Clarity is a rare and precious thing in this life. With the vast amount of things, events and people vying for our time, energy and attention its truly amazing when we are able to achieve true clarity and honesty in our lives. Over the course of the last few months I’ve been blessed with a great sense of clarity and finally now the courage to share it. I’ve been coaching very well – especially the last few years – not because I am so awesome ( although I humbly acknowledge the blessing of my uplifting energy and infectious smile). Anyway I’ve been coaching well because I NEEDED to see others overcome in order to overcome my own challenges, challenges that I didn’t fully realize were affecting me negatively at the time. This state was very different from the initial force that drove me to pursue coaching full time – my passion for seeing people be even better than they dreamed and to create an army of empowered individuals wasn’t enough to keep me out of my own head- especially when I refused to see a problem taking over. I didn’t see the cloud of depression moving in and out of my life, turning the most amazing experiences to minor moments and attempting to stifle the fullness of my joy at home and within myself.
It’s been an arduous journey, quietly dealing with my own minor depression the last 3 years brought on by my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Harris’, ascension. Her transition was made even more difficult by not realizing (or acknowledging) that it was in fact a type of depression that I was going through. The lack of motivation to do anything beyond the necessary to meet already made commitments, emotional sensitivity & defensiveness, excessive self-criticism and difficulty sleeping – I simply attributed to my busy schedule. I sincerely knew better deep down, but thought if I just ignored it (and put on an EXTRA HAPPY face) things would get better. Not that I didn’t enjoy the things and people I experienced, but when I got alone, or around really close friends, I immediately criticized myself for things I thought I’d done wrong or found some other fault with myself. Not a very fully positive way to live, but because of how miserable I was I knew how to coach others through…but for some reason just couldn’t get the solutions to apply to myself. We know that things in life don’t just GET better, improvement requires sincere, effectively applied effort in a (consciously or unconsciously) decided direction. Several months ago I finally broke through and began to adhere to my own advice. I began to communicate honestly again about my life, first with God, then myself, my husband and now with others.
I’m sharing this now, after all this time, because I know if I – Little Miss Optimistic – can be afflicted by this even in a minor way, then others, who maybe don’t think they can talk about it, have been too. My refusal to see how deeply I had been affected by my great-granny’s passing and how my life had changed allowed room for an even greater illusion to take place, pretending all was well while I quietly begin to lose my sense of self. I hadn’t fully realized the source of my depression – the fact that I was unable to actualize all the great things that had been presented in my life, because I wasn’t able to “talk” to my great-granny about it. I can even now hear her say “Tell me something good about (insert whatever awesome event or location I told her I was experiencing) “. Throughout my life, until great-granny approved or acknowledged a thing, it wasn’t really as great, important – or even real in some cases. She was my greatest inspiration. For some reason I felt that when she passed on that I had lost my reason for succeeding and for needing to achieve greater things. I knew in my heart that wasn’t true, but for some reason I allowed that thought process to inhibit my level of effort, and even my permission to dream bigger in regards to some aspects of my life. Allowing this diminished mindset just opened the floodgates for negative musings and created head trash that has taken me years to clear out.
Fortunately, I have been inundated with overwhelmingly amazing opportunities, people and experiences that have kept me from “falling” too far into a seriously depressed state but the bit that I endured did affect me greatly. Especially in the confidence area, but bit by bit with the help and support of my family, over the last year, I’ve regained my sense of self-worth and purpose. This renewing has brought me to a place of peace, restoration and need for transparency as I move through this new season. I share this realization not just to shed light on the quiet danger of depression but to encourage you all to honor your truth. Pay attention to your habits, pay attention to your friends, colleagues, family… don’t allow your loved ones to slip away into this difficult state of being for lack of awareness. I sincerely apologize to anyone in my life whom I haven’t been there enough for previously and thank those who have been in touch and in prayer for me.
This is the first of many posts to come….not looking for consolation – but thanks in advanced for the continued prayers and show of support. I intend to blog more about the inspirations, the food, the changes and the challenges I (and some others) move through. I’m just realizing (once again) that the things we experience are not only for us, but to improve how we live and serve one another. Acknowledgment and clarity are key to overcoming any issue… looking forward to overcoming even more.
Most of you know that I’m an intense advocate of including positive and affirming mental conditioning alongside physical training. What many of you may not know is the depth of the struggle that I have had to climb out of, on more than one occasion, to do the work needed to be positive, be healthy, put in the work to achieve goals I’ve set or heck to even maintain focus on the vision I’ve set for myself.
