TIME Mental Health/Psychology

A New Theory of Why Neurotics Are Creative

A wandering mind might explain why creative leaders tend to be neurotic.

Adam Perkins is a psychologist and a self-proclaimed neurotic, contemplating things to the point of obsession. He can get anxious about things that might seem mundane to another person. And he’s admittedly quite sensitive.

Perkins also has a new theory, described in a piece published Thursday in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, about why he and many others like him channel their neuroticism into creativity and problem solving. He argues it comes from how certain people daydream.

Neuroticism and creative thinking have long been correlated: some of history’s more exciting minds, from Isaac Asimov to Winston Churchill to Woody Allen, have been famously anxious with a tendency to brood. The trait is also often associated with being risk-averse; neurotic people are often considered “threat sensitive,” a classification that the psychologist Jeffrey Gray first pinpointed while developing a test that predicted a person’s tendency to be neurotic. Gray’s test showed that high scorers on the neuroticism test tended to avoid “dangerous” jobs, preferring occupations that kept them out of harm’s way—hence the association with more analytical jobs, which require creative problem solving, as opposed to physical ones.

But Gray’s analysis seemed simplistic, Perkins says. “Why should having a magnified view of threat make you good at coming up with solutions to difficult problems?” he tells TIME. “It doesn’t add up. On one hand, it’s a clever theory—it shows the difficulty of holding down a dangerous job, for example—but on the other hand, it doesn’t explain why [neurotic people] tend to feel unhappy or why they’re more creative.”

Perkins had an epiphany when he attended co-author Jonathan Smallwood’s lecture on mind wandering. Smallwood, an expert who studies the neuroscience of daydreaming, was describing self-generated thought and its origins in the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that has been linked with memories and recall.

“He started describing how people whose minds wander are better at things like creativity, delaying gratification and planning. He also talked about the way that daydreamers’ minds wander when they’re feeling kind of blue,” Perkins says. “And my ears perked up.”

Smallwood had run a series of tests on volunteers, where he’d put them through an MRI scanner with no instructions. Naturally, the volunteers began daydreaming. Those with negative thoughts would display greater activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. “If you have a high level of activity in this particular brain area, then your mind wandering tends to be threat-related,” he says.

That’s what happens in the brains of neurotic people when their minds wander.

And of course, no surprise, the longer one dwells on a problem, unwilling to let it go, the more likely they are to come up with a solution—making that a potential upside to neurotic daydreaming.

“There’s costs and benefits to being a neurotic,” Perkins says. “What’s interesting is that you can be neurotic and have a creative benefit, but we still don’t understand it.”

TIME career

The Surprising Ways Complaining Hurts Your Career

Leadership coach Rick Tamlyn on getting out of the toxic habits that impede our ability to be creative

It’s easy to get into the habit of complaining at work. In fact it can be a way of bonding with your colleagues. Those sidechat grousing sessions can feel so satisfying in the short term. But as leadership coach Rick Tamlyn explains, complaining has a toxic effect on our ability to progress and find our best creative selves.

Of course, you may not think you’re a complainer, but as Tamlyn suggests, try tracking how many negative thoughts and words you express every day, versus the positive moments. The tally may surprise you. Changing that dynamic is hard, but key, says Tamlyn who believes changing the way we talk about our lives can be one of the most essential ways to move toward the career and life we want.

Tamlyn is a leadership coach, motivational speaker and advisor to Fortune 100 companies, small businesses, nonprofits, and churches. His goal is helping people get unstuck so that they can tap into their own creativity. He has built a global audience, speaking and conducting workshops in more than 17 countries for individuals and companies such as IBM, The Coaches Training Institute, Glaxo-SmithKline, Schneider Electric, among others.

He is the author of Play Your Bigger Game (2013), and a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC) as well as a Master Certified Coach (MCC) as designated by the International Coach Federation (ICF), and a senior trainer for The Coaches Training Institute, a coach training and leadership development organization.

Read next: This Is the No. 1 Predictor of Career Success, According to Science

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TIME Innovation

How to Gather Ideas and Combine Them Into a New Creation

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Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

“Combinatory play,” said Einstein, “seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.”

Ruminating on the necessity of both reading and writing, so as not to confine ourselves to either, Seneca in one of his Epistles, advised that we engage in Combinatorial Creativity — that is, gather ideas, sift them, and combine them into a new creation.

We should follow, men say, the example of the bees, who flit about and cull the flowers that are suitable for producing honey, and then arrange and assort in their cells all that they have brought in; these bees, as our Vergil says,

Pack close the flowing honey,
And swell their cells with nectar sweet.

It is not certain whether the juice which they obtain from the flowers forms at once into honey, or whether they change that which they have gathered into this delicious object by blending something therewith and by a certain property of their breath. For some authorities believe that bees do not possess the art of making honey, but only of gathering it … Certain others maintain that the materials which the bees have culled from the most delicate of blooming and flowering plants is transformed into this peculiar substance by a process of preserving and careful storing away, aided by what might be called fermentation,— whereby separate elements are united into one substance.

