Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Month: May, 2013

What is creativity?

image of brain gears, symbolizing learning creativity

Creativity can be LEARNED – really.

“What is creativity?” is a question that gets a million global Google searches per month, as of this writing. Apparently, a bunch of us are very interested in what it is – or maybe what it is not. We could fill the Pacific with books, speeches, documentaries, blogs, etc., etc., that have been written about creativity – lots of good reading material out there.

But if you don’t consider yourself creative and you wade into some of those books and blogs, be wary. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the details of learning creativity. Some well-meaning writers have made learning creativity into such an intricate, step-by-step project, that we non-creative types are tempted to give up.

We watch in awe as a good friend does a bang-up job of redecorating her great room – on a ridiculously low budget. We enviously observe a co-worker devising a killer app for a niggling little manufacturing problem – on one lunch hour break. When our seemingly nerdy, klutzy neighbor designs and builds a pergola in his backyard, it’s the final straw. We decide they’re creative, and we’re not. End of story. It’s just beyond us.

Get out. It is NOT.

 We’re all creative beings,
by design – ALL of us.

Don’t let the creative gurus scare you. Every time you do something differently than you’ve ever done it before, you’re being creative. Every time you imagine something you’ve never imagined before, you’re being creative – even if that idea never leaves your head. Creativity is simply making something new from something old. Stated that way, learning creativity seems pretty doable, doesn’t it?

Good news: it is. And one of the very best ways to develop creativity is to hang around with – you know where I’m going, don’t you? – creative people. Yes! Watch how their minds work, how their hands work, how THEY work. Then imitate them. That’s it: learn from the creative experts all around you because, honey, you’re gonna need a boatload of creativity.

Every stage of life requires creativity.

If you see yourself as uncreative but long to be creative, you may just want to do cool stuff right now, like that good friend, co-worker, or neighbor. That’s good enough incentive – for now.

Here’s some additional incentive. When I was in my fifties, I began noticing elderly family members struggling with serious health problems and simple, daily-living chores. I was stunned to see that life gets harder and harder as we age, requiring more and more creativity just to deal with it.

What’s coming for us all in our final years will likely be harder than anything we’ve done before. Not what you wanted to hear, was it? I sure didn’t. But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that it’s so. Just pay attention to the elderly around you. I hadn’t; that’s why this was all such an unwelcome shock.

Our later years just may make our teens, twenties, and even our thirties look like a fun-filled, nappy day in kindergarten. That’s because we begin losing the very assets and abilities we’ve relied on for so long and have come to think of as permanently ours:

  • a loving – and competent – spouse,
  • bodies that do just about anything we want,
  • going anywhere we choose,
  • hearing everything we need/want to hear,
  • seeing everything we need/want to see,

and on and on it goes.

Creativity begets more creativity.

Practicing creativity now – for the sheer joy and fun of it (or to impress the boss) is great. Do it – because creativity is just like every other life skill: the more you practice it, the better you get. One day, you’ll realize friends are calling you creative and asking for your creative advice.

When this happens, go ahead and revel in the kudos. But after you’ve finished the back-patting, remind yourself that the REAL benefit of your newly cultivated creativity is still to come.

You’ve been paying attention to the creative people around you and practicing one of life’s most important skills/assets/practices/habits that will become invaluable as you age. You’ve embodied what John Cleese– that crazy Monty Python star – observed, “Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.”

One more piece of good news.

Have you noticed The Haves do not have a corner on this market? The rest of us have just as good a shot at becoming creative as they do – because it’s free! It’s something we can:

  • learn from every creative soul we meet,
  • practice our whole lives, and
  • become surprisingly good at by the time we reach our seventies, eighties, and nineties.

Here’s the legendary Steve Jobs’ answer to “what is creativity?” Please leave a comment, telling us your answer.

red box with white text stating what creativity is, according to Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, on “What is creativity?”

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett
(Head with gears graphic from For getting Job blog post, titled ” The Difference Between Creativity and Innovation.”)

Living Well 3

photo of hand dropping coins into a charity's change can

Small donations add up – for you AND others.

Okay. So can we agree (after Living Well 2) that practicing self-discipline to watch the little things – the little buying decisions – leads to living well for you?

Okay, what about others? Have you ever wished you could do something worthwhile for your favorite charity or your church? You can. Yes, right now. You have ten bucks to spare, don’t you? Ah, that’s what I thought. Ten bucks? Are your kidding? What good will that do?? If you’re like most of us, that’s what you were thinking.

We’re all stuck on the “big stuff.”

