With film credits that include Oscar-winner What Dreams May Come and Emmy-Award nominee, Homeless to Harvard, Barnet Bain is a motion picture producer and director, radio broadcaster, and creativity expert. He is the author of The Book Of Doing And Being: Rediscovering Creativity In Life, Love, And Work, out now from sister company Simon & Schuster and available wherever books are sold.
Your phone is buzzing. Your inbox is pinging. Your stomach is growling. And your co-worker is signaling you about the three o’clock meeting that is about to start. You know that your physical presence alone in this brainstorming session isn’t going to cut it. Your creativity is what you want to bring to the table. How do you break through the stress that has spun a web around you over the last few minutes or hours and show up feeling fresh, alert, and inspired?
For most people today, work and business are the primary channels of creative expression. And what we are discovering (sometimes the hard way) is that creativity and stress don’t mix. The following three exercises will clear the path for inspiration, intuition, relaxation, and flow—all integral parts of your creativity toolkit.
Mindful Breathing Technique
The quickest way to unwind from stress is with the breath. When we are relaxed, we’re far more likely to have those big “aha” creative breakthroughs. Use this practice to start your day or to kick start a creative work session. It’s especially effective when feeling unclear or overwhelmed.
- Settle into a comfortable position in your chair, close your eyes, and breathe through the nose.
- Bring your full attention to the experience of the breath entering and then leaving your nose.
- If you become distracted by a thought, gently bring your attention back to the focus on your breath.
- When you are ready, come back to center, and slowly open your eyes.
In addition to mindful breathing, you promote creative relaxation every time you step away from your desk, daydream, have a short nap, or take a walk down a tree-lined street.
The Space Between Practice
Persistent stress and long work hours can leave us mentally fuzzy, fatigued, and sometimes fragile. This powerful practice—which kept me sane when I lost all my savings during the 2008 financial crisis—is particularly effective for building resilience in chaos.
- Get comfortable and close your eyes.
- Behind the screen of your closed lids, imagine your heart’s desire. Feel it, sense it, and see it as best you can. It doesn’t have to be a perfect connection. Feeling it is the key.
- Move your joyful future over to the right-hand side of the inner screen behind your eyes.
- Imagine your most frightening thought. A few examples: “I will get sick and be a burden.” “I will lose my partner.” “I will be living out of a shopping cart under a bridge.” Whatever it is, do not be afraid to see it and feel it.
- Move that image and experience to the left-hand side of the screen behind your eyes.
- On your inner screen, you now have your heart’s desire on your right side and your worst nightmare on your left side. Imagine yourself stepping into the middle of the two scenarios and experience yourself in the field right between these two potentials. Spend as much time here as you feel comfortable, which can be as brief as 2-3 minutes.
- Come back to center, take a breath, and let it all go.
Facing your darkest fear releases the creative energy that is bound up in a web of hidden anxieties. You can dissipate its power and be free to put your attention on the present moment.
Creativity Is An Inside Job—3 Simple Steps
- The one inner resource that may be even quicker than the breath at melting stress and opening up channels of creative inspiration is love. Love has the power to put us back in relationship again—with ourselves, the people around us, and the meaning and purpose underlying all of our to-do lists and deadlines.
- Close your eyes and picture a beloved person or pet in your life. Or think of a time when you felt great love. Take a breath, putting the picture aside. Can you still feel the love? Love is an inside creation. You are always only a moment away from remembering the love that uplevels everything.
- Because creativity is love’s labor, now you are ready to take the call, compile the report, negotiate the terms, or make the presentation.
Experiment with the three creativity exercises, using them in various settings and states of mind, and find out how your creative energy flourishes when stress is no longer the boss of you.
Related: 5 Simple Exercises That Lower Stress