Stumbling on Creativity
CHAD MORRIS, Ph.D., Director
I love historical fiction. Reading any good book of this genre is equally relaxing and intellectually stimulating. An excellent example is The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, which I just finished over the weekend. I had avoided picking up this book by the author of Eat, Pray, Love, but I’m glad—with a nudge in the right direction from my sister-in-law—that I overcame my unfounded gender bias.
This book is a treasure. The story transported me to another time through a captivating personal journey and a botanical education that spanned the globe. Like other excellent historical fiction, picking up a new book was initiated as a short-term escape, but it left me wanting more.
It lead to new curiosity about medicinal botanicals such as Cinchona (AKA the Fever Tree) — a bark used to prevent malaria and a base ingredient in my favorite cocktail, gin and tonic. The book also led to an exploration of what this incredibly talented author had to say about creative inspiration, which, in turn, suggested further inquiry about daemons, those creative spirits of the ancient Greek world, and how we do a dis-service to ourselves and children by unnecessarily tying creativity to mental illness and addiction. She makes the compelling point that it’s much healthier to be occasionally visited by genius rather than assume that any person is a genius. Gilbert’s newest work, and other books like The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt and Elizabeth Kostova’s classic, The Historian, create an instant curriculum for continuing education spanning topics from Vlad the Impaler to mathematical conundrums.
While fictional and, at times melodramatic, I find that these works put my daily experience into perspective. If the protagonist can withstand intrigue, thrill, love and loss writ large, and learn something along the way, then so can I. In the immediate wake of putting down these stories, I feel fuller in anticipation of what I will learn next. I am refreshed by the reminders of how much there still is to experience in this journey we all share around the sun.
CINDY WANG MORRIS, Psy.D., Clinical Director
Instead of having a holiday season full of fun boisterous activity, I caught the flu. For three weeks (and counting), I could barely talk without being overcome by a coughing fit. Although my usual protocol when sick is to pretend I’m not until it goes away, I decided to do it differently this time—so I’ve been laying low and resting as much as I can.
Since inactivity is not usually my friend, I decided one morning to keep my mind occupied by “geeking out” on coffee. I was inspired by a pot of coffee I made in my French press that was—in a word—terrible. First, I blamed Peet’s Coffee & Tea who I thought had over roasted my beans. Then, I threw out the offensive pound of beans and asked them to send another batch. Finally, because I didn’t have anything better to do, I started researching how to make the “perfect cup.”
After perusing one website after another, I learned a lot of things. I learned that the best temperature at which to brew coffee is not boiling (212°F at sea level) but just below (between 195 and 205°F). Though living at about 5,000 feet above sea level, this is something I don’t need to worry about since water boils around 202°F anyway. I also learned that the optimal steeping time in a French press is between 3-4 minutes, depending upon the quality of your grinder. I found out that the coffee to water ratio should be about 1 gram of coffee to every 16 milliliters (or 16 grams) of water, which translates into about 2 tablespoons of coffee for every 6 ounces of water. It’s also important to use good tasting water—something we have an abundant supply of in Fort Collins.
Armed with this knowledge, I put it to the test. Using the same Peet’s French roast coffee, thermometer, kitchen scale, French press and, of course, good ole’ Fort Collins water, I made the “perfect cup” (Peet’s – sorry I wrongly maligned you and thanks for sending more coffee).
Although my search for the “perfect cup” didn’t make my illness go away, I was distracted and mentally engaged with a subject of interest to me. I learned some new things that I can share with others. And, perhaps most importantly, I gave myself the opportunity to be mindful while savoring a warm delicious beverage with someone I love.
CHRISTINE GARVER-APGAR, Ph.D., Research Associate
We are told that having children is a sacrifice. Before I had children, I understood this to mean I would be sacrificing much of my time in order to care for my children. The notion of “work/life balance” reinforces this understanding. Any working parent has heard the warning, “when you’re with your children, you feel guilty for not working, and when you’re working, you feel guilty for not being with your children.” I find some truth to this, but for me it misses the true parental sacrifice.
Human intellect – our knowledge, thoughts, and opinions form a critical component of our identity as unique individuals. We painstakingly cultivate our intellectual selves from the time we are born. Some of us even build careers focused on the pursuit of higher learning. And yet, I (like so many other parents) have found it easy to neglect intellectual challenges and interests. Why? Is it because I don’t have time? If I’m honest, I do have time. I just don’t have “head-space.” To illustrate, consider a brief sample of 60 seconds in my head on a standard morning:
I have to remember to put the holiday gift for Maddie’s teacher in her backpack. Perhaps I can negotiate teeth-brushing cooperation with Elena if I sing that song from ‘Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood’ about being a good helper. I left the teacher gift in the mudroom – I’ll go get it. Oh no – Elena just ran upstairs to change her outfit. This can’t happen now. Distract! “Would you like to wear your jingle-bell bracelet to school?” Get the gift! Maddie forgot her gloves, but she can’t hear me because Elena is yelling that I grabbed the wrong sparkly headband. Correct headband and gloves retrieved! On our way! Arghhh – I forgot the GIFT!
