Do you ever feel like creativity is a little creature that sits on your shoulder alternating roles between cherubic angel and horny little devil?
I know I do.
My creativity is a short, wispy, mischievous trickster who has a penchant for disappearing when I need him, and reappearing whenever I’m fast asleep in bed.
When I sit down to design, he gets up and goes for a coffee.
When I try to brainstorm, he wants to stare out the window.
In short, he’s an unruly jerk.
He thrives on my fears, loves distraction and is generally a little sh*t.
But, I love him anyway.
Whether you count yourself as a “creative” or not, we’ve all had times when our creativity ditches us, leaving us all alone, paralyzed, uninspired, and let’s face it, scared.
Over the years, I've learned the only way I can get creativity to play nicely is to manage my fears and bad habits.
If you can actively identify the self-defeating habits causing your friend creativity to go AWOL, you then have the power to curb his bad behavior and turn him into your greatest ally.
Here’s a list of eight bad habits to watch out for, and what you can do to get back on track.
Habit #1: Getting too comfortable
As designers, we all get too comfortable sometimes.
What’s wrong with that? Comfort sounds nice.
Sure, but it can also be a big problem, because according to Psychology Today, comfort can kill our creativity.
Our surroundings play a huge role in sustaining the cooperation of our little friend.
Inspiration comes from curiosity, collaboration and connection — basically our relationship with the outside world, the sum total of all of our experiences — the good (falling in love, making a new friend who really gets us, traveling somewhere we’ve never been), the bad (a break-up or falling out, losing someone we love, failing to secure a project we put in a bid for) and even the downright ugly (our own inner critic tearing us down, keeping us stagnant).
Basically, anything that makes us feel something has the power to spark a revelation, an outpouring of interconnected thoughts and aha moments.
When my routine feels stale, I find myself drawing blanks.
Solution: Mix it up — leave your box and seek out a little discomfort. Do new things even if those new things scare you. Go to meet-ups and meet new people. Take up a new hobby. Join a new club. Change up your work space. Go outside.
Basically, I try never to lose my sense of curiosity about the world, as advertising mogul Leo Burnett opines:
“Curiosity about life in all its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.”
I’ve found that by continually mixing it up by introducing novel experience into life, the novel ideas will come.
Habit #2: Limiting yourself
I’m not there yet. I have more work to do before I can take on that kind of project. I will let them down. I’m a fraud.
We all have that little voice in our head, feeding us lines about how we are just not good enough.
As most creatives know, any form of anxiety or pessimism can impede the formation of new ideas.
That self-fulfilling prophecy is one of the biggest deterrents to success we will ever face.
So, I’ve learned to stop the prophecy in its tracks, before it even has the option to come true.
“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” ― Vincent van Gogh
Solution: Get over self-doubt. Ignore the voice and just go for it. By attempting something we don’t feel ready for, we actually force ourselves to employ our creativity to find innovative solutions. Bam!
It’s scary, but I try not to shy away from the challenge, I try instead to delight in it.
As brand strategist Alexander Isley urges us, “Get in over your head as often and joyfully as possible.”
In my experience, as an added bonus, when you’re treading on new ground, you’re bound to pick up new skills along the way, furthering you on your path and helping you in future projects. Score!
Habit #3: Making excuses
We can be absolute masters at coming up with reasons not to do something, especially when it comes to taking those little baby steps that can really push us to the next level.
I have too much on my plate right now. I don’t have the skills to take on that big of a project. Do I even want to make this kind of commitment right now?
The status quo is like a warm bubble bath — nice and cozy and real hard to leave.
But the longer you sit, the more you prune and your ideas evaporate in the steam.
Solution: Stop making excuses. Be on constant look out for new tricks. Seek out web tutorials to boost your knowledge and skill set. Find the time, even if it is just an hour on a Sunday morning. Ask friends for advice when you feel stuck, or lost, or just need some tips. Start thinking about reasons why you can.
Inaction cuts inspiration off at the source, and drives my creativity away to his hiding place.
Getting a move on always coaxes him back.
Habit #4: Stretching yourself too thin\
When our friend creativity is buzzing with ideas and can’t shut up, it’s tempting to take on too much.
In theory, working on multiple projects and keeping him busy should be a good thing, keeping him motivated, and tolling away right where we need him.