But I must not be led astray into another subject than that which we are discussing. We also, I say, ought to copy these bees, and sift whatever we have gathered from a varied course of reading, for such things are better preserved if they are kept separate; then, by applying the supervising care with which our nature has endowed us,— in other words, our natural gifts,— we should so blend those several flavors into one delicious compound that, even though it betrays its origin, yet it nevertheless is clearly a different thing from that whence it came.

Montaigne, perhaps echoing Seneca, reasoned that we must take knowledge and make it our own, Seneca comments:

We must digest it; otherwise it will merely enter the memory and not the reasoning power. Let us loyally welcome such foods and make them our own, so that something that is one may be formed out of many elements, just as one number is formed of several elements whenever, by our reckoning, lesser sums, each different from the others, are brought together. This is what our mind should do: it should hide away all the materials by which it has been aided, and bring to light only what it has made of them. Even if there shall appear in you a likeness to him who, by reason of your admiration, has left a deep impress upon you, I would have you resemble him as a child resembles his father, and not as a picture resembles its original; for a picture is a lifeless thing.

The Loeb Classic Library collection of Seneca’s Epistles in three volumes (1-65, 66-92, and 92-124), should be read by all in its entirety. Of course, if you don’t have time to read them all, you can read a heavily curated version of them.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

The 5 Skills of Disruptive Innovators

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Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

In The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, authors Jeffrey Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen uncover the origins of “innovative-and often disruptive-business ideas.”

Five primary discovery skills—skills that compose what we call the innovator’s DNA—surfaced from our conversations. We found that innovators “Think Different,” to use a well-known Apple slogan. Their minds excel at linking together ideas that aren’t obviously related to produce original ideas (we call this cognitive skill “associational thinking” or “associating”). But to think different, innovators had to “act different.” All were questioners, frequently asking questions that punctured the status quo. Some observed the world with intensity beyond the ordinary. Others networked with the most diverse people on the face of the earth. Still others placed experimentation at the center of their innovative activity. When engaged in consistently, these actions—questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting—triggered associational thinking to deliver new businesses, products, services, and/or processes.

The ability to look at problems in a non-standard way might be the most sought after competency of the future.

Most of us believe that the ability to think creatively is genetic. It’s not.

Most of us believe that some people, like (Steve) Jobs, are simply born with creative genes, while others are not. Innovators are supposedly right brained, meaning that they are genetically endowed with creative abilities. The rest of us are left brained—logical, linear thinkers, with little or no ability to think creatively. … (You’re wrong!) At least within the realm of business innovation, virtually everyone has some capacity for creativity and innovative thinking. Even you.

Behaviors drive innovation.

A critical insight from our research is that one’s ability to generate innovative ideas is not merely a function of the mind, but also a function of behaviors. This is good news for us all because it means that if we change our behaviors, we can improve our creative impact.

The five skills of disruptive innovators are:

  1. Associating: Innovators associate ideas that are previously unconnected either to solve problems or create something new. This is how Gutenberg created the printing press. When forming teams, keep cross-pollination of experiences and perspectives in mind. But you also need the glue. You need someone in the room with loose associations who can pull ideas together.
  2. Questioning: Innovators ask a ton of questions. In fact, they treat the world as a question. Managers ask ‘how’ questions — how are we going to speed that up, how are we going to stop this from happening. Innovators ask ‘why.’ They are the kid at the back of the class the teacher hates (and often, the person in the meeting the manager hates.) Not only does this help you filter bullshit, but it helps jolt people from the status quo.
  3. Observing: You can’t learn if you don’t observe. You need to always be observing. This mindfulness is what allowed Sherlock Holmes to solve cases.
  4. Networking: Talking to people is a great source of ideas. People offer different perspectives. They may have just failed at something but you may be able to apply the same idea to a different problem. You need to be open to these perspectives, even if you just file them away for another day. (see #1)
  5. Experimenting: If the world is their question it is also their lab. Fail often. Fail fast. Fail Cheap. Try again. Never give up.

You can see how these are somewhat synergistic. They all fit together, each one making the other parts stronger. If you can only pick two focus on asking questions and networking.

The Innovator’s DNA is fascinating throughout.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

4 Principles That Will Make You More Innovative

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Combing through the research, what are the overarching principles that we need to know to be more innovative thinkers in everyday life? Here they are, with links to the research backing them up.

1) Relax

What is most likely your daily creative peak? Your morning shower. For many of us it’s the most relaxing part of our day — and the most creative.

Just being happy can make you more creative for days; seriously, just smile. Watching comedy clips helps, trying too hard hurts. If you tend to be hard on yourself, being less critical can make you more creative. Anger can boost originality in the short term — but it doesn’t last.

It’s probably no surprise that boring work is better done at the office and creative work is better accomplished at home. Hopeful employees are more original. Trust can even make your hairstylist more creative. On the other hand, rudeness from superiors craters original thinking as does time pressure. Thoughts of money often bring pressure and the best art is created when there’s no cash involved.

Being in nature relaxes us and even a mere potted plant in the office can increase creativity. Or just the color green for that matter.

