Thursday, April 30, 2015


By: Jennifer Quarrie

Living to Work
We are modern.  Fast, sleek, streamlined.  We are edgy.  Steel?  Try titanium.  We are competitors.  Giving yesterday a run for its money, leaving last month knocked out cold.  We are machines.  Producing, churning, calculating in nanoseconds.  You can keep up, cant you?  Its sink or swim.  Run or die.  Sprint.  Faster.  FASTER.  Anyone who believes this is a marathon might as well leave now.

Sound familiar?  Pervasive modern messaging beaming through Western media is now permeating global culture.  If it hasnt already taken over your company, dont worry; its coming to a supervisor near you.  And if youre not willing to work 24/7, there is a long line of folks waiting for your job who will. 

What does it feel like to move at the speed of terabytes per second?  Even the hardiest among us struggle to breathe when this much G-force bears down.  For most of us its an unending dance, trying to maintain some semblance of balance between the breakneck world pace and our own private needs.  When things begin to feel unstable we kick it into emergency gear to ensure things dont spin out of control.  Problem solving at this point is pure triage.  There is no time to think.  Just stop the bleeding.  Re-stabilize and keep moving forward.  No time for retrospection to truly decipher what got us into that jam, we think we know and thats good enough.  Just keep moving.  Health?  Sure, its steadily decreasing, but Im fine for now.  I can take it.  Happiness?  No one has that anymore, why would I delude myself into expecting anything else?  Focus?  What did you say?  Oh, yeah, sure just a minute

Facing Karōshi  
Then from somewhere in the chaos comes silence.  The realization that makes your world upend.  Thudding so hard it knocks the wind out of you.  You find yourself alone amongst archaic digital devices, drained of battery, and a flurry of papers.  What happened?  No matter what it was that knocked you out of orbit, its a game-changer.  There really was a limit and you tumbled past.  It will be a long journey back. 

Yet after the shock passes, as you survey the damage and look at things anew, you feel that pang you dont want to go back to living that way.  Does that mean youve lost your edge?  Lost your guts?  The machine may continue to tell you that.  Yet you know that it means just the opposite there is a difference between giving up and saying thats enough this is a new level of courage.  Many others in your position limp back into the fray to take hit after hit.  But youve realized the truth.  The better you are, the better your work will be.  And while youre at it, why not make your work YOUR work?  Why give up so much of your time pursuing someone elses dreams?  You need to pursue your own purpose.  You need a change.  But what are the right changes?  And how might you make those changes in the face of so many others going another direction? 

Working to Live
Time to muster your courage and begin building a richer, more balanced life.  The first step?  Prepare for the journey by healing.  Wellness is a baseline from which all other functions come.  To pursue wellness is to pursue the foundation of self-actualization, upon which creativity and other human needs rely.  Without wellness, other pursuits quickly falter. 

The tough question becomes how to achieve wellness when old habits are entrenched, social convention directly opposes your personal needs and support is scarce.  If wellness were easy, we would certainly have achieved it by now.  The answer?  Creativity.

Wellness, like creativity, is highly personalized.  Just as there is no single sleep schedule or menu that fits everyone, each individuals path toward understanding and utilizing their own creativity is also unique.  What is right for you may not be right for others.  This empowers you to customize your life to your personal needs with the ultimate understanding that when you are at your best you are able to contribute far more. 

Approaching wellness with a creative mindset helps convert the work of achieving wellness from a should (meeting the expectations/ideals of others) to a want (fulfilling your own fundamental needs).  Applying creativity tools and processes such as those in Creative Problem Solving (CPS) can be very effective at pinpointing the most critical challenges to personal wellness, as well as working towards more novel, personalized solutions.  On a larger scale, approaching wellness from a creative mindset of openness to novelty, ability to build on others solutions, willingness to defer judgment, mindfulness, and commitment to investing resources greatly improves the likelihood of uncovering an enjoyable and permanent set of changes.
In essence, applying creative thinking fosters wellness, and in turn, a state of wellness promotes the strength and impact of personal creativity. 

Both creativity and wellness are cornerstones to self-actualization, fulfilling ones potential and becoming the best possible version of ones self.  Both creativity and wellness also act as optimizers to set you into more ideal conditions for success in other pursuits.

Whether work is overshadowing the finer aspects of life, or another form of imbalance currently drains your resources, wellness is achievable right now in small steps.  Using creativity, you can design a holistic approach to wellness that is manageable yet effective.  You are worth your time.  No one else will do it for you.  This isnt a sprint.  And it doesnt have to be a marathon.  Call it a hike in the woods or a frolic in the meadow - either way, dont forget to stop and smell the roses.

* Karōshi is translated from Japanese as "death from overwork
** Kaizen is translated from Japanese as continuous improvement

Kashdan, T. B., & Ciarrochi, J. (Eds.). (2013). Mindfulness, acceptance, and positive psychology: The seven foundations of well-being. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Puccio, G. J., Mance, M., & Murdock, M. C. (2011). Creative leadership: Skills that drive change (2nd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Rogers, C. (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist's view of psychotherapy. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
University of California Davis. (2015). What is wellness?  Retrieved from

Bio: Jennifer Quarrie is a dynamic innovation strategist and creativity expert with a visionary outlook and a knack for metacognition, facilitation and listening. With a BA in Cognitive Science from the University of Virginia and an MSc in Creative Studies from the International Center for Studies in Creativity (ICSC) at SUNY Buffalo State, she incorporates budding areas of mind and creativity research into all of her work. As a leader and speaker she inspires wellness, fosters transformation and emboldens self-actualization.

