Harness Your Inner Child

Many of my friends, colleagues, family members, and even outright strangers comment about my positive energy. “Wow, you’re a happy guy,” they observe. The reason for my having such enthusiasm is pretty simple: I love life. And I want to teach share how to harness your inner child so that you can love life a little more and also be awesomely creative while doing so.

Whether I’m building off a colleague’s idea in a meeting or eating pulled pork bourbon pancakes, I take great joy in the big and small moments that life sends my way every day. After observing her behaviour over the past few months, I have learned that I approach life much like my niece, Camille, who also faces every challenge and opportunity with similar unbridled enthusiasm.

Millie is in awe of many things. Like her mom's purse and all the treasures within!

Camille is in awe of many things. Like her mom’s purse and all the treasures within!

This view of the world isn’t always embraced by all folks in the 30-something age range living in affluent North American cities like Vancouver. In my opinion, part of the reason for this is that, as we age, many people lose that sense of awe and wonderment that keeps life (and our attitude about life) fresh and fun. Peoples’ fear of failure is making them avoid risks, experimentation and the uncomfortable learning that comes with such things, which is a leads to boredom, apathy and, perhaps, hipsterism. (For the record, I spent hours trying to find research linking hipsterism and apathy, but only came across this article from The New York Times and a blog post I wrote earlier this year).  Anyway, being bored or unimpressed by life, the universe and everything results in people being uninspired, unhappy and unlikely to realize their potential.

At best, this behaviour reflects people being comfortable in their communities, but I think it also acknowledges our individual and collective cynicism, which The Guardian’s Caroline Davies argued was “one of the greatest threat to democracy” in a 2008 article. Yes, I realize that many folks out there – especially readers of this blog – work hard to positively influence their communities and might not identify with this behaviour. But we know it exists. So for all you change-agents out there, here are two simple tips from Camille and I that will help you engage the creativity of your inner child and help others to do the same.

Everything is amazing when you think about how it appears to a 10-month-old human seeing it for the first time.

Everything is amazing when you think about how it appears to a 10-month-old human seeing it for the first time.

Be in Awe of The World

Recently, The Potentiality’s Jilly Charlwood crafted a great article about how you can take steps to foster creativity. In particular, the opening line of her article got me thinking about how important it is to behave like a child:

Remember when you were a kid and creativity flowed freely through everything you did? It was a time when your ability to design the world’s best blanket fort/spaceship/tree house/fairy tree was limited only by your imagination and the materials in your backyard. As a kid you had no concept of creativity, it was all just part of what you did and the fun you had doing it.

Pretty much every experience, be it auditory, visual or tactile, inspires genuine wonderment in my niece. In her 10 months on Earth, Camille is, if I may be so bold, already living what author Julie Cameron calls “the artist’s way.” Like me, she loves life and is made happy by simple things, such as her mom (my awesome sister) entering the room, tasting something cold or sour for the first time, or anything dog-related. Camille – and other youngsters just like her – have a lust for life that is absolutely contagious. Adults watch her interact with the world and comment on her unfiltered joy and curiosity, but rarely do we incorporate her wisdom into our lives.

As we get older our brains use past experiences to make split-second decisions – or make meaning of information – when something happens to us. Unfortunately, this often leads to humans coming up with habitual, not innovative or creative, solutions to problems. So, the next time you find yourself experiencing something seemingly normal or mundane (riding the bus to work, eating a slice of pizza or playing a video game) think about Camille’s sense of awe and wonder. Because everything is amazing (Louis C.K. even tells some jokes about this fact).

Treat Failing as Learning

Speaking of doing things differently, it has been stated over and over again by thinkers like Sir Ken Robinson, Tim Brown and Peter Simms that the fear of failure is the number one killer of creativity. We all have a personal relationship with mistakes, upon which Simms encourages reflection: “…if your internalized view of failure is anything that is not perfect, then you are disempowering yourself from exercising your inherent creativity.” Citing Tom and David Kelley’s book Creative Confidence, IDEO’s Tim Brown has the following to say about the need for adults to behave like children if we want to solve complex problems:

If you’ve ever watched young children play, you know what uninhibited creativity looks like. Toddlers will belt out off-key tunes at the top of their lungs, dance with abandon down the aisles of a supermarket, or color on walls and floors, never questioning their ability.

Camille, and millions of other kids, don’t seem to have the word “failure” in their vocabulary. Warbling a tune, falling down or scrawling a portrait is more about learning how to do something than it is about making a mistake. According to Simms, this approach – where failing is synonymous with learning – is what defines the world’s most creative thinkers. For example, Camille equates eating dirt with learning, not failing. My hope is that she takes the same approach with Excel pivot tables twenty years from now.

Harnessing – if not unleashing – your inner child is simple. First, have a genuine appreciation of the amazing stuff that life has to offer. Second, approach life with the belief that failing is learning and learning from failure is how you maximize your potential. Because growing up shouldn’t mean stifling our childlike sense of wonder.

All photos courtesy of Kim and Ian Abbott, who have a super-awesome and very photogenic daughter

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