make things

“The fact that it feels good to make things with our hands harkens back to our hunter-gatherer nature, which lives on in our psychology.”

Ellen Dissanayake

Making things together can feel even better

“Collaboration is how most of our ancestors used to work and live, before machines came along and fragmented society.”

Twyla Tharp

Making things with our hands does indeed feel good and we all know the sense of satisfaction we get from it. Whether we bake a loaf of bread, paint, write a book, make a piece of furniture or a vision board. When making things feels so good, why is it often so hard to integrate it more into everyday life?


mixed media collage stating creativity takes courage

There are a few common enemies of creativity

Doubt and fear

Self-doubt and fear can keep us stuck in the holding pattern of ‘not enough’. We wait until we are skilled enough or have a good enough idea or a big enough audience or a book deal. We spend more time looking at other people’s creativity than venturing out to discover our own. We have started to believe that creativity is reserved for the creative type working in creative jobs.

Distractions

Unless a certain creative activity is part of our ‘day job’, it’s easy to let life’s distractions and demands take over. Even in the era of self-care, simply creating to feel good or nourish a deep need inside us can feel a bit self-indulgent or simply not important enough to defend it against all the other things that want our time and attention.

Negative collaborators or judgmental friends

Any creative endeavour is vulnerable. As we express ourselves creatively, no matter the medium, we invite critique, and often we get criticism. Not always delivered in the most constructive way. Hence sharing your creativity with the wrong crowd can lead to getting disheartened and ultimately blocked.


But: we can mobilise the friends of creativity

I have found that the friends of creativity are more easily summoned when creating alongside others. This can take many forms, from simply creating together to co-creation and more formal collaboration.

Showing up

A meaningful deadline, creative date or agreement to collaborate will lead us towards creativity. Just like going to the dentist, showing up is made so much easier when we have an appointment. That’s why initiatives like ‘The 530 Club’ work. It’s a community for people who want to work on personal projects; to make progress they meet at 5.30am at Australian cafés and work alongside each other.

Agreeing to a creative date gives us the discipline to ignore distractions and uphold our boundaries and the courage to overcome fear.

Momentum

Creating together isn’t only boosting our discipline to show up. It also provides a reinvigorating energy that flows between people. I’m sure I’ve written about my virtual writing circle before, and I can’t rave enough about it. A shared intention to be creative, and a willingness to share our process, progress and possibly end product propels us on. As a result, I have not only had a weekly feel-good hour, but also more content to support my work and an opportunity to experiment with writing techniques and prompts.

A quiet and focused place to think and create

When I left the world of corporate offices and hum of open plan hot desking, I thought my time had come. Founding Sensemaking Space, I thought I would rent a studio and begin a ‘proper’ creative life as an art therapist and creative coach, offering myself and others this quiet, focused place to think and make sense of life.

There are certainly spaces that help us sink into the deep focus and clarity of creative flow. I am not shelving this dream altogether; but for now, I embrace what 2020 has taught me: I’ve learned a lot about being apart and staying connected through gathering virtually and experimenting with new ways of connecting. The lack of a studio or dedicated space is not an acceptable excuse to skip creativity or delay dreams. And the idea of a virtual studio feels worth pursuing.

Inspiration

While inspiration is part of creativity, it can’t be the initiator. Our busy lives are loud enough to drown out the quiet whispers of inspiration.

But showing up at an agreed time, in an agreed place (virtual or IRL) with supportive people who spur us on and encourage the process provides the setting within which inspiration can land.


Bringing it all together

While I keep dreaming about my bricks and mortar studio, for now, I have decided to offer Sensemaking Studio Hours. Because here is another friend of creativity: Start where you are.

Rather than waiting for perfect circumstances, we simply begin. I begin by placing my work in a world of virtual connection, with its upsides and downsides, and in an era where we crave deep connection and real conversations. Because there’s lots to talk about and make sense of when our world has been shaken in its foundations.


art materials spread out

My offer for you: Sensemaking Studio Hours

Sensemaking Studio Hours are virtual equivalent of walking into an open studio. They are designed to combine the pleasure of making with the pleasure of connecting. They provide the experiencing of coming together and creating together. The experience of being in a real conversation or quietly making alongside and benefitting from the energy this creates. And of course, together we’d be making some sense of life along the way.

It’s a BYO creativity date, you bring your project, I bring mine. Seeing what others create is in itself inspiring.

It’s an opportunity to create alongside each other, for one hour, in a virtual 1-on-1 setting (Zoom). That way it’s easier to connect and have real conversations than in a larger group. It also means that we can both create and inspire each other. Also, did you know that it is often easier to achieve the state of ‘Flow’ in a group rather than on your own?

It’s a commitment to beat distraction and excuses. They are free (because they are neither a coaching/ therapy session, nor an art class) – but signing up comes with the expectation that you show up. I acknowledge that this is a bit of an experiment, but as Priya Parker says in her book The Art of Gathering: as a host of special gatherings, we need to have generosity and the spirit to try!


What creative projects might we be working on?

The creative project you bring along can be a lot of different things:

  • writing – poetry, creative writing, writing a book, blog post, website copy, or a business plan…
  • visual art – collage, painting, drawing, sketching, mixed media, calligraphy…
  • textile art – knitting, crochet, embroidery, cross stich, slow stitching, macrame, quilting…
  • bookbinding, making dolls, making pompoms, paper art, weaving, beading, stamping, printing, cardmaking origami, scrapbooking, building a kite, working with clay, flower arranging…
  • You could even plan out a creative project, but it’s important that we both show up with the intention of creating something and making some progress

Which project would you like to bring along to a studio hour? Is there anything you have always wanted to try or something you wanted to make progress on, in good company of another maker?

Each month, I’ll have two hours ringfenced to meet up with some of you to harness the power of collective making. Maybe I’ll block out some more… They can be booked online. You get an email with your Zoom link. You gather your project and materials, and we begin.

There’s a bit more information here or you can of course get in touch to ask me anything.


