Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category
Have you ever found yourself believing something “just because”? Just because your family does, your friends do, or the “facts” as you know them just seem intuitively correct? Maybe this belief has been there your entire life, and is cemented deeply in your psyche as “the truth” regardless of whether or not the facts support it. Or maybe you believe something, but have no clear idea where the belief started or why you believe it at all. My guess is that you, like me, believe a lot of things that have no basis in objective reality – but you have never stopped to question many of those beliefs.
It’s human nature to like things to be simple. We don’t like to muster up our cognitive reserves to dig into the rationale, the logic, the reasoning, or the “why” something is the way it is. It’s usually easier to simply believe the so-called experts and focus our energy elsewhere. Quite often this is the right tradeoff to make, in fact. You don’t have to research cyanide to know that you shouldn’t put it in your mouth – it doesn’t rank high enough on the “investment relative to importance” scale to question whether or not it will harm you. Similarly, there’s no reason (for most people at least) to personally test the safety features of their car. You can take it on faith and a small bit of research that the claims made by your car company are valid without putting them to the ultimate test. But there are other things that really DO matter – or at least SHOULD. Things that could make a BIG difference in your life if you spent the time digging into them to understand them just a little bit more… and didn’t assume the answer was correct “just because”.
The definition of dogma: a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true; prescribed doctrine proclaimed as unquestionably true by a particular group.
Some days you feel like absolutely nothing can go wrong. You’re on fire, unstoppable. Ideas are flowing, confidence is high, and you’re walking around with your chin up and your back straight. There’s no better feeling than knowing you’re at the top of your game. The world is your oyster. Everything you touch seems to turn to gold and you wonder how you were ever stagnant before.
Until the past few years, I had really only been able to identify these times when looking back. Now I’m acutely aware of them when I’m in them and I grab onto them and try not to let go when that train is rolling.
But these feelings never last long. Maybe a day or two, maybe a little more. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a full week of this superhuman ability to create things out of nothing without obstruction. Sooner or later things will return to normal and there’s no explanation why this happens. You just can’t self-motivate like you were able to the day before. Ideas are at a distance, just out of reach. You aren’t feeling flow and a day’s worth of work is taking two full days instead of just three hours.
It’s crazy frustrating when this happens. You try and recreate the environment, the feeling you had, and you just can’t. Your mind has moved on, your thoughts are elsewhere, and your current experience has been altered in some inexplicable way. And you don’t like it at all.
What happened? Well, nothing at all. It’s perfectly normal for creativity to ebb and flow like this. It happens to every single creative person dozens – even hundreds – of times throughout a year. It’s just not possible to keep anything running at its highest capacity all the time.
But are there ways to keep it running for as long as you can? Maybe. There are things you can do that will help but only in the sense that they may be able to prolong that window. There’s no guarantee that these things will work every time, but if they buy you an extra few days or a shorter period in the downswing, it could be worth it.
I’m writing this overlooking the Pacific Ocean with an iced coffee by my side, and a gentle breeze on my face. I’ve spent the last week in Maui with my family, so please excuse the obligatory photos of paradise!
While on the island, I’ve been doing everything I can to unwind. I’ve been devouring scones, French fries, margaritas, Oreos, bacon, Frosted Mini Wheats and other junk I don’t allow myself to even consider eating most of the time. I’ve stopped tracking my habits. I’ve exercised just once if you don’t count swimming and chasing my kids; a short run near the beach on our first day here. I haven’t spent any time checking tasks off of my lists; in fact I had moved them all over to a "Post Vacation" category before we left the mainland so I wouldn’t even stumble upon them accidentally. I haven’t done much writing, stretching, or flossing, and I’ve had a metric ton of Maui Coffee. It’s been great!
Yet I’m not too concerned about slacking off, or at least not as much as my Type A personality would suggest. Though I’m itching to get back into my routine, I’m not worried about what would normally be viewed as a setback.
Planned breaks like these are required to reset my passion meter from time to time. I try and force myself to "unplug" from my (somewhat) normal intensity to help me remember why I do what I do to begin with. It’s hard to hit the ‘off’ switch… it’s frankly just as hard as turning it back on again, but I try and view it as sort of like stopping at a gas station before a long road trip; breaks like this fuel me for at least a few months, and after six days of gluttony and objective laziness, I always realize that it’s not the permanent life for me.
But what you do for a few weeks out of the year doesn’t define the year, and it doesn’t define you. It’s what you do most of the time, not just some of the time, that makes the difference over the long haul. Have consistency in the fundamentals (modulo a week here and there) and personal growth is inevitable.
For years, I was a real perfectionist. Not just a weekend perfectionist mind you, a full-blown “I won’t do it unless it can be perfect” kind of perfectionist. In fact, with a number of things I still exhibit some pretty nasty perfectionist tendencies which I’m working on eradicating.
The reason I started this project (Refocuser) in 2009 instead of 1999 when I first had the idea is because I spent 10 years fighting with myself about how to make it perfect, all the way down to how I’d organize the site’s content on my hard drive. Ugh!
Naturally, striving for your best work isn’t a bad thing… most people would never want to swing to the other extreme where quality and pride in the work are void, because that’s a real slippery slope to mediocrity. But I’ve found that for me, that’s pretty much a non-option given my personality. Keeping my perfectionist tendencies in check doesn’t have to mean that the quality of my output is going to suffer.
What I focus on instead of perfection is doing enough to get the most out of my efforts. The second I start trending towards the familiar “over-focusing”, I force myself to stop in my tracks and self-evaluate. More time spent on an activity very rarely equals higher quality in the kinds of projects I do – in fact, many times, it ends up being counter-productive – so not being a perfectionist can actually improve my work.
More is lost through indecision than wrong decision – Carmela Soprano
I’ve written this entire blog, past and future, in my head a dozen times over the last decade. I’ve mentally written millions of words and crystallized my perspective on the topics this blog will cover – but take a guess at what I forgot to do. Write it all down! What some would consider the easy part. Reason? Lack of time. Or so I’d been telling myself for years.
Everyone has probably heard these phrases:
- Winners make the time!
- If you don’t have the time, you don’t want it badly enough.
Naturally I agree with those statements in theory, but it’s always a lot harder to turn them into practice. How do you make the time when there are a thousand other important things pulling at your attention? The “answer” to that question is bigger than this one post – it’s the focus of this blog – so for now I’m going to cover the “rule set” I’ve followed for sitting down and writing this blog. These rules have worked well for the (very) short amount of time I’ve been employing them, and I expect they’re just the start of a longer list over time. They cover writing as an activity but could also be extended to just about any creative activity – simply replace the word writing with painting, dancing, graphic design, or whatever else you’d like to focus on.
Before jumping in however, it’s important that you’ve already made the commitment to yourself that whatever it is you want to invest in creatively is important to you. Do you consider it an important part of your core values or mission? Is it one of your top 3 focus areas? Do you have both long-term and short-term goals relating to this activity and have you written them down? If you’ve answered no to any of those questions, you have to ask yourself if you’re actually going to “make the time” for something that doesn’t align with who you ultimately want to be. Do you “want it badly enough”? Think about it before taking the next step.