Slowing down and puttering around

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Slowing down for even 10 minutes to do nothing or to make art may seem like an indulgence if you don’t have space. Or it may seem like a waste of time when you could be being productive instead. But they are valuable ways you can recharge and reconnect to yourself which allows you to be more productive in the long run. Because the more rundown and busy you are, the less you have to give of yourself and the less productivity you inevitably become.

Courtney Carver from Be More With Less explains “Doing nothing, puttering around, and lingering were all things I considered a waste of time. Even though I’d indulge from time to time, I felt bad about it. As if because I wasn’t actually contributing, I was letting people down.” Shauna Niequist in Present over Perfect says “… the hustle will never make you feel the way you want to feel. In that way it’s a drug, and I fall for the initial rush every time: If I push enough, I will feel whole, I will feel proud, I will feel happy. What I feel though, is exhausted and resentful, but with well organized closets.”

Making art allows you to slow down and spend time with yourself in a way you can’t do when you’re engaging (distracted) with your phone or device. Pico Iyer in an podcast interview with Oprah talks of the art of stillness: “In an age of speed I begin to think nothing could be more exhilarating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” Making art forces you pay attention; to the world outside and to your inner world.

Iyer continues “I think we’re more happy when we forget the time, when we’re completely absorbed in the conversation or movie or piece of music and what we really crave is intimacy… and kindness… If you don’t have time, you don’t have enough kindness in your life. You don’t have the chance to open yourself up.” Being completely absorbed in a task is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about in Flow: “The positive aspects of human experience – joy, creativity, the process of total involvement with life I can flow.”

Slowing down and making art is much more important than we realise, or have been taught. Allow yourself to ‘indulge’ in slowing down and reconnect to your creativity so you can come back refreshed and reenergised to your everyday life.

Downtime and busyness

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Do you currently schedule in regular downtime or time to quietly reflect? Taking a breather from work and “doing” may actually help you to be more creative compared with constant work and taking action – aka busyness. Spending time away from work, chores and responsibilities is not self-indulgent, it’s vital for our wellbeing.

Shonda Rhimes in Year of Yes talks about how important downtime has become “this downtime is helping to relight that little spark inside, it’s helping my creativity and in the long run helping me tell the stories my work needs me to tell. I give myself permission to view this downtime as essential.” When there always feels like there’s something you should be doing, giving yourself permission to have regular downtime can feel unobtainable. Rhimes admits that “It’s hard to feel like I deserve any time to replenish the well when I know everyone else is working hard too.” But in order to avoid burnout later down the track, downtime is, as she says, essential.

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi in Creativity explains that “constant busyness” not good for your creativity. “It is important to schedule times in the day, the week, and the year just to take stock of your life and review what you have accomplished and remains to be done. These are times when you should not expect any task to be done, and decision to be reached. You should just indulge in the luxury of reflection for its own sake.” If you find it difficult to let go of your busyness because you believe you’ll be less efficient, Czikszentmihalyi argues that the opposite may occur for your creativity: “Whether you intend it or not, new ideas and conclusions will emerge in your consciousness anyway – and the less you try to direct the process the more creative they are likely to be.”

Your creativity will thank you for slowing down and having a rest.

Work and rest are actually partners

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

To embrace rest, slowness and not-doing, to unbusy and schedule time in advance to recharge seems counter-intuitive in a world where there’s always something that needs doing. You could tick something off your to-do list or search the internet endlessly, but the to-do’s will never be done and not taking time to unplug and switch off from work is actually holding you back.

In this interview, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, explains “It seems self-evident that more work equals more output. This is true of machines, so why shouldn’t it be true of us? Well it’s not. We have adopted industrial-age attitudes, and they don’t really work for us. There is also a long-standing assumption that not working is morally suspect.”

Is not-working laziness? Does our culture frown upon idleness because succeeding and accomplishing is more desirable and is an outward arbitrary indicator of ‘success in life’? We’re certainly taught at a young age to work hard – to keep your nose to the grindstone – and eventually receive a reward. But as Soojung-Kim Pang points out “Work and rest are actually partners… You can’t have the high without the better you are at resting, the better you will be at working.”

