Creative Something

Articles tagged “motivation”

Stepping back from creativity to move forward with it

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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.

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.


New poster on sale today only

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Be More Curious

Be More Curious is a new poster to inspire you daily. It’s on sale today only for 20% off!

A collaboration between Creative Something and Startup Vitamins, this is a great way to remind yourself of one of the crucial aspects of creativity. Get it (framed or unframed) right here.


A solution to feeling uncreative

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“I don’t feel very creative.”

Whenever I hear someone say that (or when I catch myself thinking it) I ask the question: what are you working on that allows you to be creative?

If you’re not tackling a creativity-invoking project at work or on the side – or if you’re not attempting to do something out of the ordinary as a hobby or out of sheer tinkering – then you’re not going to feel creative. We call this “routine.”

There’s unfortunately a common confusion between not being creative and not having something to creatively explore.

The former is a fallacy anyway, of course you’re creative. Anyone with a healthy mind has the capacity to be creative under the right circumstances.

Not having something that allows you to express yourself creatively is typically what causes us to feel uncreative, even though it’s not true.

The solution to feeling uncreative is straightforward enough: find something new to work on.

It can be anything. Big or small, a project at work or school or a side project. Something for money or fame or simply to scratch a childish itch of wonder.

The old saying from Picasso makes a lot of sense in this context: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

Find something new to work on, something you can really explore, and you’ll discover you had a lot of creative potential wound-up inside of you anyway, you simply didn’t have any way to express it.

Don’t wait for the right project either, start now with your next idea (or a past one).


This is what defines a creative person, not just ideas

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I’ve always believed that those who are truly creative are easy to spot, not only because they have great ideas, but because they work hard.

Yet, I could never really express why I believed that sentiment. I only knew in my gut that it was true. Now I think I’ve figured out exactly why this is a true statement about creative people.

If you have good, unique ideas, then you’re using creativity, and that’s great. But there’s more to creativity than just having intangible ideas.

To be truly creative is to have ideas on how to turn your ideas into something more.

Creativity allows you to not only have an idea, but to find ways to move the idea forward as well. That’s a true sign of creativity. Think about it. The best creative individuals are those who not only have ideas, but who find ways to act on those ideas by using the very same process they utilized for coming up with ideas in the first place.

Think of anyone in history who has inspired you creatively. You’ll probably immediately recall the work they did, not only the ideas they had. Edison with the incandescent light bulb, Warhol with his stacked cans of soup, Jobs and the iPhone, O’Keeffe with her vibrant flowers.

That’s true creativity I think. The ability to have ideas and then to use creativity to make those ideas more than just thoughts that float aimlessly around in your head.

Of course anyone can have ideas – ideas for companies to start, or artwork, or ideas for books to write – but it’s those who use their creativity to make their ideas into more than just ideas that we readily associate with creativity.

If you’re going to prove your creative worth, find a way to utilize your abilities to turn your ideas into more than just ideas. That’s creativity at its best.

Illustration by Steve Hammond.


You can either be someone who’s creative, or someone who answers email

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You can’t be both.

Unfortunately we often pick the lesser of the two when we don’t have to. For example, I talk a lot with creatives who don’t spend their days doing any sort of creative work.

They instead have day jobs, working for “the man,” slaving away on soul-sucking tasks in order to pay the bills or live a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. That’s not the rule of course. There are a lot of creatives who have day jobs (or school) that they enjoy doing to some degree or another.

But when I hear them say they don’t have time to pursue their craft, I think they have nobody to blame but themselves. If you’re not doing creative work, you, have no one to blame but yourself.

Imagine a copywriter saying she doesn’t have time to paint, as much as she absolutely loves to paint. Or a sandwich shop employee complaining that “if only there were more time in the day” he could start that novel he’s been meaning to write. Or, my favorite, the medical student who says there’s no way she could do anything creative because her work relies on her being right – not creative – 90% of the time. Surprisingly these types of complaints often come across on Twitter, or Facebook.

It’s surprising because, “You don’t have time to put at least five minutes into something you want to do, but you have a few minutes to blast status updates on Twitter or over chat?”

The problem of creative motivation is commonly one of how we decide to spend our time. That’s it.

You could be more creative, and you could be a published novelist (if only an independent, self-published one), if there were more time in the day. Sure, but no. Wrong mentality. Right here you should imagine that buzzing sound from TV game shows where contestants do something wrong.

Instead, you could be doing more creative things if you simply made it a priority to do so.

Even if you find yourself in an environment that doesn’t fully encourage creativity, like the medical student, you can still find ways to be creative at the job you’re doing. You just have to make it a priority to do so. Taking time to sit and ask yourself, “what could I do to make my work more creative?”

Five minutes is all you need.

