We are all guilty of it. The pointless game of feeling sorry for ourselves, otherwise known as pouting. I’m right there with you! But, I’ve figured out a way to use a character strength to break the habit and actually find something good in the situation.
Last month, I was trapped in a sea of traffic. Everywhere I looked there were cars – thousands of them. It was like a massive parking lot on the expressway. My mind started churning: I’ll be late to pick up my kids. It was my fault for leaving work late. I should have listened to my co-worker who explained there was bad traffic on the road. Who caused this traffic jam anyway? Probably someone on their cell phone.
Around and around my mind went. Blaming others. Blaming myself. Worrying. Ultimately, it was a self-absorbed slew of mind-pouting. It only took seconds to get caught in the downpour. Milli-seconds to get it started in the first place.
I suddenly caught myself and thought – is this pouting helpful to me in this moment? Is this pouting helping others? Of course the answer was “no.” The next thought was – Ryan, look for a new way to think or to act in this situation.
When I stopped pouting and looked around me (some 5 minutes later) I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before – one of the traffic lanes of the four was moving and moving rather swiftly. I figured I might as well take the risk and meandered my way to the right lane and legally passed about 1000 unmoving cars.
As I look back at this simple act of everyday creativity I am reminded of the following:
- Everybody has this character strength and everybody can use it. Creativity does not mean you produce brilliant works of art, poetry, or music. It means you are thinking divergently – in a given situation, you are coming up with multiple solutions to a problem. You’re not getting stuck in the routines of one pathway. Researchers call this “little c” creativity, or everyday creativity.
- To get unstuck, you must first be mindful (link is external)that you are stuck. Tunnel-vision can keep our creativity at bay. Our mind is quite clever in the amount of pointless thinking that it can come up with, in seconds. Much of this is everyday mindlessness. Sometimes we know this is happening on some level and we relish in the self-absorption because it’s what we’re used to. It’s what we know. And other times we don’t realize we are doing it. We need to see that we are stuck but we also have to “want” to get unstuck.
- Make room for creativity. If we spend our time locked into the same way of doing things, how can we expect new ideas to emerge? To come up with useful alternate solutions, we have to let go of what we think the possible solutions are. This is where we might practice mindfulness of our breath to re-center our focus and let go of the problem and our ways of reacting to that problem. This allows us to then see things anew or fresh. Creativity then has room to spark.
- Be open, curious, and accepting. This is the definition of mindfulness. When we embody such openness and curiosity, possibilities, choices, and ideas begin to flow. As Harvard scientist Ellen Langer says about her research on mindfulness and creativity, “If we are mindfully creative, the circumstances of the moment will tell us what to do.”
Langer, E. (2005). On becoming an artist: Reinventing yourself through mindful creativity. New York: Ballantine Books.
Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.
Simonton, D. K. (2000). Creativity: Cognitive, developmental, personal, and social aspects. American Psychologist, 55, 151-158.