Find out more about my work at Sensemaking Space


So far, these are some of the things we have done in previous Sensemaking Studio Hours: Water colour painting, working with clay, collage, weaving, visualising values, found poetry, acrylics and playing with frisket, printing with random objects… What would you do?

art materials spread out

Befriend your creativity in 100 days

Usually, the 100-day project begins on 7th April each year – a date as random as the start of the British tax year (6th April anyone??). In 2021 however, the project started on 31st January. Why? We all had a pretty stressful 2020. And so far, 2021 has not exactly started low stress either. People living in the Northern hemisphere will be in the depth of winter. For many this means lockdown, reduced social connections, worries about Covid… the community around #the100dayproject simply wanted something to look forward to.

What better than a creative project and one that helps us practice the concept of creativity as a habit, as something we simply show up for without any pressure to create a daily masterpiece.

In short, #the100dayproject is a free, global art project, based on a simple idea: “choose a creative project, do it every day for 100 days, and share your process online.”

The originator of this project is Michael Bierut, who taught a workshop for the graduate graphic design students at the Yale School of Art. It was brought into the world of Instagram by Ella Luna in 2014.

2021 will be the 8th year of people discovering, deepening, stretching and nourishing their creativity.


It is a practical way of befriending your creativity.

Just like making new friends in real life, these are a few steps you might navigate:

Find out what holds your curiosity

Your project must excite you enough to engage with it for 100 days. Just like when you decide who to approach at a conference, or who in your yoga/art/cooking class is someone you could get on with… In 2019, I did 100-days of sensemaking emotions. I explored 100 different emotions, each with a collage and a found poem. I noticed I was drawn to emotions because they play a key role in my work as a therapist and coach. And it was a way of expanding my emotional vocabulary and explore visual associations of emotions.

A number of collage cards from my 2019 100-day project illustrating emotions through images and found poetry

Show up consistently

Just as you would when you invest in nurturing a new friendship. Sometimes, a coffee catch-up might feel like effort, but without this commitment, especially in the early stages of a friendship, you won’t be getting very close.

Be open to experiment and change

This is also a useful principle when it comes to friendship in real life, because nothing stays as it is. We relocate, marry, have children, change careers… Any creative project will go through a few iterations, but the intention at its core remains. Possible adjustments might be needed on other parameters. Maybe it’s the amount of time you can spend on it. Maybe you play with different materials…

Incorporate play and fun into your creations

This is a big one for me. I can get a bit serious and ambitious with creations which will inevitably end up with aborting the mission. A friendship that doesn’t allow us to be silly or talk about some light-hearted stuff can easily get a bit too heavy and serious.

My advice for other high achievers: when committing to 100 days, not every day can be deep and meaningful. Being playful brings a lightness, and with that we often make new discoveries of what we enjoy. I discovered my love for found poetry in my 100 days of emotions and they have now become a building block of my creativity.

Image of two candle flames and some ripped paper

Build a ritual or routine

Routine can sustain us in moments of wavering, when we don’t know why we bother or simply get bored of 100 repetitive creative acts. This is a good experiment in loyalty and commitment. It acknowledges that we are humans in a busy and distracting world. It’s easy to get distracted, when we are bombarded by news and media, navigate pandemics and life as such.

You can explore what may serve you as an anchor and later apply this to other creative endeavours, areas in life or work.

  • Is it a time of day?
  • Is it linked to a ritual like lighting a candle, putting a specific piece of music on?
  • Is it linked to place – do you best create when you are in the same spot and how can you stick with routine when you need to move around more or even travel? Not that this is currently on the cards or most of us…

Focus on the process

The process is the goal, not the outcome. If you need an upfront definition of what success looks like: showing up consistently for 100 days.

‘Process over product’ is also a mantra in art therapy and creative coaching. The creation might be important and something to keep, but often we learn more by consistently showing up and noticing micro steps in the process.

Practicing how we pick up again after a creative hiatus is an important part of a creative life. And of life in general. Just like getting in touch again with a friend after a busy period or a time when it might have felt that we were on different trajectories. Explore whether you feel the need to catch up, do you need all 100 days to be complete, or are you ok with skipping and having a few gaps. In the end, you make the rules about your creative process.

  • Notice what helps in showing up.
  • Which guardrails are useful?
  • When might they become too rigid?
  • What do you need to hold yourself accountable?
  • Do you need external accountability or is the agreement you make with yourself enough? Posting about your project online can help but shouldn’t become something you dread. Share with joy and be gentle if you don’t share on certain days (or at all, depending on your social media use).

Most processes leave out the stuff no one wants to talk about: magic, intuition and leaps of faith.

Michael Bierut

For 2021, I have decided to be working in a small format. To make it manageable and to practice reduction, not everything has to be big, complex and multi-layered. Sometimes, small and simple is what I need.

To leave a lot of room for experiments, my project is simply called # 100 days of responding randomly and I’ll share – randomly, not daily – on my Instagram (have a loog for the specific #).

So far, sources of inspiration have been: a podcast I listened to, my clients, my own reflective and coaching work, a sense of stuckness with ongoing restrictions due to the pandemic. I’m curious what else will show up….

I have written about my completed 2019 project here.

What will you pick? Which leap of faith will you take?

It’s not too late to start!


Find out more about my work at Sensemaking Space

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Twyla Tharp's book The Creative Habit with a journal and collages

The creative habit

Twyla Tharp’s book ‘The Creative Habit. Learn and use it for life’ is one of the books on creativity I return to again and again. I remember looking at it so many times before buying it. I was unsure whether it’s for me. Mainly because Twyla Tharp is a renowned choreographer. And I am not a dancer. In fact, dancing has always felt like a very strange, unlearnable language to me.

I’m so glad I eventually got it because her writing and teaching isn’t just for dancers, choreographers or people interested in dance. It is for everyone who is interested in nurturing and using their creativity. In her book, she says:

“Creativity is not just for artists. It’s for businesspeople looking for a new way to close a sale; it’s for engineers trying to solve a problem; it’s for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way.”