Sleep is good. Taking breaks aids your idea-generating. Daydreamers are more original thinkers.

2) Expose Yourself To New Ideas And New Perspectives

Unusual or unexpected events increase creativity. A proven way to stimulate this effect is travel. Living in a foreign culture can make you more creative. Countries with more international business travelers patent more. Merely having friends from other cultures can get the muse going.

Imagining you’re a child again or that you’re solving a problem for someone else was enough to increase creativity. Even frowning when you’re happy — creating dissonance between your mind and body spurred original thinking. Doing everyday things in unconventional ways can do the trick.

Being exhausted or drunk increases creativity because they make you look at the world differently. Bilinguals are more creative, probably as a result of their dual perspective. Even sarcasm is enough of a perspective shift to help.

3) Get Ideas Crashing Into Each Other

Overlapping different projects allows new connections to burgeon at the margins, helping to create innovative ideas. Bill Gates reads all his books for the year in two weeks because this allows new information to be better juxtaposed and contrasted. Just being curious offers a boost.

A disorganized brain is often a more creative brain — and this may be why those with ADD and wandering minds are gifted idea generators. Larger cities are disproportionately innovative as are people with bigger networks.

You want a mix of fresh and classic. The most creative teams are a mix of old friends and new blood as well as experienced and inexperienced workers. The most creative ideas are fresh but also fit into a recognized formula. Originality requires both freedom and constraints. Make little bets and iterate, iterate, iterate.

And brainstorming’s mantra of refraining from judging or negating ideas is wrong. Let ideas duke it out.

4) Work Hard

As Chuck Close said, “Inspiration is for amateurs.”

You don’t need fancy degrees to be a creative genius. Some of the most brilliant artists of all time had the equivalent of a college-dropout level of education — but you do need to work hard at your craft. Studying your field extensively doesn’t reduce creativity, it increases it. Future geniuses are often unpopular in high school because they spend so much time working on their projects.

Chris Rock relentlessly tests and tweaks new comedy acts onstage over a period of months to get them right. “Some historical studies of patent records have in fact shown that overall productivity correlates with radical breakthroughs in science and technology, that sheer quantity ultimately leads to quality.”

Artists are more likely to have mood disorders. What’s the connection? Depression makes you obsess about things — which is a benefit when you’re trying to make breakthroughs. Dwelling on your problems makes you more creative.

The most original thinkers work very hard and know the secrets to becoming an expert. Literally being forced to write made writers more productive and more creative.

Sum Up

Four principles:

  • Relax
  • Expose Yourself To New Ideas And New Perspectives
  • Get Ideas Crashing Into Each Other
  • Work Hard

Challenge yourself to use them today. :)

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

How to Overcome Creativity Roadblocks

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The riskiest, most dangerous and potentially most interesting ideas are the easiest to hold back

I have a lot of ideas in my head. And for the most part, that’s where they used to stay.

In my head. Where other people couldn’t see them, interact with them or build upon them. Where they were safe and untested and uncriticized. All mine.

Sure, I’ve created some. Some might say I’ve created plenty. But that’s only because they can’t see what I’m not creating. For example, this very post sat dormant for at least a month while I pondered, waited and nitpicked at it.

Because the riskiest, most dangerous and potentially most interesting ideas are the easiest to hold back. I would pin them down like butterflies on a mat, like art at a museum. They were in spreadsheets, in notebooks, on scrap paper around my desk.

And while it might feel creative to think of these ideas, they were dying a lonely death when I wasn’t doing anything with them. They didn’t get their chance to add anything to the world. To affect someone. To spark something.

I lost out, too, with this arrangement. I didn’t push myself to think deeper and harder. I lost out on the feedback or insight or even criticism of others. I missed the chance to discover uncharted territory within myself. I stopped before I could start.

It wasn’t the best life I could give my ideas—or myself.

So I decided to change. To find a way forward, I cataloged all the things that had ever stopped me from creating so I could shoot them down, one-by-one. It turned out to be a helpful exercise, so I thought I’d share.

1. Because the ideas aren’t finished

The No. 1 thing that keeps me from creating is that the idea doesn’t feel complete yet. It lacks something, or I need more examples, or I’m not sure if it’s clear.

A former editor of mine called these “glimmers”—a little spark of an idea, not fully formed but on the cusp of being something. Sometimes you need to let a glimmer sit for a while before it becomes a fully formed idea. Sometimes you can smush it together with a few other glimmers to make something.

The main thing is that idea glimmers need nurturing, which can be hard to do. When ideas are still developing, they can feel embarrassingly incomplete or tough to explain to others. What if my little glimmer is misunderstood or turns out to be nothing at all?

How to fix it:

It may seem counterintuitive, but I’ve learned that this is the time to talk about ideas most, so they can grow from a glimmer to a real idea. You can even post it on social media to give it a quick test. So what if the idea might fail? I’ll be able to get feedback right away and know whether to keep thinking on my glimmer or let it go.

2. Because it’s too hard

Although I’ve been writing most of my life, it never exactly comes easy to me. Occasionally the words flow, but more often it feels like a struggle to pull them out of me.

