A Maya Angelou quote has come in conversation a few times over the past couple of weeks: “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.

We all struggle to think creatively sometimes. When stress runs high and we need an ingenious breakthrough, we can feel like we’re burning ourselves up in the effort. We may solve one crisis but fear we have nothing left for the next one.

When I read Ms. Angelou’s hopeful words recently, I was torn between hope and skepticism. I wanted it to be true, but I suspected that it couldn’t be that easy. Then, my mind made a connection – perhaps creativity is like a muscle.

A drawing of abdominal muscles. "Gray392" by Henry Vandyke CarterYou can’t push your muscles to lift more and more weight day after day to hit new squat personal records indefinitely. But with regular technique practice, good hydration/nutrition, adequate rest, and proper soft tissue care, you don’t burn out your muscles over time. In fact, you build those muscles to be more responsive and stronger than before. Training is the careful accretion of skill on skill, strength on strength.

Just as with building muscle, building creativity requires good self care. The way we train becomes a wise way to structure daily life outside the gym.

  • Take enough time to sleep as often as you can.
  • Give energy to your hobbies so you can explore other sides of yourself in multiple contexts.
  • Learn new things and explore your world to open up new information and insights.
  • Stay adequately hydrated and listen to your body’s fuel signals.
  • Keep moving, keep training, and keep pushing your physical self even as you expand your mental horizons.

More and more social science and human anatomy research has demonstrated the soundness of those principles for your body and your mind. Even watered down in quick-tips posts, or loaded up with specifics in long-form articles, our culture has informed you of those facts. Don’t be lulled into complacency by your long-suffering body and mind. Remember that those facts about how best to live are also facts about how best to foster creativity for the long haul.

I think Ms. Angelou is right. With proper care of the muscle that generates its incredible force for change, creativity will truly never be used up.


Image Credit: “Gray392” by Henry Vandyke Carter – Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gray392.png#/media/File:Gray392.png