One of the oddest quirks of human nature is that we all want to do “the big stuff.” We don’t want to donate the easily affordable $10 to charity; we want to build a new wing for the hospital. We don’t want to write a 200-word article for our scrapbooking club’s monthly newsletter; we want to write a 500-page e-book on scrapbooking. We don’t want to save $3 this week; we want an extra $300 to show up in our checking account after implementing a few new saving habits.

Maybe that’s why Jesus felt it necessary to say that giving just a cup of cold water to someone who needs it will bring us a reward. Talk about a little thing. Notice, he didn’t say we needed to build a dam to provide hydro-electric energy and water for an entire section of a third-world country whose people are dying from diseases that they get from drinking unsafe water (whew) in order to receive our reward. No, just give what we all have – a cup of cold water. A little thing. A very little thing.

Know what I think?

We don’t practice self-discipline in the little matters of life – whether it’s foregoing a $5 latté, leaving those cute sandals on the sale rack, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or racking up philanthropic donations $10 at a time – because WE DON’T THINK LITTLE THINGS MATTER. We don’t think little, painless decisions will get us the Bahama-trip big things we want in life. We don’t believe one of life’s most basic rules, and we do believe little things are inconsequential.

But little decisions ARE important. Little slices of self-discipline are of great consequence. They’re a process that adds up to something big, something we really want – living well.

Living well is an eminently obtainable goal for each of us. Interestingly enough, The Blessed people I’ve known often seem even more caught up in the big-thing mentality than the rest of us. So there. We ordinary mortals may even have an edge in getting this concept. Self-discipline in the little things leads to our growing sense of personal responsibility for living within one’s mean: living well and doing our bit to help others live well.

Tell us a heart-warming story of how you or someone you know saved a little money over time to accomplish _______. (Fill-in-the-blank time again.)

red box with white text of Artistotle's quote about excellence being a habit

Aristotle nailed it: practice habitual excellence.

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

Living Well 2

photo of a pile of pennies, symbolizing our daily "little" decisions

Pennies and daily little decisions ADD UP.

Q: What do self-discipline, living well, and personal responsibility all have in common?

A. Little decisions. Lots and lots and lots of little, relatively painless decisions.

Let’s just take one example. Let’s take Great-Grandpa’s “take care of the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves” advice which, incidentally, he stole from previous generations. This time-worn, self-discipline advice was – and still is – spot on.

Yes, inflation has chewed up pennies and spit them out as dollars. And yes, I know you’re much more in-the-know than poor old Great-Grandpa. Bless his soul, he’s just so out of it, soooo unbelievably un-cool, and so clueless. What does he know? That $5 latté you buy every Friday as your pre-weekend treat is of no consequence in the long run, for Pete’s sake. That $50 pair of sandals you bought at a killer sale last spring (the ones that look almost like the ones you already had in your closet)? No big deal.

No? Those 500 pennies you spend once a week on a latté add up to 26,000 pennies in one year – $260. What could you do with $260? If you buy just two pairs of good-quality, but unnecessary, shoes in the spring and two in the fall, all for a very thrifty sale-price of $50 each pair, that’s $200 you could have saved or spent elsewhere. What could you do with $200? What could you do with $460?

Some, depending on their finances, may answer “not much.” Others, perhaps not so flush with cash, will revel in all the possibilities of having an extra $260 or $200 or $460. However, listing the alternative things we could do with $260 or $200 or $460 isn’t the point.

Here’s the point.

When we make hundreds of these kinds of decisions every week, they collectively add up to a great deal of money – maybe even enough for _______. Fill-in-the-blank time. What would ring your chimes? Fill it in. A trip to the Bahamas, is it? $460 might get you a cheap flight. Now for a good deal on a hotel; how much would that cost? Hmmm. What else could I give up for a while?

See how this works? Little everyday decisions about how you spend small amounts of money add up. They add up in dollars. They add up to increasing self-discipline. They add up to the habit of personal responsibility. They add up to living well.

Your turn. Give us another example.

red box with white text of Jesse Owens wrote about self-discipline

Time to ramp up your personal responsibility!

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

Living Well 1

profile view of Teddy Roosevelt facing his statement about what self-discipline is

Pay attention to the simple, “little” things.

Most of us, thank goodness, don’t love money; we love what money can DO for us – allow us to live well. A key component of living well (and one of the most powerful stress-busters known to modern man) is living within our means.

Yeah. Yeah. It’s a sneaky way of backing into the real topic of this three-part, Living Well blog post. But if I had called it what it’s really about – Living Within Your Means – wouldn’t you have skipped it? Yes, well; there you go.

