Ditch the colouring book

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?


14 thoughts on “Ditch the colouring book

  1. Isn’t it amazing! 10 years on, you are still inspiring me and driving me in ways you may not even know. This articles timing is impeccable and I look forward to starting my own 100 Day Project. Thanks for the great read.

  2. Great article Gen. I’ve been practising mindfulness meditation for about a year and a half now, and I have certainly benefitted. I have to say though, that while the effects, and even the practise itself (when it goes well) are great, sometimes the prospect of sitting in a dimly lit room doing literally nothing can be seem a little unappealing beforehand. The idea of doing something creative (or productive at least, I’m realistic about my capabilities) that achieves the same outcome strikes a chord with me.

  3. Great article Gen, thanks for sharing. You have inspired me to include a 100 day creative project into my new years resolutions. I am part way through Gretchin Rubin’s The Happiness Project which has driven my approach for the new year and has me taking a kinder and thus more passionate approach towards the improvements I would like in my life.

  4. Great food for thought, Gen, I loved reading your article. Some time ago I came across journaling as a practice to increase mindfulness and be in the present, it intrigued me and put me into flow for a few days when I tried it. Then it became “another thing to do”. I clearly wasn’t over the 100 day mark. You have inspired me to keep at it!

  5. Imagine an organisation filled with people who not only thought about what they were really passionate about, but connected with it daily! I dont think we ‘d be having as many conversations with leaders about how to create cultures with purpose, energy, generosity and curiosity. Thanks Gen. Thoughtful and informed.

  6. Wow Gen, fantastic article, extremely thought provoking. My daughter is just discovering the joys of colouring in and joined her in her pursuit this weekend. My need to stay within the lines is strong but I would love to explore my more creative side so may have to try the 100 day challenge. Well done.

  7. Thanks for the article, Gennevieve. I have become quite passionate about knitting and crocheting, and I make sure I get a little in each evening. I find the counting and following a pattern excites the accountant in me, but choosing the beautiful colours and gorgeous yarns to make each pattern my own brings out the creative side. As much as I look forward to the end product, I know it will not be as good if I don’t enjoy the process, too. As a result, I have found that knitting and crochet settle me and even help me clear my mind to refocus my work thoughts, helping me think out of the box to come up with new solutions.

  8. Interesting view Gen. I look at the colouring books with all the detailed and intricate patterns and it stresses me out. There is no way I could colour between those lines. My favourite creative process is stitching together bits of random fabric / tea towels / linen purchased at local markets and making quilts or bags or making clothes from vintage curtains. Not always a success but the process and challenge is enjoyable.

  9. Great article Gen. After devoting most of my time to working and raising 3 children over the last few years, my passion for art (drawing and painting) had been shelved. I’ve been wanting to get back into it lately, so the 100 day project sounds like a great way to start. Now to dust off the easel and sketching pad!

  10. Great article Gen – I enjoyed reading it. Igniting your creativity can only be good for encouraging your brain to think outside the square in other contexts, as you’ve suggested. I might have to look at committing to my own 100 day project 🙂

  11. Creating an environment whereby boundaries can be stretched, confidence to challenge ourselves and commit to something out of our comfort zone is totally up to the individual. Great article Gen thank you for sharing, its made me think a little deeper about my next 100 days and beyond.

  12. Loved your article, Gennevieve. Our busy lives need to be reorganized to allow more time for blue sky and creative thinking.

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