Rest is overlooked in a modern world of productivity and hyperconnection to technology. Why do less when you can do more? But more does not necessarily equal success, satisfaction or contentment (most likely long term it will bring overwhelm, anxiety and burnout). And if incorporating rest into your daily life improves your work life, then let go of the reigns a little and regularly schedule off time.

“I am a lot more conscious now when I am in line at the bank or have a couple of free minutes; rather than pulling up my phone and checking e-mail, I will let my mind wander. I think it’s a good discipline and I think I have become better at crafting those moments that invite insight. And I carry a little notebook and pen all the time now.” – Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Doing nothing as an antidote for burnout

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

“It seems obvious, but when did you last take time out of your busy day simply to sit and think?” Asks Greg McKeown in Essentialism. “I’m talking about deliberately setting aside distraction-free time in a distraction-free space to do absolutely nothing other than to think.”

With everyone walking around with a portable computer in their back pocket, constant distraction is at your finger tips every single second of the day. It now takes more willpower and intention NOT to touch your phone when you’re bored than it does to be fully immersed in your daily surroundings during ‘waiting’ periods. Distraction or entertainment – however you wish to frame it – allows you to soothing escape whenever you feel the pang of boredom. McKeown argues that people don’t enjoy being bored “But by abolishing any change of being bored we have also lost the time we used to have to think and process.”

Zooming out from our smart phones, the ‘busyness’ epidemic is currently rife via the rat race, multitasking and being available to everyone at all times, to name a few. Jonathan Fields in How to Live a Good Life explains “By the time we reach adulthood, we’re so distracted by the pull of speed, connectivity, expectations, and rules, we lose the ability to see and experience what’s right in front of us. We become 99 percent unaware, and in doing so we lose the ability to choose and to act rather than react.” Fields suggests mindfulness as a antidote to this lack of awareness. “Mindfulness is about slowing down, noticing and seeing what is really happening in front of you in this moment, without the anxiety of expectation or the haze of regret.”

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi in Creativity echoes the idea of slowing down: “You should just indulge in the luxury of reflection for its own sake. Whether you intend it or not, new ideas and conclusions will emerge in your consciousness anyway – and the less you try to direct the process the more creative they are likely to be.”

Regularly taking pauses to stop and think will also long term allow you to avoid future burnout. When you get completely cooked you’re forced to take a giant break – one that makes up for all the times your subconscious asked for a break and you ignored it. Save yourself that cooked feeling and allow yourself to regularly slow down.

Taking a break and switching into off mode

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Do you ever feel your life switch is permanently fixed to ‘on’ mode? That you are constantly in a state of movement and ‘doing’? Taking regular breaks is not sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. Recognising you’re not a robot and your battery has a more complex recharging system is vital for maintaining your health and immediate future wellness. Scheduling in ‘off’ time in advance give you permission to fully embrace the state of ‘not-doing,’ and slow things right down.

It may look like you’re wasting time when you unplug from your gadgets and simply stare at the clouds or sit on a log, but gentle, effortless spells of reverie, or free-form musing and daydreaming, are crucial to your mind’s healthy functioning and your productivity. The bottom line is that without these rest periods, particularly in our fast-forward world, your brain can’t learn, remember, and integrate your thoughts and feelings properly. Restorative downtime allows you to drop your game face and sink into your innermost thoughts and feelings with no particular agenda. Your mind is liberated from the constraints – and gadgets – that tie you to the present. – Winifred Gallagher, New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change. [emphasis added]

When making art, it may not feel like you’re working ‘hard’ or being productive – which is what we’ve been socially trained to output – but you are using your brain in a way that requires a different kind of ‘effort.’ This is especially so for beginners when navigating the tricky waters of your art not being good enough, fear of judgment and wading through the regular uncertainty (side note Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness talks of “our relentless desire to explain everything that happens may well distinguish us from fruit flies, but it can also kill our buzz.”).