So the question is: What is one to do when the “fire” just isn’t there, or you can’t seem to muster the last ounce of motivation? The answer is simple to say, “move in faith.” – but employing it is an entirely different journey. In my own meditation (which is one of the tools I use to re-center) I tried to create a broader statement regarding the power of faith, the benefits, etc. to be able to reference to boost my spirits if they got low again. Sadly, I wasn’t able to put the right worlds together so I sought out a resource Since I regularly find truly inspiring guidance from the affirmative messages of Life Coach and Spiritual Leader Ms. Iyanla Vanzant, I immediately turned to her book ‘Acts of Faith’. For those of you who follow Imani Wellness or myself on FaceBook, I photograph and share readings from it quite often. So allow me to share a passage that encouraged me today regarding working in and having Faith…
” Faith must inspire action. It alone cannot be verbal. Mental faith is insufficient. Faith is not believing, trying or hoping. It is the knowing by which you do. Faith develops endurance to face the trials without being attempted to stop. Faith produces doers. Those who understand fewness of words, greatness of deeds are a measure of true faith. Faith is obedience to the urgings of the spirit, the porthole through which all things have their being. Faith controls the tongue, soothes the head and stifles the lust to complain. Faith produces patience. Your life is the only true measure of your faith. Your words and actions determine the fullness of your cup. If there is anyone or anything of unworthiness in your life you must ask yourself, ” To what am I giving my faith?”
I put my faith in only those things that produce good for me.”
Pretty powerful and encouraging right! We’ll talk more about specific applications at a later time, for now… Have faith and
Sooooooo….. yea……it’s been a while since I’ve created a post for my blog here and I do apologize for my absence. Though many of you have continued to follow my thoughts and advice on the Imani Wellness FB page ( and I thank you for that many of you have expressed that they haven’t been as great as getting your regular dose of LiveWell inspiration here.
I thank those of you who encouraged (demanded) that I get back to sharing all that I’m learning, experiencing, growing in and invite you to do the same with me – here in comments and via other media. So to begin again I simply say “Welcome Back” to you all… and myself !
I will be posting as the mood strikes and revisiting some topics that I neglected to share in the past. If any of you have any topics that you’d like to share for insight or discussion feel free to email me. Looking forward to our collective inspiration!!
Let’s Get It!
For the last 4 years, around mid-Spring the Washington, DC Urban Arts scene has been blessed with the creative genius, overwhelming warrior spirit and all around amazingness of International Pioneers and Achievers in Dance, Graffiti, MC’ing and Dj’ing when they come here to celebrate at the International Soul Society Festival.
Presented by Urban Artistry and a host of wonderful sponsors the festival, now in its 5th glorious year, promises to shatter the awesomeness of previous years with the expansion of it’s unique Cypher battles and International Level Qualifying events.
As a dancer and one of the coordinating directors, it’s always a challenge to manage the energy and creativity levels needed to sustain a 7 day intensive like ISSF. When & how to prepare, when to rest, when to just get down and let creativity flow – all of these factors are immensely important when preparing to host, run and interact at an international event. While creativity will always be an individual journey, the physical needs are something that can be planned and prepared for.
That said, we’ve created a quick a guide of how to plan your training regimen for the next few weeks in preparation for “The party of the year”.
This guide is just meant to be a skeleton to work from, changes necessitated by your body’s needs should be incorporated. Do not make the mistake of ignoring the rest days because you believe you’re the biggest and baddest. Every body needs rest, if you negate this fact, your body will let you know it. Over training can often have a worse effect on the body than inadequate training, so be sure to treat your body well. Engaging in active rest activities like swimming, yoga or massage can be extremely re-energizing and recovery enhancing.
I know, I know … the Prep Plan doesn’t mention anything about Nutrition… that’s coming next This fact does create a great soap box opportunity for our Nutrition speech. “Not every meal plan is for every body.” Sure eating only veggies sounds great…unless you have an unknown allergy to mass amounts of them. Same with proteins, supplements and grains. Don’t make the mistake of believing that conditions and ailments like asthma, bloating, or IBS are “normal” or just have to be tolerated. Change what your are putting INto your body and you will see better results and functionality come OUT. We’ll talk more about that in our next entry
In the meantime grab your running shoes, jump rope or stability ball and get to work! Come May 6th we’ve got a lot of dancing and celebrating to do… make sure you’re ready to get it in and enjoy every moment!.
