The Curious Ways that Constraints Unlock Creativity

get curious

Inside: Choosing to get curious when faced with limitations allows us to shift away from judgment into joyful possibility. This post contains referral links.

Have you ever experienced the serendipity of how an unexpected lesson from a book or movie in exactly the right moment leads to a podcast that leads to a conversation that leads to new insight that changes you or your perspective? One of my absolute favourite things in life is how when I get curious I build all sorts of new creative connections that meet me exactly where I am and help me find my way forward.

I’m a curious person and love, love, love learning about the why behind human behaviour or principles of science and how different cultures do life and what’s up with the inner workings of people’s hearts and minds. I’m curious about the human body and the mind-body connection, about the rhythms and rhyme of the natural world, and about the lived experience and personal story of diverse human beings. I can feel the adrenaline spike in my body even as I write this.

This love of learning and a growth-curve needs to be tempered with permission to rest and just be but overall, leaning into this part of my natural wiring keeps me rooted and resilient and helps me show up with joy and on purpose in every season.

I don’t just love theory though; what I’m after is practical application. Show don’t tell. My nature as a hopeful reformer is to see what can be made better and to encourage or advocate for change. I don’t want to rant or gossip or circle around problems or simply get angry about what is (though anger itself is a valuable emotion) – I want to glean from the wisdom of different people operating in their strengths (authors, researchers, historians, artists, interesting humans I encounter on life’s journey) and of the natural world then synthesize it into applied knowledge. I like action.

In fact, I’m a sold-out, geeky fan of imperfect action. Without a willingness to acknowledge the truth of what is and then to take imperfect action in our personal lives or on a global scale, we might remain stuck or complacent or worse, complicit in harmful patterns of thought and behaviour.

I unearthed my strength and wisdom by showing up through comparison, perfectionism, and fear (so much fear!) to take imperfect action.

Interestingly, I have had to learn to push back against my own perfectionist traits and deep frustration and pain around all the heartache, imperfection, messiness and constraints in my personal life and the world that have felt overwhelming to my sensitive spirit. I’ve often felt that I would drown under the weight of witnessing the lack and need and feeling powerless to change it. I didn’t come into this world bold or brave or feeling particularly well-equipped for life in a world of injustice and uncertainty.

I unearthed my strength and wisdom by learning to show up through comparison, perfectionism, and fear (so much fear!) to take imperfect action.

It was necessary but incredibly hard work for me to wrap my brain around the truth that constraints or limitations – a form of “imperfection”- were not necessarily my enemy. That getting curious about how to work within them, to work WITH my wiring instead of against it, to honour the full beautiful truth of who and how I am (or how my family members are), or even to witness the incredible beauty in imperfection and the wisdom waiting to be mined in every season, could open me up to joyful possibility. To a new way of moving through this messy world. To creativity.

Constraints make us more creative. -Scott Sonenshein

get curious

A Couple Ways Getting Curious Unlocks My Creativity

When I Get Curious I Expand my Window of Tolerance

I want to get things right. I want the 7 simple steps to wholeness. I want to be an expert on all things. It’s helpful to know that it isn’t just me though – humans have an innate drive to seek safety and security. We dislike feeling uncomfortable, living with uncertainty or ambiguity, and we generally fear what we don’t understand. We like order and hierarchy and knowing who’s in and who’s out. Yet the reality of life (or a compassionate, flourishing life) is that there are no simple answers, no one way to resolve all pain, and creativity is required to find solutions for complex issues.

I learn into this idea in various ways – one of which is to move beyond my bubble to seek out and read different perspectives, dive into research and stay open to the truth that I only see in part. My limitations or those I encounter inspire me to open up to new ideas and new approaches. This can also look like simply trying new things or a willingness to become a beginner all over again. It can mean making room for wonder by regular walks in the woods and reading interesting books (a friend gifted me with this recently) I might not naturally gravitate towards but which spark delight and curiosity.

