To Be More Creative, Switch Your Hat

by Janet Arnold-Grych

There’s an old business adage—fake it ’till you make it. It takes confidence, and sometimes a little craziness, to move as though we’ll figure it out, especially if our knowledge and experience are a bit loose-fitting. Embracing that approach might seem reasonable when addressing a workplace challenge or even the suddenly surly pre-teen daughter standing in your kitchen. (“You didn’t come with a manual, you know,” my father often used to say.) When we’re simply stalled, when we’re trying to tackle problems or get creative, and all we have is dead space, it may be beneficial to look at the situation in a different way—as someone else.  

Sometimes, the permission, or perhaps the radical notion, to see things as someone else can get us out of our heads long enough to pick the needle up off the stuck groove. Educational psychologists have found that people can enhance their ability to creatively problem solve when taking on a different identity or role. That’s not to stay we stop being who we are, merely that we allow ourselves a bit of wiggle room to ask, “What would [insert person] do?” It helps our brains throw the switch on our habitual patterns and find a new track.

As we think about the qualities this “alter ego” might assume—unconventionality, wisdom, dynamism, even eccentricity, we’re likely to find those relatable qualities aren’t completely separate from us. Rather, they are us, simply in a different version.

Jurian Hughes, MFA, E-RYT 500, Kripalu School of Yoga faculty member, Let Your Yoga Dance trainer, and voice coach, began her career in the theater. “I’ve been a stage performer for most of my life,” says Jurian. “People think that in acting you are trying to portray something other than what you are. Not true. The more you continue in theater, the more you realize it’s finding different qualities that exist in you and bringing those out. Sometime the qualities in characters would follow me home and that could be a wonderful thing, like when I was playing a role that had an expansiveness or a boldness to it, or a sense of humor or a lighter heart. Sometimes the greatest gift is finding the boldness that already lives inside.”

My sister-in-law, also a creative soul and writer, has a cheeky plaque on her desk that quotes writer Gene Fowler: “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” Slogging through is certainly one means to a creative end. Looking at things through different lenses may be another. It can take some of the weight off us, some of that fear or stasis, and allow "someone else" to give it a go. Perhaps it’s sort of like strolling through your own mental millinery and seeing what works: fedora, tiara, mortar board, sombrero, pith helmet? How would my inner adventurer look differently at this issue? And since it’s “them,” there’s a bit more freedom to think in a novel or meaningful or even silly way.

Yoga can also help to nurture our ability to pivot and embrace different views of who we are. “In theater,” says Jurian, “we are exploring different aspects of ourselves. That is what we are doing in yoga as well. In one class, we might be exploring our strength or how we meet challenge in that moment. Then, in another class, we might be exploring that part of us that allows for complete surrender. We find the authentic parts. The more each of us does that, the more we give permission for everyone around us to do it, too.”

So, to jump start it, how to begin shifting views? Jurian notes a few strategies she often turns to. “Poetry roulette—I’ll choose a poet and open a book. Maybe it’s a Mary Oliver day and I’ll open up to a page and see if there is a phrase that jumps out at me. I also use music roulette. I have five thousand songs on my iTunes and I’ll put the music on shuffle and let my body move. Often my creativity comes through the body, bypassing the mind.” It can be less about the specific strategy and more about the simple permission to try something that's not exactly predictable or linear.

It’s powerful to think that, rather than throwing up our frustrated hands (or wiping the blood off our forehead), we have the ability to switch our view and expand our ability to problem solve, to be creative. Maybe that change is found by allowing ourselves to think like someone else or to move like someone else or to speak like someone else. Where there is resonance, there is a core in us from which those qualities emanate. Maybe, as we access them in different ways, we can begin to lure them more into the light, no longer pretending, but actually owning.

Find out about upcoming programs with Jurian Hughes at Kripalu.

Janet Arnold-Grych is a yoga teacher and writer whose work has been published in Elephant Journal, Huffington Post, Third Coast Digest, and other outlets.

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