Of all the tremendously amazing developments that have come about for Imani Wellness in this awesome new year ( and we apologize for not posting all of them yet :), partnering with The Vitamin Shoppe to be an advocate for Total Wellness Living has been one of the most exciting! After their awesome presence at Imani Wellness’ very first LiveWell Expo this past Jan, I was absolutely over the moon when they asked us to participate in their National Wellness event at our Potomac Yard Vitamin Shoppe location. This promises to be an incredible event!!
Enjoy free samples, education and activities! The first 50 customers receive a Gift Bag (while supplies last).
Gift bag will include:
– 3rd party product samples
– Amazing Wellness Magazine
– Muscle & Performance Magazine
– Renew You booklet
– Weight Management Support booklet
Product Samples From:
2. Nordic Naturals
Now, you all know what a boundless bundle of positivity and fun we are so come on out and add your energy to the fun at the Potomac Yard store between 11a and 2p this Sat, March 2nd. Tons of fun, games, and wellness education by Yours Truly and many other wonderful wellness providers available to you here in NoVa. And we may even have a foot race or push-up contest – so dress athletically!
Looking forward to seeing you all there!!
We all get wrapped up in the holidays, present tinsel-covered company included. The trouble starts when we allow the glow of twinkling lights, the buzz of egg nog and the lure of nostalgia to color our expectations. You know what I’m talking about: the perfect family, gathering around a immaculately set table, filled with locally sourced fixins, prepared by the calm, cool woman of the house, who’s spent all day preparing the meal for her completely appreciative brood. Through some holiday miracle, she’s managed to escape the “not mandatory but you’ll look like a jerk for skipping it” work holiday party, dedicate her week to rivaling Martha Stewart in decor sophistication, convince her children to put their phones away and still make every last-minute guest feel welcome and fill every awkward pause in conversation.
While this image may seem familiar, do you actually know anyone like this (who isn’t one Elf on the Shelf away from a nervous breakdown)? No, of course not. This woman is a work of fiction — a dangerous ghost of Christmas Never. This holiday apparition can be seen lurking around the ER this time of year, it’s busiest thanks to what many health workers I know call the Holiday Heart Attack. Not an actual heart attack, this psycho-somatic manifestation of the angst, pressure and other heightened expectations is side effect of our pursuit of The Perfect Holiday.
So how do we stay out of the ER and off one another’s last nerve? One approach is to get back to the bare-boned, tinsel-free basics. Forget the gifts, the lavish parties and all the trappings and simply celebrate family and the birth of Christ. And many who know me know I’ve taken this approach a few times, especially after a large investment or purchase (my first home and my second home) or during a significant transition. My inner Holly Jolly was silenced by a much louder Save It Sister who kept reminding me that it’s not responsible to spend money I needed to save. If people in your life can’t accept that, too bad! They can celebrate with the side of the family fully wrapped up in the craziness.
If a Christmas blackout sounds too extreme, then follow my Five to Thrive, not just Survive the Holidays tips.
1. Celebrate the past. Take a moment to revisit holidays you’ve experienced and revel in the moments that you cherished. Share those memories with new people in your life and ask them to share their good ones, too. Write down the things that made those moments great.
2. Plan on it. You’re less likely to be overwhelmed by “everything you have to do” if you are the one deciding exactly what you want to do. Create a list of Holiday Awesomeness. Put only those things you can feasibly and without significantly raising your heart rate make happen (host or re-create) or request to have happen.
3. Spread the joy — and Christmas list. Your friends and family don’t magically become mind readers in December. Talk to them about the kind of holiday celebration you want. If this is the year for the big blow-out, they need advance notice too. If it’s a quiet romantic Christmas with your Hunny, they need to know so as to not take it personally. Don’t ever expect to get what you want if you won’t be bold enough to ask for it! You never know who may want to help or who needs to hear someone else ask for what they want in order to be empowered to ask for what they want in their own life! Along with that be sure to allow people to help you, in a capacity that is comfortable for you, if they offer to do so
4. Back to life, back to reality. Remember you’re living in the real world where tough things happen. You may not be in the merriest of moods this year, your spouse may be going through a tough time at work, you may have lost a loved one. . For example, my family lost our matriarch Thanksgiving 2011. Last year was a challenge — and this year has been tough at times. But, we were all clear that while we were struggling, the most important thing we could do for one another and for my grandmother was to be together. I cancelled some clients to travel to Richmond early for Thanksgiving and stay longer after Christmas to be present for my family and to receive their love as well. Always start with a positive frame, but remember that not everyone may be ‘up’ this year.