Enjoying the Exhale: Breathing in Creativity & Wellness

By: Jennifer Quarrie

Breathe with unconditional breath the unconditional air.  - Wendall Berry, Given

Life hangs on every breath we take; yet when was the last time you consciously thought about your breathing?  Within every activity you do, breathing plays a critical role - from speaking and exercise to sleeping and nutrition.  What is there to really think about?  The body takes care of breathing through some ancient autonomic system, so why use precious, limited thought resources on it when you could spend your energy on more important cognitive pursuits? 

Beyond the life-saving qualities of a good breathing habit, there is much more at work.  It turns out that breathing is foundational to overall wellness in ways we may not have previously understood.  Not only that, but deliberate, deep breathing also fosters creativity, decision making and other key cognitive and affective functions.  Simply put, improving your breathing is one of the single best practices you can develop to foster your health and creativity and here is why.


It is a common belief that we breathe with our lungs alone, but in point of fact, the work of breathing is done by the whole body. Alexander Lowen, The Voice of the Body

     Increased Oxygen - On the most basic level, deep breathing increases oxygen levels in the blood stream, helping to raise energy, cell survival and brain function, all of which support creativity.  The way we exhale is actually more critical to getting the oxygen we need and should generally last longer than the inhale.
     Metabolism - Oxygen is fuel.  By taking in greater amounts, it charges your cells to function more effectively, improves digestion, and thus improves your metabolism.  Increased overall energy means more resources can be directed towards creative endeavors.
     Sleep Quality - Deeper, healthful breathing while awake helps keep us alert and focused on important tasks.  During sleep it significantly improves sleep quality, extends dreaming brain states, supports neural connections, and facilitates the clean up of toxins in the brain, bringing clarity to waking cognition and creativity.
     Relaxation & Stress Reduction - Deep breathing lowers cortisol levels, normalizes blood pressure and stabilizes body rhythms, all of which foster mental clarity, relax your body, and prime you for creative insight.
     Immune Function - Breathing is the best way to change the pH of your body toward an alkaline state that helps prevent large-scale disease.  By expelling carbon dioxide from your lungs and breaking down salts, breathing is one of the most affective ways to eliminate extra harmful acids.  Every exhale removes toxins from your body, just one of the many reasons yogis consider breathing a path to purification.


Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.   Thích Nht Hnh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation

     Focus - Breathing is the primary mode of mental focus in meditation.  By calming the body, breathing can increase the ability to focus attention, which is critical to successful problem solving and ideation.
     Awareness - Deliberate, deep breathing can also take focus a step further and assist the mind in expanding your awareness of yourself and your surroundings.  Developing this new consciousness helps you take in new stimuli, clarify needs, and highlight priorities, all critical to creative thinking and problem solving.
     Managing Emotions - Our emotional states may be partially predicated on our proactive breathing patterns.  Breathing is more shallow when anxious or depressed.  Deeper breathing promotes positive emotional states and a greater sense of calm, both of which empower creative thinking through finding the value in ideas and focusing energy toward problem solving.
     Motivation - Increased energy from deep breathing directly impacts motivation levels.  Motivation is considered one of the only commonalities across all eminent creators.


I am never alone wherever I am. The air itself supplies me with a century of love. When I breathe in, I am breathing in the laughter, tears, victories, passions, thoughts, memories, existence, joys, moments, and the hues of the sunlight on many tones of skin; I am breathing in the same air that was exhaled by many before me. The air that bore them life. And so how can I ever say that I am alone? C. JoyBell C.

Taking in the World - Breathing is a very physical way of connecting with both our environment and others in it.  As Alexander Lowen says, we live in an ocean of air, and so to breath deeply we immerse ourselves in our environment.  Taking this mindful vantage point prompts us to immerse ourselves more deeply in our surroundings in other ways as well: noticing things we normally overlook, taking in more information, and making new connections that prompt creative ideas. 

Social Connection - Given that our emotions build on our breathing patterns, deliberate deep breathing may increase how positively we experience social interactions, therein leading to a more positive and less anxious mental state.  An affirmative mindset is crucial to the ability to build on ideas and find creative solutions to problems.  The social aspect of our environment is also especially stimulating and can serve as a wellspring for novel connections. Further, an increase in positive experiences may lead to an increase of social interaction over time, therein increasing personal longevity and lifespan.

Breath of Fresh air

Breathing pervades every moment of every day and is an incredibly healthful habit to consciously develop.  Likewise, creativity is omnipresent throughout each day, and actively fostering the creative mindset expands the quality of each experience.  Weaving these two deliberate practices together promotes personal wellness on a grander scale.  The bottom line, in both breathing and creativity, is to stay out of the shallow end - there is benefit to getting in deep. 

And the next time you find yourself waiting for inspiration?  Dont hold your breath.

Broad, W. J. (2012). The science of yoga: The risks and the rewards. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Gates, R., & Kenison, K. (2010). Meditations from the mat: Daily reflections on the path of yoga. New York, NY: Anchor.
Grof, S., & Grof, C. (2010). Holotropic breathwork: A new approach to self-exploration and therapy. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Robin, M. (2010). Wellness on a shoestring: Seven habits for a healthy life. Unity Village, MO: Unity House.
Ross, S., & Rosewood, O. (2003). Happy yoga: 7 Reasons why there's nothing to worry about. New York, NY: Regan Books.

Bio: Jennifer Quarrie is a dynamic innovation strategist and creativity expert with a visionary outlook and a knack for metacognition, facilitation and listening.  With a BA in Cognitive Science from the University of Virginia and an MSc in Creative Studies from the International Center for Studies in Creativity (ICSC) at SUNY Buffalo State, she incorporates budding areas of mind and creativity research into all of her work.  As a leader and speaker she inspires wellness, fosters transformation and emboldens self-actualization.