But, we all know creative burnout is real, and it sucks.
Everyone reaches a tipping point where unbridled passion turns into lack of interest — because they haven’t taken adequate time to recharge their creative batteries.
I have a tendency to say yes to everything, stretch myself too thin, and then inevitably hit a brick wall.
Solution: Give yourself permission to say no. Conserve your energy for the projects that really speak to you — and be choosy. Before you take on anything, ask yourself these questions: What are the long term impacts of this project on my career? If I accept this project, what will I learn from it? Do I have to do this on my own — can I ask for help? And, most importantly, is this work something I’m passionate about?
Give these nine ways to crush creative burnout a read for ideas on how to get back in the game when you’re struggling.
Habit #5: Going at it alone
Another problem some of us face is being just plain too overprotective of our ideas.
I know it’s tempting to keep all your genius thoughts to yourself, or to try to prove that you can carry the creative burden all on your own.
Or, maybe you just prefer working alone.
I know I’ve fallen into that trap.
It can be hard to open yourself up to working with others, especially if it doesn’t come naturally, but sharing is not only caring, it’s also incredibly necessary to creative development.
My solution: Throw ideas around with friends in the industry, or colleagues. Let them bounce around, forwards and backwards and shoot back to me like a boomerang. When they return revitalized with new energy, feed them to my feisty friend and get my creative groove back.
See this article from UPPERCASE magazine about the importance of creative collaboration.
Habit #6: Getting too cocky
Confidence is a great look, being overly cocky, not so much.
Without a healthy sense of self-worth, you might shy away from challenge, and that’s bad.
But take it from me, lack of humility, is equally as detrimental.
When you assume you have nothing more to learn, than you’re right, you’re not going to learn, you will plateau.
When you stop pushing yourself to pick up new skills, to build on what you know, there’s no upward movement, no momentum.
Solution: It’s pretty simple. Check your ego. Stay humble and remember you’re never going to be as good as you could be, because you can always be better.
Take a look at these 15 quotes that remind us of the importance of humility in business, and in life.
Habit #7: Lack of structure
Many creatives struggle with structure.
It’s easy to let our buddy creativity get lost in the happy chaos of free-flowing ideas, the outpouring of revelations and the healthy surges of inspiration.
By all means, let him have some fun.
But, then you need to reel him in. Set some deadlines, benchmarks and guidelines to keep the project grounded, and keep him on track.
Solution: Goal-setting. Keep your eye on the original motivation for the work, and make sure everything you’re coming up with ties in to your vision of the final product.
In order to keep my creativity in line, and stop him from frolicking through the fields unchecked, I need to divide all my projects into bite-sized chunks, and set personal deadlines as I go.
That might feel constricting if you’re a big-picture thinker, but the pressure can actually be the catalyst you need to squeeze out your most innovative thinking.
Set goals for learning new skills and trying out new techniques.
Try out the Bullet Journal strategy.
Habit #8: Bad company
I’ve realized it’s very important for me to create an environment for myself in which I can thrive and grow.
Sure, that’s pretty obvious, but it’s also meant taking some time to really evaluate who’s in my life and who I want to spend my energy on.
Solution: Surround yourself with people who are just as excited about your ideas as you are, those shining beams of positivity who push you to grow, give you positive feedback, and encourage you to stay open, and stay active.
Just like creative collaboration is important to your craft, finding people in your personal life to lean on for support, and draw inspiration from, is just as vital.
We all have those friends who bring a cloud of negativity with them wherever they go, who err on the side of *sshole.
Maybe they’re having a rough go of it, or maybe it’s just part of their personality. I’m not saying cut these people out of your life completely, just be more mindful of how their sh*t affects you, and your creative process.
Spend your energy on those with like-minded spirit, and try integrating some of these life hacks into your routine to nix the negative and invite in positive vibes.
So, there you have it, my battles and victories in pursuit of max creativity laid out in listicle form.
Keeping these creativity drains in mind, I’m passing you the torch — it’s on you now.
Get out your notebook and write down three tangible ways you can appease your own shifty creative character — wielding your power by chasing knowledge, seeking community and changing up your routine.
From there, it’s easy.
Just go out and do it — repeatedly.