And sometimes I don’t want a struggle. Sometimes I want to lay around and watch Orange Is The New Black.

As the incomparable wit Dorothy Parker put it, “I hate writing. I love having written.”

How to fix it:

The best fix I’ve discovered here is simply to start. Start somewhere, anywhere. As soon as I put down an outline, a headline, or even one sentence of the piece, the rest begins to flow much more easily. You can also do this with a timing structure. Close down all the distractions and force yourself to focus on just 20 minutes (or whatever time period feels right to you) of writing and no more. The bite-sized task can jumpstart your focus for the bigger project.

3. Because I’m focusing too much on other people’s stuff

I’ve always loved reading. And there’s really never been a better time to be a passionate reader. I get great stuff all day every day from my Twitter stream, my gazillion RSS feeds and the newsletters in my inbox, plus there’s the Sunday Times (yup, I still get a printed paper), everything I haven’t quite gotten to yet on Pocket and the many books on my Kindle.

Nothing makes me happier than spending time reading great stuff.

But if I’m not careful, it can also paralyze me into thinking all the good ideas are taken and all that needs to be said already has been. It’s kind of like a specific, content marketing version of Imposter Syndrome.

How to fix it:

There’s always going to be space for reading, curating and cheering on others’ work. But there should also be a space for building on it and creating stuff of one’s own. Each of us has something to say, and we have the responsibility and privilege of adding to the discourse. It’s up to us to find and nurture the right balance and feel inspired by—not intimidated by–the work that others do. After all, everything is a remix.

4. Because I’m too busy with other work

Even as I type those words I realize what a flimsy excuse they are. Sure, I have lots to do at work and at home. We all do. But you always make time for what’s important to you, one way or another. I could wake up earlier or stay up later. I could cut out all TV. We all have the same number of hours in the day—it’s up to us to use them the best way we can to achieve our goals.

How to fix it:

What I discovered about feeling too busy for writing is that this is generally a symptom of needing to readjust my priorities to make sure creating doesn’t fall too far down the list. The things that have worked the best for me so far are to block out time in my schedule for creative work. I can write on the weekends, or in the morning before I check my email. If it turns out I’m really and truly too busy to execute an idea, I can always give it away to someone who has time to take it on. Because in the end, it’s more about the idea than it is about me.

5. Because I get distracted

From the time I decided to write this until the time I finished it, I did the following: Walked the dog, ate breakfast, thought about searching Amazon for a new rug, checked Twitter, read two articles. And that’s me on a really focused day. Distractions are always going to be present—that’s the world we live in.

How to fix it:

I’ve been experimenting with a lot of different ideas to help me here. The best solutions so far keep me focused by creating artificial pressure: setting a timer that goes off every 30 minutes, creating a deadline (either real or self-imposed), working until the power runs out on my laptop. I also try to realize the difference between productive distraction (walking the dog often leads to new ideas or “writing in my head”) and non-productive distraction, like idly checking Facebook and Twitter.

6. Because I’m afraid

Now we get to the big one—the real reason that underlies all these others. The biggest reason my ideas used to live only in my mind instead of out in the world is that I was afraid they might not be good enough, unique enough or novel enough.

In essence: I’d rather abandon an idea, bury it forever, than have it potentially fail on me.

Possibly an understandable instinct, but a misguided one for sure–especially when you think of it like this:

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Buffer

Execution is what makes things happen–not pristine, flawless ideas.

Not to mention, if I thought about everything in my life the way I used to think about ideas, I’d be missing out on some pretty amazing experiences. Risk is what makes life interesting.

Luckily, Buffer’s culture creates an incredibly safe space for ideas and thoughts from every team member. Here, I’ve learned to share early and often and to offer and receive feedback with a positive spirit. It has made all the difference. You can do the same by finding a group of peers or a mentor with whom you can practice growing more comfortable sharing around.

How to fix it:

I still haven’t entirely cracked the code on this one, but writing this post is a beginning. Here’s what I’m trying right now:

  • Doing other creative things: My house, at the moment, is littered with construction paper from an art experiment gone awry. That’s OK! Part of my new strategy is spending more creative time, even if there’s no direct result to it just yet.
  • Sharing more with others: In the past I would have been petrified to push publish on this post. This time around, I let my husband (himself a seemingly fearless creator) look at it right away. Feels much better!
  • Creating more meditative time: On bike rides, dog walks and quiet moments alone, I’m letting my mind wander more freely. No headphones, no logistical work thinking. Just wandering. A habit of meditation has made this possible, I think.
  • Allowing myself to be vulnerable: I’ll probably be working on this one the rest of my life—it doesn’t come easy to me. But sharing more with others, asking for help when I need it and being more open to feedback from others are the skills I’m working on right now to become more vulnerable.

Getting comfortable with sharing ideas—both my good and not-so-good ones—isn’t something that happened overnight. It’s a daily practice that I’m still working on and probably will be for some time. I’ve learned that the comfort zone is a nice place to visit, but being uncomfortable is where things really get exciting.