5. Cut yourself some slack –– starting with the calendar.
Check your calendar and list of those you wish (or need) to celebrate with. Choose the best time for everyone to come together. Some events will have to be missed, some may be amplified either way make your plans work for you. Remember the Amazing Holiday experience you designed for yourself in Step 2. If your grand plan or solitary snugglefest have to wait until next month or next year, put it on your dream board and remind people as it nears, so they can adjust as well.
Attitude and gratitude matter this time of year more than ever. Be the experience you hope to recall without regret when you look back in 2013. Smile, laugh, dance, cry — just do so with authenticity. Regardless of what you plan, what you hope, what you forget to pack, what happens or what you buy, remember to be joyful, grateful and loving in your celebration. And leave the Ghost of Christmas Never off the invite list.
* expertly edited by Amanda Long – she’s super awesome
From the Desk of LaTasha Barnes:
In our pursuit of our dreams or higher achievements we often times burden ourselves unnecessarily with the pressure and angst of being the greatest. While being the best is a worthwhile goal, sometimes it is not a feasible possibility for certain endeavors, given the affect of life circumstances (i.e. time constraints, fund depletion, illness, etc).
We all recognize that under ideal circumstances we can all be ‘The Greatest of All Time at (insert goal)’. But this is real life, and in real life you don’t always get your ideal situation every time. Sometimes in the process of achieving your goal you will be tested 1) to see how badly you want it, and 2) to see how well you can stay engaged in the rest of your life while working towards or having achieved the goal.
When the factors of life seem to weigh on you and you begin to stress about doing the best, rather than simply being your best given the situation, that is when you need to 1) thank God for the opportunity and the lesson you are learning and 2) accept that you may have to just settle for an ‘ok’ performance rather than a perfect one.
I know I work hard to do be my best at every opportunity and my closest friends and fam probably see me as a perfectionist 😉 but with everything we are working on and towards in Imani Wellness and Urban Artistry sometimes perfection is not a true possibility – even if I like to think so (always acknowledge reality, but stay insanely optimistic). Sometimes you have to step back from the work at hand and accept what is. Sometimes you have to choose to just complete the task rather than shine at it. In the grande scheme of things, sometimes the simple completion of 1 task of 10 is more valuable than a prize winning completion. Sometimes performing ‘Ok’ is good enough.
I say this to you not to give license to naysayers or to negative mindsets and behaviors, but to encourage you to give yourself a break from time to time. We all work hard to build and maintain our lives, dreams and families, sometimes your ‘perfect’ picture comes after a not so perfect struggle/event. Sometimes we have to be Ok with not being perfect, in order to be ok we have to commit to a few ideas.
1) I am choosing to acknowledge that Ok is Ok on a regular basis. Just because I am capable of being the best, doesn’t mean I HAVE to be the best at every turn. 2) I am choosing not to sweat the small stuff and to let stress roll off my back like a polished marble statue in the rain. Stress only makes me look like the work I do is weighing on me and tearing me down; I am building my dreams full-time or working my current situations to be able to build my dreams full-time therefore EVERYTHING I do is exciting, gratifying and energizing to do. 3) I choose to differentiate between my best, my good, and my ‘Ok’ performance. I know that each situation along my journey will require a different application of knowledge and effort, and given my circumstances I am accepting of the effort that will continue to move me toward my goal.
Simply put: Progress, no matter how small is still a win
Always begin a thing with the intent to win!
Just some thoughts from my journal after a discussion with my wonderfully loving and accomplished husband regarding his level of stress and a current situation we are navigating.
Be Ok, with Ok
WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! That is the only way to describe the wave of excitement surrounding us right now.
I recently attended and exhibited at the 2012 Healthiest Employers Expo hosted by The Washington Business Journal at the Grand Hyatt, September 20th here in DC. It was an amazingly successful and informative event attended by over 400 representatives from the DC areas Workplace Wellness champions. Every business from start-ups to the well-seasoned sharing and receiving creativity and motivation to develop bigger and better wellness opportunities for their organizations. While I will certainly be bringing along my new trainers and staff to next year’s event it was a blessing to have moments to myself to take in the awesomeness of the confidence and purposefulness that one year can bring along with growing and empowering your network.
