THE BLOG
03/06/2013 02:41 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2013

Foster Creativity in the 'Flow' of Life

There's a man with the wonderfully complicated name of Mihaly Csikszentmihaly who is an expert on "flow" and studies creativity. He explains that creative people have two opposing tendencies: "a great deal of curiosity and openness on the one hand and an almost obsessive perseverance on the other."

We see this at play with musicians, writers and visual artists. Those are pursuits for which you have to live with your eyes and ears open -- listening, watching, really paying attention to the nuances of life. But these endeavors can also feel amorphous, sometimes even pointless and undervalued. As the Lebanese-America poet Khalil Gibran said, "Art is a step from what is obvious and well-known toward what is arcane and concealed."

The true artist, the one compelled to keep creating in spite of the obstacles, has what Csikszentmihaly calls "obsessive perseverance.

In her book, "The Artist's Way," Julia Cameron says there is a relationship between artistic creativity and a spiritual connection with God, or a higher power. The book was designed as a kind of 12-step program for blocked artists who yearned for a sense of community and purpose, and needed self-confidence in order to persevere.

And how does this relate to those of us who don't consider ourselves "artists" or creative types?

We, too, like artists, must make ourselves open and vulnerable so that we can keep learning and growing and contributing to the world around us. And we must steel ourselves for the inevitable failures that will most certainly impede us. As Malcolm Gladwell says in the book "Outliers," success in life is to a very large extent simply a result of the amount of time we invest in trying to accomplish something. He calls it the "10,000-Hour rule," claiming that sustained practice -- in other words, perseverance -- is the real mystery behind success.

And perseverance and courage go hand in hand, you see. You need courage to hang in there. You need courage to face your fears. Without courage, it is easier to give up and stay closed, average, isolated.

Being alive, aware, open and creative doesn't just come to people like a gift from the heavens. It is something they work at. "Growth is an erratic forward movement: two steps forward, one step back. Remember that and be very gentle with yourself," Cameron writes.

Robert Epstein, author of several books on creativity, addresses this problem directly. "When I do seminars on creativity," he wrote in a 2008 issue of Scientific American Mind, "I teach stress-management techniques to help people cope with the rejection that goes hand in hand with creativity. You have to learn not to fear the failure and even to rejoice in it."

Courage. We must foster it in ourselves so that we may live a full and meaningful life. "Repression is not the way to virtue," Csikszentmihaly has said. "When people restrain themselves out of fear, their lives are by necessity diminished."

Five steps to take now to foster creativity, courage and perseverance:

  1. Make room in your everyday life for stillness.
  2. Keep a journal in which you unburden yourself of irritations and stresses, but where you primarily record your gratitude.
  3. Find your community: reach out beyond the tried and tested and learn from unexpected places.
  4. Open your heart and your mind, and live a generous life.
  5. Don't forget to be playful: inviting laughter and joy into your life counteracts fear.