Committing to creativity

Apart from wanting to help people achieve their creative dreams, there is evidence that being creative is good for your health. In The art of being mentally healthy, Dr Christina Davies et al. from UWA suggest that two or more hours a week of arts engagement is associated with mental health benefits.

So no more excuses, get creative!

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What, you say? Yes, of course, you WANT to … but are you having trouble committing to doing something creative? Or to any other worthwhile pursuit for that matter?

Like motivating yourself to exercise, eat well or change to any healthier habit, sometimes we need to kick start ourselves by committing to something tangible. Creativity is no different.

So how can we get going? Here are some strategies that I’ve found helpful:

1. Decide your goal. 

Name it in beautiful, confronting, terrifying, real words.

2. Break your goal into achievable steps

Nut out your plan. Write it down if you can – even just a list of starting steps.

Naturally what you need to do will depend on your goal, but possibilities might include:

  • Write a list of creative ideas/possible topics (I love this post by Louise Allan on What I want to write about …)
  • Research your goal, idea or topic – although we have to be careful not to get caught on the endless research merry-go-round, there is no doubt that looking at what’s out there, how others have approached similar tasks and what works (and doesn’t) can be invaluable in shaping your thinking. The internet simplifies this no end. Don’t forget to save and file resources that you may need to refer to again – old-fashioned notebook or print and file, a folder in your favourites might do the job or there are apps that can help you.
  • Do a course (or two) – great for starters but also can get the creative juices flowing again if you are beginning a new project in an area you are familiar with, or interesting in looking at alternative approaches. There are usually both free and paid options, some you can do online and others in person. Don’t underestimate the value of networking either – meeting others with similar interests can be invaluable, no matter where you are in your creative journey. For writers, check out
  • Identify what resources and equipment you need. It can be worth questioning the need before you decide whether to acquire each one. If funds are tight, what can you borrow or buy second hand instead? Or ask your family and friends to buy or put towards something on your list. (Who doesn’t love an easy present which you know the person receiving it will love?)
  • Prioritise and allocate some timeframes in which you want to start and/or achieve the steps you have identified.

Leave space to add to your list of steps as the need arises. We often need to flesh out the detail as we better understand the requirements.

3. Make your promise public.

Uh oh … I can feel you hesitate. Seriously do you WANT to do this? What you commit to can be either your overall goal or one of your essential steps – committing to “writing at least 500 words five days a week” is possibly going to be less threatening than announcing you are going to write a book. And it will still get you there if you do it, and you keep doing it.)

  • You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops, you could just tell one person. Squeak it out in an offhand way to a stranger if you must. But the more you clearly formalise your commitment, the more likely you are to do it.
  • Announce it on social media. Many find this a great place to start and there are social movements harnessing the power of the pledge, for example encouraging people to makes changes to improve health outcomes through Change Day Australia. For an individual goal, a Facebook post or a tweet may be enough to cement your commitment.
  • If you need some added incentive, you may want to look at Promise or Pay. Founder, Jay Boolkin says that “research shows that chance of success increases by 33% if it is shared with others and by up to 72% if money is put on the line”. At least if you don’t achieve your goal, a reputable charity of your choice will benefit. And the charity doesn’t have to miss out even if you achieve your goal – family and friends who wish to help encourage you can reward your achievement by pledging to donate if you succeed. *NB. Promise or Pay’s fee structure is outlined in their FAQ.

4. Get on and do it.

Fair’s fair. There’s no getting out of this step. But it’ll be worth it!

You may need to revisit your plan. That’s normal. You may need to revise your timelines. That’s okay too. Sometimes we don’t estimate timing accurately, other times complications develop or life gets in the way for a period and we may even need a break. But keep going.

5. Celebrate every success!

I love to tick something off a list – it gives me a real sense of achievement, and when the goal is a biggish one and/or something will take time to fully realise, acknowledging each step forward, no matter how small, is essential.

