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Get out of your head!

Crafts, Knitting, Well-being

Get out of your head!

Päivi Kankaro shares her top six tips for boosting your creativity.

For someone who writes a regular column at a print magazine, I’m going to make an odd confession: I do not particularly enjoy writing. Not because writing per se is unpleasant, it isn’t that hard to form sentences, but mostly because creative writing doesn't come easy to me. Writing requires a certain level of creative thinking, boldness for opinions as well as clever and eloquent use of words – qualities I often feel I do not possess, especially when a blank page is staring at me. However, here I find myself again, typing away on my laptop, trying to make sense out of the thoughts that keep bouncing in my head, and here you are reading whatever the outcome might be, hoping you’ll get something out of it.

Is it a fair assumption that creativity might be hard for most people? How many people just go at it without any hesitation in the process? (If you raised your hand, I salute you!)

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves when we are trying to create something new and meaningful. In the decade that I’ve worked in the craft industry, it seems that creativity does initiate some self-doubts in all of us. Introducing people to new crafts often spurs a common reaction of “Oh, I’m not really crafty”, or “I’m not creative at all”. These comments echo our insecurities and the pressures of comparison, or maybe the feedback of our childhood art teacher is still stopping us from doing what we enjoy. We carry these wounds often throughout our lives. I can still remember my Finnish teacher criticizing me for my grammar in high school, which still makes me doubt if I indeed can write, or better yet, write a column at a publication I hold in high regard.

But why does creativity feel so difficult to us sometimes? And why, as hard as it feels, do we still keep on urging to have outlets for creativity?

According to official definitions, creativity is the ability to use imagination or original ideas to create something. It’s characterized by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, finding hidden patterns and connections between seemingly unrelated things to generate solutions. It involves thinking and producing.

Despite our discouraging beliefs, we all have some desire to create new things, as uncomfortable and difficult as it may be. In his seminal work ‘Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience’, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes creativity as “..a central source of meaning in our lives … most of the things that are interesting, important, and human are the results of creativity… [and] when we are involved in it, we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.”

So, I create, therefore I am?

Then why does it seem that for some people creativity comes more easily? And is there something we not so gifted can do to get our creative juices flowing? For example, why is it that some people can go for great innovations after learning just one stitch, but some technically skilled knitters never venture out to create something of their own – including me?

It seems that a lot of it comes down to our brains. A recent neuroscientific study done at Harvard University shows that creativity involves a complex interplay between spontaneous and controlled thinking – the ability to both spontaneously brainstorm ideas and deliberately evaluate and validate their viability. The brain regions associated with creativity belong to three specific brain systems: the default, salience and executive networks. Whereas these three networks don’t usually get activated at the same time, the results of the study suggest that creative people are better able to co-activate brain networks that usually work separately, making them more apt for creative ideas and outputs.

This however doesn’t mean it’s game over for the rest of us. When running into a creative rut, don’t give up and blame your brain cells, as creativity can be boosted at any age or experience level. Maybe we’re not always creative in the way we want to be, but the potential is there. Innovating and creating does require some work, it calls for changing up your normal routine and stepping outside of your comfort zone. Easy, right?

Creativity can spark a lot of emotions. It’s scary, it’s exciting, it’s fun and it’s absolutely painstakingly difficult. I personally go through all these emotions when I’m doing something creative, like making music, learning to crochet, or writing these columns. So to conclude this article, with the experience I’ve gathered working in the creative field, I’m going to share my own top six tips for boosting your creativity and tackling that project you’ve been longing to make or achieve.

  • Give time and practice. Creativity needs time to flow and determination to come to life. Make sure you give yourself enough time to get through the process. Nobody is a master on the first try. Practice as much as you can.
  • Play. If you don’t know where to start, just do something. Anything. Learn a new stitch. Splash a little colour. Play a few tunes. Write something, even gibberish. It might not make any sense right now, but it might spur your next inspiration. Make play a practice.
  • Take breaks. Creative ideas often take shape during moments of inactivity when we let our unconsciousness process things. For me, many ideas have struck while taking a walk with my dog or driving a car. I keep my audio record near for those moments when I have to document my newfound inspiration.
  • Fail and make mistakes. Nothing we do is perfect, so why even stress about it. Sometimes it’s better to get something done than make it flawless, and you might surprise yourself in the process. Your biggest failure might be your greatest inspiration. Sometimes the knitting project you unravelled several times becomes your dearest garment.
  • Share your ideas. Get over the fear of rejection and share your projects and ideas with others, even unfinished ones. Surround yourself with people who inspire you. Get feedback and listen to others’ experiences.

Text: Päivi Kankaro
Illustration: Sanni Wessman


This feature was first published in Laine issue 14.