Ask the Right Questions

Dave Birss writes in his book, A Users Guide to the Creative Mind, about being creative, finding new solutions, and combining ideas and perspectives to create something new. On solving problems he writes, “The best way to find the right solution is to make sure you’re asking the right question.”  I am a huge fan of this quote because it shows how important varying perspectives can be, especially when combined with persistence, a desire to improve, and flexibility.  Too often in our daily lives, be it business, our personal lives, and even national politics, we settle into a single perspective and we begin to approach problems from one side with everyone asking the same question.
If we follow Birss’ advice, then we begin to reach out to find solutions to our problems from new perspectives.  In my mind it is as if we take a problem, and leave a two demential space where we are looking at the problem as if it were a wall in front of us, and enter a three demential space and look at the problem as if it were a sphere where we could change our angle and vantage point at will.  When we begin to look at problems from new perspectives we find that we have different questions about our original problem. In fact we may see that our problem is actually a goal, an opportunity, or just a thought that others have not acted upon.
Asking the right questions is an exercise in persistence because you have to reach beyond the first thoughts and questions that you develop.  You must begin to think of things in new ways, ask others for their thoughts and advice, and not be afraid to voice opinions that may be different.  Our openness to new ideas will help us change our perspective, and our new perspective will help us ask new questions regarding our problem.  When we take this approach to push forwards and constantly grow, we will build new bridges and make new connections with a more well rounded and flexible mind.

Your Posture, Your Surroundings, & Your Creativity

In episode 1 of the Mindful Creator Podcast host Brett Henley speaks with a good friend of his about yoga, mindfulness, and productivity. One of the things that he and his guest discuss is having the ability to refocus our minds through awareness and small changes in our lives. For the guest he was speaking with, changing their posture and bringing their mind back to how they were sitting or standing to adjust to proper form, helped them refocus their mind. In one way she explained that good posture allowed her to relax and open her lungs to allow her to take deep breaths and find a state of mental clarity.  Henley himself talked about times where his productivity wanes and he feels as though he needs to move and allow his mind to recharge. For Henley, going on walks helps to fuel his creativity by getting his body moving, and allowing his mind to tumble through ideas in open space.
The two thoughts from the Mindful Creator align perfectly with an idea that Dave Birss lays out in his book, A Users Guide to the Creative Mind. Birss writes, “Changing location also changes your emotional state and gives you a new perspective on things.” What he is saying in this sentence is that finding a new place to work from, think from, or just observe the world from, will open up your mind in new ways. When Birss begins to feel stuck with an idea he will move his physical location or change his orientation in the place where he is. Much like Henley who uses walks to see something different and allow his mind to move, Birss’ writing reflects the importance of change and movement for creative people. Also, the idea of the guest from episode 1 of the Mindful Creator is supported in the sentence when Birss mentioned how important your emotional state can be for creating.  By opening up ones lungs and finding better posture, you can feel better about yourself and take deep breaths to supply the brain with plenty of oxygen for high powered thinking.

Where Does Creativity Start & End

In his creativity manual, The Users Guide to the Creative Mind, Dave Birss writes about what it means to be a creative person.  He talks about misconceptions that we have regarding creative people, and gives us insights into his personality and what being creative means to him. In a quote he writes, “Being creative isn’t an occupation, it’s a preoccupation.” What he means is that creativity can not be turned on or off. For Birss being a creative person is a full time job. He is always being self aware and trying to identify his thoughts to keep track of his creativity.
Creativity is all about cultivating habits that will build new experiences and fulfill desires to be active. As a preoccupation, creativity is constantly about producing in new areas that expand ones thinking.  The difference between an occupation and a preoccupation for creatives, is that creatives don’t end their work day and step away from what they do. Creatives walk away from one creative endeavor strait into another.  In addition being creative means that you can always take something from one situation and apply it to another.  Learning happens continually as you listen to people talk and provide opinions or ideas (in a constructive and non-pushy way) that come from other situations where you have encountered similar problems or obstacles.  At the same time, Birss would argue that creative people constantly find ways to note what they have learned or new perspectives they have gained, so that they can return to those ideas and incorporate them into future activities.

What is Creativity?

In his book, A Users Guide to the Creative Mind, Dave Birss writes about how to be creative, and he addresses what we consider creative ideas. He uses a quote from the Bible, “There is nothing new under the sun” to help explain his idea of what creativity is. Birss continues and writes, “It’s better to think of a creative idea as a recombination of existing elements,” which strengthens the platform he establishes with his quote from the Bible.
What Birss is saying is that we have popular misconceptions of creativity and creative people. In some ways we believe that creative people are of a different breed, or have different skills and mental abilities than most people.  We imagine brilliant and creative people as having the ability to think of novel ideas to create and design things that have never before been thought of.
Birss is stating that creativity and the creative process is not built upon a foundation of innovative ideas that are new to humanity. Instead, he writes that our minds are not generating anything new, but simply finding new ways of combining ideas.
I enjoy thinking about creativity in this way because it allows me to be creative and not feel pressured into having novel ideas for applying my creativity. His view on creativity is distinctly human since we all have different viewpoints, backgrounds, and interest, and our diversity in these areas can help us be creative by expressing our unique perspectives.