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Do you have any secret (or not-so-secret) motivation techniques?

I would love you to share them in the comments below.

I hope you find this post useful. Some of my other posts include:

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email (your email address will be kept private and will not be spammed). You can also follow me on Twitter (@JacquieGS)Facebook and Google+.

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Imagine yourself in someone else’s hospital bed (or chair)

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Have you been in hospital before? What was it like? If you haven’t, spend a moment thinking about how it must feel.

Hospitals are scary places for a lot of people. A person who is normally confident in their home or work environment may feel completely un-empowered. Add pain or other unpleasant symptoms, boredom, constant noise, stress about what is wrong and whether you will recover and to what condition, inadequate information, lack of continuity in staff, and we have a potentially volatile situation.

Now imagine being sleep deprived, extremely unwell, very young or very old, being isolated from your loved ones, not fluent in the language spoken (and that’s before you get to the medical jargon), confused and/or not able to communicate clearly for some other reason.

Even those of us who work in healthcare often feel powerless and frustrated when it is our turn to be patients or a relative of one. I can only guess how intimidating it must be when the hospital is an even more foreign environment.

I have recently spent a bit of time bedside in hospitals and at doctor’s appointments with relatives and it has caused me to pause for reflection. At the same time I have seen a groundswell of health professionals and others wanting to do better for  Change Day Australia and have realised what a fantastic opportunity it is. Positive change doesn’t have to cost a lot nor take a lot of time.

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My challenge to health professionals and other staff is to try to imagine what it is like to be the person in front of you and to try make their visit a little easier for them. You may not be able to walk in their shoes, or lie in their hospital bed, but try to visualise what they might be going through.

6 simple steps to better know and help our patients:

1. Introduce yourself by full name and position the first time you meet anyone (ie the patient or their relative) – #hellomynameis.

2. Make eye contact.  I know it is so obvious but I have seen people deliberately avoid doing so. An excellent way to make someone feel worthless.

3. Spend time getting to know a little about your patient and their family, especially their carer(s). In General Practice we often get to know our patients much better (and usually in their more natural state). You may not have the length of relationship in hospitals but you may be surprised to find out something more about the hospital-pyjama clad individual you are attending and help you work with them to better health. Who are they in their real life? What interests them? Is the man of few words in front of you running a multi-million dollar business? (I joke not!) Or a concert pianist? Or scared because his Dad had a heart attack at his age? Is the glum lady who looks ready to bolt terrified because her family who have come down to the big smoke to go into hospital never come home? Or is she worried about who is looking after her dog while she’s in here? Does she have a gorgeous sense of humour once she trusts you? It may help you to understand better where they are coming from, what they fear, what they understand and what they still need to know.

4. Explain. In language your patient can understand. Get an interpreter if needed. Information truly is helpful. We know only a proportion is taken in especially when bad news is delivered or someone is under a lot of stress or very unwell , so check their understanding and be prepared to have to explain some key things again.

5. Allow time for questions. Every visit. What you think your patient will be worried about is not necessarily what they want to know.

6. Visit regularly, especially when you have said you will (and apologise if you have been delayed). Your patient knows you are busy but is almost certainly hanging out for every review and update.

We don’t have to be health professionals to make changes to improve health. Anyone and everyone can to something (or many things) to help the health and wellbeing of others.

While I was studying, I worked for a family-owned department store in Perth called Aherns who trained their staff to, amongst other things, chat freely with the elderly people who came through the shop if they had time. The managers explained that they recognised that for many it was a rare social outing and for some, the only conversation they might have that day. Thirty years after my training with Aherns I still remember this. I still think my six years working with them gave me a better foundation in communication and dealing with people than my medical degree and subsequent studies did.

I have recently been made aware of the HUSH Music Foundation and would like to applaud Dr Catherine Crock and every contributor for their efforts to make hospitals more relaxing through music. I’d love to see this rolled out elsewhere. I’m sure there are other great examples and would love to hear about them.

