Creativity Hack #14: The Paper Clip Test

Pssst… this excerpt is taken from my new book ‘Unleashing Your Creativity: Lessons From A Reluctant Creative”. If you want more (like a FREE sample), just click here.
14. Take the Paper Clip Test. One of the best exercises I know to help jumpstart your creative juices is something called the paper clip test. It’s quite literally one of the easiest ways to think differently (known as divergent thinking in meta-cognition circles). Take a simple paper clip. What can you do with it? I know, I know… you can clip papers together, or you can reset a smoke detector, or… well… that’s about it. Or is it?

Come up with as many ideas as you can— nothing is off limits! It turns out most people can only think of about 10-15 ideas. But not you. You’re reading this book. You’re tuned in to strengthening your creative muscle. You’re building a creative tribe. So what can you do? It’s no surprise that kids do a better job at this than the average adult, but you’re not average.  By the way, I’ve seen some people come up with as many as 200 uses! Give it a go! It’s a great way to open up your creative thinking and apply it to any project you’re struggling with.

And YES. That image is a life-size statue made of paper clips! #ftw

Morning Routines: At Least I’ve Got This Going For Me…

‘Routine in an intelligent man is a sign of ambition.’

-W.H. Auden

Over the last month a LOT of people have asked about my morning routine. How did you write and publish a book in 7 weeks? How do you have the energy and focus to lead two bands, write a book, market your own coffee, play gigs, feed at-risk kids, and have a LIFE?!?

Well. Here’s the deal. 

I hate mornings.

I’m not a morning person. At. All. In fact, I’ve turned down more than a few invitations to do something fun and exciting because it required me to get up at 4am or something ridiculous like that. I don’t care if you’re inviting me to a one-one-one recording session with Justin Timberlake. I’ll take a rain check. Hit me after lunch, JT. Imma be in my bed, bringing cozy back. 

But I’m also discovering my chances of creative growth and success rise exponentially when I begin my day intentionally. I try to begin each morning with a set of very specific routines. I’ll be completely honest here. There are some days that life gets in the way– kids activities, work obligations, travel, or even fatigue– and I blow them off. But those days are the exception, not the rule. I’d encourage you to do the same thing. As creative beings, a clear mind and a healthy body are our vehicles we use to connect with our Muse/Source. Whether it’s hitting the gym, changing my eating habits, having a consistent prayer time or morning meditation time, beginning my day in a healthy state of being/awareness/whatever is of utmost importance to me. I’ve found that nurturing my mind, body, and spirit is the only way I can stay on the creative path in a healthy way.

I’ll share with you my morning routines with one disclaimer: 

You are a uniquely created person. You have unique gifts and talents given to you by the Creator. Therefore, creating a ‘healthy state of being’ for you may likely look a little bit different for you than it does for me. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to starting strong. So find what works for you. The list below is what currently works for me. I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on the internet. Your mileage may vary. 

Also, I’ve tried to develop the habit of feeding my mind, body and spirit before starting my day. I call it my Morning Primetime. You know, gas up the tank, per se. I’d never head out on a road trip without first filling up the tank of my car with gas. Would you?  Of course not. That’s a terrible idea! Why then would you want to start your day without filling up your physical, emotional and spiritual tank?

1. Get enough sleep. I know, I know. I sound like your mother. And by ‘enough sleep’, I mean enough sleep that your body functions at it’s peak. For me, that means between 6.5 and 7 hours. When I deviate outside those parameters for too long, my body and brain become sluggish and foggy. For me, this typically means that when I’m home I’ll unplug from electronics and social media by 10pm and begin winding down my brain. I’ll read a book (not electronically) or watch some senseless Netflix for the next hour or so until I fall asleep, usually by 11:00 or 11:30. Then I’m up around 5:30 am. Again, this is what seems to be a great rhythm for me these days. But find what works for you, and keep it as consistent as possible.

2. Upon waking, I drink 16oz of cold water to hydrate my brain and body. A hydrated brain is up to 14% faster than a less-than-hydrated one. So bottoms up!

