In my years of working alongside the most successful artists, writers, entrepreneurs, musicians, and educators, one factor that separates them from everyone else is their ability to be decisive.
Decision-making is difficult for many people, particularly these days, when we face more decisions than ever. In the average grocery store, for example, there are nearly 40,000 products we have to walk past just to get to what we need. How do we decide which brands to buy and which to ignore?
In his book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, Daniel Levitin describes the cost of indecision, not only from a productivity level, but also from a neuropsychology one:
“Neuroscientists have discovered that unproductivity and loss of drive can result from decision overload… We can have trouble separating the trivial from the important, and all this information processing makes us tired…Every status update you read on Facebook, every tweet or text message you get from a friend, is competing for resources in your brain with important things like whether to put your savings in stocks or bonds, where you left your passport, or how best to reconcile with a close friend you just had an argument with.”
The result of facing countless decisions day-in and day-out is a literal fatigue.
When we encounter the vast array of decisions, and as our mental state begins to grow tired as a result, we lose our ability to think creatively. Attempting to resolve the choice between horse hair paintbrushes or artificial fiber brushes may leave the painter with an inability to even sit in front of the canvas, let alone paint anything worthwhile.
Our mental attention is a finite resource, one that we must work with carefully if we’re to develop our creative ideas and work.
Which is why the best creatives don’t debate decisions. Instead, we decide what might be “good enough” in the moment and make changes as necessary.
Free writing allows the writer to get the story developed without having to build-out the perfect structure – debating between character names, genders, locations, and other details – first. Similarly, the artist who paints with any available color can later go back and try again if the color doesn’t strike her as appropriate.
Often it’s through the act of doing the creative work (of thinking the creative thoughts) that the final work or ideas develop themselves. When we spend time debating or letting our attention jump from one concept to the next unfiltered, we wear ourselves out and wind-up short of where we ideally would be if we had otherwise just been decisive to begin with.
In addition, we can utilize what Levitin describes as layers between us an our decisions: “narrowers” for our attention filter.
This involves collaborating with peers or mentors, who can tell us what tools to use or techniques to deploy when we’re faced with a decision. Or even relying on blogs or websites where those who have come before us can identify solutions to problems we know we’ll encounter while we work.
Ultimately if you want to be more creative, consider the way you think and where you allow your attention to flow. If you find yourself being indecisive, remember that it comes at a cost.
The better alternative is to decide what’s good for now, then adapt as you go.
Read this next: Your decisiveness and ability to create
Photo by Paul Wicks.