creativity

How I Increased My Creative Output

Summer is quickly approaching and here in Central Texas that means months of long, hot, dry days. Temperatures regularly soar above 100 degrees and by late July the Earth will crack right open, begging to be quenched.  

Relief comes, eventually, and usually in the form of a torrential downpour. Without warning that well-prayed-for rain can turn into a fast moving wall of water with no regard for anything in its path. Newcomers, certain tales of flooding are just that, Texas-sized tales, quickly learn why this region is known as Flash Flood Alley.

For a long time I thought the creative process was like those long Texas summers. You endure the dry spells, waiting for inspiration to sweep you up in a flood of creative genius. Oh, it sounds so artistic and mysterious and kind of sexy. As a Creative you’re this chosen being walking the Earth waiting for the gods to bestow greatness upon you. (Conveniently, it also means we don’t have to take any responsibility for your own creative output.)

I was certainly not one of the chosen and I assumed I was destined to remain firmly rooted in my left brain world. Then on the pages of Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield I met the liberating truth: The muse rewards those who do the work.

So…

I didn’t need to be chosen?

I didn’t need to be labeled creative?

I simply needed to do the work and trust the rain would come?

It was the permission I didn’t know I needed. Permission to expand, to push the boundaries of my self-imposed limits, to rethink what I thought it meant to be creative.

The secret, as Pressfiled points out, is in the momentum of doing. (Inconveniently, it also means we have to take full responsibility for your own creative output.)

Start.

Then keep starting.

You’re likely to produce some real rubbish. That’s ok. It’s the movement that matters. The good stuff will come.

Seeding Creativity

In my own practice of doing I discovered I could improve my odds of getting to the good stuff more quickly by engaging in the activities that feed and free my mind.

My formula, in no particular order    

One part, Aspiring Novice. Because expertise is too limiting. I’m curious about so many things, most of which have no direct connection to my everyday work. Books, stories, speeches, great interviews – I can’t get enough.

One part, Dirt Therapy. The garden is the one place I completely lose track of time and my body pushes through long after it’s tired.   

One part, Pen and Paper. I must get the scraps of ideas out of my head and give them room to breathe. I prefer to go analogue with a Post-It Easel Pad and a pack of chisel point Expo markers.     

One part, Where the water meets the trees. A river bank, a mountain stream, a quiet pond. Worries fade. My mind slows way down. Clarity reigns. 

One part, Sleep + Exercise. I’m useless when I’m tired. I sleep better when I exercise.

Mix with equal parts Start, Do the Work and Keep Starting.

Apply regularly.

How To Find Your Own Secret Sauce

I’m certain, you too, have your own unique formula for priming your creativity. Start noticing…

Where do you unexpectedly find interesting ideas?  (Go here regularly.)

Where do you lose track of time? What’s the thing you can do for hours but it feels like minutes? (Do this often. Your brain needs to rest.)

Is there a place or activity that immediately releases the tension from your body and mind? (More of this please.)

When are you the least productive? Most irritable? (Can you eliminate? Mitigate?)

What’s your go-to tool for moving a spark of inspiration from concept to a concrete idea? (Use it!) Don’t have one? Experiment!

It’s Not A Silver Bullet

Imagine being able to set yourself up for creativity, setting favorable conditions for inspiration. And imagine the fun you’ll have discovering your secret formula.

But it’s not magic. It’s a tool to give you a head start, to aid you when you’re feeling stuck or when the anxiety rises or when you have too many ideas competing for your attention.  

All the tips, tricks, quieting your mind and moving your body is for nothing unless you sit and do the work.

Only in the doing, drop by drop, will the muse unleash the flood of your best work.   

What To Do When You're Feeling Stuck

The ideas are flowing so fast it’s hard for your pen to keep up with your brain. You are on fire for this idea and you dive right into the who, what, where and how of it all. 

But now those brilliant ideas are mocking you. Needy little snippets sketched out, spilled all over your desk, begging to be pieced together. And you’ve got nothing.

You know you are meant to bring this to life. Yet, you’re stuck. To be clear, this isn’t about execution. You can execute! No, you’re struggling with the finishing touches of bringing it all together. 

Creative block is real, you rationalize. 

You tell yourself you’re not ready. You need more data, more input.

Yes, sometimes those things are true, but this is not one of those times and you know it. From that first flash of inspiration you’ve known exactly how to make this happen.

You’re not stuck.

You’re scared.

Scared of being you. Scared of being right. Scared of taking your spot at the table.

This is Sacred Fear – the teetering between deep knowing and self-doubt. She appears every time you’re on the verge of answering the call of your soul. And while it’s tempting to surrender to the safety of this limbo land of inaction, I’m reminded of Nelson Mandela’s words, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Do you want to settle? I didn’t think so.

Here are some ideas for rising beyond the doubts.

Embrace the Fear. Stop trying to out-brave it. As trite as it sounds, you need to accept Sacred Fear. She’s an abiding companion to passion, to daring, to rising and when she shows up you know you’re on the right path. Trust her.

Reflect. Think back to your original spark of inspiration. Remember that flutter in your stomach? Or maybe it was a whispered “uh-huh” with an assured nod of your head? In that moment, before you started second guessing yourself, you knew. Your body knew. Trust that.

Get Honest. Stop playing dumb. You know exactly what needs to be done. Trust yourself.

This is not a one-and-done exercise. Expect to be back here often, as often as you dare to take bold new steps. But you’ve got this.