3. I make my own version of ‘DeathProof’ coffee. While the internet is full of recipes for the popular Bulletproof coffee (google it), I stumbled onto the DeathWish coffee company a few years ago and have been a huge fan. and started using their coffee to create my own version. (*Note: since writing this, I have begun my own brand of coffee, but still refer to my morning jolt as ‘deathproof’. The coffee itself has changed, but the name ROCKS.) My recipe is simple: blend 1-2 cups of hot coffee, 1 tablespoon grass-fed unsalted butter, and one heaping tablespoon of coconut oil together for 10-15 seconds. The result is a smooth, creamy morning latte loaded with healthy fat and MCT’s to help fuel my brain and start my day. This element to my routine is non-negotiable.

4. I spend a minimum of 15 minutes in prayer and/or meditation on God. You may not believe in God or any specific religious dogma. I personally believe the whole “in the beginning, God created…” thing. So I spend a few minutes each morning praying and meditating on Scripture, on gratitude, on things I’m thankful for or wisdom I’m seeking in a certain part of my life. That may not be you, and that’s fine. For now, at least be open to the possibility that by beginning your day in searching or asking for help in your creative life (as well as other areas of life), it might actually lead to help. Ask and you might really receive. Seek and you might actually find. Knock and the door may actually open. What have you got to lose?

5. I spend three minutes in gratitude. For one minute, I choose one thing I’m grateful for, no matter how big or small, and intensely focus on that one thing. Not thinking about it. Feeling it. I want to feel gratitude in my heart and my spirit. After 60 seconds, I move on to something else. Then another. I intentionally want to begin my day with an attitude of gratitude. It’s a reminder that contentment doesn’t come from having what you want, but from wanting what you have. And I have an abundance to be thankful for.

6. I spend three minutes in prayer for 3 people around me. For one minute each, I’ll spend time praying for someone near to me to be blessed and encouraged. For their needs to be met. For their family. For their job. For their career. Whatever. Again, I know not everyone prays, but I will tell you that those three minutes do wonders for getting my focus off of myself and helping me see the world around me. Besides, I’m a big believer in the whole ‘ask and you will receive’ idea…

7. Morning Pages. A tool many of us learned from Julia Cameron, I write three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing. It cages my Monkey Mind and helps serve as a kind of spiritual windshield wipers to focus my day. (More on the Monkey Mind on pages 103-105 in  my newest book “Unleashing Your Creativity” Get a FREE sample here. ).

*I also try to work in some kind of physical exercise into my day. Morning is ideal, but let’s be real here. If you’re single with no kids, knock yourself out. You’ve got more room in your morning routine to exercise. But with family life, jobs, kids, lunches to make, and school drop-off lines to wade through, life before 8 a.m. is crazy busy. It is what it is. Sometimes I get out and walk during my prayer/meditation time. Sometimes I don’t. I don’t stress about it. But that’s me. Some of you are hardcore about your workouts and fitness regimens. That’s awesome! I’m proud for you. Geez, I’m even a little bit jealous. But I’m rooting for you! Get out there and crush it! I’d love to hear about your routines and how you fit it all in. Shoot me an email (tomcottar@gmail.com) or hit me up on social media. Seriously. I’ll be looking for it!

In a nutshell, this is me:

5:30 a.m.: Get up. Drink water. Drink DeathProof coffee. Do  morning pages.

6:15 a.m.: wake up kids for breakfast.

6:30 a.m.: Hit the physical/spiritual gym. (exercise, prayer, meditation)

7:00 a.m.: Shuttle kids to schools.

8:00 a.m.: Creative studio time (writing, recording, production time, etc.)

8:50 a.m.: hot shower, loud music.

9:20 a.m.: Ready for the day!

That’s me. What do YOU do? 

Six Reasons Why I Love My TRIBE

In the Tom Cottar Music world, I’ve been blessed to grow a 1000+ member TRIBE of friends. Not just ‘fans’ or ‘supporters’. But real people I know and love. People who are invested in me, and I am invested in them. I’ve got nothing but real LOVE for them. And here’s why:

Excerpted from “UNLEASHING YOUR CREATIVITY: Lessons From a Reluctant Creative.” (Link to FREE sample below!)