We may not all have that kind of creative talent, but don’t underestimate the value of smiling in the lift, helping with directions or introducing yourself to the person next to the one you are visiting and asking if they need anything while you are picking up a paper for your loved one.

What have been your experiences with the health system?

What would you most like to change about health care?

What can you do to make a difference for someone else?

Change Day is a wonderful chance to commit to do at least one thing to improve health. Imagine the difference we can make if we each promise and do one thing!

What will you pledge?  Be creative! Or copy – we don’t mind. Please check out the pledges on Change Day Australia website. You also may find inspiration from my last post on kindness or an earlier exploration of health and creativity.

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With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email. You can also follow me on  Twitter (@JacquieGS)Facebook and Google+ .

Disclaimer

© 2013 Jacquie Garton-Smith (Change Day images thanks to changeday.com.au; Cartoon Copyright: Vector Image by StockUnlimited)

(updated 13 April 2016)

The best cuppa ever

I have been reflecting on the importance of kindness recently. What strikes me is that acts of kindness can be random or intentional, big or small, but even the small ones can make a huge difference.

One stands out for me many years after it occurred.

When I was a junior doctor working at a large tertiary hospital, a number of the rotations required us to do overnight ward cover. These could be gruelling, particularly covering medical specialities where you would be the only doctor in the hospital looking after some seriously unwell people with very complex conditions on a number of different wards all over the site. You can’t plan the work to any great degree as the job is to respond to things that come up and need urgent attention. Weekend nights could be especially tough as the usual medical teams often hadn’t been in to review their patients during the day.

Sometimes I have nightmares that I am on overnight ward cover again, well over two decades later.

It was working one of these shifts on a Sunday night that I had a list of tasks longer than anything I had ever imagined. I was dashing up and down stairs (the lifts being archaically slow) trying to get at least the most urgent jobs taken care of before the next calls came in. Around 4am I headed back the Renal ward to review a patient with kidney failure who had developed a high fever and needed assessment, blood tests and treatment started asap.

I had a number of other equally unwell patients and didn’t know if I could physically get to do all the things I had been called to do over the remaining four hours of my shift. Despite being a hard worker and relatively efficient, I felt ill with the sheer pressure of the workload.

Having seen the patient, I only had moments to sit down to complete the paperwork. As I sat down, one of the ward nurses appeared with a mug of tea in her hand. I think my eyes may have become teary as she put it down in front of me and said, ‘You look like you need this.’

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It cost her only a few minutes of her time but it made all the difference. Even though it was ordinary hospital tea it tasted incredible. It did recharge me, not just from the sustenance, but from the fact that someone cared enough to both notice that I was exhausted and overwhelmed and to do something to try to alleviate how I was feeling. Even in the healthcare industry, we could do more to look out for each other.

I can still see her face but I can’t remember her name. I don’t know if she has any idea how much her kindness helped me that night.

This humbling act of thoughtfulness stems from the deeper well of kindness that, when demonstrated, helps individuals and communities. Kindness helps bring out the best in us, be it in family or friends, a co-worker or co-creative, an acquaintance in person or online, or someone you don’t know. We won’t always know that our kindness has been appreciated but it is worth doing anyway.

How has an act of kindness made a difference to you?

How can you make a difference to someone else by being kind?

Do you have a good “cuppa” story?

Can we do more? Change Day 2014 is a fantastic vehicle for change:

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Could kindness be a key theme in your Change Day Australia 2014 Pledge?

Looking after others should be core for health professionals but we don’t always look after our patients, our colleagues or ourselves as well as we could. We don’t have to be health professionals to make changes to improve health. Anyone and everyone can to something (or many things) to help the health and wellbeing of others.  Please check out the pledges  on Change Day Australia 2014 website for further inspiration.

