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.

Copyright: Image by StockUnlimited

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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The different kind of excitement building for Change Day Australia 2015

There is a different kind of excitement about Change Day Australia in the count-down to 11 March 2015 than in the lead-up to the 2014 event.

Last year I felt a nervous anticipation – 2014 was the inaugural Change Day in Australia to which a smallish band of passionate people, including me, had dedicated a lot of time and effort. We have a pretty good health system in Australia in lots of ways but it absolutely can be better. Would people come on board? Change Day is all about doing something better together – the FAQ is a good overview if you crave more information.

Over 15 000 wonderful pledges were lodged in 2014 in which people committed to things they could do to improve health ranging from

  • individuals committing to something that will either improve the health of others such as standing up to discriminatory behaviour, volunteering, being a role model or packing healthy lunches for their kids or for their own health, be it regular exercise, healthy diet or reframing their thinking;
  • health professionals pledging to listen, to smile, to introduce themselves, to provide training or to put the person at the centre of their care;
  • departments using it as opportunity to identify a focus or think outside the box and plan something they could achieve together;
  • big ticket items such as the Western Australian Director of Public Health pledging to develop a memorandum of understanding with the WA Health Consumers’ Council.

For Change Day 2014, I pledged to do my best to raise awareness of, and encourage participation of people in Western Australia in Change Day, and am thrilled that WA did achieve roughly 3500 pledges, approximately a quarter of the total in 2014. Many more people within WA have now heard of Change Day and lots of taken up promoting the 2015 campaign themselves with enthusiasm we could only have dreamed of last year.

2015 is shaping up to be even better, approaching 20 000 pledges from across Australia before the big day. Again the breadth of pledges is amazing. Check out the 2015 Pledge Gallery.

The effort for 2015 has been more about embedding than beginning. The excitement now is palpably more confident that this is an initiative which people will increasingly embrace and with a greater impact.

What do I find most exciting about Change Day?

  • People are recognising and embracing the NEED to change.
  • People are empowered to identify and make change(s) themselves, rather than just be subject to changes made around them.
  • Change Day prompts every one of us, whether working in health or not, to think about what we could each do to improve health. Improving the health of our community is everyone’s responsibility.
  • The benefit of teams uniting to pledge together has also been highlighted by many.
  • How great are the fabulously creative ideas that people have come up with? Some even involve creativity in health (see my posts on Where health and creativity intersect and The healing power of creativity if you want to understand why this excites me).
  • The enormous cumulative potential of many people each pledging to do even just one thing – collectively we can make a huge difference.

The power of Change Day is in the simplicity. 

Just think what can be achieved if we repeat and grow Change Day Australia every year!

Personally I have found it extraordinarily rewarding to help drive something that has so much potential, to meet so many people passionate about creating opportunities for positive change in health and to learn from the creative approaches taken by others.

My Change Day Australia 2015 pledge

Jacquie Garton-Smith Change Day 2015

This year I have pledged to work with my colleagues and networks to help people with (or at significant risk of) cardiovascular and other chronic health conditions to improve the quality of their lives through better access to information, support and more options for care outside hospitals, especially towards the end of life.

It’s no small ask but for me this allows me to draw across the different positions I hold, the networks of which I am a part to do something valuable and my passion for writing. There is some scope to achieve this in different ways. Flexibility is good as how things can be best done may be not fully appreciated even knowing what the starting steps are. Once you decide what you need to do, opportunities appear. As soon as I pledged I felt enormous relief – I could now get on with doing rather than thinking about what to do or how to word it!

Over to you – I urge you to pledge now!

Big or small, easy or difficult, creative or picking up on someone else’s idea, under anonymity or with your name … Whatever works as long as it will in some way improve health.

Go on, you know it’s the right thing to do.

Have you thought about a pledge for Change Day?

If you’ve pledged – either this year or before – what have you achieved so far?

I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences – please share them in the comments.

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+.

Disclaimer

© 2015 Jacquie Garton-Smith

 

A Better Death

Having the best life we can is something many of us desire and work towards. How we, or our loved ones, can die as well as possible is something many think less about.

A month ago we lost a very dear family member to heart failure. It is hard to write about still. In truth I have found it hard to write at all over recent weeks. However there is so much to learn from everything that happens and there are some positives to share from this experience which may help others. It is especially timely to share my thoughts on how we can do better with Change Day Australia on Thursday 6th March 2014. Addendum – 2015 Change Day will be 11th March!

My mother-in-law Chris was an incredible woman. She was one of the kindest people I have ever met. She hadn’t had an easy life, but she faced both life and her impending death with grace, courage and acceptance.

A rose by any other name

This post is a tribute to how she handled the situation she found herself in, but there are three key elements that allowed her to do so:

1. Information.

The cardiologist communicated very clearly about her prognosis and, to the best of his knowledge, what she could expect at diagnosis and all along. It was a shock for Chris at first, but it was the start of her coming to terms with her shortened life expectancy and to consider and communicate her wishes. As her condition became end-stage, she was not surprised and had most things put in place.

2. Palliative Care.

As a family we had experienced together how much palliative care can help in the past and Chris welcomed a timely referral. Palliative care is not just for cancer. There is much available to assist people with end of life chronic disease. The combination of expert care to help ease unpleasant symptoms, in this case particularly severe breathlessness, and the mobilisation of extra help at home made a huge difference to her quality of life over her final few months. It also allowed us to spend more quality time with her, as she was more comfortable and able to do a little more than she would have without treatment.

3. An Advance Health Directive.

The benefits of making an Advance Health Directive or a “living will” were at least two-fold. Firstly, her wishes were clearly articulated and helped us as her family understand what she wanted. Secondly when she had an unexpected sudden turn and an ambulance was called, the paramedics were given the Directive as soon as they came and were able to act in line with her wishes, as legally obliged to do so. There was no grey area. Without it, she may have been given CPR and carted off to hospital, both of which she explicitly did not want.

Our loss is still painful. We each regret that she had to die and we all miss her terribly. Because she had a sudden deterioration on the background of a slower decline, we didn’t get to say good-bye in the way we might have liked. But we can grieve knowing that she knew and had accepted that her life was ending and that the way she died was as she had expressed she wanted – peacefully at home, dignified with a minimum of fuss and with a quick final departure.

The key lessons to achieving a better death from our experience:

  • I encourage everybody to be open to having conversations around death. What may seem uncomfortable for some can bring enormous comfort.
  • In addition to this, I ask my colleagues in the health professions to clearly communicate, to offer early referral to palliative care and to provide information about Advance Health Directives (or your equivalent).

Would you like to share anything about your experience of losing a loved one?

What did, or could have, made the journey better?

Change Day is a wonderful chance to commit to do at least one thing to contribute to better end of life care or to improve health and wellbeing in general. Imagine the difference we can make if we each promise and do one thing. Please pledge now! Be creative… Or copy – we don’t mind. Please check out the wonderful pledges on the Change Day Australia website. There’s nothing to stop you making positive changes at any time of the year!

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You also may find inspiration from my posts on Imagine yourself in someone else’s hospital bed (or chair), The best cuppa ever about kindness or an earlier exploration of Where health and creativity intersect.

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

© 2014 Jacquie Garton-Smith (Change Day image thanks to changeday.com.au)

(updated 4 May 2014)

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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)

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 )