When you hear me say the word “ritual,” you might think I’m being more spiritual. For me a ritual is a practical thing I do to get the best result from myself. Most creative people have high expectations of themselves and if they include rituals to support their creative work it can be a really powerful tool. It tickles me that even though I’m a messy person naturally, tidying-up is one of my all-time favourite rituals.
Sometimes I procrastinate by tidying-up, telling myself I’ll just do this before I tackle that...”. It’s one of those activities that can burn off my restless energy that is sometimes the result of difficulties in my creative process. Difficulties such as not knowing where to start or not being in the right frame of mind to paint. I can choose to wait to be in the right frame of mind or I can actively do something to make it happen. And choosing to make it happen is becoming a habit for me.
I try to notice WHY I want to tidy or rearrange the whole flippin’ studio and often I recognise that tidying might be a useful thing to do while those difficulties sort themselves out in the back of my mind.
But tidying isn’t always procrastination. Sometimes I need to sort, tidy, rearrange, to create a SPACE in which I can focus. It’s also a brilliant TRANSITION technique to get my brain from one state to another, so I can get in to the groove to paint. As it can be so difficult going from busy busy to calm and creative.
Years ago when I worked for The Prince’s Trust we collaborated with NESTA the innovation foundation on a creative project and it was there I learned about the 4 basic types of brain waves that set our state of mind:
Alpha - These waves emit when you’re in a calm state physically and mentally, when you’re anchored in the present moment. This state is brilliant for learning and connecting your mind and body.
Beta - These waves are dominant when we’re busy, when your attention is directed to tasks like problem solving, decision making, complex thinking and even anxiety and excitement. This brain state is very energy intensive.
Delta - Delta waves are the slowest and longest waves of the spectrum they occur during deep meditation and dreamless sleep. They support healing.
Theta - Theta waves occur when we are just drifting off in sleep. Theta waves usually accompany intuition and vivid imagery, it helps with learning and memory.
During my time with NESTA, I was told a story about the French artist, Toulouse Lautrec who was partial to the odd drop of absinthe to get him into a dreamy state (theta). He would sit on a chair with a penny held between his knees and a tin plate on the floor (positioned just underneath his knees). As he drifted into his dreams his body would relax, the penny would drop from his knees onto the tin plate and wake him. He’d wake with such a start that he’d remember his vivid dreams and quickly sketch them as ideas for his paintings. Toulouse was a master at shifting his brain state to aid his creativity.
Now before we all pop off to the shop to stock up on absinthe ‘to aid our creativity” just think about what you already do.....everyday. We adjust our level of neural-behaviour depending on the time of day, the environment we’re in and who we’re with. For instance, the ability to wake up in the morning, be alert for work, ready for communication, social and emotional demands and motor tasks to then returning home and preparing our nervous system for rest and sleep. My ‘bad’ or frustrating days can often be linked to not being in the best brain state for the situation or environment I find myself in.
If I want to paint my best brain state is Alpha, but I know that I spend most of my day in Beta rhythm (task orientated, problem solving and communicating) so it’s important for me to know how to shift my brain state so I can achieve my goal.
According to neuroscientists decreasing the brain rhythm to alpha significantly increases the production of endorphin, norepinephrine and dopamine which can last for hours and days, it’s considered a natural antidepressant. But most people are lacking in one brainwave pattern and that’s easy to see how that happens with our environmental stressors, fear, anxiety, tension and overworking depletes our alpha wave activity. We loose our ability to think clearly, be more creative and communicate thoughtfully.....we end up feeling mentally stuck, and stress even more so.
Getting back in alpha state will stabilise intense emotions as you’re not thinking too quickly and stressing nor or you thinking to slowly and becoming tired, it’s a balance between the two. Alpha will help you access your flow, where time passes quickly and challenges are easily overcome.
I’ve tried many different things to create the best environment for my creativity and productivity and I’ve learnt that I need to either INCREASE or DECREASE the amount of sensory input around me. So my ritual of tidying the studio decreases the amount of distractions around me, so I can start work ...... but I can have the best place to work and still be the wrong frame of mind.
You all know this already, what I mean is, that you all know that you will create your best work in the right environment but you might not of been consciously aware of the helpful transitions to get you from one brain state to another and that’s the key.
For me that’s where exercise comes in really handy. I love to walk, mountain bike and run but I absolutely adore the after-effects! About 90 minutes after a good physical bout of exercise, a deep feeling of relaxation occurs and that’s my moment for peak alpha...I love it! Other people meditate and achieve the same effect, so that’s next on my list of things to try.