Get out of your own way

How often do you get in your own way?

We put ourselves into situations where doubts and fear basically shut down what we’re capable of. Rather than looking at situations in an opportunistic way, we shun our abilities by telling ourselves “I can’t do that” or “That’s dumb.”

If we want to be creative, we simply need to get out of our own way; to relax and let the ideas come naturally.

It sounds so effortless, but if it were that easy to get out of our way, then coming up with creative ideas on command would be painless. But it’s not easy. The fears and negative thoughts build up and make it extremely difficult to get out of our heads.

There is hope, fortunately.

To let creativity flow naturally we have to use what researchers call emotional agility. It’s the ability to take our fears, doubts, and negative thoughts, and turn them into opportunities based on our personal values or goals.

There are four steps to improve your emotional agility and get back to creating:

1. Look for thinking patterns

Any time you feel stuck, think about how you’re feeling and the thoughts you’re having. If you find yourself consistently thinking repetitive thoughts (like “I can’t do this” or “This is hopeless”) then that’s a pattern you need to be cognizant of. Why? It’s these cyclical thoughts that are keeping you stuck in the first place! Recognizing them is the first step to getting unstuck.

2. Label those thoughts

Once you’ve recognized the thoughts that are keeping you stuck, you simply need to label them as what they are: thoughts.

If you’re working on a big project and find yourself thinking something along the lines of: “This will never work.” The next step is to recognize that you’re simply having that thought and that it’s just a thought. Whether it’s true or not is not impacting you, what’s impacting you is that you’re having the thought; “I feel like this will never work because I’m thinking this may not work.”

3. Accept them

Take a few deep breaths and acknowledge those thoughts now. Even if you’re really angry or frustrated, give yourself the proper time and setting to acknowledge and accept those feelings. We have acknowledge and accept these thoughts because, whether the feelings are logical or not, the thoughts are markers that we’re doing something important. Ignoring them or trying to brush them aside only makes us focus on them more and remain in a stuck cycle. Accept your fears and doubts as they are.

4. Remind yourself of who you are

Lastly, check how the thoughts and feelings are impacting your mission and values.

I use this quote so often, but for a good reason. It’s from Merlin Mann, he said: “We procrastinate when we’ve forgotten who we are.” The same is true for getting creatively stuck.

We have these fears and these negative thoughts that are preventing us from moving forward, but we’ve now recognized that they’re just thoughts and they aren’t going anywhere, so what do we do next? Remind yourself of who you are and what you value. Then check if the thoughts you’re having align or interfere with your values. Ask yourself if those thoughts will benefit your objective in the long term. If they aren’t helping, you now have emotional motivation to press on.

As a personal example of this (the inspiration for this post): last night I found myself stuck on a project. It has been going well for the past few months, but all of the work left to do on it has begun to feel overwhelmingly daunting.

So I was absolutely stuck. I didn’t want to keep working on something that may end up being trash. If I put in a few more months of work and the project ends up being a flop, won’t I have wasted all of that time? Time I could have been spending having fun with friends or doing anything else worthwhile? As a result: I’ve been procrastinating.

For the last few weeks I would end up watching TV or going out to dinner with friends, anything to keep away from the work.

But last night I sat down and reminded myself that the fears of the project failing might be just that: fears. I was then able to remind myself that I’m someone who creates. Failure or not, creating is what I do. That’s what I value most right now in my life.

Just like that, almost immediately after having that realization, ideas began to pop-up in my mind.

By simply acknowledging the fears and choosing to keep working anyway, it’s as though someone flipped a switch in my brain and the creativity began to flow on it’s own. That is, after-all, how our brains work. We just need to get out of our own way.

So if you’re feeling stuck or find yourself procrastinating often, follow the above four steps and see if that doesn’t get you back on a creative track.

Original photo by Nicola.