-Twyla Tharp

Creativity is for everyone

Tharp’s writes about the benefits of engaging in creativity and the many shapes and forms of creativity well beyond artistic endeavours. Her broad definition of creativity aligns with my work and how I aim to introduce creativity into coaching or therapy sessions. I love that she challenges any notion of creativity being elitist or exclusive to people with certain talents, degrees, job titles or skills.

I have read many books about creativity and my favourite ones are usually those that give clear advice on how we can rekindle and nurture our creativity. This practical advice is what makes creativity more accessible. I have met no-one who said that they don’t want to be creative, but plenty of people told me that they don’t believe to be creative. Twyla Tharp is very practical when it comes to creativity and she shares so many examples of herself as well as other artists, writers, athletes, businesspeople, and many more who have all found their own creativity hacks.


Creativity as a habit

She is honest about the fact that creativity requires work and commitment. It requires steadiness, dedication and vulnerability. She shares her tricks of keeping habits in her life that nudge her to being creative. We are creatures of habit, but we are also creatures of convenience. Doing creative work isn’t always the most convenient way of spending time, especially when distraction and passive ways of consuming entertainment are everywhere. It requires a good amount of discipline to show up for your creative work. Tharp emphasises the importance of “automatic but decisive patterns of behaviour – at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way.”


Creativity as a skill

When visiting museums, I often find myself most drawn to artists’ sketchbooks, less to the final masterpiece. The sketches reveal how much preparation, planning and practice has gone into a piece which, in isolation, can easily look like the work of a genius, an accomplishment reserved for the most gifted. But we can learn to be creative.

In an interview for the Harvard Business Review Tharp acknowledges: “I create about six times more material for my dances than I end up using in the final piece.” In The Creative Habit, she also talks about the importance of practice as a way of building and strengthening one’s skill. She warns us from getting too stuck in our ways and quotes the sixteenth-century Japanese swordfighter Miyamoto Musashi: “Never have a favourite weapon.”

When it comes to using creativity in coaching and therapy, I experience this as a fine balance. It is great to have some go to modalities, things we enjoy, that come to us more easily. Yet often the most surprising, significant and useful insights are reached when we use a modality we are not that good at or haven’t used before. It won’t surprise you that one of the most significant insights I personally gained in coaching was reached when I engaged in some movement. It was clumsy, uncomfortable, cringeworthy and… insightful.


Creativity as discovery

Even though creativity is something we are all born with, as we go through life, it’s easy to forget what our natural creative process feels like. We are unsure at which points we tend to get stuck and which phases of the creative process come easily to us. At the end of each chapter, Tharp shares exercises as an easy and fun way to explore your creativity.

She invites us to mine for memory in a photo, explore our creative DNA, and suggests removing one of our skills from the equation and see what we can still create or how we create differently.

Here are a couple of questions from her creative DNA exercise:

  • What is the first creative moment you remember?
  • Was anyone there to witness or appreciate it?

My first creative memory is this: I was helping my mother bake Christmas cookies. I stood on a little stool to reach the worktop and used my favourite cookie cutter, a pig. I still have a real soft spot for pigs… My mother was there to witness it. I remember that she commented on my Christmas pigs… some were a bit wonky. I can still hear my mother’s Austrian accent and I remember that I was so excited to be helping with the baking.


Creativity for joy

Sharing a creative act with the world involves risk. Perfectionism is a way of managing the fear associated with such a risk. Perfectionism is a creativity killer that often gets in the way of joyful creating.

The inner critic keeps telling us we’re not good enough. As a result, we either judge ourselves harshly (no joy in that!) or stop creating altogether. It’s important to acknowledge that perfectionism can have its origin in deep attachment or childhood wounds. It can be a formerly useful, now unhelpful strategy to ensure one’s safety.

In my experience, trying to ignore the inner critic never works. It only gets more disruptive. The only way forward is to befriend your inner critic. We must see its interference as a safety exercise designed to protect us from the vulnerable experience of creating.

Twyla Tharp embraces failure as part of the creative process. In fact, she lists a range of failures in her book – but that’s a whole other article… She recommends gathering a ‘validation squad’. This isn’t necessarily a group of people who will love anything you do. They are people you admire for their talent, who care about you, who don’t compete with you and provide constructive feedback, with great honesty as well as substance and respect. This is an invaluable support structure if your creative endeavours are designed to fly out into the world, possibly to earn you a living.

When we think about creating in a more private setting, creating purely for joy is such a balm for our emotional wellbeing. I recommend a group of like-minded friends or people you find you can easily connect with. Often, deep friendship emerges from creating alongside and experiencing the vulnerable act of creativity together. 


Get creative

Maybe this has whetted your appetite to read The Creative Habit.

And I do hope you feel inspired to create!

art materials and stamped words including story, daring, courage, in the arena

More tips on how to rekindle your creativity can be found in this article about creativity as a work skill and in this one, where I share some information about the various reasons why many of us stop creating. My own journey back to creativity began tentatively after a twenty-year hiatus. Needless to say, I haven’t looked back!

Taking clients through an exercise of exploring the creative process, reflecting on typical blocks and ways to overcome them is one of my favourite ways to begin a creative coaching relationship.


Find out more about my work at Sensemaking Space

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Letters spelling creativity on colourful background

Creativity – a superpower of the future?

The world is changing… it has always been changing. Most recently though, we might have felt this change more intensely. The reality of living in a VUCA world has moved from board rooms into living rooms. VUCA stands for a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous – and don’t we know what that feels like?! This world asks for creative resilient responses. It’s no surprise that creativity has been listed among the top work skills for the future.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report predicts creativity, innovation and ideation will be key skills. A 2010 IBM study among CEOs revealed creativity as the single most important leadership skill. The McKinsey Global Institute identified increasing demand for higher cognitive skills including creativity.

What exactly is creativity?

Too often people’s thoughts jump to art classes and canvases. They hasten to add that they don’t have a creative bone in their body. And many of us have been made to believe that creativity is for the creative types or the truly gifted – an exclusive club which we don’t belong to.

