In my recent post Picking up paintbrushes, and other things, I discussed the thoughts and feelings that might be holding you back from expressing yourself creatively. So… say you’ve now done your creative work. What then?
For many of us, life is a constant movement upward – searching for the next achievement, the next promotion, the next ‘level’. When was the last time you stopped, looking around and really enjoyed the satisfaction of your achievements? How long was it before you were pushing yourself to the next thing?
What holds you back from taking a moment to feel good? What stops you sharing your joy with others? Do you worry they won’t approve, or that your achievement doesn’t match up to something they have done? Is expressing pride “unseemly”? Do you temper your achievements by focussing on the bits that went badly? Are you able to take a compliment, or accept congratulations, without coming up with excuses as to why it didn’t really ‘count’?
There are all sorts of reasons why we don’t take time to pause and feel a bit of pride. Partly this might be due to the way we were brought up, or by the way our educational and corporate systems can push this kind of thinking. Partly it might be because being modest and self-deprecating is typically British!
I’m not saying to stop entirely and never go for the next thing, if you want. Equally, it’s okay to find a level you are comfortable at and stay there. It is worth reflecting on why you are making the choices you are, who you are trying to please, and whether it’s all actually making you the happiest and best ‘you’ that you can be.
At the end of it all, what will you regret more – not pushing on and on and on, or not allowing yourself to really feel the joy in achieving what you have? Enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done. Give someone the gift of accepting a compliment without batting it away.
Bullet journalling has been around for a few years and is getting ever-more popular. I don’t intend to give step-by-step instructions here, as there are already so many good “how to” guides on the internet (I have linked to some below). Instead, I’m going to explain why I like the bullet journal (“BuJo”) system and why I think it can be helpful for busy or stressed people.
I have been bullet journalling for a year. It started when I realised I was using a rolling To Do list app on my phone which usually had about 30 items on it and most of those repeated regularly. I had already checked which things were really necessary, as discussed in a previous post The Tyranny of ‘To Do’s, and they (almost) all were. As I ticked each item off, they simply shifted to the bottom of the list ready to be done again the next day/week/month. It meant I wasn’t feeling like I was actually achieving much. It also meant that each time I looked at the app I felt both slightly overwhelmed by all the items on it and frustrated that so many items were sitting there but could not be tackled yet.
I needed a new system. Enter bullet journalling.
Bullet journalling appealed to me because it was simple, flexible, and I could use my pretty stationery. The idea with bullet journalling is that you lay out your calendars, lists, to dos etc in a way that feels most helpful for you. The indexing system means you end up with no blank pages, but you can always find what you are looking for immediately. How many times have you picked up half a dozen diaries or planners in a shop, but rejected them because they didn’t have quite what you needed or you couldn’t get on with the layout? Bullet journalling enables you to make up your own.
Even better, you only need any notebook and pen. Many companies sell beautiful notebooks and will insist that you “need” dots/lines/certain paper/certain pens but you don’t. Please don’t feel you must have specific (and expensive) supplies before you can begin.
Nor do you just use it as a diary. You can use bullet journalling to track your habits (such as exercise), plan financially (keeping track of your spending or saving), event planning (such as a big party you need to organise), list ideas (such as knitting projects)… A bullet journal can be anything you need or want it to be.
Bullet journalling is creative. Not just in how you choose to create your system, but in any art you add to it. You can find many examples online of people who produce artistic spreads if you’re looking for inspiration. There are also plenty of bullet journalling discussion groups on social media if you need help or advice.
This system can be useful for busy people because it encourages planning out and getting through things efficiently and productively with the “rapid logging” system. While you are free to spend lots of time making your bullet journal pretty, you don’t have to. Setting up a monthly spread does take some time, but saves time and trouble later. This is because you have already made decisions about how and when certain things will be done. You can tackle each day’s list without worrying about other things that will be happening later. This can also be really helpful if you are using pacing techniques to manage chronic illness.
The act of writing things down with pen and paper makes you more likely to really think about them. You are less likely to do that when it is so quick and automatic to type something into an app. Considering carefully what you are committing to is an act of self care.