I first attended the Healthiest Expo in 2011 – WBJ’s very first event, and did not use the table I purchased because I didn’t have anything to really exhibit – or so I thought at the time. I was blown away by how many visionaries in the wellness industry were operating here in DC ( and scheduled to be exhibiting or speaking at the event), and by blown away I mean I was intimidated and thought my little personal training business wasn’t something no one wanted to know about 😛
While manning the table for my strategic partner Dr. Jen Faber, President of Kinetic Health Alternatives, I was thrilled to learn that many of our concepts and areas of service (training, assessment, coaching, nutrition education, leadership, team building, etc.) where severely untapped. With this awareness I set out from the expo with a few contacts but more than that a firm mind to clearly define the Imani Wellness niche, our brand and to solidify our corporate offerings so that next year we would not only have information to present, but proven service and obvious passion for the corporate wellness mission. With the awesomeness of the Personality Driven Media team and it’s President Ryan Prucker we spread our word, chicly and fiercely and one year, numerous speaking engagements, scores of individual clients and a few corporate ventures later it was time for the expo again.
Not only was I so amped that I couldn’t get to sleep the night before. I was so aware of how unique and awesome Imani Wellness is, and can be to any wellness program (individual or corporate), that I didn’t even feel nervous when a representative ( that I was dying to chat with the first year but was too awestruck by, who is a head honcho for ONE of the largest network radio conglomerates in the US – i’ll let you figure out which group ), came over to my table. Not me chasing her down after a presentation – she came to me interested in what Imani Wellness can offer and how we might support their community health awareness events and internal wellness education programs … … … just because I looked excited and passionate about being there. I am claiming right now that not only will she ask me to spearhead their education and outreach efforts but that Imani Wellness will have to amplify our education accreditation to teach other trainers and coaches our method to fill the need of this one corporate wellness venture alone. The angel investors and other funding to support the needed staff for the 15 other interested firms will come simultaneously as well. We were on fire if I do say so myself… and I do What was even more motivating was to look across the next table and see my strategic partners just as engaged and just as excited about growing with their “dream” partners too.
Our first year my smile and this was our presence :
With our uniquely effervescent energy, attentive delivery and full service wellness availability and a year of fantastic growth and success this was Imani Wellness’s presence in 2012:
If you haven’t been able to tell, this was a truly transformative experience for me and several others in attendance this year. While this expo first and foremost was begun as a way to motivate organizations to go above and beyond to see who could create the best health conscious cultures and workplace wellness programs for their employees, it has served as a platform for the innovative of wellness services and experiences in the industry and affirmed the commitment of program managers and providers alike to give their absolute best to this burgeoning industry …. and this is only its second year!
If my own overflowing joy and excitement weren’t enough, I also had the pleasure of inviting a budding wellness professional I had the pleasure of meeting at a local community fair to come to the expo and luncheon. When first we met, Lauren, who is an aspiring Wellness Coach, immediately expressed her desire to touch more lives, inspire greater change and see people commit to healthier ways of being (sound like anyone else you know She had just begun her business and was trying to do as much as she could to get it going. Knowing how motivated I was coming out of the expo last year I knew it would be just as inspirational to her as it was for me, AND BOY WAS IT.
She was talking about her ideas for this company, and that community, for this project and this person she met…she was FULLY locked in to her vision for her business’ role in this areas wellness industry and for it’s future growth. As I already mentioned there were an abundance of great contacts made at this event that I have already begun to follow up with, but all that aside to be able to provide someone with access to the opportunities that inspired me…was priceless.
I cannot thank the folks of WBJ and United Healthcare enough for hosting and sponsoring this keystone DC wellness industry event. I sincerely look forward to sharing the life changing, awe-inspiring and just downright fantastical (YES- I said fantastical!) partnerships, experiences and growth that result from this event.
We all have our sources of inspiration and motivation. One of my greatest sources is SUCCESS Magazine and great online and print publication that motivates, inspires, guides and promotes Entrepreneurship, Successful living and just all around awesomeness. In my research today I came across this fantastic article from their writer Jennifer Reed and had to share it with you all.
You all know me to be an eternal optimist but when I was ineffectively employed those closest to me know that positivity wasn’t necessarily the mode of operation. However, it was in my angst, frustration and ultimate anger for the functionings of my profession and wellness professionals that I encountered that prompted great innovations on the job and birthed Imani Wellness and the Chief Motivator that you know and love today. So whether you’re a Positive Patty or a Negative Nelly read with an open mind and be honest with yourself about where you may be in this process and who knows what may come of your current state of mind.
