Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Get Back on the Creative Track (and Out of That Rut You’re In!)

Lately, I’ve found myself stymied. I do the same-old, same-old things with my quilts and it's really frustrating! I want to break out and do the innovative and artistic quilts I envision in my head—but somehow life, my lack of space and okay, yes, my self-doubts, get in the way. I find myself not starting projects, even though I’ve bought the fabric, pattern and notions. I find myself dreading the quilting, afraid I’ll screw up a quilt I’ve come to love during cutting and piecing. I find myself making false starts with projects, yet never actually sewing a stitch. Who knew creativity came with such a price?

I asked therapist Charlotte Kasl, PhD, author of If the Buddha Got Stuck: A Handbook for Change on a Spiritual Path, about why people get stuck and she told me it’s often because they can’t handle the anxiety that comes with trying something new—and not being perfect right off the bat. But these are just negative thinking patterns we’ve learned, she says. We’ve got to fight these thoughts by replacing them with empowering statements, saying “I can do it” instead of “I’ll just screw it up.” Because as the old saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way.

Boosting Your Creative Power
Creativity isn't for sissies. You've got to put in the effort--even pros have practiced their craft for years and learned to keep going in the face of challenges. (By the way, Malcolm Gladwell's new book Outliers emphasizes this point. He says practicing something 10,000 times is what turns people like the Beatles and Bill Gates into mega-successes.) For starters, try some of the following strategies for pulling yourself out of a creative rut.

1. Approach a project from a new angle. Start in a different way than you usually do—at the side of a quilt rather than the middle, for instance. Or buy embellishments for a garment first, matching fabrics second. “Start the process differently and you’ll create a bigger space for yourself to work in,” says Diane Ericson, a California fabric artist and creativity coach (

2. Go back to the beginning. Try some basic techniques—if you're a quilter, sewing straight 1/4" seams and practicing your points can be therapeutic (and makes perfect, too).

3. Start each creative session with a practice piece. This might be a small postcard, a sampler, or simply a test scrap of material that you practice sewing your name on. But play for a few minutes to switch out of your role in daily life and into your role as a creator.

4. Organize your space and supplies. We know cleaning is far from tops on your list of things to do, but tidying your workspace and moving stuff around may help you to see projects differently. Decluttering can wipe out the cobwebs in both your craft space and your head.

5. Make an excitement list. What attracts and fascinates you? What colors, what techniques, what styles? Excitement and passion are where creativity begins, says Gail McMeekin, MSW, a Massachusetts creativity coach and author of the inspiring book, The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women. (Go to her site at

6. Meditate, take a walk, do some yoga, bake a cake—whatever relaxes you. Performing stress-reducing activities can help you flip the switch to a more creative state of mind and think through creative roadblocks. Even closing your eyes and breathing deeply for a few minutes can work wonders.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hobbies Relieve Stress!

It's undeniable: We Americans are mighty stressed today—from trying to make the mortgage and save for retirement in this REALLY troubled financial climate…to raising kids and caring for aging parents…and attempting to prepare healthy meals and get enough exercise. That’s why it’s so important to pursue inexpensive activities that can relieve stress—and bring you joy!

That's where the concept of craft to heal comes in: Research shows that having a hobby you love can have mental, physical and spiritual benefits. Performing a hobby, whether it’s taking photographs, gardening, cooking, scrapbooking, quilting or throwing a pot on a wheel, distracts you from your worries and anxieties by making you focus on the here and now. Making a quilt or knitting a sweater brings a sense of peace and connects you with yourself. It gives you the opportunity to think about things, to center yourself and to be quiet and contemplative for a while.

A study sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts shows that pursuing a hobby can also help stave off the brain fog and loneliness of old age. Trying new things and being creative by singing in a chorale, taking dancing lessons, painting, or doing crossword puzzles or brain teasers prompts our brains to grow dendrites, connective pathways that keep the brain healthy.

To tap into the healing power of hobbies, follow these guidelines:

Match your hobby to your personality. If you’re a detail-oriented person, you might like hobbies that require precision, such as quilting or decorative painting. If you’re more spontaneous and like to make a mess, activities that make you do a lot of measuring will cause frustration rather than relaxation. You might prefer ceramics, gardening or photography.

Try rhythmic and repetitive activities such as knitting or sewing. The act of doing a task over and over again breaks the train of everyday thought and relieves stress by evoking the relaxation response, a feeling of bodily and mentally calm that’s been scientifically proven to enhance health and reduce the risk of heart disease, anxiety and depression.
Make time for your hobby every week, and ideally every day. Experts advise meditating for at least 20 minutes a day, so try to do the same with your hobby to get continuing benefits.

Create a space just for your hobby. Set up a dedicated hobby area in your home, so you can play whenever you have a few moments to spare. If you don’t have a whole room or office to putter in, put your supplies in a basket or the car for easy access.

Take a class or join a club to meet other people. Human beings are social animals and research shows that socializing with others helps release stress. Plus: Life-long learning and having a strong social network are two keys to healthy, happy aging.

Enjoy the process. Many people rush to finish a project, but the fun and the healing benefits are in the process. That’s when you push worry, anger, anxiety and everyday worries out of the way.

Don't be a perfectionist. Give yourself permission to enjoy your hobby without expecting your projects to be masterpieces. If you make your hobby another chore that you have to accomplish perfectly, you’ll lose the therapeutic benefits and the fun.

Don't compare yourself to others. If you’re a beginner, let yourself be a beginner. Persevere with your hobby because you love it, and whether you ever become a master at it or not, it will bring you joy. You don’t even have to finish your projects if you don’t want to. The point isn’t to make a ton of stuff. The point is to find what makes you happy, and what helps to relieve your stress.

Be bold! Pursue your hobby for yourself and yourself alone, and to express yourself. Don’t worry what other people think of your projects. As Mary Tyler Moore was once quoted as saying “What other people think of me is none of my business.”