This article originally appeared on Buffer.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

11 Ways to Maximize Your Creative Brainstorming Time

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Creative brainstorming can lead to success — if you make time for it

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Question: How can leaders carve out time/space for creative thinking each week?

Walk Away

“Get out of the office and into nature, engage in a hobby or just go to the grocery store. Raise your head up to experience the world while you’re in it. The world has so much to offer you creatively — if you’re open to it. But it won’t present your best ideas to you while you’re on the computer or at your desk. It will present them while you are away from the grind. So, give yourself space.” — Corey Blake, Round Table Companies

Wake Up Early

“At the beginning of a day, all the responsibilities of work can have a very strong gravitational pull. It’s usually hard to break away once you engage. Waking up early and taking time to meditate, write and think of creative ideas is a great way to avoid the inertia of your work because, chances are, no one is trying to contact you at that time.” — Mark Krassner, Knee Walker Central

Put an ‘Hour of Power’ in Your Calendar

“One of the secrets to carving out time for creative thinking and goal setting is by physically scheduling it as a reoccurring weekly event on your calendar. I call it my “Hour of Power,” which takes place on Sunday evening, and I haven’t missed it in four years.” — Kristopher Jones, LSEO.com

Timebox It Every Week

“The only way that’s worked for me is putting a three-hour time block on my calendar every week and sticking to it. That’s easier said than done, but a way to make it even more real is to communicate it openly to your team and encourage them to do the same!” — Derek Flanzraich, Greatist

Meet With Thought Leaders

“It’s important to meet with a wide variety of thought leaders. Ask people you find interesting to meet for coffee before work. It’ll give you a different vantage point and will get your wheels turning. Being internal and insular within your industry or company creates tunnel vision and acts as a barrier to great ideas.” — Luke Skurman, Niche.com

Draw It Out

“Take out a big sheet of paper and simply draw out all your ideas for an hour per day or week. Don’t use a computer. Feel free to draw pictures of words or branch out tree limbs filled with every problem — business or personal — you have. By drawing out your ideas, you can find hidden solutions from your subconscious. Collect these papers, and review them regularly.” — Robert De Los Santos, Sky High Party Rentals

Take ‘Walkies’

“Me and my creative team go on walks for 10 to 15 minutes every day. We like to refer to these as “walkies,” and everyone in the office knows that it’s time to drop everything and go for a walk. Around half the time we are just talking about our lives and getting to know one another better. The other half of the time, we have the best creative thoughts. Our best ideas have come out of these walks.” — John Rampton, Due

Adjust Your Sleep Schedule

“Start going to bed and waking up an hour earlier. Don’t check your phone when you first get up. Use the extra time to work out for 20 to 30 minutes, have a healthy breakfast and then do some active thinking about your day/week. I like to take a walk or just pace inside if the weather’s bad. Make this a non-negotiable item on your schedule. Afterward, begin your normal morning routine.” — Nick Lavezzo, FoundationDB

Have ‘Think Tanks’

“One thing we do at GothamCulture is something we call “Think Tanks.” It’s not something that’s reserved for leaders. Anyone can call a Think Tank. If employees have an unusual situation they’re grappling with, they invite the entire team to an optional meeting where they provide the context and the need, and the participants collaborate to come up with creative solutions.” — Chris Cancialosi, GothamCulture

Make It a Priority

“Schedule weekly recurring blocks in your calendar to keep creative thinking a high priority by either working alone or with others. Working alone can be very productive, and collaborating with colleagues or professionals from different industries is a great way to absorb new perspectives. I schedule these sessions three mornings a week and consider it a win when one or more yield results.” — Lauren Perkins, Perks Consulting

Know Yourself

“First, everyone has different times and circumstances when their creativity is at its peak. Chart a week, and you’ll learn your peak times for strategic and creative thinking and your less-than-peak times for emails and administrative tasks. You will also learn what distracts you, so you can determine the best approach to staying in the creative zone.” — Suzanne Smith, Social Impact Architects

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

MONEY second careers

How to Tap into Your Creativity to Build a Second Career

JamesRicePhotography.com Jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, 89, at left, with Ed Laub, 62.

Who says innovation peaks in your 20s? Some artists reach their prime in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.

When we lived in Bremerhaven, Germany in the early 1960s, my younger sister and I eagerly shared the Little House series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The first one, Little House in the Big Woods, was published when the author was 65.

For the 50th anniversary of his class of 1825 at Bowdoin College, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem (Morituri Salutamus) which ran through a list of giants who did great work late in life—Cato, who learned Greek at 80, Chaucer, who penned The Canterbury Tales at 60, and Goethe, who completed Faust when “80 years were past.” Longfellow, then 68, exhorted his aging classmates to not lie down and fade. No, “something remains for us to do or dare,” he said.

For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.

The assumption that creativity and gray hair is an oxymoron is a widely held stereotype. What’s more, the notion that creativity declines with age is deeply rooted, but it’s also deeply wrong. Anecdotal and scholarly evidence shows overwhelming that creativity doesn’t fade with age—or at least it doesn’t have to.

