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Mission Possible – Find Your Lost Creativity with Six Exercises

Many people believe that either you are born with a creative mind or you're not. Taking if further, some believe that if you weren't born with it, you can learn it or develop it. What do you believe?

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” - Pablo PicassoClick To Tweet

Many people in my classes and on my tours feel they lack creativity. They longingly look at other photographer's work and feel they can never attain that level of creativity, and that they're just missing that special “je ne sais quoi”.

Hogwash I say! We are all born creative.

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I couldn't resist this little guy was so cute. Note all the photos in the article are from my recent Photo Tour to Nicaragua with 12 amazing people!

I believe, as Picasso so eloquently said above, that we are all born with the ability to be creative, an artist if you will. But over time and circumstance we lose your ability in this area.

Think about when you were a small child. How many things could you do then that you've simply lost the skill to do now as an adult? How about physically flexibility? As a baby you could probably suck your own toe, but try that now and end up in traction – am I right? Okay. So creativity is no different. Just like a muscle – if it is not used and exercised, regularly, it tightens up and ceases to function at all eventually.

So your mission POSSIBLE, should you choose to accept it, is to exercise your creativity muscle.

I'm going to give you some stretches to help you find your lost creativity. Are you ready? Are you excited? I hope so!

PART ONE – Non-photography related stretches

Every exercise needs a warm up first, so these will get you started. BUT keep in mind this will only work if you are dedicated to doing this every day! If you are committed to doing this – put a comment below now like this:

“I (your name) commit to doing at least one daily stretch to expand and work my creativity muscle from this day forward (put the date) and before these witnesses.”

Do it now I'll wait!

#1 – Do ONE thing different every day

Serving lunch to people living in the garbage dump like we did is certainly different. While you may not have that opportunity every day – perhaps there is something you can do locally like serve in the local homeless shelter or soup kitchen. TRUST me the perspective you gain from doing this sort of thing is a big reality check. Knocks you off kilter just a little, that's good.
The little girl's face in the front of this bunch speaks volumes to me. Doing something for others, or doing a pay it forward – if these are not things you normally do, can help you get out of a rut creatively and personally as well. It shifts your entire being and how you feel, and it can't help but affect you in a positive way.

We are creatures of habit. How many times have you driven home from work to ask yourself “how did I get here?” because you were on autopilot? So part of being creative is doing things differently so the goal here is to shake your brain up, wake it up, and get it going “oh this is new!”. Here are some ideas, pick one new one each day but keep doing the new things all week.

  • Drive a different route to work, you'd be amazed what you might see
  • Leave 10 minutes earlier than usual
  • Listen to a different radio station in the car or at work or better yet try some podcasts and learn something
  • Use your opposite hand for things like the telephone and eating
  • Eat with chopsticks, even your salad
  • Sit on the floor (at home, they might think you've lost it at work)
  • Drink tea instead of coffee
  • Read a book instead of watching TV
  • Sit on the other side of the dinner table, or sleep on the wrong side of the bed

You get the idea. Share what you are going to do that's different in your comment if you wish.

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Well I rode in the back of a truck on the way back from the orphanage we visited (don't look Mom!) and that is certainly different than we are used to back home. The chance was there, so I took it, and I even survived to tell the tale!

#2 – Think and act like a kid

If you want the creativity and thoughts you had when you were a kid, well guess what, you're going to have to act like one too. Which means:

  • Play a game, and I don't mean a computer game, I mean an actual game like hide and go seek, or a board game, or pirates. Ideally do this WITH a kid or s few of them. If you don't have any I'm sure you have nieces or nephews or friends that have kids who would love nothing but for you to come and play with them on their level. (Note: the parents will love you also)
  • Drink Kool-Aid and eat jello. If you can't stomach that at least go for ice cream and get a big sundae with sprinkles on top and a cherry, or a big ice cream cone that you let melt and run down your arm.
  • Have a PB&J sandwich for lunch, cut the crusts off remember.
  • Pretend you're sick and try and convince your spouse you can't go to work today (don't really skip work you might get in trouble – just play it out and let them think they “made” you go)
  • Eat a bug or put one in your sisters hair (if your sister lives far away use your spouse)
  • Play with puppies and kitties – if you don't have one the local animal shelter would love you to come walk the dogs and play with the kittens.
  • Color – get a colouring book at the dollar store and some crayons and actually sit down and colour. Even better if you get markers, safety scissors, some glue and popsicle sticks – then make something.
  • Skip down the street on your way to the bus or work.
  • Sing out loud
  • Jump in a puddle and make a big splash
  • Pick a flower and give it to your spouse or neighbour
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I was making faces at these kids and taking their photo, so they made faces back at me – it was a fun moment. Being a photographer, especially if you want to photograph or work with kids, requires you to drop your guard and act like a complete goofball. Show them it's okay to be a kid and be silly, and they'll give it right back to you.
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I love this photo of Christian from our group just having a great time taking photos of the kids and with the kids. The expression says it all.
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This is Garth, he was there with a group of firefighters and volunteers from Kamloops, BC. We went to the orphanage for a visit with their group. Here he's enjoying some chalk drawing time with one of the girls.

The following video is a short clip of me and a little girl that kept coming and poking me as I was doing temporary tattoos and serving lunch to the kids and people at the garbage dump on our recent trip to Nicaragua. So we had a little wrestled and I found out she was ticklish. But the point is amidst everything – take time to play. Kids always do, even ones that have so little or nothing.

My new buddy! (photo by Carol Kujala)
My new buddy! (photo by Carol Kujala)

Think of all the things you enjoyed doing as a kid. What was your favourite game? Who was your best friend? If you haven't seen or spoken to that person in a while, perhaps reach out and connect. Talk about what fun you had way back when.

#3 – Do something really outside your comfort zone

Okay so if you haven't freaked out yet, this one is going to be your biggest challenge. But – it also has the biggest reward!

I once heard this as the definition of stupid: doing something the same over and over, expecting different results. I think that's brilliant. In order for you to have a different result (in this case increased creativity) you need to do things differently, hence #1 and #2 above. But if you want to really expand and grow, you have to take bigger leaps.

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

She was a very wise woman who did many great things!

It was explained to me this way. If your container is a certain size, let's say one cup, you can only put so much water into it. If your container isn't full yet that's one thing, but what if it is full? You need a bigger container. You are the container, and the only way to do that is to expand your horizons, literally. You have to stretch your own boundaries of what you feel is “safe” or “comfortable”. Often that which we fear is the thing we must do first.

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Our group, or the portion of us (photo above) about to climb to the top of that volcano and “gulp” slide down it on those boards. Definitely outside my comfort zone! I do not like heights particularly, I do not really like hiking, and I'm not crazy about wiping out on volcanic rock going mach 4, while sliding down a volcano on a board.

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Us at the top, skill looking confident. Don't look down! – photo taken by Luis
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It LOOKS really far down from up there. My mother commented on this photo on Facebook but I can't repeat it here. I can tell you it starts with “Holy …”, you can fill in the blank however you like. Oh yeah that white spec down there is our bus! (photo taken on Rob's phone)

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Photo by Bob Dixon

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Photo by Steve Kramer

Will you do one of the following:

  • Sit next to someone on the bus or at a cafe that makes you uncomfortable and smile at them (be safe of course and use reasonable judgment when doing so)
  • Order something you've always wanted to eat, and then eat it. Never tried sushi? Now's the time. Pick an ethnic food and find a restaurant and go with a friend.
  • Find a homeless person and give them a dollar, or $5, or buy them lunch. Now this is something I do frequently so if you're like me this isn't a stretch for you, so pick something else.
  • Talk to a stranger. Not just “hello” but have a conversation with them. Really be interested in finding out about them.
  • Convince someone it's your birthday and get them to sing to you, bonus points for a stranger.
  • Dance or do housework naked in your house, with the windows opened (no children present or in view of course)
  • Bungee jump or sky dive (only if they are on your bucket list)
  • Sign up for a class or something you've always wanted to do but were afraid to try (take a balloon or helicopter ride, drive a fast car, take trapeze lessons or martial arts)

Do think this one through but the important things to note here are: first this thing doesn't have to be grandiose, if it makes your palms sweat just thinking about it then it's a probably a good choice. Secondly, you'll know if it's fear stopping you or rational thought. Don't listen to the fear, DO listen to reason (don't do anything unsafe, dangerous or stupid).

