Do you consider yourself a creative person? If you answered “no,” Erik Wahl begs to differ. In his new book Unthink, Wahl argues that we all have the potential for “breakthrough creativity,” but many of us have forgotten how to tap into it. Here’s how he knows: After living a successful yet conventional life, Wahl lost everything in the dotcom bust at age 30. Unmoored, he started painting — something he’d never done — and unintentionally unlocked a curiosity and wonder he hadn’t experienced since childhood. Now a successful graffiti artist and corporate lecturer, Wahl is dedicated to helping others unleash creativity. Here are his tips for finding our own inner artist. —BBL Editor
The act of creation is living. As humans, the only full-time job we’ve ever been designed for is to create something out of nothing. We procreate, write sonnets, farm asparagus, knit scarves and build cities. If we can agree this is a basic principle of life, we can also assume the more we create, the more fulfilled we will be.
However, it seems that sometimes we forget our genetic mission. We take our capacity to dream or innovate and exchange it for systematic rules and historical precedent. We stop creating and allow our lives to be run by standardized grading systems, the IRS, insurance paperwork and flossing. Unquestionably, these are all “good things,” but they require us to follow a pattern of safe and predictable rules in order to feel good about ourselves. We need to get rid of this self-created stress that somehow offers us false meaning. In my experience, it really only offers ulcers and panic attacks.
In order to lead the way toward a creative resurrection, I want to offer five quick tips to help us unlock, unleash and “Unthink” the creator we were designed to be.
1. Be present.
This is by far the most important thing we can do. We think that by imagining a fictitious version of ourselves in the future, we can control what happens to us in the present. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work this way. If we want to affect our future, we must become present right now. This removes the idealistic image we create based on how much fun we “could” be or how much money we “could” make. To counter this idea, I suggest basic meditations to align our mind, body and spirit in the present moment.
2. Create. Don’t perfect.
Years ago in a collegiate pottery class I attended, the teacher performed an experiment. Half of the class was graded on the quality of their final pottery submissions while the other half was ranked on the quantity or weight of their final pieces. At the end of the semester, the half ranked on the quantity actually created better final pieces than those pursuing perfection. The point was that by creating more, with low stress involved, we will actually create better work. Quantity beats quality every time. As Salvador Dali said, “Don’t worry about perfection, you’ll never reach it.”
Our brain is said to be such an impressive organ that it operates with enough energy to power a light bulb. However, despite these amazing capabilities, when we encounter new data the brain actually has to work harder to process something it is unfamiliar with. This act is called curation, and it’s an important form of input that provides numerous moments for little sparks of inspiration. By visiting a museum, symphony, ballet or by traveling to a different country, our brain is forced to exercise. And as our brain works harder, it naturally opens up to accept and build upon inspiring thoughts and ideas.
4. Toss the tech.
There is scientific evidence proving we are “in love” with our smart phones. It’s true. Our brains react to the ringers, updates and images of our smart phones in the exact same place where we express feelings for loved ones. This should freak us out. To test yourself, I suggest dropping all technology for one complete day. Take notice of how many times your hand twitches to double-check your email, messages, texts or updates. It’s time to recognize our love affair with an inanimate object and use this time to appropriately reorder our attention to what is truly important.
5. Verbal vomit.
The question always comes back to, “What can I do right now?” Here’s your assignment: Verbal Vomit. This is the practice of combining all of the above principles and taking immediate action. After doing all the steps, just start writing. Don’t stop. When you think you’re done, you’re not. Keep writing. Soon your body will slowly enter into a sweaty and energetic phase of creative inspiration. Remember, no one ever has to read or edit this writing. As you flesh out ideas previously circulating inside your cluttered head, you will document a nugget of thought that is actually worth something.
Finally, memorize the words of famous author Ray Bradbury, “Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.” I firmly believe if you adopt these principles of “Unthinking” you’ll become fulfilled, completing the only job you’ve ever been given — to create.
Learn more about Erik Wahl, join the Unthink Revolution, and take the ArtWork Evaluation at TheArtofVision.com.