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January 10, 2019

What Keeps Us Trapped in Creative Flow

All the greatest minds in history have been, at one point, addicted to creative flow.

The arising, the quivering, the tremor of the first impulse of energy out of formlessness is inherently pleasurable. It is the nature of pure happiness. It is like sex that has been set free from the constraints of the genitalia, and now has a hall pass to become orgasmic throughout the whole body.

This is also the realm of “the next shiny glittery thing.” Many people who are categorized as suffering from ADHD are caught in compulsive flow. They are unable to stay with any new impulse long enough to see it into form. It is the personality type that wants to keep creating.

I must confess to being a prime example of this kind of personality. At any one time, I’m usually writing several books at once, as well as creating online courses, working with multiple clients, not to mention attending to multiple half-completed building projects around the house. The greatest fear is running out of interesting things to do, but it can become an addiction. It is the buzz of novelty. 

Compulsively creative people don’t like to feel helpless, hopeless, or low energy. They look down with impatience at self-doubt, introspection, or humility. When a flow addict starts to feel emotional pain, or inadequate, their impulse is to initiate another creative act.  You start new projects to avoid feeling pain, to avoid feeling contraction. 

Getting stuck in Flow states also sets up a block to moving on to productivity. When you get addicted to flow and initiating new things, you aspire to see them to completion, but at the same time you don’t want to get trapped in time, in projects, and getting pinned down.

This is the predicament of all creative artists, whether musicians, painters or novelists. Novelists hate deadlines. In publishing houses, there is frequently a struggle between the author and the editor. The writer is always late, the editor sends frustrated emails that go unanswered. (How do I know this? Go figure…) Have you ever been to a painter’s studio? Do you see a stack of neatly cataloged completed paintings, and only one current painting project, and all the brushes and paints neatly organized? Probably not. Most artists’ studios are filled with stacks of half-completed projects. 

Leonardo da Vinci is celebrated as one of the most renowned painters in all of history— after all, he painted the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. How many paintings do you think he finished during his 46 year career? The answer is 27. Almost all of those were commissioned: he had to finish them to get paid. There are endless notebooks filled with ideas and sketches— here he is inventing a helicopter, there a parachute, then this, then that. On his deathbed his last words were, “I have offended God and humanity because my work did not reach sufficient quality.” He felt incomplete.  Leonardo is a poster boy for addiction to flow. He is often referred to as a “Renaissance Man.” His energy was constantly moving in multiple different directions at the same time. The mind of a genius can get caught in endless initiating.

Steve Jobs was the same—he loved to initiate but relied on others to bring things to completion. Some of the most creative people in the history of humanity were addicted to flow, in judgment of dissolution, and aspiring to, but at the same time resisting, the move into productivity, to see projects to completion. 

Someone caught in an endless creative flow aspires to get the paintings into a gallery, to bring the product to market, to actualize their dreams, but the reality somehow always gets postponed. They want to do it, but they also have resistance. The resistance is not because they judge it; in fact they aspire toward it. Stuck in flow, they can only admire as heroic the people who have mastery over getting things done. 

This is the highly creative person who loves to initiate new projects. They will occasionally get excited about bringing something to completion, set up a marketing plan, and even entering into collaboration with others to bring something to completion: they may hire a designer, build a website, design packaging, even create contracts to bring it all home.

But before any of this can be fully realized, so that it fully benefits other people, there is a looping back into creating something new or tweaking what has been created, so nothing ever gets completed.

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