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I also do not swim, nor do I like water. I'm terrified of it in fact. Yet here I am in a small fishing boat taking a tour of the Estuary. It was at sunset and it was gorgeous. So sometimes you have to do things that really freak you out, or miss out on something special. (photo by Rob Cooper – aka my husband)
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The reflections in the water and the mangrove were picturesque.
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I even managed to take some close ups of the waves with the colors of the sunset reflecting in them – without tossing my cookies!

PART TWO – Photography related stretches

This is a photography site so we should have some photography exercise too. Keep working on Part One as often as possible. Break old habits and form new ones. Get your brain stretching and thinking in different ways. Now pick up the camera again!

A) Pick a technique you've always wanted to try and haven't, and just do it

Go in with the attitude that you do not care about the results. Failure is not an option because the goal is to play and experiment. The results are how you felt doing it and what you learned, not the images you shoot. Need some ideas: get some sparklers or flashing lights at the dollar store, and play with them in a dark room. Zooming during the exposure. Long exposures hand held just for the heck of it. Try panning, try shooting sports and freezing the action. Shoot and process some HDR images, or try some close-up or macro photography.

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Playing with gloves that glow and change colours. My husband had the brilliant idea to spell a word, this is what he created (image below). It's the name of the beer there, Toña. I have to admit it worked out pretty well and he even got the little accent over the “n”.

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Here our group is setting up as we prepare to do some fire spinning on the beach (photo below) – a first for most of them.
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Safety is #1 when you do this, which is why we chose the beach. There is nothing around that can catch fire from the molten metal being flung around. Do NOT attempt this unless you know the risks and precautions.

B) Do something completely differently and go the extra mile

If you usually shoot horizontally shoot vertically. If you shoot in colour shoot only b/w. If you shoot in auto take it off and just try every other setting no matter what happens. If you usually do photography alone, get a friend or join a photo walk or camera club. If you've never shown your images to anyone – do that (that could even be the one thing that scares you, see #3 above).

Going the extra mile could mean getting up for sunrise, eating late so you can capture the sunset, or simple taking a short trip. You don't have to go to an exotic place to find good subjects to photograph, you just need to be prepared to stay after the sun sets, or to keep shooting when your feet hurt and you are hungry and just want to go eat.

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These two guys (photo above) on our trip were up and out shoot almost every morning at 5am. We affectionately called them “the tripod guys”. They were dedicated to getting some great images of the fishermen and boats that returned each morning at dawn. I'm going to save those images for a later article though (teaser), along with Bob's story of following the cows one morning – just to see where they went.

C) Shoot something funny

Find a subject that you can make a funny photo of, or inject something humorous somehow. The old “crushing your head”, get a friend in a funny pose or with a sign that's comical. Put one person on the others head using perspective. Or find a kid to make funny faces while you keep shooting and making funny faces back at him. Laugh until you both are crying.

The only goal here is to have fun. If you've done all the homework above, this one should be a piece of cake.

Something to listen to on the way to work

Smart talk podcast darlene interviewLast thing I'm going to give you is something to listen to, an interview I did a while back for a podcast called Smart Talk, with Lisa B. Marshall. In fact it was listening to that interview the other day and some of the things we discussed that inspired me to write this article. I have to say I said some pretty wise things, if I do say so myself. Have a listen and let me know if you agree.



Go ahead and share what you plan to do that's different, and what scares you that you're going to do anyway. Start there, commit to it – then follow through and do it. Here's what I know about success. You are way more likely to reach your goals if you write them down (this survey says 42% but I've heard higher than that). If you tell other people about it, you are even more likely to succeed. This is likely because once you put it out there and tell other people, you don't want to let them down. We let ourselves down with broken promises all the time, but we generally keep our promises to others – wouldn't you agree? So do yourself a favour, write down your goals, and share them with us here.

So will you step up to the task and accept this challenge? Or will you be . . . chicken? Sorry couldn't resist – another on our neighbours at the beach.


Note: all photos in the article are from our recent Photo Tour to Nicaragua.

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