Now that I’ve come clean, just stick with me for a bit. Don’t stop now, because I HAVE GOOD NEWS. Living within your means requires only one thing. Of course, that one thing – self-discipline – is a rare commodity in 21st century U.S. Oh, let’s just tell the whole story. The other dirty little secret: self-discipline is on the same black list – in our society – as personal responsibility.

Are we really clueless –
or just not paying attention?

Why are we so unwilling to make ourselves follow our own rules so that we can achieve our own goals for our own lives? Looks suspiciously like self-sabotage to me. (And why do we snicker at those who practice personal responsibility, following their own rules to reach their own goals for their own lives?)

We SAY we want to live within our means. We SAY we know our mounting debts cause us sleepless nights and ever-increasing stress. We SAY we know stress is bad for our bodies and our minds. We SAY we’ve learned that having more things doesn’t necessarily make us happier (translation: allow us to live well). We SAY we know all these truths, but we live as if we don’t.

I first wrote the material that appears in this set of Living Well blog posts almost five years before I started this blog. Since that time, our country experienced The Great Recession. Life got ugly. People lost jobs, homes, self-respect.

I was hopeful. Yes, hopeful. I was hoping that venturing so near the guillotine would’ve scared our society enough that we’d stop the self-sabotage.

Dang. I was wrong. We’re still doing it. I see it all around me. Shoot, I even find myself shooting myself in the foot, even when I know our economy is still shaky. Again I ask, are we clueless or just not paying attention?

Could it be …?

I’m just thinking aloud here. Could it be that we’ve forgotten that self-discipline consists of tons and tons and tons of little – teeny, tiny, minuscule –  decisions? Have we overlooked the fact that making small AND EASY behavior modifications will help us live better?

Could it be that relatively painless, minor decisions will slowly but inevitably lead us into a more self-disciplined lifestyle and a lifetime of living well? As you can tell, I think so. And I’m not alone. Thousands of generations before us have learned this lesson. Read Living Well 2, if you don’t believe me. And then tell me if I’m wrong.

red box with white text of quote fro Robert J. Ringer

We know this. Now we need to practice it.

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

Gold Nugget 3: Learning from Parents – Anyone’s

gold nugget symbolizing what we can learn from everyone

Learning From Everyone

gold nugget symbolizing what we can learn from everyone

Ask the Right Questions

gold nugget symbolizing what we can learn from everyone

Learning From Parents

Few people in my life give much credibility to anything I might have to say. After all, they KNOW me. (See Gold Nugget 1.) Gold nuggets from HER mouth? Please.

After reading Gold Nuggets 1 and 2, are you still pretty sure that your perfectly ordinary family and friends couldn’t possibly have some gold nuggets for you? Okay. We have the perfect marriage. I (someone else’s parent) pass on my “wisdom” – such as it is – to you, and you thoughtfully consider it since you don’t know me.

Your parents and grandparents can skip you and pass their wisdom on to non-children who accept it gratefully and gladly, since they don’t know your parents and grandparents very well and therefore, have no idea they’re really clueless.

See how this works? It’s a win-win deal, I’m telling you.

Yep. Little bit of humor there. Humor prepares the heart and mind for many things, you know.

Now I am being serious.

Truly, is it difficult for you to give much credibility to anything the familiars of your life might have to say? Is the phrase learning from parents is an oxymoron? Then maybe something in this Pay Attention! Blog will prove helpful since it doesn’t come from your parent.

Maybe one of my Pay Attention! posts will generate a conversation with some of those familiars in your life. Or not; maybe now isn’t the time for that.

Maybe Pay Attention! will generate a new-found appreciation for what your family members know. Or not; maybe I haven’t done a very good job of convincing you yet, and they still seem clueless to you. And, of course, there is the outside possibility they really are clueless. (I rather doubt it, though.)

Having dismissed your own, maybe this blog will set you to wondering if learning lessons from someone else’s parents might not be such a goofy idea after all.

Just so you know, I plan to keep on blogging regardless of what you decide. So check back once in a while. In the meantime, humor me. Give learning from someone else’s parent a whirl while you’re getting used to the idea that you might be able to learn from your parents and grandparents.

Learning from your own parents can be done, you know. And if you decide to try it, I’d love to hear what you’re learning. I’ve learned A WHOLE LOT from other people’s parents already, and I’d be tickled to learn something from your parents, too.

photo of a parent, probably a grandparent, who could probably teach us all something

A wise man can save you time and money!

red box with white text of Longfellow's quote of conversing with a wise man

Whose grandparent could you cozy up to
for some pay-attention, gold-nugget mining?

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett
[photo from Parenting4Tomorrow]

Gold Nugget 2: Asking the Right Questions

gold nugget symbolizing what we can learn from everyone

Learning From Everyone

gold nugget symbolizing what we can learn from everyone

Ask the Right Questions

Good news: there are only two tricks to mining gold nuggets from everyone you meet. Bad news: the first one is devilishly hard.

