FRESH THINKING AWAY FROM THE BAR: CREATIVITY AT HOME
Removed from our usual inspiration, be it other people, experiences and spaces, it may feel difficult to be creative. Award-winning food, drink and personal development writer Rebecca Seal explains how solitude can be a catalyst for creativity and shares tips on how to survive and thrive when faced with this reality.
SEE THE OPPORTUNITY
It may feel as though creativity is an impossible ask after what we’ve all been through. In a world where we’ve all missed out on so much, how can we ask our brains to think creatively? While it’s important to cut ourselves some slack, it’s also good to remember just how many creative, solitary souls have made huge intellectual, scientific or artistic leaps forward while sitting on their own at a table, bench or easel. Not many novels get written by huge teams. New discoveries often happen when someone is working alone, in the dead of the night. Scientists studying solitude and its effect on the brain have found that we’re less inhibited, creatively, when alone, better able to do something extraordinary.
You might just find that you thrive in a bit of alone time. I encourage you to see this as an opportunity to discover your potential, try those recipes you haven’t got round to testing, go foraging in a local forest for new ingredients or do some online training. When the landscape is changing, and you find yourself faced with new circumstances it’s normal to feel frightened and uncertain. It’s unrealistic to expect we might all use our ‘extra’ time to learn new languages or master patisserie initially, but as we gradually become accustomed to our novel ways of living, we can begin to see the time, at least, as an opportunity. It’s a chance to reflect and remember too. I often go back through my old photographs of nights or meals out to remind myself of flavor combinations I wanted to come back to when I’m recipe developing, or I haul piles of books to bed on things like the science of taste, the history of citrus or – currently – the secret lives of fungi. All of which takes my mind off in directions I would never have anticipated.
MASTER YOUR ROUTINE
Being by yourself also means you get the chance to set your own routine – one which really suits the way you work best. Of course, when anything is possible, it can feel scary and as though nothing is. But just committing to a particular rhythm can really help. My advice is to establish a start point to the day and an endpoint. Then decide what it is you want to achieve in between and map your day out accordingly.
Make a list of activities that make you happy and aim to incorporate them into your days, as these can be things that will really stimulate you and put you in the right mood to create, such as cooking, completing a puzzle, or watching a good movie.
If you’re working from home, limiting the amount of time given over to work will make you achieve more in the hours you’re working – I now get more done in my four-day week than I ever did in my panicked, free-form, and structureless six-day one. Taking account of the non-work things that you need to do in your week – exercise, housework, shopping – also helps. Allocate them to particular slots of time and they are less likely to bleed into your working hours and make you feel stretched and panicked.
When you finish work or complete your jobs for the day, do something symbolic to show your brain that you’re switching off. In place of what might have been a journey home or end-of-shift meet-up could be closing a (cupboard) or door on it; throwing a sheet over the desk if it’s in your bedroom; or cleaning up, going for a walk, or taking a shower. These tricks will then enable you to return to the task the next day feeling refreshed and ready to be creative again.
STAY FOCUSED AND SET GOALS
Every week take some time to think about what one big thing you want to achieve in the next seven days – and that doesn’t mean just looking at the to-do list. If you want to have new ideas, actively telling yourself that it is a priority for the week will allow your brain to get to work on creating them without you even knowing. Carry a notebook in case they arrive when you’re not expecting them. Write down your aims, or goals, in both life and work – as we often carry them around as vague, uncertain, and unformed notions in our heads. It’s much easier to work towards something when it’s articulated and clear… and in writing!
Take breaks. Lunch, coffee breaks, and getting outside in the fresh air, will help you stay focused. Research shows that when we do so, we get much more done and are far less likely to become burnt out. It’s a dangerous myth that long hours equal higher productivity. They don’t. Your job is not the most important, nor the most interesting thing about you. You are much, much more than simply what you do for work. Don’t neglect the rest of you, and invest time in self-care.
GET A HOBBY
Intriguingly, research also shows that many so-called high achievers (not a phrase I like) devote a lot of time to very absorbing hobbies, hobbies they are deeply committed to. Whether it’s Bill Gates and his next-level card games (no one wants to play bridge with Bill Gates!) or Anna Wintour playing tennis, it turns out that successful people make time for their hobbies. They do this because they recognize their hobbies allow them to recover enough to do their incredibly demanding jobs brilliantly and creatively. Recovery isn’t all about slumping in front of Netflix or a tv screen, though – we need to do things our brains and bodies engage in, too. If you can combine your hobby/recovery with a dose of scientifically proven, blues-beating, immune-boosting, depression-lifting daylight, then so much the better.
Spending time outdoors where possible can be incredibly inspiring and really help you connect with the rest of the world, particularly if you are feeling isolated away from work and friends. Creativity is everywhere, so explore your local environment or places familiar to you with a critical eye to gain new perspectives and boost your creativity.
This stuff is hard, and many of us have been thrown into a situation that we never expected and, in many cases, really didn’t want. That’s why recovery matters so much. One of my favorite quotes is by happiness researcher Shawn Achor: “Resilience is not about how you endure. It’s about how you recover.” Be kind to yourself and grant yourself the right to restore yourself – only then can you be truly creative.
- Solitude can be the fuel that creativity needs.
- Create a routine that suits how you and your brain like to work.
- Make a list of all the things you love to do and build them into your day.
- Actively think about what you want to achieve and write down your goals so that they are clear.
- Creativity is everywhere. Get outside and explore the spaces around you.