Launching Innovative Second Careers

University of Chicago economist David Galenson has taken a systematic look into the relationship between aging and innovation, discovering that many famous artists were at their creative best in their 60s, 70s and even 80s.

Galenson’s favorite example: artist Paul Cézanne, who died at 67 in 1906. Cézanne was always experimenting, always pushing his art, never satisfied. Thanks to his creative restlessness, the paintings of his last few years “would come to be considered his greatest contribution and would directly influence every important artistic development of the next generation,” wrote Galenson in Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity.

The same holds for many others, including Matisse, Twain and Hitchcock.

“Every time we see a young person do something extraordinary, we say, ‘That’s a genius,’” Galenson remarked in an interview with Encore.org, a nonprofit helping people 50+ launch second acts for for the greater good. “Every time we see an old person do something extraordinary we say, ‘Isn’t that remarkable?’ Nobody had noticed how many of those old exceptions there are and how much they have in common.”

One of those “remarkable” people is Ed Laub, 62, a seven-string guitarist in New Jersey who plays with famed jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, 89. (Pizzarelli’s bass player is 95.) I caught up with Laub after a weekend gig in St. Louis and Denver and before the group took off to play in Miami.

Playing guitar is a second career for Laub. His grandfather was a founder of Allied Van Lines and Laub worked for some three decades in the business, alongside his father.

Laub started taking lessons from Pizzarelli when he was 16. When he neared 50, Laub realized that what he really wanted to do was play guitar full-time. His parents had passed away, so he sold the business in 2003 and began teaming up with Pizzarelli. They now perform about 100 times a year in all kinds of venues—auditoriums, jazz clubs, private parties and a regular gig at Shanghai Jazz, a Chinese restaurant/jazz club in Madison, N.J.

Laub told he me has used his business acumen to boost their pay. “What I found out is many creative types have no idea how to manage a business,” he said. “No matter how creative you are, if you do it for a living, it’s a business.”

Boomers Taking Career Risks

My suspicion is the old-aren’t-creative stereotype is a major factor behind the rise in self-employment among boomers. Many people in their 50s and 60s are eager to break away from their jobs if management won’t give them the opportunity to exercise their creative muscles.

Barbara Goldstein, 65, of San Jose, Calif., gets her creative juices flowing by promoting artists. She’s an independent consultant focused on public art planning with clients including the California cities of Pasadena and Palo Alto. “I have as many ideas, if not more, than I did in my 20s and 30s,” she said. “What happens over time is you learn things and you become much more effective in the work you do.”

Goldstein noted that with age, you realize if you want to get something done, you have to go for it—there’s no point in waiting because time is precious. To further broaden her horizons, Goldstein is a fellow at the Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute, a new, one-year program helping older professionals think through the next stage of their lives.

“If you’re always doing the same thing it’s hard to be creative,” she says. (Incidentally, if you know someone 60 or older who’s just now doing great encore career work, nominate him or her for Encore.org’s 2015 Purpose Prize.)

Economists Joseph Quinn of Boston College, Kevin Cahill of Analysis Group and Michael Giandrea of the Bureau of Labor Statistics have found a sizable jump in recent years in the percentage of people who are self-employed in their 50s and 60s. “Older workers exhibit a great deal of flexibility in their work decisions and appear willing to take on substantial risks later in life,” they wrote. And, I’d add, they’re creative.

What can you do to stay creative in your Unretirement years?

  • Don’t isolate yourself. Be willing to engage with people from diverse backgrounds and of different ages, as Goldstein does.
  • Try something new, experiment, take a leap. That’s what Laub did, going from moving van boss to professional guitarist.
  • Go back to school to pick up new skills.
  • And when someone disparages older people for their lack of creativity, tell them about Cezanne and Matisse.

With time, the Unretirement movement will demolish yet one more stereotype holding people back.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes twice a month about the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications of Unretirement, and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org or @cfarrellecon on Twitter.

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7 Rituals You Should Steal From Extremely Creative People

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Observe your mentors and study the work of other masters

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it; they just saw something and connected the dots. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”
―Steve Jobs

Over the years, through our coaching practice and premium course, Angel and I have spoken with dozens of entrepreneurs, artists, and creative types about their unique rituals and routines. The really nice thing is that we often learn just as much from our clients as they do from us. They tell us about some of the most incredibly creative ideas and projects imaginable, and we teach them how to fine-tune the process of getting from where they are to where they want to be. A good coach/client relationship is truly a win-win.

Today, I want to share seven of the most common rituals we’ve seen repeated by the most creative people we’ve worked with.

It’s often said that creativity can’t be contained. That creative inspiration and ideas arise suddenly out of nowhere and then fail to show up when we need them most. And while that may be true for a specific idea, when you look at the broader picture, you realize that sustained creativity – having lots of creative ideas over time – doesn’t come from a flash of brilliance or a single moment of inspiration. It comes from a consistent set of rituals that serve as the bedrock for getting remarkable things done.

1. Engage deeply in meaningful pursuits.

Marcus Aurelius once said, “Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?”