I offer you an alternative definition, quoting Sir Ken Robinson: creativity is “the process of having original ideas that have value.”

“I think of creativity as putting your imagination to work. It’s like the executive wing of imagination. You can be imaginative all day long and never do anything. To be creative, you have to do something.”

Sir Ken Robinson

Creative childhoods

Most of us have memories of being creative as a child. There might be anecdotes or even videos of your contribution to dance, music or drama performances. The drawing that hung on the fridge for ages, or maybe even something that got framed?? And then there are all the games and roleplays we invented; the fancy dress outfits we wore.

George Land’s longitudinal creativity study showed that 98% of 5-year-olds fell into the category of ‘creative genius’. This percentage dropped rapidly as these kids grew up, and among a representative sample of adults, 2% believed to be creative. Land concluded that “non-creative behaviour is learned”. Therefore, we need to nurture our inherent creativity and un-learn the non-creative beliefs and behaviours.

Creativity for survival

We can find more evidence that we are creative creatures beyond statistical research:  our dexterity with an opposable thumb suggests we evolved to make things. This ability and our creativity ensured our survival. As Liz Gilbert wrote:

“If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem-solvers, and embellishers–these are our common ancestors.”

―Elizabeth Gilbert

Benefits of creativity

Creativity has several benefits which are very useful in the VUCA world and the workplace of the future:

  • When we engage in a creative act, we focus on the present moment and calm our busy minds. this is increasingly important in the context of information overload and a world full of distractions.
  • In the early stages of the creative process, we think divergently. We think broadly and delay filtering and selecting of ideas. In a world of speed and productivity this doesn’t always come easy.
  • We experience accomplishment and learn to trust the process and our abilities – cultivating a growth mindset instead of a fixed one.
  • We strengthen our imagination and problem-solving skills.
  • We explore and express our inner world – being grounded in our inner selves helps us navigate an ever-changing external world.
  • We build resilience for tough times.

Nurturing creativity becomes a cornerstone in caring for our wellbeing, in our private lives as well as in the workplace where the above-mentioned benefits can lead to more successful innovation, increased productivity and focus, better crisis management, overall resilience, improved collaboration and empathic leadership.

How to re-start your creativity

The main success factor in rediscovering creativity is time. Not tons of it, just the commitment to choose creativity and find pockets of time to practice it with intention. Ringfence a time of day, go on an artist date with yourself, establish a weekend practice.

Even though art therapy shows that our most significant insights are often achieved when working with a modality we are less comfortable or familiar with, I recommend starting from a place of preference or familiarity when you befriend your creativity again. Think back to creative activities and forms of play you enjoyed as a child. Whether it’s improv theatre or water colour painting. If you feel drawn to a particular material like textiles, wood or clay you might want to begin there.

It also helps to start with something that fits more easily in your everyday life. For many of us, a sketchbook is more practical than easel and canvas. Exploring photography through a daily photo using your smartphone can be more achievable than attempting your SLR camera manual.

Are you drawn to practical things or do you like to do things ‘just for fun’? If you are the practical type, making your own tea mugs or baking might suit you more than knitting miniature fruits and vegetables. And vice versa.

The accountability, encouragement and shared joy of creating in a group can also assist. Find a class, workshop, or an online course. One of my biggest joys of 2020 was the emergence of a small writing circle with women around the world using Zoom. Remember that many creative adventures do not need to begin with competence or learning a skill. We can simply get together and write or make a collage. If, at some point, we want to get better at it, we’ll be already motivated to put in extra effort. If we make ‘being good at it’ the first step, we’ll likely never start.

If you have a competitive streak, participating in a challenge can kickstart your creative endeavours. I personally love the 100-day project, but there are plenty more. You might want to use sharing your creations publicly, for example on social media or in private groups, as an accountability mechanism.

From hobby to life skill

As Tom and David Kelley write in their book Creative Confidence: “everybody is the creative type.” With the right encouragement and practice creativity can easily be rekindled, “but the real value of creativity doesn’t emerge until you are brave enough to act on those ideas.”

When we practice our creativity in this safe and joyful way, as a hobby initially and to re-charge our batteries, we will strengthen our ability to come up with creative solutions under pressure or when there’s more at stake. We will learn to trust our creativity as a work skill and weave it into our problem-solving and decision-making, steering us away from the dreaded ‘we’ve always done it like that’ principle. Most of us have been in a meeting where this was muttered, if not proclaimed aloud by some creativity grinch.

Creative coaching is a process that can kickstart the re-discovery of your creativity.

And while you are at it, you might learn a few new things about yourself, your values, beliefs, patterns or simply find the courage to begin a creative practice that could do with a cheer squad.


Find out more about my work at Sensemaking Space

mixed media collage stating creativity takes courage

Creativity takes courage

When I introduce myself and my work, I’m typically met with lots of curiosity and some confusion.

Here’s what I hear a lot: That sounds great, but sadly I’m not creative. I can’t draw for the life of me. That’s so interesting, is it mainly for blocked artists? Do you work with children?

Listening to a conversation between Elizabeth Gilbert and Brené Brown, I came across the term creative midwifery. Brené Brown spoke about her inherent ability to tell stories, but when writing her first books she struggled. Only when she realised that her creativity needed a midwife, was she able to fulfil her potential. She simply asked colleagues to join her in a weekend getaway and listen to her stories, as if they were sitting around the campfire. Sharing her stories, in an auditory format, and receiving her colleagues’ suggestions and questions helped structuring her knowledge and research into what, in the end, became very successful books. The term creative midwife resonated strongly when I thought about my work.

Now, you might ask: if we are all born with creativity and it is an inherent ability, why would some of us need a midwife to give birth to it (again)? Isn’t creativity alive in all of us? Well…

Sadly, creativity is something we unlearn.