In the midst of this constant mental dribble, I simply can’t afford to expend any extra mental energy outside of the intellectual demands (thankfully!) demanded by my career. Sustained concentration outside of work, even for a few minutes, often leads directly to familial disorder. The effort isn’t worth it. I believe this is the true sacrifice of parenting. To become a parent is to lose a tiny part of your own identity, to give up a part of yourself that makes you who you are – a piece of your intellectual wellness. Parents understand that this sacrifice, which comes so naturally, feels insignificant compared to the sense of joy, accomplishment, and satisfaction that can come with raising children. Hopefully, this intellectual hiatus is temporary. As my children grow, I resolve to embody the intellectually curious spirit I hope they will one day possess. My children will benefit from knowing me as a whole person – not just their mom.
Made to Move
JAMIE PFAHL, B.A., Community Liaison
A few days before Christmas I awoke to a scratchy throat, and sure enough, by Christmas Eve my head was more congested than Highway 36 during rush hour. Christmas was canceled. For an entire week I didn’t even bother to charge my Fitbit to capture the measly few steps I took between the couch and kitchen.
I was looking forward to a fun week of eating, drinking, merry making, and playing in the snow, but instead found myself on a steady diet of decongestants, vitamins, and lots of quality lounging. I watched three seasons of 30 Rock. I read every magazine in the house (ironically all Runner’s World, Women’s Health, and Fitness). I finished a book a colleague gave me. I spent 30 minutes studying Russian from one of my old textbooks. I looked mournfully out the window at the accumulating snow, daydreaming. And finally when even the internet stopped being entertaining, I begrudgingly resigned myself to cleaning up our guest room, which was buried in mountains of crafting supplies from my failed attempts at handmade presents. I couldn’t find the time or energy to complete any this year, go figure.
As I cleared a sunny spot to sit and sort beads, I noticed some unfinished earrings I’d been working on well over a year ago. I had never figured out what beads to use with them. Since I already have all this stuff out… As I sifted through the contents of each container, I found myself feeling more inspired. I was lifting myself out of a year-and-a-half-long creative rut. Over the next two days, I disappeared into the guest room for an hour or two at a time and finally emerged with a tall stack of homemade rice eye pillows and handwarmers, an assortment of earrings, and a set of prayer beads I’d offered to make for someone. Despite feeling miserable, I actually managed to accomplish quite a bit.
Even during busy times I try to stay active, see friends, and stay on top of my finances. But it still took a snowed-in and quarantined week away from work and family and other priorities to create space in my life for intellectual wellness. Somehow reading, studying, and creating always seem to be on the back burner. I hope in 2015 I’ll remember how refreshed, energized, and creative I feel after spending a little time outside my usual routine. Maybe this cold was a Christmas gift after all.
SARA MUMBY, B.A., Program Administrator
I’ve always told anyone (who would listen) that I’m not even remotely skilled as a baker. In my mind, baking is beyond my abilities. It’s strict and rigid. You have to follow the process perfectly, and if you don’t, the hours of time you spent will turn out to be a soggy pile of un-risen dough. There is no freedom in baking. It’s a one shot game. It’s something that goes against my fundamental beliefs about cooking.
But come on! How pathetic does that sound?! Am I really throwing my hands in the air and screaming “Mercy!” because following simple instructions is something I don’t believe I can do? I think not. So I thought I’d give baking one more try.
Two words: homemade pizza. I want it in my life. But pizza dough is one of those baking ventures that usually ends with me in a pile of tears and my boyfriend calling for takeout. But there’s something that intrigues me about making my own pizza. It intrigues me enough that I find myself going back for a beating every now and then.
So here’s what changed. I treated making the dough like I would a research paper. I went to a few of my favorite cookbooks and read every instruction twice. I went to the Internet and read my favorite food blogs and every line of their (sometimes abysmally long) posts and recipes. I committed to memory the exact ingredients and measurements, the exact timing and all the little descriptions I should be looking for in my yeast-water-flour concoction. In truth, I wanted to know every detail about making pizza dough that would make it either impossible for me to fail OR make it possible for me to forever denounce the art of baking.
And it worked. I’ve successfully made pizza dough three or four times now. I think sometimes I get caught up in this idea that people are just good at something – it’s a natural talent. While I still think that’s true for some people, I’m beginning to learn that to be good at something is a matter of learning, practice, and persistence. Do the research, treat the task like an intellectual challenge and when you (finally) succeed, it makes you feel like you can do anything.
SUSAN YOUNG, Ph.D., Director of Research
There is no doubt that some aspects of my intellectual wellness took a major hit when my twin daughters were born. Why didn’t someone tell me that the mysterious rerouting of my neuronal networks, seemingly triggered by pregnancy, would never fully recover? I’ve heard that this phenomenon is evolutionarily desirable, because it allows moms to focus their brainpower on the viability of their offspring. OK, I get that. But I occasionally indulge myself in grieving the loss of my former ability to work adeptly into the wee hours of the night and to concentrate on a difficult problem, even when bombarded with distractions. Yep, gone and gone.
