Lisa Mitchell

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The value of down time in therapy….and in the creative process.

Lisa Mitchell | Mar 31, 2016 | 6 comments


Downtime has value in therapyI’m good at what creativity researchers call convergent thinking. I’m a person who likes to think fast.  My brain loves to fire off ideas and connect them in lickety split time. I love the challenge of a new project.  I love to think about the challenge, plan the challenge, and execute the challenge.  When my brain is working double time—wake and sleep—work and play—I’m at my best.  My brain and I are happy and alive.    My brain likes to make new connections, to distill concepts, to squeeze the essence of things through the small straw at the end of a funnel.  That probably sounds like a really good thing–maybe even like I’m bragging.  It is good, but there’s a not so good part, too.

It’s the down times that are really hard.

When I’m in between projects, when my day to day thinking needs to slow, when there’s less of a challenge to create and more of a challenge to maintain—I get restless. This pace and kind of thinking is what creativity researchers call divergent thinking.  My lickety split brain thinks there’s something wrong and starts to work too hard on figuring out the problem.  When it can’t figure out the problem (because really there isn’t one) I get anxious and do weird things like adopt a new dog or make plans to open up a chalk paint furniture store.

I’m in one of those in between times now.   I just have to recognize it for what it is.

The creative process helps me orient.  You see, I’ve just come out of months and months of flow.  I’ve been down and dirty in the creating and executing for a long time. Really—for the last two years if I’m honest with myself.  Writing and launching the book, creating and delivering Create Fest, there’s the new altered book course, lots of travel to teach… it’s been a whirlwind of flow.  My brain was so thoroughly entertained. Things happened fast, ideas got implemented, it was a virtual popcorn party of new items on the list.  I completely loved it.  And, it ran its course—just like any flow phase does.

For the last several weeks, I’ve not woken up in flow.  Instead, my brain feels fuzzy and slow.  I can’t seem to remember small details.  More than once I’ve had to run to my notepad to write down “pick up drycleaning” or “order art supplies” because I don’t trust my brain to do its lickety split thinking.  My friends say, “Relax.  Regroup.  You’ve earned it.”  I’ve been wishing I could whole heartedly take their advice.  I wish my brain could be on vacation and I could chill and relax in the sun.

But remember, my brain loves to go fast.  It thrives on more than it can make sense of.

So, it’s times like these that I have to again re-orient to my creative process.  You see, these times are as important as flow.  Maybe more so, actually.  These times of fuzzy slowness are incubation times–when the gathering isn’t pointed and clear.  Instead there’s a diffuse awareness that doesn’t feel purposeful.  There’s a gentle, quiet allowing for the next thing to come.  There’s broad swaths of conceptual awareness with little effort to pin it down.  It’s an important way of thinking– divergent thinking.

I’m in a time of incubation.  It is effortful because I don’t prefer it.  It takes every brain fiber in me to do incubating activities.  Walking longer, lingering in morning half sleep longer, knitting longer, stretching into more moments of not doing the project at hand.  This might be called relaxation.  It might look like relaxation.  But, really it’s as hard as the actual doing because it feels like it takes more effort.

In the midst of my own struggle to tolerate and even welcome this switching of gears into a new phase of the creative process, I started to think about my approach to my clients’ creative process.

Isn’t it the same thing?


I would love to run these sessions with the full awareness that convergent thinking is a necessity just like I’m trying to respond to this phase of my own creative process.  I’d like to invite my clients to pause with me and allow the time to stretch–the moments to linger.

This incubation thing is hard for me.  Ironically, it IS my challenge.  And, as I live into it, I will aim to invite my clients who are in this stage to do the same.

6 responses to “The value of down time in therapy….and in the creative process.”

  1. Sally Swain says:

    II love your way of describing your process, Lisa. I find it so affirming and refreshing. Thank you for your openness and ongoing creativity….and for finding a way to be with the incubation time.

  2. Love this Lisa. I’m in one of those times myself and I want to hurry everything along–straight to the next project. Fortunately, my body has more sense and is entertaining me with time in beautiful parks, cups of delicate green teas and a few good books. But, oh–does this mind want to head up to the studio and move on!

  3. I notice myself experiencing this struggle with downtime also Lisa. I have learnt to enjoy these moments as nessacary reflection time and find myself knitting or weaving also. Its true what you say about stretching out moments… stretching out physically mentally emotionaly and spiritualy… filling up all wells for the next phase of creative awsomeness!!

    • admin says:

      Shanna, maybe the the fiber arts have something to do with the stretching–in their pliable softness and their insistence on going slowly. Never thought of it that way, but your comment made me think!

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