Putting my researcher hat on, I was delighted to find evidence that this isn’t just a hunch based on the typical answers I get from people who don’t consider themselves creative…. A longitudinal study by George Land, developed for NASA, assessed children’s creativity. Among 5-year-olds, a whopping 98% of kids were categorised as creative and imaginative. This percentage dwindled as the children grew older: 30% when they were ten years old, 12% when they were 15 years old. In a separate group of adults, who have been asked to complete the same test, a shocking 2% remain who call themselves creative. Against the trend we see with most other skills and talents, we don’t expand our creativity as we grow older, we unlearn it. And this explains why some of us need to tease it out again, later in life, when we want to re-connect with our creativity.


I come across three typical reasons why someone has lost their creativity:

Many of us lose our creative confidence and our self-belief. We have art scars from experiences when we were told we had failed at a creative endeavour and that we were clearly not talented in this field. Whether that’s the teacher who criticises a drawing or essay; or the ‘banter’ stating jokingly that we shouldn’t give up the day job; or a parent who, often with good intentions, reinforces other talents over our creative ones.

Another reason why we unlearn our creativity is purely neurobiological. Whenever our brain encounters a problem it searches through our database of experiences and knowledge to find an answer. When we are young, this database is naturally tiny and needs to be built. We play to explore the world, ask a gazillion ‘why’ questions and our brain busily files everything for later use. If all goes well, we emerge from childhood with a database grown in size and complexity, ready for solving the challenges of adult life. And now that it has grown into a substantial knowledge base, our brain develops ways of tagging and filtering this database to rapidly access the information that seems most relevant. This is useful as it makes for faster decisions and saves energy. Remember that the brain represents only 2% of the weight of an adult but consumes 20% of the energy produced by the body. To limit this significant need for energy, we develop automatic behaviours and muscle memory, such as being able to tie our shoelaces without having to think about it every day. And our brain develops narrow search algorithms to find useful information quickly. If we are in the process of learning a new computer program, it’s more useful if our brain sifts through what we know about user interface and software and ignores our memories of family gatherings in the 90s.

And then there’s the conditioning and expectation of being fast and efficient in our problem-solving. It’s easy to understand why very unfamiliar and creative solutions to problems are less likely to see the light of day. They carry a greater risk of failure, push-back or rejection. Our creative muscle weakens. Pathways of ‘tried and tested’ become grooves, then deep canyons. Our brain gets a bit stiffer. And just like we end up unable to touch our toes, we struggle to put pen to paper and scribble away, or we feel inhibited to write a story, even though we write tons of emails, articles, and reports every day.


How can we re-learn creativity?

There are three key ingredients to strengthening our creativity: inspiration, process and encouragement. All of these can be initiated in creative coaching and then practiced going forward. We need to train our brains for a wider search, even though this is harder work and often more time consuming. Making time for divergent thinking is a key step in creative coaching. I cultivate openness and soft thinking around anything that can serve as inspiration and a starting point. That’s why I share books, quotes, TED talks, random questions, or different frameworks, whether from the therapeutic or coaching world, in my sessions. I also have a set of what I call ‘poetic prompts’ which often yield unexpected and delightful results.   

Then we need process – not in a formal, rigid or technical sense, but in a sense of offering a safe space, some structure and guidance. This ensures that every inquiry gets wrapped up safely and captures the new insights. We often begin by exploring our own creative process, where we tend to get blocked and how we most easily achieve the state of creative flow. And it includes a big selection of creative processes and reflective exercises which allows us to remain open without losing ourselves down a rabbit hole and stalling our progress. This is the area where I hugely benefit from my Art Therapy training, bringing together creative process and psychological expertise.

And lastly, we need encouragement, back-up and support, a cheer squad, and someone who can ask the right questions, including those that feel a little uncomfortable to begin with. Creativity requires risk, and it is easier to do something that feels a bit risky with someone in your corner.

Of course, working with a creative coach or art therapist can support you in the process of bringing your creativity back into your life. Especially if you want to explore and heal deeper art scars. But also, because creativity usually brings up fear.

Fear is always triggered by creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome. This is nothing to be ashamed of, it is, however, something to be dealt with.

Elizabeth Gilbert

They can offer a safe and supportive exploration of these memories and the emotional risks of creativity as well as the emotional cost of suppressing your creativity.

But re-connecting with your creativity as a hobby is a great way to start. It’s how I started again after years of disconnection. And it’s the reason why I love that part of my practice: delivering creative workshops, workshops that don’t dive more deeply into the therapeutic territory, but a gentle portal back into the world of creative strength. I encourage you to find your portal back into this world! Whether it’s a workshop, a self-paced, pressure-free online course, a guided journaling exercise – anything goes. And as you practice your creative muscle, you might find that it contributes to all areas in life. You’ll be more creative at work, in your parenting, in your relationships and friendships. It makes for a richer, more varied life. It supports you in taking transformative decisions and navigating change with a new resilience and robustness. Creativity certainly takes courage; we need to be willing to take a risk or make a mistake. But it also builds courage through greater self-awareness. It makes us braver in our choices, in asserting our boundaries, in staying true to ourselves.

Start with these two writing prompts:

For me, creativity is ….

When I can be creative ….

And feel free to get in touch with any questions you might have around creativity. The lockdown has proved that Zoom-based sessions are working well! And if you worry about requiring a huge range of art materials to get started with an online session, have a look at this video where I share a glimpse into my studio.


Find out more about my work at Sensemaking Space

mixed media collage and the word pinballs

Why we keep busy

I was leisurely scrolling through Instagram this morning and came across a familiar quote:

’Crazy-busy’ is a great armor, it’s a great way for numbing. What a lot of us do is that we stay so busy, and so out in front of our life, that the truth of how we’re feeling and what we really need can’t catch up with us

Brené Brown

Brené Brown suggests that some of us are ‘crazy-busy’ because we’re trying to outrun our needs and emotions. We often put our busyness down to our desire and duty to do things for others, for our employers, for our businesses, for our families, kids, communities, pets, clients, friends, loved ones… Being still and quiet can be uncomfortable. It can come with feelings of being bored, overwhelmed, unproductive, inconsequential to the world, uninteresting, not doing anything meaningful, wasting time, not making an impact, not being seen, not being needed.

