I am here with the multi-talented Vivi Stutz, whose new book, Body Sculpting for Bombshells: Fast and Easy Fitness for Loving Your Body and Feeling Desirable, is an inspiration to women of all ages.
I want to know how she keeps her various interests — writing fiction and nonfiction, working as a personal fitness trainer and a psychotherapist — moving forward and how she comes up with her creative ideas.
Q. Vivi, your own life story reads like a novel. What were the biggest influences in shaping you as a creative thinker and problem solver?
A. What has shaped me most is what you call “my life story reading like a novel.”
I am driven by insatiable curiosity which I learned from my father who is a scientist, and a ferocious appetite for real life experiences. There is so much to learn, explore and experience in this infinite universe we are living in. I regret knowing that I can never learn and experience everything, and that time is finite.
I am in a constant process of discovery, which leads me to learn new skills, earn degrees, take classes, engage in volunteer activities, travel or even move continents. I worked as an actress, musician, singer, dancer, personal trainer, psychotherapist and as a writer.
Different professional pursuits teach me new skills, which in return develop inner qualities through interaction with new people in different fields. I think that the more we experience in life, the more we have the potential to grow as human beings. Growth requires an inner dialogue of reflection, as every new pursuit or experience brings “problems” or “challenges” that require creativity and problem solving.
I view challenges as learning opportunities, and I embrace conflict as a natural part of life. The more experiences I have, the more conflict and challenge comes with it – but the process is enriching and very exciting.
For example, I moved from West Germany to East Germany after the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and I moved from East Germany to the United States in 1996. I had no reason for moving other than being attracted to the possibility of adventure.
Moving from West to East Germany was like time travel. I lived in the center of Potsdam with no amenities such as running water. I had a wash bowl and a water container in my room, used a bathroom across the street, and paid a bath house to take showers. My boyfriend left me for the inconvenience I posed; I merely thought it was interesting to give up comforts we take for granted to see what defines other people’s lives.
There were several bombed out WW II ruins in my street in Potsdam, never rebuilt during communism. Since my parents grew up in the last years of WW II, I was humbled to see the rubble and ruins they lived among as children.
The adventure of moving to the United States was rather taxing but also full of exciting challenge; I was on a student visa, spoke little English and had no work permit, so I worked in Venice Beach Youth Hostels as a cleaning woman for room and board. At the same time, I attended an acting school in Hollywood, where privileged students from Bevery Hills had no appreciation for socializing with someone who didn’t even own a car! I was socially ostracized, but in my own mind, I was marveling at the richness of my experience.
The first few years were not easy; due to the language barrier I sometimes ended up in bad company. I was beat up by bikers, homeless and sleeping in someone’s car, worked under the table as a waitress, was cheated out of my pay and had a nervous breakdown from stress. Eventually I acculturated, got married, learned English and attended college and university.
Q. What are the connections between your various areas of endeavor, such as fitness training and psychotherapy, the books you write, and your interest in trans-generational World War II trauma?
A. I write about my experiences and discoveries, drawn from a process of intrapersonal reflection.
I earned several personal training certificates because I struggled with my weight as a dancer and was disqualified from the profession. Once I learned how to reduce my weight, keep it off and be in better shape in my forties than I was in my twenties, I was bursting with information and wrote about it. “Bodysculpting for Bombshells” is a summary of two decades in the fitness industry.
My desire to earn a Master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology and a Master’s degree in Psychology and Marriage/Family therapy emerged from a similar personal interest. WW II left emotional scars in those who experienced it, and the scars are passed on across generations. I sought psychotherapy for myself as soon as I was situated in the United States to extricate myself from this emotional wreckage. I earned two degrees to be able to heal myself and others.
My interest in war trauma stems from my own experiences in therapy. I discovered that traumatic family events haunted me in vivid imagery, even though I didn’t know of the events until a year ago.
