In my many conversations with aspiring and actual entrepreneurial physicians, I am reminded of just what a leap of faith it is for highly trained professionals such as physicians to embark on an exploration of potential new career and business opportunities.
All our medical education and training and subsequent practice habits have served to move us further and further away from creative thinking. In order to be a successful diagnostician, you have to keep narrowing your options in order to come up with the one correct solution/diagnosis. In many ways, this is the antithesis of creativity.
I like to imagine creativity as the urge to express something that is profoundly true about your Essential Self. And what exactly is your Essential Self? In her often humorous and always thought-provoking book “Finding Your Own North Star” , Martha Beck describes our two selves, our present-from-birth Essential Self and our “community-acquired” adaptive Social Self. The former is of the source of all that is original, unique and innately true about ourselves.
Our innate creative impulse is not necessarily easy to access when we spend our days following a series of rules-based thought processes.
Tapping into what is original, inventive and playful in you requires three things:
- adequate time for reflection
- a willingness to put aside preconceived notions
- inspirational prompts from the outside to allow you to envision stuff that you couldn’t imagine for yourself.
So here are seven steps to boost your creative thinking as an aspiring physician entrepreneur:
1. Throw caution to the wind. The mindset that is the greatest obstacle to creativity is one that is overly timid, fearful, or anxious. In order to create the freedom needed to imagine all possibilities, you need a blank shiny mental space. I am frequently amazed by how rapidly fear surfaces in any brainstorming exercise I do with a coaching client the minute we start exploring what’s possible. Isn’t it true that your brain immediately wants to go to the question HOW? “How could I ever do that?”
Solution: give yourself permission to abandon the HOW? and instead indulge yourself in the WHY? and WHAT? Ask yourself,
Why do I want to be more entrepreneurial?
What do I hope to accomplish?
What dreams do I want to make a reality?
What impact could being more entrepreneurial have on my life?
2. Enjoy playing “in the sandbox”. If you are around children, you may have observed them playing in a sandbox. Equipped with nothing more than a few plastic implements and a bucket, a kid can entertain him or herself for a long time. I used to watch my daughter playing in the sand, and she appeared to enter the world of her imagination. She still likes to be left alone at times after a long school day, when I often catch her singing to herself or drawing.
What buried longings might you discover, if you permitted yourself to enjoy some unstructured, unfocused time?
Solution: Find time to engage in your favorite kind of “playing”. Whether this is reading fiction, going to the movies, wandering around an art museum, engaging in an outdoor adventure, or taking a pottery class – it is the lack of structured cognitive thinking that often allows your truly creative ideas to bubble up.
3. Turn past experiences into a learning opportunity. If you have a failed at something in the past, it is possible that this memory is stuck in your brain like a festering thorn. No doubt it was unpleasant! The price of perfectionism can be very high, including the unwillingness to ever venture into something new again.
Solution: Hard as it may seem to consider this, there is the gift of learning in all past failures. Carve out a 30 minute block of time, write down the details of the failure as you recall them, and then commit to discovering at least one lesson that you learned or could have learned from the experience.
4. Be a “rule breaker”. Remember that earlier mention of the Essential Self? The Essential Self knows no rules. It is the Social Self that has come to understand and obey all the terms of engagement with society. And in some instances, the Social Self has become so hidebound with rules that there is no room for doubt or questioning. This leaves even less room for creative thinking.
Solution: Write down at least 10 “rules” that feel alive and well in your life. Rules such as “I have to earn enough money to support my family”, “I must stick it out for at least 10 more years to cover my kids’ education costs” or “I shouldn’t spend time indulging in this fanciful thinking about my future”. Note the language of these Rules – it’s full of shoulds, should nots, have tos, cannots, musts and must nots! Resolve to break at least three or four of these rules.
5. Branch out and explore something new. How much of your day is habitual? What about weekends? When was the last time you did something truly different? I’m pretty lazy when it comes to trying something new – I tend to eat the same breakfast every day, mostly the same lunch, and exactly the same salad every night. And I wonder why I am sometimes bored with the idea of eating! Trying something new involves an element of risk. What if it doesn’t work out as well as you hoped? What if you like it so much that you’ll never be satisfied again unless you radically change your life? Sometimes I suspect that is our deeper fear.
Solution: commit to trying something new in the next week. And then, if this works out okay, commit to trying something new each day. Be rash! Do something unexpected! See what that feels like.
6. Be idle. In our jostling world of increasing connectedness, nonstop demands on our time, and pressure to have more, it is next to impossible to find time and space to simply hang out. Innovative, meaningful ideas are probably flitting through our brains constantly, but my guess is that we’re unable to observe or hear them. There’s simply too much noise inside.
Solution: Get away from it all, and goof off. Go “play in your sandbox”. Perhaps you need to learn how to meditate, or to take singing lessons, or to go for a long walk. And begin to make a habit of this. Not only are these habits good for your mental and physical health, but they are good for your creative soul.
7. Question, question, question. It has been said that the quality of our questions determines the quality of our lives. What questions are you willing to ask yourself? And ask others? I remember developing a great fear of asking stupid questions whilst in medical school. There seemed to be nothing worse than having those raised professorial eyebrows turned on me as if I were an idiot. Creativity demands good questions.
Solution: Do some deep soul-searching by asking some really tough questions.
How fulfilled do I feel in my life?
What do I really, really want?
What is it going to take to get it?
What trade-offs am I willing to make?
I believe that our souls crave the creative experience. And that much of what is sucking physicians dry in medicine is the absence of this life-force. By indulging in some creative thinking AND emotion, you will be nourishing your spirit and potentially finding new joy in your work.
What are your thoughts?