I see a lot of kindness in the creative community as well as in the health industry. I thank you for the kindness that you have shown me.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

P.S. Although I am confident I can attribute the benefit to the kindness rather than the chemical effects of the tea, here’s an interesting article by Jeremy Dean on Tea: 6 Brilliant Effects on the Brain.

If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email. You can also follow me on  Twitter (@JacquieGS)Facebook and Google+ .

Disclaimer

© 2013 Jacquie Garton-Smith (Change Day image thanks to changeday.com.au)

The healing power of creativity

The research demonstrating the health benefits of being creative was touched upon in my last post. We could continue to talk science but for me it is very personal story.

During the mid to late 1990s, my family experienced the losses of a number of loved ones mostly due to cancer. I was lucky in lots of ways. I have a loving husband and family. I had a few years of my career as a doctor under my belt, I worked with people who were supportive and I had worked previously with a palliative care team. I was well-armed to process information about what was happening and to help my family. It did get me to wondering how people manage to navigate the health system without a health professional background but perhaps that’s a topic for another time.

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Photo by Mia Holton

I ran between work, which I still found rewarding, and my role as a caring relative, always wishing I had found more time to spend with my loved one before they got sick. As each illness took its course, both difficult and precious times were shared, everybody made a significant contribution and we were brought closer as a family.

Life goes on. You pull yourself together and do the needful. Days and then weeks and months pass in a blur. But grieving is painful and I couldn’t stay numb forever. In the dark days that followed one of our losses, a dear and wise friend Dionne Lew suggested that I write and told me about “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. I was surprised that she even thought of me as a writer as I had focused so completely on my career that I had not written fiction since high school. In fact I had read few novels since school as all my reading time was spent on medical journals.

I took her advice and wrote, at first tentatively, and gradually found that I got my right arm and my life back. Allowing myself to write let me process things differently, even when I was writing fiction. I strongly believe that when you write, you won’t go anywhere that you aren’t ready to go. Writing helped me to move on. I am also fascinated by how reading fiction, which is something I now do regularly, can help us to access our emotions, learn and better understand ourselves in a way that direct examination of our own lives might not allow. And the benefits don’t end with the written word. I also found that I enjoy painting and have found gardening to be another creative outlet.

Interestingly over the last decade I have noticed that when I don’t find the time for creative writing, I suffer terrifying nightmares. Not the kind of things I want to share or would ever write about even in fiction. It is like the creative urge is coiled up somewhere in my subconscious and needs to be given an opportunity to come out. I trudge back to my computer, start typing and they stop.

How has being creative helped you?

What are the consequences for you if you are not creative?

How you might make a change that promotes creativity and health?

I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to share your thoughts on creativity and health.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email. You can also follow me on  Twitter (@JacquieGS)Facebook and Google+ .

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© 2013 Jacquie Garton-Smith  (Photo by Mia Holton)

Where health and creativity intersect

Being a doctor and a writer, it’s probably no surprise that I am interested in how two of my passions overlap.

There are clear links between creativity and wellness:
• The benefits of appreciating the creativity of others, how it makes us feel and what we can learn from it – art, music, photography, film and literature for example.
• Fulfilling your own need to be creative – be it one of the more traditional creative pursuits, or cooking a new dish, planting a garden bed or writing a Facebook post or tweet.
• The role of creative activities contributing to a range of benefits including to aid in learning and sharing of ideas, to reduce isolation, to foster companionship, to promote improved health and well-being, and even to reduce medication use and assist healing.

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Photo by Mia Holton

There are comprehensive reviews of the literature which demonstrate the evidence, particularly those by:
• Dr Rosalia Lelchuk Staricoff (Arts in health: a review of the medical literature, Arts Council England, 2004);
• Heather L. Stuckey and Jeremy Nobel (The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. Am J Public Health.2010 February;100(2): 254–263.);
• Dr Patricia Fenner, Dr Bruce Rumbold, Dr Jean Rumbold et al (Is there compelling evidence for using the arts in health care? 19/6/2012) and
• Christine Putland (ARTS AND HEALTH – A GUIDE TO THE EVIDENCE Background document prepared for the Arts and Health Foundation Australia, September 2012).