My novels (soon to be published) are metaphorical stories of intrapersonal reflection. I reflected on marriage and relationship: the difference between love and need, why we shy away from what we want the most, how to honor ourselves and our inner knowing of direction.
Q. With so many interests, how do you decide where to put your time so that you feel most effective?
A. I do best when I meditate in the morning and engage in inner listening. Sometimes I use free-form writing, a process designed to give voice to unconscious material and bring it into awareness to sort it out.
When I follow my inner direction, or the direction of what I feel most strongly about, I am able to identify the most relevant task and complete it. However, I sometimes get overwhelmed and feel ineffective.
I don’t know if being multi-passionate is a strength or a weakness. I doubt it’s the most effective course of action but for the afflicted, there is no painless alternative.
Q. Do you have any special techniques to inspire creative thinking and imaginative ideas?
A. Meditation, inner listening, free-form writing and “giving voice” to various inner aspects.
I think that creativity is the desire to express our full potential. It’s as if there is something within ourselves that wants to be expressed. The creative process is an act of paying attention and receiving, then giving birth to the idea.
When I don’t feel creative or I have no driving ideas, I am out of touch with myself and my inner voice. I know I need to disconnect from all “doing,” shift from “doing” to “being,” and spend time cultivating the relationship with myself.
Q. What habits do you have and find most useful for keeping on track with your various projects?
A. Meditation and various psychotherapeutic techniques are most useful to me. Once I know what I want to do, I write down my goal and the action-steps to achieve it. If I don’t know how to achieve my goal, I engage in research until I decide on a course of action.
Following through on a goal and achieving it is mostly a matter of knowing which steps to take. Clarity and intention are necessary to obtain inner cooperation and commitment.
Then there is the attitude of life long learning. I expect to make mistakes and learn through the process. It enables to me learn from experience instead of beating myself up if I don’t get everything perfect the first time around.
I made a lot of mistakes publishing “Bodysculpting for Bombshells,” and I could do much better promoting the book. I see these mistakes as learning opportunities, not as failure.
What sabotages us most in any creative endeavor is fear of failure and perfectionism; the fear of getting it wrong. Well, we’ll get it wrong, most likely. We can’t achieve mastery if we can’t be students, because students make mistakes in the learning process.
Q. As a writer, how do you store all your research and ideas? Do you have any special technique or software?
A. You’ll hate this, but I prefer to keep a notebook and write by hand. I keep electronic files for research and sources, but for creative brainstorming, I prefer the organic process of handwriting. It’s a psychotherapist’s quirk. When giving voice to unconscious ideas, the handwriting process is thought to be more effective than typing.
However, once I get back to my research-based book project on war trauma, I would do well listening to you and using Evernote.
Q. If you were to give a workshop on how to generate creative thinking and fresh ideas, what would be the key points? And how would you get them across?
A. I would start the workshop with a day of therapeutic processing, either in group therapy format or partner work, giving voice to each participant’s intrapersonal parts that deny or invalidate creative ideas.
The goal would be to clear participants of limiting beliefs such as “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not creative enough,” “My ideas are not original enough,” “I will be laughed at.” I would track the limiting beliefs: where they came from, what their core belief is. I would then facilitate reframing the limiting beliefs into self-affirming statements.
The next day would consist of creative brainstorming. In a supportive and emotionally safe environment, participants would playfully try out ideas. This could be done by role play, creative writing or verbalizing.
The third day would consist of choosing a creative project, creating a time line and identifying precise action-steps.
Vivi Stutz on the creative thinking process: Growth requires an inner dialogue of reflection, as every new pursuit or experience brings “problems” or “challenges” that require creativity and problem solving. Sometimes I use free-form writing, a process designed to give voice to unconscious material and bring it into awareness to sort it out. The creative process is an act of paying attention and receiving, then giving birth to the idea. What sabotages us most in any creative endeavor is fear of failure and perfectionism; the fear of getting it wrong. Well, we’ll get it wrong, most likely. We can’t achieve mastery if we can’t be students, because students make mistakes in the learning process.