New year? Better, different?

A suggestion for a more contemplative new year?

Well, here we are at the end of the oddest year most of us have ever known! Sometimes, at the end of a year, we cast a glance behind us, maybe we note the highlights or things we’d rather forget, and then look forward just a little to the coming year and make a few plans.

Even those of us with bad mental health have had some good come out of this year. I’ve learned how much I value being able to slow down properly, not just in short bursts at the weekend, and I recognise when I need to say no to things, even if I can’t do it as often as I’d like! I’ve started to get to know myself – no mean feat in your early 50s! – and understand what professional help I need. I’m hopeful that 2021 will bring the resumption of much-needed mental health services for so many. This year I allowed myself to be more creative, with a little less perfectionism and self-criticism – oh, they’re still there, those faithful (faithless?!) companions, but I can nudge them into the background a little more than before.

Random dots, joined up to make a picture of sorts from 64 Million Artists’s challenge January 2020
Refreshing my embroidery skills at a class early in 2020
Late-night doodling when the urge to create took over!

Creativity in any shape has kept me sane this year, no exaggeration. Being creative is correlated with positive mental health, there’s so much evidence for this. There’s also evidence that NOT being creative is directly linked with poorer mental health – suggesting that the actual act of being creative positively affects mental health, that the lack of creative activity is detrimental to our well-being and development. Before you say ‘oh, but I’m not creative, I can’t draw/paint/sing…”, stop, and think for a minute. Human beings are inherently creative, it runs through our DNA, and has always been the driving force for our survival. Somewhere along the line, an ancient relative had the idea of building shelter to protect them from the elements, making tools from sticks and stones in order to increase the types of food they could eat – remember the old phrase ‘necessity is the mother of invention’? When faced with a problem, humans are usually pretty good at creating a solution. Unless you’re a Bear Grylls type and love going off-piste into the wilderness, you’re unlikely to be making a hut from branches and leaves, or foraging for berries and mushrooms, but you CAN build creativity into your life, consciously and with intent.

2020 has been chock-full of problems and challenges, but the unintended consequences have often been very positive. I bet you know at least one person who’s learned how to cook or bake from scratch, taught themselves a new skill or craft, done some gardening, or re-invented their home surroundings. Being forced away from our usual routines, and being able to explore in a way we haven’t done for decades, has been a game changer for many people I know, and they’re enjoying and keeping those changes. They’ve re-discovered something deeply buried that makes them feel different, something that matters, and they want to hang onto that. One family member started growing a few herbs and salads in her garden, and teaching her children to cook – now her vegetables consume most of the back garden and her children are masters of bread-making and roast dinners – valuable skills for the future and so enjoyable! A friend picked up her pencils and paintbrushes after a long hiatus and is now making some beautiful and amazing art.

My point is that we are all born makers, do-ers, dreamers, thinkers, artists, cooks, seamstresses, wanderers, teachers, writers, growers, architects, engineers, and so much more, whether we give ourselves conscious titles or not. We used to accept our natural abilities to do these things, and follow where our curiosity led us, but society has slowly specialised and categorised them. Our thinking has narrowed too much, and we often deny our inherent creativity; we classify skills and people rigidly, put ‘experts’ on pedestals and tell ourselves we’re not ‘good enough’; we talk ourselves out of (or overthink) activities that could be more relaxed and pleasurable.

This coming new year, as we’re still in uncertain times given both Covid and Brexit situations, we could give ourselves a new year gift of deliberately exploring some new form of creativity, to allow ourselves a little haven away from current anxieties. Who knows where it might lead?! You can find books, craft kits, and more, on offer in the sales – pick out one or two that won’t break the bank. The free Libby app allows you to electronically borrow library books; perhaps you could read something different, a new writer, some poetry – you may be inspired to write your own! If money’s too tight, have a wander of some creative websites. There are a number of creative challenges starting in January that often cost nothing more than your time.

Juliet, of The Curious Creative Club, talks about the power of playing around and experimenting in her current blog, if you fancy a read and some inspiration. She’s created a ‘play’ list of 12 different creative activities for 2021, you could try something similar; you may enjoy something totally new or go for the familiar in picking up a previous craft. 64 Million Artists (don’t be daunted by the title!) has a 3-way challenge for January. You can choose creative challenges by one of three inspiring creatives, or go off-piste to receive random challenges from any of the three. Then there’s Susan Yeates’ 30 Day Sketchbook Challenge, which is a marvellous, free-range way of interpreting and creating art. Sites like Instagram are full of creative images, ideas, and people to inspire you – if you follow an artist, singer, maker, see who THEY follow and discover some new creatives.

I’m going to explore some of my own ideas over the next year – some I’ve suggested above, and others haven’t quite taken shape yet – and see where they take me. How about joining me, and see what happens?! I’ll be sharing my 2021 over on my Instagram account, I’d love you to join me and share yours, too!

I’ll just leave you with the thought below, hope it makes you think as well as smile!