1. Stop talking about YOU.

Stop talking about what you think and where you’ve been and where you’re going. We can’t really learn much when we’re the one doing all the talking: all we’ll hear is stuff we already know. No, if you want to learn something new, get someone else to tell you about their life experiences and what they’ve learned from them.

Notice, I didn’t simply say “get others to talk.” As you know, getting people to yammer on mindlessly is not the problem: getting them to stop is. Most of us, for some bizarre reason, blather endlessly about the non-events of our lives, the ho-hum “and then I went to Starbucks and after that I went to the mall” stuff. That sort of talk is definitely not gold-nugget material.

2. Ask the right questions.

Ask questions that prompt the pivot-point stories of a person’s life. Good news: this one is easy. Simply use the same 5 Ws – who, what, when, where, why – that journalists use.

The two most promising of these 5 Ws are what and why. The most unpromising types of questions are yes-or-no questions. They’re deal-breakers that will force you to keep probing. Eventually you’ll end up with the what and why questions, so why not start there?

For instance, when you ask that stoop-shouldered, ancient codger next door who lived through World War II, “What was your most interesting experience during the war?” you’ll hear a story like none you’ve ever heard. Somewhere in it will be a little nugget – the mined gold of that man’s war experience. Or not. You may have to dig deeper and ask a why question, e.g., “Why was that so __________ for you?” And then your nugget shows its golden face.

Don’t be youthfully arrogant, as I was for so long. Mark it down. Key it into your journal. THINK on that gold nugget. World War II was heavy stuff. Anyone born after 1945 hasn’t experienced anything close to it and isn’t likely to. That life experience forged an entire generation (The Builder Generation) of tough men and women. They experienced Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the one that “aroused a sleeping giant” that we now know as our country. And anyone still alive who lived through that momentous epoch of our country’s history has had a lifetime to ponder that experience, draw from it, learn from it. If they’re willing to share that insight with you, pay attention. 

What about the 100-plus-year-old black woman you meet while you’re on vacation in Georgia, the one whose mother was born a slave? What stories does she remember from her mother’s life experiences? You’ll never know if you don’t tactfully ask open-ended questions. And when will you again get to hear stories only one telling removed from Civil War days? You won’t. Pay attention.

What about that mild-mannered guy who lives above you? He seems nice, quiet, considerate – but he sure keeps to himself. When asked the right questions by an interested neighbor (that would be you), what might he be willing to reveal? What if he fought in the jungles of Viet Nam? What if you politely showed enough sincere interest that he was willing to let down his reserve for a few moments every now and then? What do you do? You pay attention because he has something to tell you that you’d never learn otherwise.

Look around.

Your world is filled to the rim with people who have something to teach you and are all interesting in their own ways. Many of them have learned a great deal of life’s lessons by getting kicked in the teeth (like moi). A tiny few have had Lady Luck pay a visit in an astounding way. Many have just wandered through an average, middle-America life and learned a lot of lessons along their wandering way. When you think about the variety of experiences and lessons learned by people you know – or even meet for an hour or two as jet seatmates – it’s astonishing.

Get people to talk.
Ask the right questions.

Get them to tell you about those interesting parts of their lives and what they’ve learned from them. First, get beyond the banal, “Where are you headed?” “Oh, yes. I’ve been to Seattle. Cool place, isn’t it?” kind of conversations. They’re chewing gum for the mind – a whole lot of yammering, but not much learned – unless they’re springboards for some really meaty discussion. Next, use the creme of the 5 Ws – the what and why questions: “What’s your favorite place in Seattle? Really? Why is that?”

Using what and why as mining tools will show you the variety of life but more importantly, yield gold nuggets – lessons learned from experiences you’ll never have from people you might never see again. Your Seattle-bound seatmate? You won’t cross paths again, except in Baggage Claim. Grandma? She might live another ten years. Might not. Your new neighbors? They might live across the street from you another 15 years – or get transferred, yet again, next week.

Start asking gold-nugget,
5-W questions NOW.

Not asking the right questions means you’re loosing gold-nugget opportunities to learn some of life’s lessons. No two-by-fours between the eyes. No shin-splitting blows. Just interesting, painless, useful lessons. And have you noticed no silver spoons are required – just the cultivated skill of asking the right questions?

Already pretty proficient at asking 5-W questions? How about sharing some of your 5-W gold nuggets with the rest of us? Let us listen.

red box with white text of Ernest Hemingway's quote about listening carefully

LISTEN. Maybe you’re the next Hemingway.

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

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