1. We give each other emotional support. They listen to me through my struggles and help me process how to move forward. It doesn’t matter if it’s a relationship issue, a time management problem, or if I’m working on a new song idea and get stuck in Second Verse Hell. Coming from another creative, their support is incredibly potent. They don’t downplay my struggles. They ‘get me’. And I ‘get them’. So we rely on each other.

2. They are a source of motivation and inspiration. Someone tells you they admire and appreciate you and your work. You get encouragement to create more and do better. Again, this is particularly powerful when it comes from someone whose taste you respect, or someone who really knows what they’re talking about. Some of my most trusted sources of motivation are other artistic, creative people who’ve taken the time to thoughtfully critique my work. They’re gentle and kind and generous… and honest. There’s a sense of mutual respect for our creations—and a mutual expectation that we are all striving to create our best work.

3. We give each other great feedback. Those of us who’ve created something from our heart—from our innermost being— and have hung it out for the world to see, know one thing deeply: We know how to give and receive feedback. Gently. Thoughtfully. Honestly. Encouragingly. Without fail, someone in my tribe says just the right thing to give me a thoughtful and useful response to my work, and how to make it better. Sometimes it’s my wife, who knows me better than anyone, and sometimes it’s another creative who just says, “Hmmmm….yeah, but…what if you did ___________ instead? I’d be interested to see what that would look like.”

By the way, be very cautious about listening to feedback that comes from outside your tribe. When you put your creation out into the world, you’ll be sure to get feedback, but that doesn’t mean you have to receive it. Remember: everyone is a critic. Some are well-meaning friends who will love everything you do. Some are people who don’t understand or ‘get’ you. And some are critical, jealous, frustrated creatives themselves.

When I receive feedback from the latter group, I simply respond by saying something like, “Hmmm. That’s an interesting perspective. Thank you so much for that.” Then I promptly move it to the trash bin in my mind and hit ‘erase’. It may sound cold and egotistical, but let me assure you, if you’re insecure as a creative, you’ll listen to a thousand different voices telling you a thousand different things… hoping, praying, practically begging to know which one to believe. The simple truth is I need to trust the voices in my tribe above the voices outside of it. Some of those outside voices may, in the end, be right about their opinion. But first I need to trust my tribe.

(A side note here: Be cautious and don’t be afraid to move slowly in building your tribe. It’s ok to be selective. Remember, it’s a whole lot easier to keep the crazy out of your house, than it is to clean it up once they’ve moved in. I’m speaking from experience here.)

4. A tribe makes for great collaboration. I can’t tell you how many times someone in the tribe gets involved with me on a project. We may talk about ideas, word choices, stories, lyrics, colors….anything. In my tribe, I have computer whizzes, artists, painters, t-shirt designers, mechanics, programmers, stylists, ranchers, secretaries, parents, coaches, pastors, atheists, writers, monks, bartenders, and construction workers. The stories and experiences we share are unending. And any of them— all of them— are amazing collaborators.  Whatever we make together is exponentially more than what I could ever make alone.

5. We keep each other accountable. When I get in a funk of depression or laziness, someone in my tribe cares that I get off my butt and get things done. Someone cares that I keep writing, playing, singing, emailing, or whatever I’m supposed to be doing. And I care enough not to let them down. Now and then I’ll get a text or a message on social media that says, “Hey, man. I haven’t seen you at our songwriter circle in a while. You should come out next Tuesday.” It’s a gentle reminder saying “Hey, dude. Don’t you dare quit on us. We love you. You need to get up and get going.”

And I do.

6. Most importantly, a tribe give us a place to belong. It gives all of us a place and platform do to something that matters to each of us. It gives me a place that matters. A place I belong. It gives each of us the space and the glue to be connected to passionate, creative, and supportive people. It reminds us that we are not alone. It reminds us that we matter and that our work matters.