One of our coaching clients brought this quote to my attention about a decade ago. Today I have it pinned to the bulletin board in my office. It stops me from squandering my most precious resource: my time.

Creativity as both a lifestyle and a profession is a daring adventure, and a trulyrewarding one. To thoroughly love what you do while also being fulfilled financially and emotionally is an aspiration and a challenge. That aspiration can become a reality, but it takes lots of hard work, dedication, and some luck that eventually comes from persistently doing the right things. Which is why you must remind yourself on a daily basis of what’s actually meaningful to you, and fully commit to the actions that yield progress in that area of your life.

2. Set up triggers that get you into the rhythm for a routine of creating.

Maya Angelou only wrote in small hotel rooms. Jack Kerouac made sure to touch the ground nine times before sitting down to write. And many of the artistic clients we’ve worked with over the years have done everything from meditating, to singing, to running, to even doing two-hour long workouts immediately prior to working on their creative projects. For example, take a look at our client Fay’s morning routine. Here’s what she recently told us:

“I begin every day with one simple ritual: I wake up at 6 a.m., put on workout clothes, walk outside my downtown San Francisco home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to my gym. I workout for an hour and forty-five minutes, and then I take a leisurely fifteen-minute jog back home. The important part of the ritual is not the training I do at the gym; what’s important is getting in that cab every morning and getting the day started in the right direction. The rest just falls into place. I get home feeling good and ready to work.”

Think about your days. How are they structured? What triggers your creative (and productive) mind? Are you consciously structuring your days with this trigger in mind?

Whether it’s waking up early, working in a specific location, or hitting the weights first thing in the morning, you need to find a trigger that gets you into rhythm – your rhythm. When you design a healthy daily routine that starts automatically every morning, you save lots of mental energy for the creative thinking that comes naturally when you find yourself in your rhythm. Through this personalized routine you will bring out your most intuitive work.

Of course, your routine will change occasionally due to evolving circumstances. The idea is that you make the necessary adjustments and maintain a routine that works – one that maintains the necessary triggers and rituals to develop and nurture your creative mind, and to ultimately do the work necessary to get you from where you are to where you want to be. (Read The War of Art.)

3. Spend daily downtime daydreaming.

Creative types know that, despite what their grade school teachers likely told them, daydreaming is anything but a waste of their time. While structured routines are important for the actual process of creating, our minds need downtime filled with the freedom to wander.

Neuroscientists have found that daydreaming involves the same brain processes associated with imagination and creative thinking. According to psychologist Rebecca L. McMillan, who recently co-authored a research paper titled Ode To Positive Constructive Daydreaming, daydreaming can aid in the “creative incubation” of ideas and solutions to complex problems.

Perhaps that’s why we sometimes get our best ideas while taking a long, hot shower.

4. Schedule in new experiences.

When they’re not daydreaming in their downtime, creative types love to expose themselves to new experiences, sensations and states of mind. This willingness to stretch themselves is a significant predictor of their creative output. Because creative growth always begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Of course, a big part of this happens inside a routine when you’re “in rhythm” and working hard to stretch your creative and intellectual muscles. But new experiences help balance out your routines. They force you to think differently. So make an effort to try something new at least once a week. It can be a whole new activity or just a small experience, such as talking to a stranger. Once you get the ball rolling, many of these new experiences will open doors to life-changing perspectives you can’t even fathom right now.

And with a strategy of continuous small, scheduled steps into new experiences, you are able to sidestep the biggest barrier to thinking outside the box: Fear.

5. Observe your mentors and study the work of other masters.

If you study the lives of enough successful creators, it becomes obvious that most world-class performers in all fields – musicians, entrepreneurs, artists, dancers, etc. – had incredible mentors, coaches or role models who made the activity of practice worthwhile and rewarding.

If you can speak with a mentor face to face, that’s incredible – do so! But keep in mind that just observing a mentor works wonders too. When we observe someone we want to learn from, and we have a crystal clear idea of what we want to create for ourselves, it unlocks a tremendous amount of motivation. Human beings are socially inclined, and when we get the idea that we want to join some elite circle up above us, that is what really motivates us to achieve greatness. “Look, they did it. I can do it too!” It may sound overly simplistic, but spending time studying people who are great can be one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself.

In his book Mastery, Robert Greene emphasizes the importance of studying the work of others using Mozart as an example. This is an essential building block for mastering your craft and cultivating your creativity at the same time:

“Throughout his career, Mozart never asserted any particular opinions about music. Instead, he absorbed the styles he heard around himself and incorporated them into his own voice. Late in his career, he encountered for the first time the music of Johann Sebastian Bach – a kind of music very different from his own, and in some ways more complex. Most artists would grow defensive and dismissive of something that challenged their own principles. Instead, Mozart opened his mind up to new possibilities, studying Bach’s use of counterpoint for nearly a year and absorbing it into his own vocabulary. This gave his music a new and surprising creative quality.”

The bottom line is that studying mentors and other masters can help you diversify your own creative output. Doing so facilitates the process of cross-pollinating ideas and strategies, introducing you to new approaches and ways of thinking. Not everything others do will be relevant to you, of course, but it will help refine and develop your style and tailor it to your own unique creative goals.

