Monday, May 1, 2017

Creativity TAPs

word count: 755

you might like to read this if: you're into positive psychology, you're interested in ways to be more creative, you want to know what i've been up to recently

at the suggestion of 80,000 Hours, i was looking into signature strengths.

“signature strengths” are a positive psychology thing; they're supposed to be “character strengths that are most essential to who we are”. i think of them as “the virtues that matter most to me”. 80k says you should exercise at least one of your top five signature strengths every day.

i think "one strength a day" sounds inadequate. after reading and thinking about signature strengths, here’s what i feel i should be doing.

  1. install a collection of signature-strength-boosting trigger-action plans and changes to routine that (collectively) fire multiple times a day.
  2. identify and remove chronic barriers to exercising my signature strengths.
  3. deeply indulge (>1hr) in each of my top five signature strengths at least once a week.

the first one seemed shiny, so i got straight to work.

according to the VIA survey linked in the 80k article, my top signature strength is creativity (which they define as “thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things”). i looked through the VIA list of ways to use creativity, and i was… a bit disappointed. so i made my own.

here are some TAPs that i hope will help me take better advantage of my creativity.

  • if i notice the sensation of stopping at an obvious answer, i’ll think of at least one more possible answer.
  • if i have a thought that feels interesting in response to something i’ve read, i’ll write a less-than-twenty-word version of it in my notebook beside a little picture of a lightbulb.
  • if i’m doing a creative thing, it’s about time to stop, and i don’t want to stop because it’s going so well, i’ll write down the next action for next time and stop anyway. (this is about giving my future self something to sink their teeth into, not about time/attention management.)
  • if i’m about to research something, i’ll propose at least one possible answer first, or generate a possible example of the thing.
  • if i feel stuck, attached, bored, robotic, like i don’t know where to start, like i’m spinning my wheels, or like i want to map a section of concept space, i’ll consider making a brainstormy list. (this is actually seven TAPs.)
  • if i’m annoyed by a small but recurring problem, i’ll write it down. (this one’s relevance will become clear shortly.)
  • if i’m making a list of possible solutions to a problem, i’ll consider making a list of possible approaches to solving the problem instead (unless i’ve already done so).
  • if i feel like i’m running out of ideas while brainstorming, i’ll try associating with pairwise combinations of the items i’ve already generated.
  • if i feel blank, i'll impose an arbitrary constraint. ("only things that remind me of the color blue.")
  • if i find myself getting very interested in a new topic, i’ll try making a map of relevant concept space to guide my investigations.

and here are a few changes to regular routine (that is, TAPs whose triggers are temporal):

  • at regular intervals (probably once or twice a week), pick one of my small but annoying problems and spend five minutes trying to solve it.
  • at regular intervals (probably once a week), pick something i do frequently. make a map of variations on ways to do the thing.
  • engage with one of my deliberately creative projects (such as writing) for one to five minutes every morning. (this is an attempt at productive procrastination; i’m trying to give myself a chance to think about my work while i do other things.)

my next step is to identify chronic barriers to exercising creativity.

my other signature strengths are judgement, curiosity, love of learning, and appreciation of beauty and excellence. i doubt i’ll do a whole series on this, but if there’s a particular part you’re interested in, let me know, and i’ll see about turning my experience of it into a followup post.