Years ago, I had an intern named Douggie who spent the summer in Sengal, Africa. As a college football player, Douggie was a huge, beast of a young man with long hair, a big beard, and an even bigger, gentler heart. He was an imposing tackle on the football field, but a compassionate, kind-eyed giant off the field. After weeks in Africa, he returned home with one mantra: ubuntu. Ubuntu is an African word used to describe a community or a tribe. Literally, ‘ubuntu’ it means I am because we are. In other words, I am who I am because you are who you are and, more importantly, because we are who we are together.  We adopted his mantra and printed bracelets and t-shirts, made posters and videos, and decided to fully embrace the concept of ‘ubuntu’. Today, Douggie is still one of my most cherished friends in the tribe. I am who I am because we are who we are.

That, my friends, is what belonging to a tribe is all about.

Want a FREE SAMPLE of my new book “UNLEASHING YOUR CREATIVITY”? No strings attached. No email list. No click bait. Just download it HERE! (I’d love to hear what you think!)

From ‘Safe Spaces’ To ‘Brave Places’

From the new book,

 “Unleashing Your Creativity: Lessons From A Reluctant Creative”. 

I had written and performed a song titled ‘One More Mile’ for a local TV show featuring Texas songwriters. I was (and still am) a nobody in the ‘Live Music Capitol of The World’. In a town that has housed legends like Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zant, Charlie Sexton, Janis Joplin, Jimmie Vaughan, Patti Griffin, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, I was in way over my head.

After taping, I was packing up and talking with a woman named Lee. “I really liked your song, Tom.” she said.

“Thanks,” I replied, “Um.. you’re very kind…”

“No, I’m not.” she laughed. “Anyone who knows me will tell you just how blunt I am. But this song is really well done… you should come check out our songwriters group next Tuesday night. You’d fit right in. It’s a very safe place.”

“That sounds great!”, I responded.

Total lie. It didn’t sound great. In fact, nothing could sound worse.  Continue reading “From ‘Safe Spaces’ To ‘Brave Places’”

An Angel in Yoga Pants?

Inspiration can be an elusive thing. Some days it’s hard to find. Some days, it smacks you in the face. But sometimes, when you’re worn out and frustrated like I was, it shows up as a strange angel with jangly bracelets and yoga pants.

One spring night I was at an open house for Six String Ranch, an amazing recording studio tucked down in the heart of Austin,Texas. I’d done some recording projects there before, but tonight it was an open house, packed with crazy-talented people I’d begun to cross paths with. Artists. Producers. Musicians. Writers. Guitarists. Singers. Pianists. Drummers. Designers.

Tonight it was like a clubhouse for creativity and talent.

I was nervously making the rounds trying to meet as many people as I could, trying to figure out how in the heck I’d gotten an invite to this ‘exclusive’ hideout, when a woman stopped me at the coffee bar.

“Hey there, my friend!”, she stuck out her hand. “How are you?!?”

She was dressed in yoga pants and a long, multicolored paisley blouse that flowed to her knees. She must’ve wore a hundred randomly-selected bangle bracelets that jingled with every gesture. Her large hoop earrings were gold and hung down all the way to her collar. Her lips were blindingly pink. She was shorter average, but BIG on personality. Her enthusiasm caught me off guard. Like…WAY off guard.

“Um… hey. I’m good. How are you?”

“Outstanding!” She gleamed. “Isn’t this great?!?”

Sheepishly I replied,”Oh. Yeah. Yeah. It’s really great. Tons of great people… really nice. And [the owners] are wonderful….”

I hesitated.

“I’m sorry… have we met??”

“Oh, I don’t think so…. I haven’t really gotten to know everyone yet, so I just started calling everybody ‘friend’. I figure it saves time trying to guess if we’re going to end up friends or not. I’m gonna just assume you and I are gonna end up as pals, and I might as well just start from there.”

Her enthusiasm was a little overwhelming.. but her proposition to this whole thing was genius. I decided I’d just go with it as well.

“Well, friend… what brings you here?” I asked. “Are you a musician?”

“Oh, no.” She replied. “I can’t play a lick. Can’t sing either. I’m more of a muse…”. She leaned in towards me, grinning mysteriously.

