The hardest part of being creative is getting started. Battling against procrastination, your own inner critic, or imposter syndrome can snuff out your creative flow. The good news is there are proven methods for unleashing your creativity. In this guide, we’ll break down exactly how to be more creative and hone your craft even when you’re not inspired.
“I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” – W. Somerset Maugham
- Action inspires motivation
- Use negative feedback as fuel
- Protect your creative process
- Replace self-doubt with positive self-talk
- Practice your craft using distraction-free sessions
- Listen to repetitive instrumentals for optimal creativity
- Use L-theanine to tap into alpha state
The Professional vs. The Amateur
You’ve probably been taught that inspiration leads to motivation and motivation leads to action. You feel inspired by an idea, that inspiration turns into a desire to create, and you put pen to paper. But, best-selling author Mark Manson says the creative process is more of a loop than a straight line. You can jump in at any point in the cycle and it’ll lead you to the next one. The only entry point under your control, however, is taking action. The more action you take, the more inspired you’ll feel and the more motivated you’ll be to take even more action.
This doesn’t mean everything you create will be a masterpiece, but your skill level and output will improve massively. So, instead of being passive in your approach, do what “The War of Art” author Steven Pressfield calls going pro.
- The amateur practices creativity when they feel like it.
- The professional practices their craft whether they’re motivated or not.
- The amateur waits for inspiration.
- The professional acts in anticipation of it.
- The amateur tweets.
- The professional works.
It’s not skill or desire that separates the two, it’s habitual action. It’s showing up at your instrument, in front of the blank page, or at the canvas, and practicing your craft every day.
“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung.” – Les Brown
Conquer Your Creative Critics
When you’re pursuing any creative endeavor, you’ll face three types of opponents or obstacles: external opponents, intimate opponents and your internal opponent.
1. External Opponents
The first and most obvious opponents that will test your resolve are external.
These obstacles show up in the form of the art teacher that doesn’t believe in your talent, the comment section trolls, the competing group at the battle of the bands, or some other limitation that prevents your progress.
So, how do you break through this opponent? The solution comes from awareness. This might sound like a Mr. Miyagi-ism, but the purpose of your external obstacles isn’t to stop you but to test you. Any friction on your creative journey exists to push you in a new direction or propel you to the next level. If you look at the Latin root of the word compete, it means “to strive together.” It’s through competing, pushing against something challenging that you become better.
Anytime you face an external setback, opponent, or negative comment, use it as fuel. Let it light a fire under you to further master your craft and keep moving forward.
2. Intimate Opponents
The second opponent you’ll face lives a little closer to home. Your intimate opponents show up in the form of family and friends.
While your loved ones are often well-meaning, when it comes to your creative goals, they can do more harm than good. Since they don’t want you to fail or be disappointed, they often project their own fears or doubts onto you. It’s not personal, it’s just human nature to point out the flaws in new or innovative ideas.
To overcome this obstacle, you need to protect your creativity. When you’re first building confidence in your craft, your self-belief is fragile. Until you’ve strengthened your creative confidence or built something you’re proud of, keep it to yourself or find a supportive community. Before launching Spanx, creator and CEO Sara Blakely waited two years until she shared it with her family and friends.
3. Internal Opponent
Your third opponent for creative expression is your inner critic. The chatter that rattles through your head preaching perfectionism, self-doubt, and fear can hold you back more than anything else. To conquer this foe, you need to be intentional about the thoughts you’re feeding. Similar to the parable of the two wolves, the thoughts you dwell on become stronger.
According to neuroscience, the more you think a certain thought the deeper that neural pathway becomes. Based on your consistent thoughts, your mind eventually defaults into thought patterns that either serve you or stop you. Fortunately, you don’t have to control your thoughts to succeed. Trying to do so in the first place is like herding cats. Good luck.
The solution is to be intentional with your mindset. If a fearful or anxious thought floats through your head, don’t internalize it, don’t feed it; label it. Psychologists discovered that when you slap a label on a passing thought it can help you disassociate from it and avoid a downward spiral. Instead of thinking, “I’m a failure,” replace it with “I’m having a fearful thought about failing.”
Similarly, swapping negative thoughts with positive self-talk can help you move beyond self-doubt. This is exactly what 3x Grammy-award winning artist Lizzo does before hitting the stage. To conquer her inner critic, she replaces insecurity with mantras about confidence and positivity.
How To Unlock Flow State
“Creativity isn’t a skill, it’s a state of mind.” – Steven Kolter
To unleash your ultimate creative mindset, you need to know how to trigger flow. “Flow is an optimal state of consciousness, when you feel and perform your best.” When you’re in flow you feel more in control, your physical ability improves, and your brain even processes information faster. Here are three ways to unleash your flow state.
1. Distraction-Free Sessions
To get in the zone, your mind needs to be completely immersed in the task at hand. If you’re constantly interrupted by a barrage of pings or chimes from your work apps, you’ll get knocked out of it.
To optimize your flow at work, throw on some noise-canceling headphones and set aside distraction-free work sessions. In case you haven’t heard of it, The Pomodoro Technique might come in handy here. We broke it down in detail in our previous blog post but here’s the nutshell version. Instead of powering through work for two to three hours at a time, break down your work sessions into 25 to 52 minute chunks. After each work session, take a five to ten-minute break. This rhythm will help perform at higher levels, dodge distractions, and avoid creative burnout.
2. Instrumentals On Repeat
While you’ve got your headphones on what you listen to can make or break your creative flow. Studies have found that music can affect your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and dopamine levels. What’s even more interesting is what happens when you play a song on repeat.
Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, author of “Repeat: How Music Plays The Mind,” says “the more we listen to music on repeat, we tend to dissolve into it. That’s extremely useful for creative work.” Why? When you listen to the same song over and over again it puts you into a trance-like state. As the music you listen to fades into the background you might not consciously notice it but it’s still subconsciously influencing you. This hypnotic effect can help you tune out inner chatter and tap into the optimal headspace for creativity. Not sure where to start? Try this instrumental mix from Above and Beyond.
3. Bio-Hack “The Zone”
When you’re creatively stuck, starting a blank page, canvas, or instrument can spell doom. Sometimes you need a nudge to help you get in the zone. The good news is you can use nutrition to bio-hack your way to creativity. Researchers discovered that L-theanine, an amino acid commonly found in green tea, directly supports alpha wave activity in the brain. For the select few readers who aren’t brain scientists, “alpha activity is also associated with increased creativity.” To help you get your creative juices flowing, sip on some green tea or add the extract to your coffee.
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