Turning Negativity Into Creativity
We all have bad moods, but what if we could channel that emotion into innovation? Experts say we can.
We’re told to repress the negative side of human emotion. Chase away the anger, get over the depression, squelch the feelings of inadequacy, conquer the fear. In some respects, it’s good advice; after all, who wants to dwell in darkness? But it turns out that the bad stuff we all experience from time to time can benefit us in an unexpected way: by activating our creativity.
We’re not saying you want to court misery—no way! But mounting evidence suggests that somber moods—melancholy, self-doubt, anxiety, brooding—can stimulate areas of the brain associated with analytical thought, abstract problem-solving and the kind of sustained attention needed to devise novel solutions to problems. Other dark moods such as anger and frustration can trigger creative responses for different reasons. These emotions generate the kind of energy that, when combined with our natural talents, can result in breakthrough ideas and solutions that address the sources of those frustrations.
In fact, while positive moods tend to promote a free-flow of ideas, discontent can actually fuel innovation. “Part of the creative process (creative problem-finding) demands that we look at ourselves or our environment with some degree of dissatisfaction,” says Harvard University researcher Shelley Carson, Ph.D., author of Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life.
Gerald Amada, Ph.D., agrees that very creative people, by their nature, are those who aren’t satisfied with the status quo, who “want to change life.” But what hinders many of us from harnessing our frustrations, Amada says, is our guilt. From the time we’re very young, we’re taught to “turn the other cheek” or swallow our anger or pretend that everything is OK.
“Once people come to terms with their rage, they can put it to use,” says Amada, author of The Power of Negative Thinking and the former director of college mental health services at City College of San Francisco. He sees this as a process: Identify the source of your anger, consider your strengths and aptitudes, and then ask yourself how those traits could be put to use to get something done.
Sadness may fuel creativity
The science behind mood and creativity is complicated, says Norwegian Business School professor Geir Kaufmann, Ph.D., who has focused much of his research on the relationship between the two.
It used to be thought that positive moods, not negative ones, held the key to creativity—that the negative moods zapped people of their energy and dampened their spirits. But as Kaufmann and many other researchers are finding, our most complex creative ideas may emerge out of dark moods.
“Deep thinking is related to sad moods,” says Kaufmann. But that’s not the entire story, he adds. Positive mood plays a part, too.
A certain kind of creativity comes out of brighter emotional states. Happier people tend to do better in trial-and-error situations and in early problem-solving stages when they’re asked to toss multiple ideas on the table for consideration. Energetic, enthusiastic and filled with self-esteem, people experiencing positive moods may arrive quickly at a solution, but Kaufmann suggests they may not devise the best or most novel solution.
“Positive mood may lead to a less-cautious approach to the task than negative mood, promoting a broader but also a more superficial processing. More concisely, positive mood promotes broad and shallow processing, whereas negative mood leads to a more constricted but deeper processing,” Kaufmann writes in “The Effect of Mood on Creativity in the Innovative Process,” a chapter in The International Handbook on Innovation.
Among the researchers looking at the link between negative emotions and creativity is Wendy Berry Mendes, Ph.D., the Sarlo/Ekman Chair in the Study of Human Emotion at the University of California at San Francisco. In a 2008 study when she was at Harvard, she and co-researcher Modupe Akinola found a correlation that had both biological and sociological underpinnings.
They began by measuring levels of an adrenal steroid that’s associated with depression in 96 volunteer subjects. Basically, the less steroid you have, the more likely you are to suffer depression. Mendes and Akinola suspected that people with lower steroid levels would show greater creativity.
But what they really wanted to know was whether that diminished steroid combined with an upsetting social situation would yield even greater creative outputs. So they created a mock job interview in which participants had to give a brief speech and then answer interviewers’ questions. Some subjects received praise and positive body language; others had to suffer through yawns, eye rolls and harsh comments. A control group delivered speeches alone in a room. At this point in the experiment, the researchers did not know their subjects’ steroid levels because the groups had been picked at random.
Following the mock interviews, the subjects participated in an art project that was rated for creativity by professional and graduate-level artists. Mendes and Akinola then compiled the data: the artists’ evaluations, the interview experience and the steroid levels. What they found was that people who had both a lower steroid level and got the nasty interview comments ended up being the most creative of the group. It appears these subjects were more affected by the negative comments than those who had higher steroid levels, and they poured their emotion into their artwork.
