Never underestimate the value of your ideas. It’s easy to discount the whimsical thoughts that may pass through our heads while exercising, taking a shower, or lying in bed. Sometimes, though, these are the moments that allow our authentic ideas to flourish. When it comes to tackling a broad-scale problem like climate change, we need all the creative thinking we can get.
Taking Action Works Best When It is Genuine
When we are compelled to take action, it is usually because we have been sufficiently inspired or concerned. Inspired to help a person who deserves support, such as a friend who’s been affected by disease. Concerned about a problem that affects us personally; a proposed development that may infringe upon our community, for example. But in order to actually do something, we must feel both compelled and comfortable to act. Despite caring wholeheartedly about climate change, this is precisely why a good portion of the public doesn’t choose to write letters to their political representatives urging action, or participate in a climate march. It may simply be that letter writing or public activism is not for all of us. The best type of actions are genuine ones. If the action feels right, we’re more likely to execute it.
So what works for you? Do you enjoy hands-on projects? Create a visual display in your institution’s lobby to help spark conversation about climate change. Are you a big-picture thinker? Pitch a sustainability plan to the executive team. Are you quiet and independent, and prefer to avoid group-based work? Write a guest blog for your organization suggesting ways to save energy. Are you socially driven with a leaning toward interacting with people, or mobilizing social change? Reach out to leaders of other local organizations to see which ways you might connect institutional actions. The point is, choose the type of action to which you feel most connected.
Many healthcare professionals have been drawn to the public health field based on personal values – caring for others is one of these. Aiming to combat climate change comes from the same place – one of deep concern for humanity and the well-being of others. Like the general population, though, health practitioners are a population comprised of unique individuals. Each may have a different idea of how to help to instill climate solutions within their healthcare institution. There are also those of us who have a strong desire to do something, but aren’t sure where to begin.
How to Access Your Best Ideas
Just because the ideas aren’t flowing doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Creative coach Mark McGuinness talks about four types of creative thinking that can help us spark the best ideas in ourselves.
1. Reframing: How can we change our interpretation of an event, behavior, person or situation? If we can shift the way we see a problem, we can alter our emotional response to it. When this happens, the problem moves from being an intellectual drill to one that changes our capacity for action. In terms of climate change, reframing the way we communicate can be a valuable approach to connecting with others. ecoAmerica’s 15 Steps to Create Effective Climate Communications is a good place to begin. (Incidentally, ecoAmerica will host a free webinar discussing this report next week.) There are a few exercises to help generate creative solutions to challenges.
- Ask yourself if there is an alternative meaning of something
- Rethink the context of your problem and think about where else it could be useful
- Think about the different ways you could learn from a challenge
- Look for the humor in the situation
- Try to envision what you would be doing if you had already found the solution
- Look for the silver lining to try and expand opportunities within the problem
- Consider how the problem looks from other points of view
- Imagine how your heroes/leaders in the field might approach the problem
2. Mind mapping: We all know what it’s like to overthink a problem. This is easy to do when we get stuck in our own linear thoughts. Instead of writing the problem down in a logical sequence, mind mapping is way to make the process feel more organic. Start by jotting down your thoughts in the middle of a blank page and continue by adding lines to that central concept. For each line of thought, use a different color. This creates a visual brainstorming approach, which can help both sides of your brain connect to one another and often feels more holistic. Evidently, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks have been referred to as the inspiration for modern mind map.
Example of a mind map (Photo credit: Flickr)
3. Insight: Think of this as Oprah Winfrey’s commonly mentioned “Aha!” moment, when idea strikes seemingly out of nowhere. It turns out that insight doesn’t happen spontaneously, though it often feels it does. Rather, it’s been a long time coming. In creative thinking terms, insight often results from an extended time of working hard to solve a problem, then getting stuck or taking a break – et voila! A flash of insight appears. What can we learn from this? Gathering knowledge (perhaps through mind mapping) and incubating it is the key to great ideas. Keep returning to those ideas, and reframing them in your mind – rather than pushing them aside completely. Procrastination of ideas is not the same as incubating them.
4. Creative Flow: This is the pinnacle of creative work, when all our good thoughts begin pouring out, and our excitement and reasonability seem to be able to take full advantage of them. Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmahalyi refers to this as flow because productive ideas seem to ensue readily and naturally. Usually, however, there are some key steps that occur in order for flow to occur: a person sets goals, gets feedback from others in the field, feels a sense of work/life balance, and is aware of how their proposed solutions are being received. The person also lacks distractions, worry, and self-consciousness. And of course – there’s the critical piece: the action becomes enjoyable. This brings us back to the original premise discussed here – in order to take action, we must find it enjoyable or personally rewarding.
Focus on Actions, Not Just Ideas
While brainstorming on best approaches is the first step toward combatting climate change, executing our ideas is imperative to producing solutions. In this regard, doing beats thinking. There are plenty of examples of practitioners working to achieve climate solutions within their healthcare institutions. From a Nurses Climate Change Toolkit, to a report on Addressing Climate Change in the Health Care Setting, to a national network of health and public health practitioners dedicated to addressing the threats of climate change to health, there is a wide selection of already established resources from which to choose. Regardless of whether you decide to take advantage of one of these existing resources, or create an entirely new resource, program, or organization, you can assert your own influence through your actions and personality. There are plenty of leads to follow, and – if you can tap into your creative side – plenty of new ideas waiting in the wings.
Anna Linakis Baker, Writer and Social Media Manager for Climate for Health, has worked in the field of environmental health for over 15 years. She graduated from Georgetown University with a major in creative writing and has a Master of Public Health from Boston University. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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