Pat Ogden, Ph.D., a pioneer in somatic psychology, teaches that almost any movement can get us unstuck when needed; I apply this in various ways. In my life these days this might look like sitting on the floor instead of the couch and returning more often to my standing desk so I can bounce or sway, being ok with rocking back and forth as I read or work which is one way my nervous system seeks regulation, shaking out a build-up of energy in my body (in hyperarousal my body feels like it is bursting with undischarged energy and the good news is that my window of tolerance is expanding so that now I can sometimes prevent a panic attack – one outcome of trauma/loss this year), extending my exhale, or deliberately smiling and engaging my facial muscles and eyes when my body tips into panic. (You may not experience panic or intense anxiety but tuning into your body and experimenting with movement will likely feel helpful to you too in getting unstuck.)

Our bodies and brains are weird and wonderful and curiosity keeps us out of shame for simply being human in a messy world. Shame makes you hide and if you hide you can’t move forward. In this quick and impromptu video, I share something I’m experimenting with personally around tuning in to my body’s wisdom and leveraging my strengths to find my way through a challenging life season.

When I Get Curious I Honour My Wiring and Pay Attention

Kelly McGonigal, psychologist, Stanford University educator and author of one of my all-time favourite books, The Upside of Stress, shared in a course I took that “acceptance transforms the inner experience.” Acceptance of what is diverts energy from raging against or resisting to looking for the next right step I can take. I give myself permission to love myself exactly where and how I am and to tell the truth about it all.

The limitations or boundaries in my life around my ability to work invite me to be resourceful and to use my time wisely. As a highly sensitive, introverted and anxious person who has lived with chronic pain and autoimmunity most of my life, I’ve built a slow business that allows me to work from home, affords the flexibility to put my health and family first and to do work that brings me pleasure, engagement, and meaning (three routes to happiness!).

Loving a child who struggles or doesn’t fit easily into school/systems in place can feel challenging and emotional at times. Moving into a position of curiosity helps me love my children wholeheartedly, listen well and pay attention. Being present to my family’s needs also naturally limits the time and energy I can invest in work and this invites me to continually sift through all the noise and shiny ideas to focus on my voice and vision and the work that lights me up and has the biggest impact on my community. I can let go or outsource the rest. I can’t do everything I want but if I let go of the belief that my life and business “should” look like anyone else’s, I can nonetheless get creative about how I show up, share my mission, and pick up joy along the way.

Honouring my wiring and limitations also includes mindful awareness of what stress feels like in my body and engaging my senses to regulate my nervous system – the warmth of the sun on my face, inhaling favourite scents, savouring food, enjoying healthy touch and fun textures, listening to the wind roaring through the trees or to the bluejays fighting over peanuts in my back yard. The reality of my life in this season is that I’m doing less but paying attention more.

There are many more examples I’d wanted to explore but I’ve maxed out my resources for today and will let this be enough. I invite you to share a key takeaway in the comments or perhaps an experience of choosing to shift from judgement into curiosity when facing some kind of constraint in your life and how that opened you up to new creative solutions or unexpected possibilities.

Let’s get curious!

Krista xo

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4 comments on “The Curious Ways that Constraints Unlock Creativity

  1. Krista, oh so wonderful to read your post: some random reasons. Excited to see the Sonenshein quote after ‘discovering’ him last week through Brene Brown, energized in seeing you and hearing your voice; encouraged by your video message in context with my current reading, Wisdom of the Body. Constraints? This summer I’ve had four weeks (2 separate 14-day stints) of self-isolation after going to other provinces and returning to the Atlantic Bubble (NS, NB, PEI, NFLD). Making mental and emotional space for being restricted form physical social interactions was very challenging for my 7-ness! I’m still processing what and if I will carry forward from those weeks; other than knowing I made the right choice to visit family and would have to sacrifice a good chunk of summer at home in NS.

    • Hi Karen, so fun to hear from you this morning and how we are often orbiting in similar head space:) I do feel for you (knowing you somewhat) about the trade-offs of visiting family but then isolating two weeks each time. I’m curious about the book Wisdom of the Body – who is the author? Do you recommend it so far?

  2. I’m sorry the following comment isn’t related to this blog (though I journaled about this weekend’s related video this morning…). I just keep forgetting to ask about the “bird on a wire” art. Every time I see it (your blog, seasonal journals, tattoo), the lines of the song go through my head: “Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried, in my way, to be free.” Is that meaningful for you? Much love, Ellen

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