If you have been in a bookstore lately (physical or virtual) you will have seen the adult colouring book phenomenon. Targeted at people looking for a mindful pursuit in a hectic world, they offer the chance to be consciously present and peculiarly absent at the same time. Colouring books are everywhere, and for some, one of the few legitimate reasons you should put pen to paper in this digital age. They are so popular that Euromonitor reports they have arrested the long decline in the writing instrument market in many countries. Not a bad reversal of fortune for Messrs Derwent and Faber-Castell.
I bought one, a cute little pocket edition with patterns inspired by either Tibetan monks or Byzantine rugs. I can’t recall which. Having completed a program with The Performance Clinic at KPMG I regularly practice mindfulness through meditation, I was open to the portable promise of colouring to bring focus when needed. So I borrowed the sparkly markers from the kids and set to it. After about 30 minutes, how did I feel? Calm indeed, but also rather bored. Why?
Maybe in a world where we are encouraged from early years to ‘stay within the lines’ and choose safe options there seems little benefit in doing still more of it in our spare time. Current demands to innovate and challenge the status quo or risk disruption suggests we should be applying the opposite approach. Rather than filling in someone else’s creative vision, why don’t we invest more into the practice of creativity ourselves? But I am not creative, I hear you say.
Last year I read a book called The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna. It is about the importance of following your passion and sifting through all the obstacles that can get in the way of its pursuit. It introduced me to a concept called the 100 Day Project, originally taught at Yale School of Art. It’s fairly self-explanatory,
“It’s a celebration of process that encourages everyone to participate in 100 days of making. The great surrender is the process; showing up day after day is the goal.”
Artists have known about the importance of the process for millennia and it is good to see the rest of us are catching on. Pick something you are passionate about, maybe something you used to do, or something new that interests you. Work out your materials and what you are going to do. I chose to write every day and then post a weekly sample on Twitter. You might choose to speak, draw, cook, break, drive, meet, dance, show – you get the idea. Then create, every day for 100 days, for the same amount of time. The perfection of the finished product is of less concern than the process undertaken. After 100 days you have hopefully adopted the creative habit.
There is a great parallel here with the challenge of sparking and channeling creativity in the workplace. Efforts to flick the innovation switch on at work are stymied if we are not in the habit of creating and generating ideas and executing on them. If you start with something you are passionate about, translating the process into other contexts becomes much easier. So imagine if we all took on a 100 day project, or just committed to the regular practice of a passion and then shared it with others. Think of the energy and ideas we would generate, and how we could channel our rediscovered selves and skills into tackling work and life challenges.
What has my 100 day project done for me? It has unlocked a part of my brain that had been neglected and brought great joy at the same time. Sometimes the ideas pour out, sometimes it’s a slog. My senses are sharper; I observe more, I can connect unrelated concepts, I have found a new community of people, content and ideas through fearless sharing. I have greater discipline to finish my tasks and move on.
For me it is the ultimate mindful pursuit, the output is unique, and the only lines I have stayed within are the three that I need to write a simple haiku.
What will you do?