I can empathise with all these feelings, I have them all, every now and then. As someone who finds neuroscience insanely fascinating, I’m always keen to understand whether anything in our evolution can explain typical behaviours. And – like so many of our behaviours – the tendency to hyperactivity has been hardwired into the human brain when we lived in a hunter gatherer environment. Taking immediate action, i.e running or fighting, rather than reflecting and deliberating kept us alive in an environment of many threats. This cognitive bias is called action bias. The problems of today’s world require reflection and benefit from thoughtful consideration. Yet, our bias is still to act rather than wait. If in doubt, most people will do something rather than nothing. We often jump into action or solution mode before we have fully understood the problem, sometimes we end up making things worse. Acknowledging that there’s nothing we can do is incredibly difficult. The challenge is to notice this bias when it kicks in and press ‘pause’.

I’m no stranger to busyness and seeing existential concepts of success, meaning and self-worth tied to my level of busyness. In my own exploration of being overly focussed on work I came across the Map of Meaning (© Marjolein Lips-Wiersma). I now use this framework in my client work to explore what a meaningful (work) life might look like. More than a decade of research has gone into developing the Map of Meaning and it has established four ways to infuse our lives with meaning. They are:

  • Self-awareness and developing the inner self
  • Being in unity with others
  • Expressing your full potential
  • Being of service to others

I find it comforting that there are four ways to bring meaning into my life. Interestingly, the work of the team behind the Map of Meaning has also revealed that being of service to others is commonly believed to be the only way that leads to a meaningful life. That’s why professions to which being of service is central are often seen to be meaningful per se. Yet, we see a burnout crisis amongst health care providers and teachers are abandoning the profession. These two examples show that there is more to meaning. Organisations want us to focus on being of service when we assess whether our work makes any sense and gives us meaning. For an organisation, we are at our most productive when being of service to their agenda and goals. From an individual’s perspective, it’s also understandable to look for this direct feedback loop. We get direct and often the most rewarding feedback to our contributions when we are doing something in service of someone else. We might get a heartfelt thank you, witness visible change or improvement, see someone expanding their skills or knowledge, we might see a rise in safety, quality or standard of living through the work we do. To keep us going, it makes sense to pour our energy into an area that is most likely to provide us with feedback and encouragement. But we need all four areas of meaning to play a role in our life. Just focusing on one won’t be sustainable.

This shows that the hyperactivity we see in the world can be down to a range of reasons. We might not feel up to facing our needs and emotions in all their depths and complexity. We might simply act based on a cognitive bias that tells us doing something is safer than doing nothing. Or we might seek meaning for our lives by striving to be of service to others because this is what is being most rewarded, whether by our workplaces or the individuals we serve. It is, however, vital to understand that meaning can be shaped and being of service is only one way to bring meaning to your life. Taking reflective time to further your self-awareness, being in unity or community with others and expressing our full potential all contribute to a meaningful life.

You can use this journaling prompt to explore what meaning might look like for you: What is bringing my life meaning right now? Importantly, take note of the two little words ‘right now’. If we ask this question at a general level, it is impossible to answer. Meaning is about noticeable everyday experiences. It’s never accomplished, it’s not a goal that we can tick off, it ebbs and flows, but we can shape it. If you are interested to find out more about the Map of Meaning, please get in touch. It’s a fascinating and insightful tool!


Find out more about my work at Sensemaking Space

art materials including a butterfly

Transformation and unlearning

Transformation is often more about unlearning than learning.

Richard Rohr

This caught my attention. I often emphasised the aspect of learning new things in order to grow and open a new chapter in my life. The idea that unlearning might be a more important part, or if not more important at least a preceding step to achieve transformation made me curious.

Transformation can take many shapes and is always very personal. It might include becoming a spouse or a parent. Getting a divorce. Relocating. Changing careers. A mid-life unravelling. Retiring. And there are many more. Some are initiated by us. Others happen to us, unplanned, unexpected, sometimes uninvited. There are some common elements to all these experiences and the unlearning that needs to happen.

What is it we need to unlearn as part of a transformative journey?

It’s less about knowledge and skills. I am a big fan of transferable skills whatever your transformation. But we need to unlearn old beliefs. Established ways of being and navigating life. The ways of how we define e.g. success, a meaningful life, our purpose. We need to unlearn values that are not really our own, or values that no longer serve us. We need to unlearn our own narratives and the way we expected the story of our life to unfold.

This is deep and broad unlearning. We are not replacing old facts with new facts. It’s not an information refresh and upgrade of our operating system. We need to dig deep into the layers of who we are and assess what still serves us, what still fits and what has to make space for the new.

What happens when we unlearn these things?

As we dig deep, we enter a liminal space, the space where we no longer belong to the old identity and we haven’t yet shaped and moved into the new identity. In this space we have started to shed certain values that served us as a guiding light. We have stopped engaging in certain behaviours and rituals that came with belonging to a certain group. Liminal stems from the Latin word limen, threshold. Stepping over the threshold and entering this space can feel energising and exciting. And it can feel scary and full of sadness. Most of us will feel all the above when we are thrown into this space of being in-between. It’s a waiting area. When I’m in the departure lounge waiting to board a long flight, I feel the excitement of travel, seeing places and connecting with people, discovering new food, experiencing a different way of life. And I feel the dread of the journey of getting there, the stress of possibly losing my luggage, missing the connection, the discomfort of being in unfamiliar surroundings, navigating without speaking the language, feeling exposed and like the odd one out, having to adjust my normal rhythm of life. The liminal space is just like this waiting area, or the holding pattern we are in. And often we don’t even know for how much longer we will be circling around…

Inhabiting this space is vulnerable, often lonely and we might feel alienated and that we don’t belong anywhere. It’s an uncomfortable space, where we need to embrace not knowing as a state of figuring things out rather than as a state of deficiency or ‘having no plan’. 