You can use your bullet journal for anything you need to. While I have decided to keep mine just for my personal things, you can use yours for work as well.
The important thing is doing what helps you the most. It might take you a while, and you might go through a few different systems before settling to one. That’s okay, there is no absolute right or wrong. As the creator of the bullet journal, Ryder Carroll, said, “Forget about what you see online. It’s not about how it looks, it’s about how it feels and most importantly, how it works for you.”
I don’t think I have ever met anyone who isn’t creative in one way or another. Yet I more often hear people say they aren’t creative than that they are.
Where does it come from, this denial of creativity? Perhaps our ideas of what counts as “creative” are unnecessarily restricted and judgemental? After all, it is creativity in action to put together a meal, plan a nice outfit, come up with stories about why someone is doing something… yet those things are rarely seen that way. Does something have to appeal to others, or produce something that is openly admired, to be deemed “creative”?
Do we only consider something creative if it involves a certain level of skill? Do people deny their own creativity because they fear their creations ‘aren’t good enough’?
As children, we made up games, painted, drew, danced, sang, thought up adventures… We didn’t care what anyone thought, we just tried it and had fun. Yet in adulthood that quite often stops. Why do we hold back?
Creating something is a way of expressing yourself. That in itself can be really scary. But in my experience the scariest aspect is the fear that it won’t be ‘good enough’. What does that mean? Good enough for ourselves, or for others? Who makes the rules about whether something is good or not, and what is their agenda?
It’s really common to give something up after one or two attempts. You might convince yourself you’ll “never learn this!” or maybe someone told you to give up because you “aren’t very good” (ouch). So I turn to Jake the Dog from Adventure Time for one of my favourite quotes: “Dude, sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.”
Only you can decide if you are satisfied by your creative efforts or not. If you starting something new, the chances are you won’t be satisfied straight away. Bear in mind Jake’s words. Go ahead and be bad at something! Better yet, actively try to be bad at it (within reason – don’t hurt anyone!). Free yourself from visions of what the finished result will be and see what happens if you just plunge into the process.
Splash paint all over! Clash colours! Dance with the joy of a toddler! Make a soufflé that collapses! Write a terrible book!
In my last blog post, I spoke about joy. In that post, I said, “We feel safe, cherished, fortunate and vibrantly alive when we are joyful. However, that exuberance is often associated most with children, and is something we are encouraged to put away when we ‘grow up’.” I also suggested you might like to“Dance. Run. Play. Splash paint. Sing. Jump in puddles.” I believe that joy and creativity are strongly linked, especially in childhood.
I’d like to look at this a little more, because I have been really struck by two things lately:
That children are vibrantly, joyfully creative and gain much from this self-expression.
That adults often see themselves as “not creative”, no matter how much they might have been as a child.
What happens between childhood and adulthood to cause such a change? In many cases, it seems that the Inner Critic developed as our creative expression was judged by those around us – both formally (such as in school) and informally (by peers, family and even strangers on social media). We are also fed a narrow range of what “creativity” means – usually limited to specific arts and musical endeavours, and specific ‘standards’ in those things.
However, I think creativity can be so much more than that. Do you enjoy putting specific outfits together in harmonious colours? Or applying fun makeup? That’s creative. Are you good at baking? Or putting together meal plans and using or making recipes? That’s creative. Do you daydream about people, places, situations and imagine what might happen? That’s creative!
So, what if your creativity is still blocked? Fortunately, there are a number of ways you might work through it. Various artistic hobby groups and classes are available both online and locally. Take time to find a space you feel safe and welcomed in, where you feel supported and free to let those creative juices flow.
You may find it hard at first to get going, and you may struggle to see ‘improvement’. However, if you can let go of your idea of the ‘perfect result’ and instead be in the moment with the process, you may not only enjoy things a lot more but also end up going off in unexpected and exciting directions! Plus, it is worth remembering that being bad at something is the first step towards being good at it!
What will you discover in your creative journey?
Please note, I have no commercial links or affiliations with the classes I have linked to – they are simply things that I have enjoyed myself.