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Is Your Environment Helping or Hurting You Creatively?

creative thoughtYour environment — whether it’s your office, studio, or family room — is full of cues that can have a significant impact on how you feel, what you think, and how you behave. As Malcolm Gladwell details in his bestseller Blink, our brains constantly decode information and influence our thoughts and actions in ways that may or may not support our goals. Is your environment continually sending you messages that undermine your creative process or self-confidence?

Gladwell cites a now-classic 1996 priming experiment wherein New York University researchers asked participants to rearrange scrambled words to form sentences. The control group received random sentences and the experimental group received sentences containing words we associate with the elderly, such as “Florida,” “old,” “forgetful,” “wrinkle,” and “bingo.” If you were among the experimental group, after finishing the test you would have walked down the hallway more slowly than the control group.

This experiment was just one of many that reveal our brains’ susceptibility to the subtle (but not subliminal) signals we receive. The unconscious mind guides us in ways we can’t control. It is for this reason that classical music has adopted the practice of blind auditions, using a screen to separate auditioners from the audition committee. It is simply too difficult to ignore information from visual cues — information that can support incorrect conclusions, such as the formerly widespread belief that women are inferior musicians. As Gladwell notes, in the three decades since the use of audition screens became commonplace, the number of women in top US orchestras has increased five-fold.

What does this mean for you, as a creative? It means that you need to ensure that what you see every day is empowering and inspiring. Take a hard look at what you’ve surrounded yourself with — and get rid of the things that don’t serve you. Be ruthless. Then invite in only the objects and cues that support your intentions, increase your productivity, and make you feel good. A few simple starters:

  • Clean up your desk: Piles of clutter may perpetuate feeling overwhelmed and disorganized.
  • Go green: Having a plant nearby can improve attentiveness, productivity, and well-being.
  • Use creative visualization: Make a vision board and hang it where you can see it daily.
  • Stick ’em up: Write your goals on Post-It notes and hang them in obvious places.

In the words of Napoleon Hill: “We begin to see, therefore, the importance of selecting our environment with the greatest of care, because environment is the mental feeding ground out of which the food that goes into our minds is extracted.”

What kinds of things do you keep in your environment that support your creativity?


A version of this piece was originally published in Creativity Calling, the newsletter of the Creativity Coaching Association.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. This post just made me stand up and straighten up my living room! 😉 I do feel more mentally prepared to work/create when my mind is “OK” with my surroundings. I’ve found that with a 5 year old – it’s hard to keep things in their places, but containers and baskets just mentally save me. At least if all the odds/ends are contained – my mental space is clean and not distracted. Thanks for bringing this to my attention today. Have a great one!

    November 20, 2013
    • That made me laugh, Crystal! I agree — containing things goes a long way 🙂

      November 21, 2013
  2. I don’t necessarily keep things in my immediate environment, but I seek out inspiration whether it be through this blog or visiting art galleries or reading, etc. However, when I move into my new (designated!) studio space in a couple of weeks, I intend to put up inspirational quotes that encourage me to move forward with my creativity.

    November 20, 2013
  3. WantItEverSo #

    I love this post and would definitely implement all of the ideas in my office. The trouble is that I share with my husband who adores having everything out in stacks in front of him – he calls it useful but I call it clutter. Thinking on it now, we aren’t very well matched at all 🙂 Perhaps I shall content myself with a good desk tidy and try hard not to look in his direction! …Sarah

    November 21, 2013
    • That’s a tough one. Is it at all possible to put a standing screen between your work spaces so that your side can remain a bastion of creative tranquility?? 😉

      November 21, 2013
  4. I have been thinking lately that my slap-dash unattractive handwriting is doing nothing to inspire me or others. My goal would include making every sticky note-to-self, attractive and thoughtful, not just in the verbal content, but in the non-verbal.

    November 21, 2013
    • Interesting observation! However, as someone who is familiar with your handwriting, I have to say that it doesn’t seem slap-dash or unattractive in the least 🙂

      November 21, 2013
  5. Reblogged this on I Am Jenny and commented:
    Will try to live by your teachings.. 🙂

    November 23, 2013

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