Every human being on Earth is wildly creative.
Yet, as I sat in front of my computer screen attempting to write this very article, I couldn’t help but notice that 30 minutes had gone by before I’d even started typing.
Why is creativity so elusive sometimes?
I spent 10 minutes browsing on the internet, three minutes adjusting my seat and posture, 45 seconds finding just the right spot on the desk for my computer, and over 15 minutes alternating between my bag of chips and the blank screen.
It didn’t take long before I finally heard it: a soft but constant whisper. A seductive voice purring in my ear.
To my surprise however, when I tuned in to what she was saying, it was hardly sweet nothings.
“You’re not creative. You’re not a good writer. You’ve never published anything before. You don’t have anything worth saying, and no one will listen to you.”
At least, the last 30 minutes spent avoiding the task I sat down to accomplish made sense now. No wonder I was subconsciously looking for any distraction I could feast upon.
This is the voice of the inner critic.
She has her place and time to be sure; standards are an essential part of creating great work, and it’s her job to ensure success and survival in life.
However, for many of us, this critic puts in overtime. She tells us how to dress and what to say or not to say. She tells us we’re not trying hard enough, doing it right, or getting the outcome we want. She says we’re too fat, too skinny, too quiet, too loud, too tan, or too pale. She says we aren’t tall enough, smart enough, funny enough, clever enough, sexy enough, or sophisticated enough.
She has an opinion about everything, and the gist of it is that we’d better avoid failure at all costs.
And no wonder it’s ever-present in our lives—we grew up in a world (and an economy) that was built on and driven by messages of “not enough;” messages that said, buy this or do that…and then you will be happy.
But don’t buy it! Pun intended.
Not only are we intrinsically whole and complete beings, but we are all also wildly creative geniuses! We were each born with the same creative potential as Dickens or Dali, but our individual expression largely gets stuffed into a box over time by pressures to fit in, conform, or consume.
The world is begging for a creative awakening!
Yes, more art, music, and literature in the world would be a beautiful thing, but we are also facing a great many challenges as a species and planet right now that need utterly creative solutions.
But to tap into one’s own creative genius requires a few monumental perspective shifts that the inner critic isn’t going to like right away. After all, its purpose is to protect us…and nothing is safer than the completely predictable, unchanging status quo.
So, here are four key mindset shifts to quiet the critic and awaken the creative within you.
The first shift is that failure is not bad. In fact, it is essential to our lives and the creative process. Failure is not something to be feared as a step backward, but to be actively sought after as an illuminating step forward. Failure brings information and insight about what does or doesn’t work and reveals new paths forward in life and the creative process.
Next and complementary to a new view on failure, is the notion that there is no such thing as a bad idea. A willingness to entertain all ideas, regardless of how big or small, wacky, wild, unoriginal, or inventive sends a message to the unconscious brain that it is safe to be unconventional. The very act of acknowledging something that seems preposterous or even laughingly obvious is like sending a message to the shy internal creative within, coaxing it out of its shell.
The third shift in perspective is that there are infinite right answers to a single problem. Moreover, there are many ways to arrive at the very same solution. Our individuality and uniqueness can springboard us out of the monotony of doing things the same old time-tested ways, and arriving at the same old solutions. However, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to be and express all of who you are; from the start of our lives, we are taught that standing out or doing things differently is dangerous and not “normal.” Rather than look for ways to be more like others, start to celebrate the ways in which you are uniquely you!
Finally, the last core shift that will help you quiet the critic and unlock the creative wizard, is to detach yourself from the outcome you are working to achieve. It is useful to visualize in our minds the direction we are headed, but when we chain ourselves to that direction, it limits our ability to improvise and to flow. Moreover, attachment to outcomes is a setup for disappointment, because very rarely do things ever go according to plan, or turn out just as we thought they would. When you choose a direction and let go of the need to reach that exact destination, you leave yourself open to being delightfully surprised by where you actually end up.
These perspectives are game-changing, not just for the creative process but for our lives in general. When we can find more acceptance for ourselves and our uniqueness and stop running away from things we are afraid we will fail at, we open ourselves to new experiences and more aliveness. And when we feel alive, the creative juices flow through us like water!
