When was the last time you stopped and asked yourself: how am I doing?
For many of us, corporate life has turned our life outwards: rushing from meeting to meeting with a take-away coffee in our left hand, and a phone buzzing with attention-demanding messages from anyone but ourselves in our right hand. Life never stops. Dinner with friends had to be squished into schedules; workout time has become so scarce that waking up early was the only option to “make up for lost time”. We practise ‘self-care’ through hustle – getting fitter, getting more social – but forgot about the one thing that truly keeps us alive.
Breathing. Now is the perfect time for it, as the pandemic has forced us to go inwards (both literally and figuratively). No one imagined 2020 this way, least of all during summer. Fancy holiday plans? Cancelled. Sipping some wine with friends whilst enjoying the sun on a terrace? Cancelled. No more external impulses driving us into escapist behaviours… it is time to stand still, breathe, and look inside.
In other words: it’s time for mindfulness. This might instantly paint a certain image for you: Instagram is littered with candid, zen-like images of meditation or yoga gurus. For some, this works, but becoming mindful of your internal world can be so much more than that.
Creativity is another gateway towards mindfulness. As children, we used to be experts of creativity: carelessly creating finger paintings, happily drawing stick-figure family portraits or writing sappy poems for Mother’s Day. However, with age comes the cultivation of our inner critics, which holds us back at times, or even eliminates creativity from our lives.
But the beauty of art is its diversity and self-expressive nature. It doesn’t have to be about how the world sees you, but it’s about the way you see the world. You just need to discover what fits you, to get into that state of mind where you forget about the world and its opinions. Here are 3 ways to get into the flow of creative mindfulness.
Some of us might consider it a guilty pleasure: the way our teenage-self used to scribble down school adventures or lovelorn questions in a secret journal. As we got older, a new version of journaling manifested on social media. Our memories are now stored through Instagram stories, Facebook posts or tweets. It’s visual and socially interactive, but being watched by a thousand eyes also means there’s less room for reflection and authenticity. Perhaps it’s time to pick up a pen again.
Keeping a written journal is no longer something for children and teenagers. In fact, it has been encouraged amongst adults for its many health benefits, such as the clarification of thoughts and feelings, a better self-understanding and stress reduction. An academic study also found that “expressive writing reduces intrusive and avoidant thoughts about negative events and improves working memory”. Sounds amazing, but what should we write about to make this happen?
Writing about the day is a nice way to start, but this might get boring over time. If that happens, you might appreciate some specific writing prompts to spur effective reflections. A popular example is keeping a gratitude journal: each day, you write down everything you are grateful for on that day. This could be done in a minute; you can make your list or mind-map as big as you like.
Practising gratitude helps planting those seeds of positivity in your life, but there are numerous other specific subjects you could write about to increase your wellbeing. For example, the DiveThru app, is a journaling app that starts off with a short mindfulness exercise followed by a journaling prompt. Currently, they are running a 30-day journaling challenge to help you get motivated. Prompts may focus on being aware of your emotions (“What is currently causing stress in my life?”), self-compassion (“I’m deserving of self-care, because…”), positive visioning (“If I were to prioritise self-care in my life, it would look like…”), and many more. You can’t journal in the app itself, since you are encouraged to disengage from your phone and write in a notebook instead. Of course, you can also just type something down on your laptop/phone if that’s what you prefer.
In other words, pick up any scrap of (digital) paper, and write your heart out! Start with whatever comes to mind, and if doing this daily leaves your inspiration dry, consider using specific prompts. While journaling, there’s just you and your words. You can reign free in your daily emotions, fantasies and dreams. It doesn’t matter how long you write for, as long as you do it consistently to build up the habit. Rumour has it that the pen is mightier than the sword, so it’s time to pick a fight with those nasty thoughts and emotions.
Most of us possess a pen, but how about crayons? It’s probably been a while since you saw those laying around your house, but colouring and doodling is another form of creative mindfulness that can help you focus and improve wellbeing. You don’t have to be the next Leonardo Da Vinci to reap the benefits of creating shapes on paper. Something as simple as colouring or doodling can already be a fun and easy way to get those creative juices flowing.
If you’re a frequent bookstore dweller you have probably witnessed how adult colouring books have mushroomed into the world. This is most likely because they can be therapeutic. Studies have found that colouring may increase your concentration and awareness, or even lower depressive symptoms and anxiety. There’s no limit to your imagination (although there may be a limit to your crayons), and you can fill up your canvas little by little, whenever you like. Whilst working from home, you can even schedule a few colouring breaks in between meetings and watch your wall fill up with your own art. From meditative mandalas to floral prints or jazzy animal patterns… the internet is full of free colouring templates, so there’s something to colour for everyone.
Colouring is an amazing first step to get comfortable with creativity, but if you want to go beyond relaxation, you might want to consider doodling as a means of “therapeutic storytelling”. Having a tough day? Draw it out! Think about your life as a comic book, and release your frustrations. A great example of this is Sarah Anderson’s work: using four or more simple images she effectively expresses how she feels or what she’s going through; the good and the bad. Expressing your life through comics can help you externalise your problems and uncover new insights. Your comic doesn’t have to be artistic or pretty at all; it just has to communicate your thoughts and feelings. Everyone can draw a stick figure with an emotionally expressive face (just think about emojis) – just take a look at this stick figure comic tutorial to see what can be achieved from such simple doodles.
Similarly to journaling, colouring or doodling is an interaction between you and your medium. Consider it a visual way of journaling and let your judgments about ‘proper art’ go.