“The best ideas…” (Hint: let it load.)
Stress hinders creativity by using available brain energy for non-creative tasks, like worrying or uncontrollably eating a pint of ice cream.
Because it signals to the brain that there’s danger nearby, stress restricts our focus by releasing tense-inducing biochemicals and reverting processes from one are to another (think: fight or flight, not fight and flight).
Focused on the things causing us stress, we lose our ability to produce creative output. Occasionally the stress can provide a much-needed break from the work, but more often than not stress makes it hard to be creative.
An article in The New York Times explains what happens in the brains of rats who fall victim to stress, and how it damages their ability to problem solve:
On the one hand, regions of the brain associated with executive decision-making and goal-directed behaviors had shriveled, while, conversely, brain sectors linked to habit formation had bloomed…Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist who studies stress at Stanford University School of Medicine, said, ‘This is a great model for understanding why we end up in a rut, and then dig ourselves deeper and deeper into that rut.’
Scientific studies on humans have also confirmed this, stress kills creativity.
Unfortunately studies have also shown that common stress-relieving techniques (like meditation, imagining positive scenarios, or yoga) don’t boost creativity.
To get back in a creative state then requires a more controlled approach: we have to limit, reduce, and remove stress from our lives.
The best way to break away from stress? According to research: take a break.
A prolonged vacation – either physical or simply away from a project – can be the much-needed boost our brains need to stretch themselves back into a more flexible, open, and ultimately creative mind.
For creative individuals, it’s vitally important that we learn when to take a break and when not to; finding the balance in our thinking.
Too often we fear that stepping back means literally going back on progress. But taking a break can be powerful for moving forward.— Tanner Christensen (@tannerc) March 31, 2014
Not stepping away from the work can ultimately hurt us more than pausing and coming back to our craft later.
Photo by R. Nial Bradshaw.
“Because that’s where the quality is. It’s in the practice, the process, the struggle and repetition. It’s in the hours of contemplation at work, in the park, the shower and the Mexican restaurant around the corner. Creativity is not to be rudely shoved into being–”
James Victore talks in this video about speed versus quality
Confidence is part of creativity that often gets ignored. Yet it’s confidence that allows creative exploration and insights to occur in the first place.
An artist who sits down to paint but is thoroughly convinced that she “isn’t really a painter” is already heading down a path where options for creation are limited. At the end of the day, she’s more inclined to wind up with a blank canvas and a headache than an inspirational piece of artwork.
Many of us who have a powerful creative drive refuse to let it become more than just a few occasional day dreams not because we lack creative capabilities, but because we lack the creative confidence necessary to do the work. We think to ourselves: “I can’t write a novel, I’m not a writer” or similar thoughts. The result is that we end up fulfilling the prophecy. We don’t feel like a writer, so we don’t write, which ensures that we don’t become a writer.
It’s not just creative career moves that a lack of creative confidence hinders too.
A lack of confidence in our abilities or ideas can equate to a complete avoidance of creative ideas or the vital act of experimenting.
Like the amateur who only dreams of being a creative writer, someone who doesn’t believe they have what it takes to truly be creative avoids generating original ideas. As a result, they fulfill that prophecy too: they don’t come up with creative ideas, they remain uncreative.
An essential part of creativity is then to “fake it ‘till you make it.” Belief is a crucial part of being receptive to the insights and inspiration that propel creativity.
You need confidence to be truly creative.
To quote Tom and David Kelley from their book “Creative Confidence”.
Creativity, far from requiring rare gifts and skulls, depends on what you believe you can do with the talents and skills you already have.
“To have more creative ideas we need to evaluate not the color of the room or the size of our notebook, but instead whether or not we got a full night of sleep, what motivation we’re dealing with, our level of interest and curiosity, our ability to tinker and experiment…”
What really matters for having ideas and why the color of your room doesn’t matter
“Ideas aren’t to be trusted. They need to be wrung dry, ripped apart…to do our job properly, we must disassemble our promising ideas and make them into something better.”
Letter to a junior designer but sound advice for any creative field.