Mendes and Akinola offered a few theories as to why. One theory is that these highly creative participants ruminated more over the negative feedback, creating a distraction while they worked on the art project. In other words, because they were consciously fixated on the negative feedback, they didn’t overthink their artwork. That distraction may have allowed their subconscious to kick in. So under this theory, our most creative works emerge from the subconscious, rather than the conscious.
Another possibility is that the negative mood led participants into a state of introspection and detailed thinking, and it’s that deep internal thought that yielded greater creativity. Many other researchers, including Carson, the author of Your Creative Brain, see this introspection as the key to creative thinking.
A third theory is that the negative feedback pushed these participants—who, don’t forget, were already vulnerable to depressive thoughts—to work harder on their task, perhaps because they had suffered a blow to their self-esteem and felt they needed to work harder than others.
Under this theory, it may be possible that the foul moods many of us suffer following a client’s rejection or a team member’s snipes can foster our creativity, too. Although this doesn’t mean anyone should work for a nasty manager or become one.
Mendes agrees: “I am not suggesting that people put themselves in a bad mood to facilitate performance, but rather if they find themselves feeling sad, frustrated or angry, instead of stewing in those emotions and doing something passive (like watching TV), they take that time to engage in something active like writing, creating or even exercising.”
There are other possible explanations why negative thoughts may lead to creativity. In “When Bad Is Good,” a chapter in an upcoming book, Kaufmann suggests that melancholy may be associated with the brain pathways that allow for surges of new ideas. “Such conditions may indeed increase the likelihood of transcending the mental status quo and lead to strikingly new insights,” he writes.
Anger prompts positive actions
OK, so if there’s research linking the blues with creativity, what happens when we see red? Some experts say anger and frustration can be used as a launch pad for innovation. Take, for example, the work of Julie Silver, M.D., of Massachusetts, who developed a new social enterprise out of the depths of illness, frustration and fatigue.
A physiatrist (specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation) and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, Silver was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. She was 38 years old and the mother of three young children. Her treatments were successful, but recovery presented challenges. “When I finished treatment, I was in a lot of pain and very, very tired and discouraged,” she recalls.
Silver believes her recovery would have been hastened if there had been rehabilitation services available to cancer patients—the kinds of therapies prescribed for survivors of automobile accidents, strokes and the like. From the depths of her struggle, her entrepreneurial self emerged.
Silver was able to heal herself, and she wrote about her experience and embarked on a series of lectures about her recovery. The very lack of care that had troubled her was frustrating countless other patients and doctors, too, and physicians clamored for more information about their patients’ post-treatment needs.
So in 2009, Silver and a partner founded Oncology Rehab Partners, a company that trains and certifies hospitals and clinicians in post-treatment rehabilitation. Her company today has certified healthcare centers and providers in more than 30 states.
“I wanted to be that person that I watched over years, the one that said, ‘I’m discouraged now, but I will embrace healing with grace,’ ” Silver says. “And I wanted to be one of those people who paid it forward.”
In Buffalo, N.Y., Kathleen Gaffney is convinced that grief, anger and frustration unearthed her creative, entrepreneurial self—and became a survival mechanism during her most troubling times. “Creativity is the opposite of despair,” she says.
Gaffney is trained in theater, but she believes her real creative journey began when her daughter, who had been through cancer treatment as a toddler, was diagnosed with autism. “I was absolutely resolved to get her back,” Gaffney says.
She plunged into research and enrolled her daughter in the therapies that looked most promising. She was particularly drawn to the work of educator Howard Gardner, whose “multiple intelligences” theory holds that people learn in different ways such as movement, music, language and logic. It was music therapy, Gaffney says, that helped her daughter re-emerge.
Gaffney wanted other children to have the benefit of arts-based education and one that uses the academically sanctioned multiple intelligences theory as a backbone. Gaffney and her husband launched Artsgenesis, a nonprofit that sent visual and performing artists into schools in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, ultimately reaching some 25,000 students per year.
In Gaffney’s case, a combination of factors—a crisis (autism), research and experimentation (Gardner and music therapy), an innate talent for theater, and the ability to take something from these experiences—became a powerful, creative stew.
She explains the problem-solving formula this way: Clarify your challenge or problem, gather ideas by turning your internal judge off and letting the potential solutions flow, turn your internal judge back on to evaluate those ideas, and begin creating action steps. Between steps, it’s a good idea to let the ideas sit and incubate, Gaffney says. The model she discusses (detailed on page 56) is based on her studies at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State, where she is a graduate student.