After all, we live in a society where being driven and progressing in a fairly linear fashion through life is being valued and encouraged. Detours, not knowing and a pattern of stop-start are being looked upon with suspicion. The polarising nature of our emotional experiences during transformation are hard to grasp. We usually enjoy the sense of excitement, but feelings of grief and sadness are hard to accept, especially when the transformation was desired or self-initiated. We expect to be excited for the long-awaited change and might feel an external pressure to rave about all the positive things this brings about. Admitting the scariness and discomfort needs a good portion of self-compassion.

Transformation is full of possibilities. Transformation is hard. It is at times ugly. It’s rarely about a straightforward move from bad to good. We leave behind positive things, things we loved, enjoyed, were good at. We enter into a new identity that is also a mixed bag. Some things will suit us better, other things will be missed. As with every journey, acknowledging the upheaval with a good and deliberate farewell, even one that involves tears, rather than minimising the disruption can help.


I want to leave you with a powerful writing/art invitation that the art therapist Lisa Mitchell has shared. This exercise celebrates the farewell rather than minimising it. It also celebrates the new beginnings. Take a blank sheet of paper or a page in your journal…

  1. Start every sentence, bullet point or short paragraph with ‘Today marks the end of…’ – write until you feel finished. Write lots. Pay attention to the details! So rather than writing, ‘Today marks the end of my job at XYZ company’, write: Today marks the end of getting on the 7am train into the city. Today marks the end of picking up coffee at … where they know me by name. Today marks the end of getting annoyed at the fact that the train is delayed at least two out of five days a week. Today marks the end of starting the week with a Monday Morning meeting which is to equal parts irritating and energising – the same people drone on about their workload, but we also feel a sense of being in this together. Etc.
  2. Same as step 1 with the prompt ‘Today marks the beginning of…’
  3. Optional : Writing might provide you with some clarity and reassurance. If you want to add a third step, consider giving something away and/ or receiving something. You might give away clothes, books, tools, anything that feels strongly linked to who you were pre transformation. And be ready to receive something to welcome you into the future state of yourself.

This exercise works because it allows for both nostalgia and anticipation.

It visualises that each stage has good and enjoyable parts. It also helps us to make visible how the two stages of being pre and post-transformation are connected. How decisions made and steps taken in one led to the other. How the same strengths or fears show up in both stages. Acknowledging these connections can help to integrate and illustrate that it is a shift rather than a fracture. Even though the shift can feel as brutal and painful as a fracture. Change and transformation are part of life. We better get more comfortable with it. 


Find out more about my work at Sensemaking Space

quotes stitched onto fabric squares

Creating your 10% list

As the end of the year is racing towards me, I begin to reflect on the year, what worked, what changed, where did I move forward and where do I feel stuck. It comes with the territory of an annual review that I’m pondering what I have achieved this year and what my intentions and goals for next year might be. I have a dedicated process which I’ve been using for years now. It involves choosing one word for the year and exploring it on a monthly basis using some coaching techniques and art invitations.

On a side note: last week, I’ve launched an online course to share part of this process with you. It’s called ‘Living with Intention‘, and you can find out more here or here. It’s totally self-paced and you can start at any time, but as the year draws to a close, it might be a perfect gift to yourself right now. This process provides a great framework to keep me on track and celebrate progress. Typically, around October/ November I sense that I’m ready to let this year’s word go to make space for a new word. This year, my word is ‘open’ by the way.

As I entered ‘debrief stage’ I did some research on goal setting. It’s undoubtedly useful, but can also create a lot of stress, especially when we miss deadlines, fail to reach a goal altogether or feel that other people’s goals are so much more worthy, audacious and impressive. Many of us have the false belief that big success requires big action. This makes us susceptible to signing up to slightly unrealistic New Year’s resolutions, unpractical 30-day challenges or food plans that can’t withstand contact with the battlefield of everyday life. It also turns us into harsh critics when judging our own progress or success. I often catch myself expecting my achievements to be mind-blowing and nothing short of a total reinvention.

Enter: the concept of aggregation of marginal gains. Sports teams are often quoted to be doing this well. Dave Brailsford who led Team Sky and British Cycling to success has applied the idea of making lots of tiny changes which eventually added up and led to significant increases in performance. Habit guru James Clear writes about this here.

What I like about this concept is that it feels much more doable. We don’t have to make all the tiny changes at once. Given few of us operate with a support team comparable to Team Sky’s we need to pace ourselves. We can build our marginal gains over time, trusting that they can add up and lead to the desired outcome.

A similar idea was discussed in a workshop I attended. It was about stuckness and resistance, specifically in the context of trauma. But feeling stuck happens to everyone and is part of life. So, I see a broader application of what was shared.

The presenter, the wonderful Janina Fisher, spoke about her concept of 10% solutions when working with people through recovery and healing. She noticed that people would try something she had suggested only to come back and say, ‘It didn’t work for me’. But when looking into it, they realised it made them feel a bit better, maybe 15%, maybe 10%, maybe just 5%. But this led to the understanding that there are no silver bullets. We’ll never find the one thing that will sort things out when we find ourselves in a crisis or difficult spot.

We live in a culture of problem fixing and it is tempting to keep searching for the silver bullet. How could we not believe that our life would be wildly successful if only we managed to do the five magical things wildly successful people do. Allegedly. And typically, before 5am. Equally, when we are being asked for support or advice, we feel the pressure of coming up with the one size fits all solution that will turn things around.

Instead we should all be drawing up our own 10% action list. Rather than feeling self-care requires a weekend off the grid, we can have a list of tiny actions that add up. A healthy meal, one hour more sleep, a quick walk in the park, listening to your favourite song. Rather than choosing one New Year’s resolution, which is likely to drop off the radar before February, we can choose a guiding word and use it as a platform for setting small goals and inviting subtle change. And by the end of the year, we might look back and realise the aggregated effect. We should create a pick & mix menu for when we need extra support.

