Rituals Liberate Creativity: How Autism Enables Problem-Solving & Artistic Output


A while back, one of my data scientist peers expressed how surprised she was at one of my satire ventures.

“How do you do that?” she asked.

“Do what?”

“Come up with some many things to post — you do that so often, I wish I were that creative.”

I mulled on that for a while: am I really that creative? 

By my own reckoning, I might have a clever idea or two once in a blue moon-in-a-half. But others seem to think I can spin up a decent thought, piece of writing, not-so-dumb-solution, or whatever.

After reading Michael Hyatt’s Free to Focus, I was jolted by a concept he mentioned:  rituals liberate creativity.

In essence, the more of your day that you can delegate to ritual, the less of your brainpower you’ll need to use to “do your day.” And where can that brainpower go? Creativity.

It’s the same concept that gives you those great “shower thoughts” — you’ve put everything on hold and on auto-pilot, so your mind is loosed for more lateral thinking and moonshot ideas.

So what does this have to do with autism?

Our autism can lead to significant ritualistic behaviors, so there’s ample room for creativity.

Granted, it’s not the case for everyone — executive function and other challenges can end up be overwhelming.

But for others, our autistic attributes accelerate problem-solving and creative endeavors, like our efficiencies gained in rituals, hyper-acuity, perception, pattern-recognition, detail-obsessions, and more.

Temple Grandin is probably the best example, whose work in livestock and animal welfare is informed and accelerated by her unique and uniquely perceptive view of the world around her.

I’m hardly the world’s most creative person, but I still manage to run with ideas on this blog, visual design and branding at work, rural satire, photo composition, social media narratives for a non-profit, and given enough time, fiction(!). There’s a lot of output there!

So yeah, it’s weird that I can’t go back to work unless the bed is made or my sink is clear or after I’ve checked off a few key deliverables every morning, but there is not much that gets undone in my life on a day-to-day level — and those rituals free up my mind for its most creative. 


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