So if you’re ready to stop reading and start creating, here are five bonus tips to help you tap your inner wellspring of brilliance:
1. Set up your space.
Sitting on a bed or couch can be comfy, but it causes energy to sink. Instead, try something comfy that supports an upright posture to create a channel for energy to flow.
Eliminate distractions; eat before you sit down, declutter your creative space, and turn your phone on “do not disturb” mode—or better yet, leave it in another room.
Make sure you have all the necessary tools for whatever you’re creating; there’s nothing worse than reaching for a brush or color and realizing you don’t have it (though in some cases this can make you more creative…as long as you can stay in the flow and approach challenges as opportunities).
Give yourself some inspiration: fresh cut flowers, instrumental music, or a favorite work of art can all get the juices flowing!
2. Set an intention.
Before sitting down (or gearing up) to work your creative magic, set an intention for yourself. How do you want to fill the time and space you dedicated? Will you have fun? Get playful? Be silly? Feel deeply? Be bold or courageous? Whatever it is, give yourself 45 seconds to close your eyes and simply focus on that intention.
Then, completely release any expectation you have about what the fulfillment of said intention will look like. Expectations, like attachments, often lead to disappointment because physical reality rarely conforms to the pictures in our heads. It’s much nicer (and more fun) to allow ourselves to be surprised by what does show up. Also, by focusing on the intention rather than the outcome (physical piece of art, written piece, etc.) you give yourself space to actually enjoy the process.
Chances are, if you’re just beginning to flex your creative muscles, your creations may not look like you thought they would…but that doesn’t mean you aren’t creative. It just means that you haven’t spent a lifetime cultivating the techniques and abilities to articulate your creative ideas like the masters. Remember: creativity isn’t a goal, it’s a flow.
3. Get into your body.
Give your inner critic a rest by dropping into your sensations. Before beginning your creative exploration, allow the energy in your body to move. Put on your favorite song and dance, or do jumping jacks, push-ups, or go for a walk.
Raising your heart rate heightens the rest of your sensations and sharpens your focus because of the release of adrenaline into the body. Adrenaline is fundamental to the fight-or-flight response, in which executive functioning in the brain is largely shut down and the body’s intelligence takes over, leading to less mental chatter. Moving your body is also a great way to overcome writer’s block or creative frustration.
4. Set the stage and play the part.
Embody the energy of your creation! Writing a mystery story? Turn off all the lights in your house except what you need to write by. Drawing an abstract? Put on the funkiest outfit your closet can concoct. Writing about a foreign land? Speak in an accent.
By stepping into the reality of what you have set out to create, you become a living, breathing extension of it. Allowing yourself to get a little wacky also gives the most off-the-wall ideas more permission to flow up and out of you…after all, how could you judge an idea if you’re painting in a ball gown?!
5. Give yourself a box.
This seems counterintuitive to the flow principle, however parameters give structure. In the same way that a river bed guides the flow of water, frameworks help guide the creative process. Some useful frameworks can include:
a. Time blocking. Give yourself a time limit for a specific task or project and go all out, letting everything flow. Don’t delete, erase, or stop, just flow. Once the time is over, walk away from that item and revisit it later.
b. Get crazy. Allow yourself to speak gibberish, flail your arms around, make funny sounds, or shake. This gives your body and mind permission to feel safe expressing whatever comes up.
c. Imitate. Look for inspiration from your favorite books or works of art and allow yourself to recreate those works in your own unique style.
d. Reconstruction. Take individual elements from other works and combine them in a unique way.
Above all else, be patient and enjoy! Creative re-awakening is a process—it’s not (always) a switch that can just be flipped. Just have fun, and be open to being surprised and amazed by the things you can create. After all, of all the billions of organisms on this planet, we are the only ones who can do and create in all the ways we do!
Bonus: 5 Mindful Things to Do Each Morning.
Author: Arin Pitcher
Image: RANT 73/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy & Social Editor: Travis May