Oh, Mary

Sounds of Silence: Creativity in the Time of COVID

April 15, 2020
Pat Shanahan

As a marketing executive, I have long been interested in learning about how to source creativity and to access it when needed. Mostly, this was a selfish pursuit, brought on by late nights, tight deadlines and projects that called for a different kind of solution or a little extra spark. When you are expected to provide creative solutions as part of your job, creativity on command is a reality. But it isn’t always easy – especially now.  

Scientists have known for decades that stress is a killer of creativity. When our reptilian brains are focused on deciding on whether to fly, fight, or freeze, and our brains are oscillating at higher beta wave frequency, all we can do is yearn for the days when things will return to “normal.” This physiology makes it easier to remember to wash your hands, but difficult to access the parts of the brain necessary for creative thinking.

If there was ever a time that calls for creativity and imagining solutions that were unimaginable just a few weeks ago, that time is now. The threshold presented by this pandemic is a huge opportunity to reimagine our health care system, our economic system, how our government serves us, how we spend our days, and what is most important to us. For me, it has also provided an opportunity to provide new ideas to my clients and return to and explore art and creativity in new ways.

So, in the face of a pandemic with the power to kill us, how do we access creativity? Here are two ideas that have helped me.

Embrace the silence. Creativity needs space. If you haven’t already put yourself on a reduced diet of news, that’s a great start and will help to lower stress. Try to carve out a few minutes every day to just listen to the silence. It’s easier for me now that my neighborhood is much quieter than normal. If you have a lot of family around, take a solo walk or use headphones to block sound.  

Start with five or ten minutes, or longer if you are used to this practice. You don’t have to meditate, but you can. The important thing is to listen to what is going on in your mind. There is usually some interesting stuff in there. Observing your thoughts could spark ideas about what you need, how to improve something, the next line of poetry, or another creative answer you’ve been searching for.

Use the monotony. I don’t know about you, but my days are pretty much the same these days, and I am doing more household chores than I normally do. Instead of focusing on the drudgery of these tasks, you can use them as a platform for creative thinking. Routine tasks, those that you don’t have to think about while you are doing them, are shown to put the brain in “diffuse-thinking” state, which allows it to make more and different creative connections. Yes, this is the reason why people often get their best ideas in the shower.

So, sit a while in the silence. Or listen to your thoughts as you go through these “every day the same” sort of days. It will lower our collective stress level. There could also be poetry, music, an ”ah-ha” solution, or something else very beautiful for you to find.