Another crisis brought Gaffney to Buffalo—this one involving a fatal blow dealt to Artsgenesis by 9/11 because of a sharp decline in clientele within its service area of Lower Manhattan. That led her to reinvent herself and take a job revitalizing a failing theater in Buffalo. Creative thinking, she says, helped her see the steps necessary to save the theater. Today she’s also writing a book on ways emotion can trigger creativity.
Use self-expression as a tool
It’s easy to go the other way with our emotions—to let sadness and anger swallow us up instead of using them to embark on creative journeys.
Carson, the Harvard researcher and author, offers a number of tools to get out of a rut. Try writing a description of your distress—or, if you are too tired for that—dictate your unhappiness into a recording device. Paint, move, put on music, act out your misery, she says.
“Once self-expression begins, it takes on a life of its own and seems to generate its own energy,” she says. “Once you have energized yourself through self-expression, other forms of creativity may follow. You may begin to see new possibilities just by expressing your current dysphoric state.”
Sound too artsy? Consider the experience of Matthew Simon, a financier who turned to fiction writing to help him cope with a life-changing illness. He ended up becoming a sharper business writer when he returned to work.
“I was the least creative person in the world,” says Simon, who graduated from Williams College, went to work for Bain & Co., and established the Simon Development Group and Boston Realty Group when he was in his early 20s.
Then he got sick. Simon was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome in his late 20s and bedridden for some 15 years. “The challenge was boredom. The anguish over boredom. How do you get through the day when you can’t do anything?” Simon recalls.
To entertain himself, he started writing. Some days he eked out just a couple of sentences, dictated to his dad because he was unable to sit up and work a keyboard. He self-published two books, The Chosen Few and That’s What Little Boys Are Made Of. “My books have a lot of humor in them because those kinds of characters are good company,” Simon says. “I was living a dark and dreary life. I needed an escape from that.”
Today Simon is a healthy, married father of a 6-month-old and owner of a real estate investment business based in Southwest Florida. He quit writing fiction in favor of the more active pursuits he had given up for so many years. But his creative exercises paid off.
“First, learning to write fiction has changed and improved my nonfiction,” says Simon, who published several industry articles during a stint as a healthcare executive. “Second, it has given me another approach or technique to solving certain kinds of problems. I discovered, in those years spent writing fiction, that if I just sort of let my mind run free, I can come up with creative ideas.”
Of course, Simon does not suggest people use his particular creative journey as a model. “I’m not sure I would advise anyone to get sick for 15 years so they could learn to write fiction…. My advice: Stay healthy and stick to number-crunching,” he quips.
How to Harness Your Negative Emotions
Kathleen Gaffney, who studies problem-solving thinking at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State University, shares these steps for turning negative emotions into catalysts for creativity.
– Identify the source of your negative emotions; clarify your challenge or problem.
Sometimes the problem isn’t immediately clear, and you’ll need to learn to accept that ambiguity. Focus on the goal and not the problem. When you switch your attention to the goal, you start thinking with “how to” or “how might I” questions. These “visioning questions” might include, “How might I save more money for my child’s college education?” or “How might I learn new skills to get a better job?” You’ll notice that these questions shift from the negative emotions such as anxiety over financial issues to ones that lead you toward creative solutions. Framing the challenge to be solved is the most essential part of creative problem-solving.
– Consider your strengths and aptitudes.
Write down your strengths and aptitudes. Analyze them. If you feel hopeless and depressed, acknowledge those feelings. You’ll find you also feel angry; anger is a great energizer but direct it at problems, not people. Channeling your anger toward the problem may allow you to see potential answers.
– Ask yourself how to use these traits productively, turning off your internal judge and letting potential solutions flow.
Write down ideas as fast as you can think of them, but don’t evaluate them yet. Moving to an island to escape a problem may not be practical, but you can eliminate it in the next step.
– Turn on your internal judge to evaluate those ideas.
From your list, choose a few ideas that sing to you.
– Create action steps to accomplish your goals.
Begin with the end in mind and plan backward. Take small bites that let you move forward in your plan.
– Between each of the steps above, pause to let ideas incubate.
Everything you hope, wish, pray, affirm or plan to achieve or create begins with one thing… you taking a committed faithful step towards its fruition. Stop allowing all the tasks, schedules, concerns, worries, issues, doubts and people that aren’t building you up to block your dreams. The impossible is always impossible until someone has done it.
There is no reason why that someone can’t be you.
Go get it!
DREAM. BELIVE. ACHIEVE!