6. Lean heavily on your intuition.

Intuition is very real and something that is never wise to ignore, because it comes from deep within your subconscious and is derived from a combination of your previous life experiences and core perceptions about the present. If everyone else is telling you “yes” but your gut is telling you otherwise, it’s usually for a good reason. When faced with difficult decisions, seek out all the information you can find, become as knowledgeable as you possibly can, and then listen to your God-given instincts.

Creative people know that trusting your intuition is equivalent to trusting your true self; and the more you trust your true self, the more control you have of making your biggest goals and wildest dreams come true, just the way you envision.

7. Gradually turn life’s obstacles around.

Many of the most iconic novels, songs, and inventions of all time were inspired by gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak. Therefore, the silver lining of these great challenges is that they were the catalyst to the creation of epic masterpieces.

An emerging field of psychology called Post-Traumatic Growth has suggested that most people are able to use their hardships and traumas for substantial creative and intellectual development. Specifically, researchers have found that trauma can help people grow their long-term contentment, emotional strength, and resourcefulness.

When our view of the world as a safe place, or as a certain type of place, has been shattered, we are forced to reboot our perspective on things. We suddenly have the opportunity to look out to the periphery and see things with a new, fresh set of beginner’s eyes, which is extremely beneficial to creativity and personal growth. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)

Afterthoughts

Walt Disney once said, “Around here, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious – and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

This is one of my favorite quotes. It inspires me to write and create. And to move on to my next piece of work, even when I catch myself judging my last piece of work as “not good enough.”

For nearly a decade, I have been publishing new articles every week on marcandangel.com. Sometimes the ideas and words come easier than others, and there have been plenty of times when I’ve felt like my work was sub-par.

“I thought this was a great article. Why aren’t people reading and sharing it?” Or I’ll feel like I fumbled through an article only to watch it receive 25,000+ shares on Facebook. Regardless of which outcome I’m dealing with, I’ve realized one thing: As human beings, we are often terrible judges of our own work. We are just too self-critical to see the truth most of the time.

And not only that, it’s not our job to judge our own work. It’s not our job to compare it to everyone else’s work, or to how we thought others would perceive it. There’s no use in doing that.

Instead, it’s our job to create. Our job is to share what we have right now in this moment. Our job is to come as we are and give it our best shot.

There are people in nearly every career field who make each day a work of art simply by the way they have mastered their craft. In other words, almost everyone is an artist in some way. And every artist will have the tendency to judge their own work. The important thing is to not let your self-judgment keep you from doing your thing and sharing your creative gift with the world.

Just like Walt said, the key is to “keep moving forward.”

This article originally appeared on Marc and Angel Hack Life.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

These Are the Top Six Books That Will Make You More Creative

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

If you read What are the four principles that will lead you to breakthrough creativity? and want more information, look no further.

Six of the best sources I came across are below, with links and descriptions:

1) Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

Drawing on 100 interviews with exceptional people, from biologists and physicists to politicians and business leaders, poets and artists, as well as his 30 years of research on the subject, Csikszentmihalyi uses his famous theory to explore the creative process. He discusses such ideas as why creative individuals are often seen as selfish and arrogant, and why the tortured genius is largely a myth.

Check it out here.

2) Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

Steven Johnson’s answers are revelatory as he identifies the seven key patterns behind genuine innovation, and traces them across time and disciplines. From Darwin and Freud to the halls of Google and Apple, Johnson investigates the innovation hubs throughout modern time and pulls out applicable approaches and commonalities that seem to appear at moments of originality.

Check it out here.

3) Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

Based on deep and extensive research, including more than 200 interviews with leading innovators, Sims discovered that productive, creative thinkers and doers—from Ludwig van Beethoven to Thomas Edison and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos—practice a key set of simple but ingenious experimental methods—such as failing quickly to learn fast, tapping into the genius of play, and engaging in highly immersed observation—that free their minds, opening them up to making unexpected connections and perceiving invaluable insights.

Check it out here.

4) Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

It’s a fast-paced tour of success stories (and failures)–the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who make use of “the Mother Teresa Effect”; the elementary-school teacher whose simulation actually prevented racial prejudice. Provocative, eye-opening, and often surprisingly funny, Made to Stick shows us the vital principles of winning ideas–and tells us how we can apply these rules to making our own messages stick.

Check it out here.

5) Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi

…Gardner examines seven extraordinary individuals—Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, T.S. Eliot, Martha Graham, and Mahatma Gandhi—each an outstanding exemplar of one kind of intelligence. Understanding the nature of their disparate creative breakthroughs not only sheds light on their achievements but also helps to elucidate the “modern era”—the times that formed these creators and which they in turn helped to define. While focusing on the moment of each creator’s most significant breakthrough, Gardner discovers patterns crucial to our understanding of the creative process.

Check it out here.

6) Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas are Born

“Drawing on interviews with 40 winners of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship—the so-called “genius awards”—the insightful study throws fresh light on the creative process.”

Check it out here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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