Ding! Ding! Ding!  The crazy train had officially arrived. I wasn’t sure if she was crazy, or high, or just plain eccentric, but I got busy looking for an exit strategy. Surely there’s someone else around here I should be talking to. I’ve got too much crazy in my life as it is. I didn’t need to add one more burned out hippie to my bag of nuts.

“What I mean is I teach creativity…”, she continued. “Especially to people who are blocked. You know…frustrated. But they don’t know why they’re blocked. Sometimes they’re blocked business executives who are having trouble in their company. Sometimes they’re blocked housewives who feel they’re in a rut and what they do doesn’t really matter. Sometimes it’s musicians and writers and artists and such….so I figured I’d just show up and see if I could find a lonely songwriter to help out …”

Are you friggin’ kidding me?”, I thought to myself.

“…So what are you doing here?” she asked.

I. Was. Speechless. Here I was, struggling and frustrated, and the Universe had opened up and sent me a paisley, jangly, bedazzled angel. Why am I not surprised?

“You’re gonna laugh.” I answered. “I have no idea why I’m here. Not really. I’m a frustrated songwriter…looking for inspiration.”

She smiled.

Not just an ordinary smile either. You know that ginormous Christmas tree in New York each year? You know, the one at Rockefeller Plaza that’s about a thousand feet tall and lit up every year with about a gazillion twinkly lights? She smiled a smile like that. Literally, all I could see was her teeth and her eyes, bright as Christmas morning.

I began to spill my guts. Everything. All of it. Some of which are in the pages that follow. At the time of this writing, I still don’t know her name. I don’t know where she lives or what she drives. Maybe she was a literal angel. I believe it’s possible, you know. Or maybe not the literal, metaphysical kind, but at the least the metaphorical kind. The kind of angel that listened and questioned and prodded…and confirmed what was already in me. (Here’s a hint: its the same thing that’s already in YOU, too.)

Her best advice? “Keep going. That’s what you do when you’re going through the desert. You don’t stop in the middle of it. You keep on going.” So whether you’re frustrated and burned out, or you just want to infuse your creative juices with something new, you’re in the right place! In the pages that follow, I’ll spill my guts about my creative journey. I’ll share what’s worked and what’s helped me build my creative muscle, as well as how to unleash the creativity inside you. 

It’s in there. Are you ready? Let’s get started!

excerpt from ‘Unleashing Your Creativity: Lessons From A Reluctant Creative’, available on Amazon. 

New book out NOW!

It’s official! The new book “Unleashing Your Creativity: Lessons From A Reluctant Creative” is out NOW.

If you’ve ever said the words “I’m not a creative person…” (or if you’ve ever been told you’re not a creative person), this is for YOU.

Unleashing Your Creativity is the story of my own struggles with fear and resistance. It’s an account of how FIVE simple words changed my perspective on how to have a richer, more creative life. It’s about the rewards of trusting your own creative gifting.

I’ve also included some strategies I’ve learned to help grow my own ‘creative muscle’!

Buy YOURS on Amazon this month, and receive the AUDIOBOOK next month absolutely FREE!

Our Mission: “On The Inside”

***Did you know 22 veterans take their own lives every day?

It was the kind of phone call you never want to receive…

 

It was one of Tom’s childhood friends who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. A tough Marine who ‘only bleeds on the inside’, yet was crying on the other end of the line. The demon of post-traumatic stress was taking it’s toll.
Sleepless nights, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, alcohol and prescription drug abuse were wreaking havoc. His personal life and marriage were in crisis.

 
As he poured out his heart, the two of them cried, talked, and prayed into the night.

 
Sadly, it was only the first conversation Tom had with one of these men.

 
His newest single, “On The Inside” not only brings the soldier’s struggles to light, but is also raising money to help prevent veteran suicide.

 
Our commitment is simple. We will always give this song to veterans and their families for free.

 
PLUS, a portion of the proceeds (songs, downloads, merchandise sales, etc.) will always go to worthy veterans groups and services.

 

All of us in the Tom Cottar Music Tribe are honored to give back to those who have sacrificed so much. We thank you for your service and your commitment. We are forever in your debt.