So the science is there with more research underway.

Strangely enough the “mad artist” seems just as common a stereotype as the “mad scientist”. Perhaps this is more about the eccentricity that others perceive when someone follows their calling to the exclusion of other pursuits. Or maybe we are all a little mad?

Ironically some of the most creative people I have met have been the best adjusted and are often multi-talented.

The things that will benefit us the most are often the ones we most actively resist. If you think you are not creative, are you the one suppressing your creativity the most?

Some will struggle to get started, to even come up with a creative pursuit they would like to try. Just try. If at first you feel that you can’t, expose your creative self to the creativity of others. For example, you could check out an art gallery, the theatre or a concert or explore poetry, art or music online. If you have kids, do something crafty together. It’s okay to play with different ideas – have some fun. If you feel blocked, try something else.

Many of us will have to grapple with our internal critic, whether just starting out or well along the creative path. Doubt is normal. Tell yourself it doesn’t matter what the quality is. If you don’t try you will have nothing to show. Start something and see how it evolves over time.

We all know to be healthy, we need to exercise and eat well. But do we understand the role that creativity plays?

Being creative is healthy and it is healthy to be creative. Encourage creativity in ourselves and in others; from the cradle to grave, in our buildings and in open spaces, in students and in professionals.

It’s almost like a marriage vow: from this day forward, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health…

Does creativity matter to you?

What is your creative vow?

How you might make a change that promotes health and creativity ?

I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to share your thoughts on creativity and health.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email. You can also follow me on  Twitter (@JacquieGS)Facebook and Google+ .

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© 2013 Jacquie Garton-Smith  (Photo by Mia Holton)

From Books and Band-aids to Blogs

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How daunting is it writing a first blog when there are so many great blogs out there?

I feel thoroughly enriched by reading many blogs. Even when they touch on the same subject, I find each one reinforces the others, often offering a different take and building further understanding of the issue. And what a joy when you read the line that gives you an aha moment or truly resonates.

I thought looking for a good blog would be like finding a needle in a haystack, to use a cliché that is not very relevant today. But the art of blogging that I have observed is one of being efficient with words and concepts and hence valuable key messages are not hard to identify.

What also amazes and impresses me is how willing people are to share their knowledge and ideas so freely, both to write their blogs and respond to comments. In some cases, even to connect in a more meaningful way.

In the first few weeks of participating actively in social media I have been fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to have coffee with a local academic GP leader to discuss collaborative opportunities, to Skype with a GP in England who shared some visionary ideas around electronic health records and to join a national initiative that will have enormous potential to create positive change in health, Change Day Australia.

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I am hugely grateful for the time that people give for the greater good. I’m not sure these would have arisen via my usual networks, and certainly not so quickly and easily.

The collective momentum has potential beyond anything we could have dreamed of in the pre-digital era. It is also important to ensure that quality information is available, particularly when there are some dodgy sources out there.

Anyone who knows me knows that I usually have something to say. So why not say it on the most public platform of all, the internet? And join this fantastic community of individuals sharing their perspectives with anyone who cares to read it.

I hope to bring together my experiences as a doctor, a writer and a very ordinary human being, as we all are at the heart of it, to contribute to the greater good. My mum has recently reminded me that as a child all I wanted for treats were books and Band-Aids so perhaps my callings were evident from a young age!

I hope you will join me for my next blog on where health and creativity intersect. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email. You can also follow me on  Twitter (@JacquieGS)Facebook and Google+ .

How has your life been enriched by a blog?

If you blog, what has been your journey?

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

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Photo by Mia Holton

Disclaimer
© 2013 Jacquie Garton-Smith  (Photo of Jacquie by Mia Holton,Change Day image thanks to changeday.com.au )