Breaks are just as important as time spent working on something. If you’re working intensely on one project, it may help to shift to a less energy-taxing, small art-making exercise. Barbara Abercrombie in A Year of Writing Dangerously explains shifting between two forms of art making: “Gaining perspective on your own work is like studying a painting with your nose pressed up against the canvas. Sometimes it helps to switch to another writing project and let things rest.” This idea of ‘turning your painting to the wall’ and letting things settle before returning with refreshed eyes can be as important as actively working on it.

Abercrombie encouraging stepping away from work as “Sometimes to write you need to do more than just appear at your desk – you need to take care of the part of you that dreams and imagines and creates. Reading can usually do this for writers, but sometimes you also need to watch films, listen to music, go to an art museum, or see a play. Or just sit outside and soak up the sky.” Try to regularly switch to your off mode not only to recharge, but also to see what your subconscious uncovers without any effort required from you.

Brick by brick approach

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Improvement happens tiny step by tiny step. Brick by brick.

Sometimes you’ll take a leap and it feels wonderful to make big steps forward. Such noticeable progress feels reassuring and can be a reminder that the thing you’re working on is worth your time and effort.

But most improvement results from a slow and steady approach. Our ego would love for things to move quicker because it stubbornly only wants instant gratification and success. But success isn’t a finish line in the distant future – success is building something brick by brick, even in the face of doubt, discomfort and adversity.

As the saying goes, life is a marathon, not a sprint. There is plenty of time so there’s no hurry to work it all out right now, in this moment. Place the next tiny brick and keep repeating until it’s time for a leap.

Introversion and recharging your batteries

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connction

In Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The power of Introversion in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, she explains the differences Carl Jung defined between introversion and extroversion. “Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling… extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being along; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.”

It’s often a misconception that introverts will hide away while extroverts are the life of the party. But it’s not about how comfortable you seem socially, it’s about how your energy gets depleted and how you restore it. In an over-stimulated extroverted world where extroverted qualities are encouraged, it’s helpful to know how you get the most drained from your everyday life. The introvert restoration process is a kind of incubation from life – the desire to retreat, to go inward and spend time alone. It can be seen as unsocial but it’s from this retreating process that your energy bars become restored. As Charles Bukowski puts it, “People empty me. I have to get away to refill.”

With many artists creating work on their own, sometimes completely solitary, the skill of drawing from within yourself and making meaning of your world internally is a deep well of inspiration. Cain explains that “Some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions – from the theory of evolution to Van Gogh’s sunflowers to the personal computer – came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in two there in the world and the treasures to be found there.”

Michaela Chung in The Year of the Introvert, speaks of her introversion as being a valuable tool for success: “I see that I needed time to grown my inner toolkit so that I could handle the responsibilities and stresses that come with each new level of success.” In a western world that makes a comparison between work and ‘a rat race,’ and ‘hustling’ feels like wearing a badge of honour, slowing down and reflect is becoming evermore important. “Slow down and take your time – the finish line keeps moving until you’re dead; so, you see, there is really no need to rush.”

Not all flowers blossom where and when you want them to. Some plants can only grow under certain conditions… It is the same for introverts. Often, we simply can’t blossom in the soil where we have been planted. To truly come into our own, we need to seek out more solitude and less constant busyness; more meaning and less going through the motions. – Michaela Chung

Even Oprah Winfrey, one our most iconic modern role-models, identifies as an introvert. In her podcast interview with Amy Schumer (March 22, 2018) she shared “I’ve been at parties where I have to get up and leave. I’m just in the bathroom.” The bathroom becomees a place to recharge, a brief rest from the energy-draining experience parties can be. Schumer agrees “[I] Love to hide in the bathroom! Yeah, people are confused about, y’know but how could you get up in front of so many people? I say it’s different and I think when you’re so giving of yourself and your mind and everything, you need to take a break.”

Giving yourself the gift of recharging in whatever way works for you, will ultimately make you a more giving individual.