Giving Ourselves Permission

Ever since I reached the halfway point in my college career, when I began to feel pressure to decide what I wanted to do to earn a living after graduation. Many times along my journey, I have been overwhelmed with the fear of not choosing to do the right thing. I want to put myself in a position where I can live comfortably, enjoy my work, and have time to do thing I am interested in, such as running, hiking, writing, producing the Blue Pulse Podcast and spending time with friends and family.  In order to get to this point, I feel like I have had to practice a lot of self awareness to help me understand what exactly I desire, why I desire what I do, and whether or not those things should be a priority in my life.  Adjusting what I considered a comfortable lifestyle and enough money to reach that lifestyle has been difficult, but striving for greater self awareness has helped me realize what expectations for a comfortable lifestyle are unrealistic. In the same way, improving my self awareness has helped me see how much of a roll my own ego plays into my desires to be active and healthy, and my desire to have a good career/title.
For me, self awareness has helped me understand and recognize the barriers to my own happiness, but has not completely solved my internal questions, anxieties, and doubts.  However, a quote from Allison Vesterfelt in her book Packing Light, has helped me begin to reach a better place. “Here’s permission to live your life, not dictated by fear of what might happen.” This quote was recently echoed to me in a podcast by Brett Henley. In episode 6 of the Mindful Creator Podcast he sat down with Berni Xiang who spoke about giving ourselves permission to be the person we want to be now.
I can take Vesterfelt’s quote and combine it with Xiang’s idea to create a new mindset for myself. Instead of allowing my self-doubt and fears for the future to take over and shape the decisions I make, I can give myself the freedom to be the person I am now, and also the person I want to be in the future.  By sitting down and telling myself that I do not have to live my daily life worrying about what I may have in the future, I can combine permission with self awareness to see that no one is holding me back from applying my talents and abilities.  This means that starting right now, I can be the person I want to be in the future.

Accepting that Life is not Easy

This quote from Allison Vesterfelt’s friend and companion on her 50 state road trip in her book Packing Light, really helps me understand the difficulties we have in our life. “I think sometimes when things get hard, too many of us assume we’re moving in the wrong direction … Like if we’re doing life right, it’s supposed to be easy.” The quote helps me see that my ideas of success are often out of touch with reality. Reaching a level of success financially or in a career will not mean that things are suddenly easy for me. I will still feel insecurities about how hard I must work or about not having everything I may want and desire.  At the same time, becoming successful does not mean that other parts of my life will fall into place and become easy. Financial success does not translate into a happy home life, and a successful relationship also may not reach a point where everything feels easy.  By remembering Vesterfelt’s quote, I am able to accept the challenges that come with success, and I am better able to judge my journey when I hit rough patches.  Rather than running away from challenges to look for success and “easy” someplace else, this quote helps me see the value in persevering and growing from the difficulties.

Is It Wisdom or Self Awareness

Allison Vesterfelt in her book Packing Light, writes about wisdom in a way that one of my favorite authors, Paul Jun, writes about self awareness.  On wisdom Vesterfelt writes, “I think that’s what wisdom is— the ability to zoom out from where we’re standing and see the larger picture.” This idea of wisdom aligns perfectly with Paul Jun’s metaphor for self awareness. Jun writes that our focus is like a flashlight, and whatever we focus our mental attention on is illuminated. The more we focus on one thing the more clear it becomes, but also, the more we dial in on one thing, the more we don’t see around us.  Becoming self aware is the process of taking that flashlight and stepping backwards. We turn our focus on our entire lives, and allow the flashlight to illuminate a grater sphere of our lives.
I love calling wisdom and self awareness the same thing. By allowing ourselves to recognize our feelings, and then take a step back to look at our interactions with the world and those around us we are able to better understand our emotions and reactions. The more we step back and spend time evaluating what is happening around us, the more we are able to connect the dots and understand not just our reactions and emotions, but the decisions and ideas of others as well.
This whole process can be called wisdom because instead of seeing the world through the narrow band of our flashlight, we eventually can reach a point where we have a floodlight illuminating everything around us and helping us connect new dots in new places.
Paul Jun is the author of the book Connect the Dots and has a fantastic blog at