You know exactly what to do. You’ve known all along.

We’ve been waiting for you.

This first appeared on BeingBOLD by Cyndie Spiegel, September 2018

Warning: Detour Ahead

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

~ Archimedes

 

In business we shoot for that shortest distance – efficiency, peak performance, smarter not harder.

But, in life we know the best experiences are often off the beaten path, the long way around.

In business we aim for a well-oiled machine. Predictability.  

Yet, in life we often long for more spontaneity and less routine.

I get it. Structure and predictability are good for the bottom line and they help you sleep at night. But we must recognize that over time routine breeds complacency. We become so comfortable in the safety of the routine we stop actively paying attention and easily fall into the trap of, it’s always been done this way. With that kind of justification, your work/business will land in the rut of yesterday with no innovation, no creative problem solving and no eye to the future. Stuck. You need to ditch the routine and find a way out.

I’m not advocating for chaos. That’s no way to run a business (or your life), but there are some simple tricks for shaking things up a bit. What if you got off the main highway and took a few unscheduled stops along the way? What if you approached Monday – Friday more like Saturday and Sunday?

What if…

You relax the structure?  

You let go of the tried and true?

You brainstorm a new project with the newest, least experienced person in your company?  

You ignore the data and follow your intuition?

You travel the winding road without trying to straighten it out?

You start at the end and work backwards?

You try analogue instead of digital?

You extend the deadline?

You give yourself a crazy, unrealistic deadline? Like 6 weeks instead of 6 months?

You go for a walk or take the afternoon off instead of powering through?

You approach the problem like a fascinating riddle instead of aggressively attacking it like the enemy?

You only consider one solution instead of investigating three?

You say yes to every request for one day?

You say no to every request for one day?

You take the novice’s approach? The novice doesn’t know the rules or expectations or what’s impossible.

You play the long game instead of shooting for the short-term win?

You ask questions then listen to the answers without offering your own opinion?

You trust yourself enough to ________ ? (fill in the blank)

 

Pick one. Or three. Are you adventurous enough to give it a try? Just once?  

If you looked at that list and adamantly declared, No Way, you might want to ask yourself why. I’ll bet when you drill down to the root cause, it’s one of two things: 

1.       You’re scared. Fear comes in all shapes, sizes and intensities and it’s a sneaky little bastard. What exactly are you afraid of? Failing? Looking silly? Succeeding (which might force you to question your comfortable assumptions)?  

Or

2.       You don’t care enough to be bothered.

I hope you’re scared. It’s easier to fix. There’s a lifetime’s worth of tricks, methods and philosophies at your fingertips. Just search, “How to Overcome My Fears” and pick your favorite. I subscribe to the School of Worse Case Scenarios. I go straight to the worse thing I can imagine happening then I ask myself two questions: What’s the actual likelihood of this happening? What emergency plan do I have in place to mitigate the worse case?  

If you just don’t care enough. Welp. Are you bored? Afflicted with a case of Bad Attitude Syndrome? Please, allow me to get a little preachy. Are you listening? Because you need to hear this. You have a choice! Maybe you don’t have the luxury of changing your work, but you absolutely get to choose how you approach it. Make better choices. For yourself.

So, I’ll ask again: Are you adventurous enough to give it a try? Just once?

 

This article first appeared in The Unmistakable Effect, August 2018

Leave Room For Discovery

Always bring a pencil to class.
Take an umbrella.
Do your research
.

BE PREPARED (bee-pri-paird) verb a command, threat or warning. Disobey at your own peril.

But imagine for a moment…

You forget your pencil.
You get caught in a downpour without your umbrella.
You go to the movie without reading a single review.

Maybe

You get to write with a fat shiny marker.
You pretend you’re the star of Singin’ in the Rain.
You howl at a scene the critics found “utterly derivative.”

What if the best moments of the trip aren’t the ones you scheduled and mapped out and underlined in the 5 different guide books — but, instead, the afternoon you got completely lost and ended up in a roadside tavern with the local celebrity brewmaster?

What if the breakthrough idea comes not in the meeting where you brought your giant binder, but in the impromptu gathering in the hallway?

What if all the tried-and-true, never-fail strategies you’ve always relied on proved not to work in this case, and it’s time to ditch all the rules?

What if not knowing “how it’s done” is your best weapon for doing it better?

Easy Does It

Don’t go all “if it’s meant to be” on me. This isn’t about leaving everything to chance and it’s not about being unprepared.

It’s about being brave enough to not over prepare.

Gutsy enough to leave room for discovery, instead of walking in armed with certainty.

Courageous enough to say “I know this is the answer — and I have nothing but my gut to back it up.”

Make Room

Maybe that rock solid wall of preparation has been keeping the revolutionary ideas at bay, like a blinking No Vacancy sign.

Open the door.

Don’t over-script.

Go in with an outsider’s perspective, with the wide-eyed naivete of a novice.

The next time you think, “I should be more prepared,” stop there.

You’re plenty prepared.

And if you get caught in the rain, dance your way through it.

A Declaration of Love

As we settle into this new year and I celebrate another birthday, there’s one thing I can say with absolute certainty and sincerity.

Love is everything. Love is all there is.*

End.

*Yes. I am the jerk who is going to footnote love. Qualify it. Although love cannot be earned or bought, it is not free. Access to my most precious resource — my heart — will require that you, in turn, be kind and open and loving. There is no place for the takers, the greedy, those looking to take advantage.