Five minutes every day to sit down and turn off your phone and ignore your email and maybe try some creative exercises.

Because nobody is going to give you the time to just sit and think. There will never be more hours in the day, the sun just doesn’t work on your schedule unfortunately. You have to make the time yourself.

I’m reminded of this great quote from writer and productivity genius Merlin Mann. Merlin wrote:

“I can either be a guy who writes novels, or I can be a guy who answers email. Realizing I cannot be both, I’ve made the decision, and now I live with it.”

So which are you: someone who is creative, or someone who answers emails?

Photo by Tristan Schmurr.


Your life as a creative is the life of a rower

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Having a career as a creative (either as a thinker or maker) is a lot like the sport of rowing.

In rowing, you sit in your boat with your back facing the direction you’re moving in and the only way to propel yourself forward is to use everything you’ve got in order to pull two long paddles through the water.

The full stroke is known as the catch and release, where in one smooth motion you “catch” the water and then “release” it to propel the boat and yourself. Rowing requires you to use almost every major muscle in your body.

It’s exhausting if you’ve never tried it.

When you first start out it’s best to diligently try balancing the boat. In your creative life it is no different: there will be a lot of things that will pull you to one side or the other and rock you side-to-side. Your family and friends, bosses or customers, bills and other responsibilities, all oppose your desire to just go in a clear, straight direction; to create.

Finding that balance between everything in and around your creative life is critical to your success. If you can’t find that balance (something you’ll have to do your entire life), you’re going to tip the boat over. It’s something both creatives and rowers share in common: the consistent need to find balance.

Now, once you have a good balance, just as in rowing, you’ll have to set a clear course.

Your course is best set by picking a point in the horizon as your chosen direction. Just a point, nothing more. No matter what happens during the course of your creative career (or when rowing), that point is where your focus must remain at all times.

Maybe your focus is to become a well-known author or painter. Perhaps your focus is to open a studio for musicians or dancers. Or maybe you simply want to have a successful career as an architect, where you can make a happy living designing and illustrating buildings and homes of the future.

If you don’t have that focus, that direction, then you are wasting your time.

Having a focus gives you clarity into how you’re doing. Without a course you have no way to tell whether what you’re doing is working or not. Without that clear focus in which to head, how can you know if you’re doing anything worthwhile?

Just as in rowing: the point you chose to head towards is the only point that should matter.

In your creative career things will often lead you astray: a promising education elsewhere, the opportunity to work with other talented people, a mistake or something in your path.

No matter what obstacles get in your way, and no matter how choppy the waves get, you have to dedicate yourself to the course. Otherwise you may end up going in circles, or not moving at all. Both can kill your career or, in the case of rowing, your energy.

When rowing, because your back is facing the direction you’re going, the only way to know whether or not you’re heading in the right direction is to do something you might not expect: focus on the things around what you can see.

Think of it like this: we can only recognize whether we’re heading in the right direction by noticing the way other things around us shift.

If something you are intently focused on (say, getting an artist studio or reaching the embankment of a lake) shifts in your vision, you know that you’re not heading in the right direction. You can adjust accordingly.

In rowing, you would set your course before you get in the boat, find your balance, then look at exactly what’s in front of you now (off in the distance some). If that point or anything near it changes, you can tell you’ve gone off course.

The real core of both rowing and your creative career will be, of course, what you actually do. Your actions. The actual movement of each row is like your ability to create and act. Movement. Each artwork you paint, each story you write, each step you physically take, become your strokes in the water, propelling you towards your goal.

If you stop rowing – if you stop writing, or drawing, or dancing, or playing that instrument – then you will certainly stop moving, both on water and in your career. You have to continuously keep rowing if you want to get anywhere. Keep moving, no matter what.

This is where I think most creative individuals fail.

They get exhausted (we all do), or lose sight of their destination. The creatives that fail to turn their passions into a career end up doing so because they stopped caring or because it just got too hard to continuously row.

The amateur rowers who never make it to the Olympics or who never win a regatta simply do so because of their own inability to meet the demands of the sport.

And here’s the thing: you are going to lose sight of where you wanted to go. You are going to burnout and get tired. You will have trouble balancing from time-to-time, and you certainly will tip the boat over at least once or twice. You will occasionally lose control of an oar, you will feel defeated by the water or the creative world.

But if you’re really going to succeed as a creative, you have to get back in the boat. You have to re-align yourself with where you want to be, and you have to row. Remember that it’s true for both rowers and creatives: the stroke is the catch and release.

Catch – the hard-pulling stroke where you put all of your energy into a work – and release – the launching of your work into the world, the oar coming up and out of the water. Then reset. Do it again. This time better, with more energy, more focused intent.

Set a course, find balance, regularly check your direction, make adjustments as necessary, and never, ever, stop rowing.

Written with Prompts.