But I have to admit that parenting has actually enhanced other aspects of my intellectual well-being. For me, intelligence centers on the balance and interplay between the left-brain-analytical and the right-brain-imaginative capacities. Before becoming a parent, I was tightly focused on my scientific career – my marching orders were “obtain grant funding” and “publish more articles.” Though I still work toward these goals, my kids have given me a more balanced perspective. I now give myself permission to put my left-brain on mute, and tune into more creative and unstructured endeavors. My girls have a magical way of coaxing me out to play – without inhibition, without judgment, without rules (and with a heavy dose of silliness). Lily reminds me how exhilarating it is to do cartwheels in the grass. And only with Katie do I feel free enough to sing shamelessly loud – without worrying about pitch or lyrical accuracy. And guess what? It really doesn’t matter if your clothes match as long as you feel good in them.
Now recess is over, and I can get back to work with a more open mind.
JIM PAVLIK, B.A., Program and Policy Analyst
Our brains are voracious devourers of information. New evidence comes in every day that the best way to have an active and healthy brain for as long as possible is to challenge it.
Although the monsters in our skulls are ravenous, they are also lazy. They prefer the status quo to new challenges. Ever start a job and come home exhausted? Or have you taken a long standardized test like an SAT, GRE, or LSAT? Exam fatigue is a real thing and one of the many reasons that test preparation companies encourage their clients to take as many practice tests as possible. The more we practice new ways of thinking the less exhausting and the more rejuvenating they become.
As with muscles, training of the brain is specific. Being a practiced reader won’t stop you from being tired when you start learning math. Learning math won’t stop you from being tired when you try learning computer programming. Have you seen Dancing with the Stars? Even being good at football won’t guarantee you’ll be a great dancer, even though both require similar attributes of strength and coordination.
It was proposed a few years ago that solving puzzles or reading mystery novels might delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. More recent studies suggest it isn’t the solving of the puzzles; it was learning to solve them—challenging the brain to work in new ways is what delivers the real benefits. Doctors now prescribe all kinds of activities to prevent Alzheimer’s. Already do the crosswords? Try logic puzzles. Learn a new language. Learn to write computer programs. Take a course in how to paint. Try new things and have fun.
Being a playful and curious person can have other benefits as well. The kind of creative thinking that develops in a mind as adept at finger-painting as it is at spreadsheet design can make you a better employee, friend, or parent.
“Intellectual wellness” conveys an image of bookish know-it-alls; but that’s not really what it means. The mind engages with every aspect of life. Intellectual wellness means having a mind that can engage with language, numbers, music, film, and physical activity. The more complicated the better. The goal is to challenge yourself, to have fun, and to feed that monster in your skull so that it lives a long and full life.
The mission of the Behavioral Health and Wellness Program is to improve quality of life by facilitating evidence-based health behavior change for communities, organizations, and individuals.
The Behavioral Health and Wellness Program (BHWP) offers training, consultation and program evaluation to organizations, administrators, healthcare providers and peer specialists. We have worked in over 25 states and provided services internationally. Our offerings include:
Training Programs and Workshops
We provide comprehensive training and education for administrators, healthcare providers and peer specialists to build awareness and knowledge, enhance motivation, facilitate wellness groups and create positive social networks. Training participants learn to facilitate their own wellness while increasing their ability to build, administer and sustain effective wellness interventions. We have developed multiple evidence-based training curricula to increase health and wellness across the lifespan, including programs such as:
- DIMENSIONS: Tobacco Free Program – Tobacco cessation & tobacco free policy
- DIMENSIONS: Well Body Program – Nutrition & weight management
- DIMENSIONS: Work & Well-Being for Physicians – Wellness interventions & strategies for physicians
- DIMENSIONS: Peer Specialist Program – Core and specialized skills for peer specialists
- Motivational Interventions for Behavior Change
- Rocky Mountain Tobacco Treatment Specialist Certification (RMTTS-C) Program
Organizational Wellness Assessment
We evaluate organizational and employee wellness by collecting and integrating data from a variety of sources. We conduct workplace wellness surveys, site visits, focus groups and key informant interviews. We analyze the organization’s structure, employee benefits and wellness policies. Based on the information gathered, we provide comprehensive feedback and recommendations to support implementation of pragmatic and case-specific wellness solutions. In alignment with your organization’s mission, goals and objectives, we assist you to create, implement and maintain wellness programming that addresses the unique needs of your organization.
Program Evaluation and Technical Assistance
We provide consultation and technical assistance to organizations across the nation. We work with organizations to help them evaluate their current programming, define new goals, and implement effective wellness solutions. Our goal is to build the capacity for positive change through our ongoing, creative partnerships.
We work with communities, healthcare organizations, and government agencies to develop wellness policy initiatives that meet local needs. We have proven expertise in aligning policies and procedures with federal and state legislation on topics such as tobacco free policy and workplace wellness initiatives.
We develop evidence-based materials to assist those working in health-related fields. Our resources focus on information about health behavior change, health risks of certain behaviors, instruction on how to enhance motivation to change, and strategies and solutions to support movement through the change process. We develop resources that target the general population as well as priority populations who face health disparities.