Why You Need a Creative Outlet – Away from Your Computer

After a few years of working full time on a computer, I feel burnt out, anxious, and scatterbrained. My chattering thoughts are harder to quiet. There are a few reasons for this:

  • As a developer, I work and think in the abstract all day long. With so much context and domain knowledge, there is little room for simplicity.
  • I find myself lingering more on past mistakes or worrying about my next obligations, often missing the invitation of the present.
  • Sitting (or standing) at a computer all day does not lend itself to a healthy mind-body connection. I’m often unaware of the wisdom of my body, the intuition of my hands, and the expansive imagination of my mind.

As an antidote, I’ve been returning to creative, no-screen endeavors outside of work. There’s a simplicity in it that helps to balance the abstract complexity and constant noise of the internet. It teaches me that I am not perfect and that imperfection leads to unforeseen, unplanned creativity. Perhaps most importantly, it reminds me that my body is my connection to the world and that it holds deep wisdom and intuition.

Remember Simplicity

We all know the feeling of being tied to our phones or the internet. Most of us are bombarded all day with distractions and fragmented to-do lists. Having a constant connection to the internet is like flipping through a busy magazine: you jump from picture to picture, skip the ads, skim a few articles, and forget most of what you read. It’s exhausting.

It is important to give ourselves permission to block everything else out and be immersed in one act of creation. Many of us need this form of refreshment.

Pencil and paper. Bread dough and hands. Guitar strings and fingers. Yarn and needles. It is simple. It is right in front of us. We can see, taste, hear, feel, and even smell our work of creation. I find myself craving this simplicity after jumping around the abstract world of domain models and codebases.

Mistakes Lead to Creativity

Computers are amazing. We can traverse the expansive web of content and find whatever information or inspiration we want to emulate. They give us the power to delete, undo, access old versions of our work, and make everything perfect.

But this power curtails the spontaneity of creativity. Rarely is it necessary to live with our mistakes for more than a few seconds before we find the undo button. This power obfuscates the need to turn mistakes into invention.

When starting creative activities, we have a tendency to dwell on mistakes and want to click undo. Over time, we can build the muscle of moving on, forgetting mistakes, and letting go of expectations of perfection. That is when the most creative moments arise.

Computers offer robotic perfection, but it’s the imperfection of our humanity that makes our work meaningful. Creative outlets let us computer-bound folk remember the forgiveness of physical materials and find unexpected creativity — and maybe even originality.

Woman playing guitar
Photo by Burst on Unsplash

Trust Yourself

One of the most influential teachers in my life would often say, “Trust your hands. They are smart hands.” I rarely find the opportunity to trust the intuition of my hands and body while working on a computer. Most of what I do is direct output from the mind with a quick translation through the hands and keyboard. At the end of a long day at my desk, my body feels stiff and forgotten.

Like sports and exercise, creative endeavors activate our brain and muscles in different ways and let us rediscover the strength of our entire mind and body.

Finding artistic and creative outlets has helped relieve some of the fragmentation and overstimulation that has accumulated over years of working full time on a computer. Whether is it is woodworking, sketching, crocheting, baking, painting, or playing an instrument – these activities do more than entertain us or fill our time. They teach simplicity, invite into the present, and connect the mind and body. What are some of your favorite creative outlets?