It’s actually quite important to capture this list outside of our heads. Don’t rely on your memory. Because, usually, when we feel low and are questioning ourselves, our brain is a bit off in its ability to make smart decisions. It’s certainly not very creative in coming up with ideas to break the spell of feeling low. Having a physical list to choose from can make all the difference.

Here are a few things you’d find on my 10% solution list: Journaling; coffee (ideally with good company!); a shower; Mika’s ‘Grace Kelly’ and songs from the crazy Bavarian band Bananafishbones (a special mention to ‘Easy Day’); some former clients have made beautiful art responses for me, so I look at those; cooking one of my favourite recipes; finding an inspiring podcast or blog; talking to someone close; I cannot leave art journaling off the list; making a 5-minute collage; reading; None of these can single-handedly save my day, but each one can make a day look a little brighter.

I’m curious – what will you put on your 10% action list?


Find out more about my work at Sensemaking Space

The power of play

Recently, I’ve been pondering the power of play. Where I trained for my Art Therapy Masters, the following quote underpinned their teaching philosophy:

Tell me and I forget,

Teach me and I remember,

Involve me and I learn.

And I must say, it was a very unique teaching and learning environment. Out with the bell curves of performance, in with the flexibility to adjust to individuals with their imperfections and unique ways of thinking, learning and expressing themselves. I was in heaven. I’ve never done less revising in my life, yet I can tap with ease into an internal catalogue of knowledge, creative processes and procedures and apply them in my client work. I can remember every detail of key moments in my training where I had an insight about my typical patterns and the way I am in the world. I don’t need to write them down, I can remember them with my entire body.

Recently, I experienced this way of learning again when trying to get my head round proper colour mixing – not all Art Therapists have a Fine Arts Degree… I have read multiple times about colour theory, I have stared down many colour wheels, I have watched plenty of online videos. But still, so often I created mud! Then I watched an online video by the artist Ginger Cook and she suggested creating your own colour mixing journal. So rather than listening, watching, reading… I actually mixed alongside and painted colour swatches in my journal. I was still creating some mud, but now by design, it was part of the experimenting to understand how pigments react with each other. I celebrated the creation of some beautiful shades when I got the cool/warm mix right and added just the perfect touch of raw umber – who knew! The colour mixing journal is a playful and hands-on way of learning. The process of mixing and capturing the ‘colour recipe’ has sunk in so much quicker and deeper than any other approach I’ve tried before.

I can see the same learning process taking place in Art Therapy and Creative Coaching. We involve our hands (and sometimes the whole body), we make and create, we play and experiment with materials, we embrace the process with all its accidents, stop/starts and detours. There is a place for talking and written reflection as well. It ensures a whole-brain approach and assists us with integrating our insights.

My colour mixing journal as well as the many art therapy sessions I was privileged to witness also reflect the research conducted by Dr. Karyn Purvis of Texas Christian University: without playful engagement, it takes over 400 repetitions to learn something new, as in create a new synapse in the brain. Alternatively, you can involve play in your learning and you’ll only need about 12 repetitions! This should be a major selling point for play in the time poor era we live in.

Next time, when you want to learn something new, how can you get hands-on and playful with it? Can you create a journal or collage, sketch a diagram, hang up a huge sheet of butchers paper and add doodles, post-it notes, images… In business meetings, a mind map or sketchnotes can add playfulness and assist with memorising the content.


Find out more about my work at Sensemaking Space

a handmade figure

Values are the work of the heart

Values are important. They are a hidden rudder, our inner compass, and when we are clear on our values, making decisions that feel good and sit right with us gets easier. They also help us to set good boundaries, to know what we want to say ‘yes’ to and what we want to say ‘no’ to.

When I introduce values in my art therapy work it can get a bit complicated and we tend to start over-thinking things. Values are often presented in long lists, and then we are asked to circle and highlight… and it gets paralysing:

  • There are so many – yet we feel like subscribing to almost all of them!
  • They all sound so virtuous – can we live up to them?
  • What happens when values clash?

I like a metaphor Russ Harris uses for values (he is the Australian guru on Acceptance-Commitment-Therapy and has authored ‘The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling, Start Living’). Russ uses the metaphor of an old-fashioned globe, the ones on an angle that you can spin around the axis… – Imagine that each country represents a value. As you look at the globe, you can never see all countries at the same time. The globe spins, some countries are visible, others hidden. Values behave in a similar way. In any situation in life your actions will be based on some values, never all of them simultaneously. So holding all our values and the conflicts between them becomes an important life skill.

I’ve often observed how people can get overwhelmed or disheartened when working with long lists of values – that’s where Art Therapy comes in. We can ditch the wordy lists and begin to work with images. We can also work with the qualities of different materials. We can create sculptures to represent our values. Or avatars which can be styled in a way that our values become tangible qualities. 

Expressing our values creatively shows us the layers of our value system, how for example our value avatar can wear a kindness cape and carry the assertiveness toolbox over the shoulder. We can see how the material we choose to depict our value for achievement has a sturdy and tough quality, and is companioned by some light and airy material that represents our spirituality.

The image shows my values avatar which I created as part of my training and with a focus on building a private practice. Her name is Jana, she lives on my desk. Her googly eyes were a creative error, she wasn’t meant to look that cross-eyed into the world! Working with the hot glue gun means you have to embrace your mistakes, and her googly eyes are a good reflection of how I feel sometimes during this adventure that is Sensemaking Space. And they go hand in hand with other values she holds such as resilience and kindness, productivity. Jana’s tangible nature and the individual elements of her outfit, accessories and styling created a personality I can identify with – we can even have conversations…! This makes understanding my values system much easier than if I were just thinking about my values.

In all my creative coaching or art therapy sessions, we are exploring values at some point. When working and learning about your values, don’t just engage your rational thinking brain. Move away from the lists. Don’t get stuck on trying to rank your values, that’s really hard! Get creative instead. Draw, map, construct, find random images or objects, arrange them and play.


Find out more about my work at Sensemaking Space