Find Your Artist Within

illustration: jeff decoster

illustration: jeff decoster

WHEN ASKED IF THEY ARE CREATIVE, most people respond with a resounding, “No, but I wish I were!” To them, true creativity is reserved for artists and writers. It would seem the rest of us live our boring lives without imagination…or do we?

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Every person has the ability to unlock his or her creative side and embrace it wholeheartedly. Imaginative thinking can occur in unexpected places. The key is to remember creativity and flexibility are intertwined. Art is the perfect example of this—artists think far outside the box (or don’t even consider the existence of one). For non-artists, there are many important arenas where open-mindedness can have a profound impact, but one is the most important of all: relationships.

Marilyn (49) found herself constantly frustrated that her husband wouldn’t exercise. She worried about his health and noticed that he had packed on more than a few pounds over the last year or two. Jack (53) said that he didn’t have time to exercise and that, even if he did, it is pure drudgery. I suggested to Marilyn that instead of feeling resentful, she try to think creatively. She made two changes that not only improved Jack’s health, but their relationship as well. First, instead of planting and caring for their garden herself, she asked for Jack’s help. Before long he was digging, watering and picking vegetables while enjoying the satisfaction of seeing the garden thrive. Second, she made a list of all the great fairs, outdoor activities and scenic walks on Long Island this spring and summer. She has planned a visit to at least one a week and is already considering active indoor outings for them to enjoy together this winter. Her flexible definition of exercise got her husband moving without him feeling tortured.

It’s not just marriages that benefit from creative problem solving. George (61) was disappointed that he didn’t see his grandchildren more often. Although they visited once or twice a month, he wanted a deeper, more consistent relationship with them. Instead, George offered to help out with childcare once a week and even on weekends. They were thrilled to have a loving grandparent driving the kids to soccer, dance and tutors, and George became an integral part of his grandchildren’s lives—helping with homework and binge-watching (age-appropriate) TV shows together. If George had stuck with the traditional idea that children and grandchildren are supposed to just “visit” once in a while, he wouldn’t be experiencing the enriching relationship he now has with his grandkids—and neither would they.

Of course, inventive thinking is not exactly the same as being a talented artist, but striving to be more open-minded can certainly unlock the brain’s traditional creative sensibilities. Kathy (39) envied her best friend Hailey’s ability to write and perform poetry. Finally Kathy faced her fear of exposing herself as “less than talented,” and agreed to take a poetry writing class with Hailey. To her surprise, not only did they develop a stronger friendship, she learned that creativity is more about the process than the outcome. She might never be as great a poet as her friend, but she has learned that she can touch others’ emotions with her words. All it took was a little flexible thinking.

dr. susan bartell

dr. susan bartell

Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally-recognized psychologist and author practicing in Port Washington. She also speaks throughout the country on a wide range of topics to help individuals and groups improve emotional and physical health and life balance. drsusanbartell.com