In Packing Light, Allison Vesterfelt speaks very honestly about feelings towards her friend in the middle of their 50 state road trip. At a point where the trip was beginning to feel long and beginning to wear on the two companions, Vesterfelt writes, “I watched her, and I wanted to be like her. But I hated her for being someone I couldn’t be. And I hated myself for not being who I wanted to be. Such is the paradox of jealousy.”
I love this quote and the ideas that Vesterfelt digs into with this quote. There have been so many times in my life where I have felt overcome with the emotions that accompany jealousy, but I have never been able to sort through and honestly articulate those feelings to myself.
Recently while listening to a podcast called The Mindful Creator, hosted by Brett Henley, a guest on his show named Berni Xiong spoke about giving oneself permission to be the person they want to be.  This idea is powerful, and I think an excellent way to overcome the jealousy one feels when they see somebody who has become something they are not. I have this feeling often when I see people who have gotten a job that I did not get, or who studied something in college I did not think to study, or who simply seem to be living a life that I would like.  By taking Berni’s advice, I can look inside at who I am, what I desire that another person seems to have, and why I desire that thing. I can sort through it all and analyze what prevents me from attaining that thing, personality trait, or lifestyle, and eventually decide that there is no gatekeeper, and that I can attain what I want.  Berni’s advice is to recognize that you are the first person holding you back from what you want, and that you can simply allow yourself to believe that you already have permission to be what you want.
Later on in her novel Allison finds this same conclusion with help from her friend. She opens up and allows herself to tell people that she is a write, her big desire, and new opportunities seem to find her. Recognizing what you want in the life of another person can be a poisonous thing when it drives you into jealousy, however, if you are strong enough and self aware enough to recognize those feelings and understand those desires, you can make a positive change. It requires that you be honest with yourself, and then recognize what you can do to reach your goals, because sometimes the only thing that holds us back is that we have not given ourselves permission to be something different.

The Life We Want

During her 50 state road trip, Vesterfelt reflected on the life she was living before the 6 month voyage, the life she had to give up, and the life she hoped for following the trip. As she continued along and had time to think about who she was becoming, and what she wanted from her life, she wrote, “what I really wanted all along, which was to live a life that meant something and lasted longer than me.” In this quote I think that Vesterfelt sums up a fear that I have dealt with since my first day of college.  I have never wanted to have a job where I felt stuck or as if my only contributions went towards making the company and myself more money.
I am not sure how to take Vesterfelt’s quote and actualize it into a majestic journey or new opportunities that will open the doors for me to also find a life that is rich in meaning and will make an impact that goes beyond the years that I have on this planet.  Vesterfelt overcame these troubles by giving herself permission to be the person she wanted to be, and to tell people who she was (even though in her mind she was not yet the person she wanted to be).  This parallel’s the advice in the last episode of the Mindful Creator podcast that I listened to. In episode 6 Brett Henley and his guest talked about allowing yourself to be the person you want to be without waiting for others to give you permission to be that thing.  I think that is a great first step to finding meaning in your life, but it needs more direction. The podcast continued to say that once you have given yourself permission to be who you want, you have to show up. To them showing up is the part where you put in the effort, and practice your craft to develop the skills you need to be the person who lives a life of meaning.
I find all of these ideas very inspirational, but the ideas alone do not help overcome the fear of acting or putting in hard work for something that may not provide the rewards you are searching for. I think that with this fear, one must buy in completely to the idea of practice and showing up, but only if one can be honest with themselves and recognize what they truly desire, and the reason/motivation behind their goals and desires.

Self Reflection

Self awareness is one of my favorite topics to read and learn about in blogs, books, and podcasts. Reflecting on our emotions and actions can help us better understand why we do the things we do, and it helps us make positive change. In the book Packing Light by Allison Vesterfelt, the author writes, “ask yourself who you’re becoming,” as she is reflecting on herself and some of her personal changes during her 50 state road trip.  I think that this question is a powerful question to ask yourself. It requires that you have in mind some identity that you want to embody, and then it requires that you take steps to make sure you are headed towards the identity you want.
While I think it is a powerful first step, I believe that some inner digging is needed before one should start asking themselves who they are becoming and if it is the person or identity they want to become. If you don’t know why you want the identity of the person you want to become, you risk becoming something that will feel unsatisfying and be a mask for your insecurities (for example I want to be a runner to stay healthy versus I want to become a runner to win lots of shiny prizes and be admired).
Along your journey it is important to ask if all of your small daily habits and activities are building you into the person you want to be. If you want to be healthy, then take on daily habits to build that identity. If you want to be creative then find small avenues to pursue the creativity that you admire in others. However, along this journey, when you pause to reflect on who you are becoming, dive a little deeper to understand why you want to be that thing, and make sure your reasons are pure, and that you still enjoy and want that identity.