If you go hang gliding and you spend most of your energy and your focus watching your hands to make sure you’re steering the right way, well, is it really any wonder you keep crashing into the cliff face?
You need to throw yourself into the wide open and be aware of your hands, but everything else is you responding to the air around you, to the moment.
A Few Obstacles to Creativity That Start in Your Head
Perfection (or Finding the Right Answer/Writing the Right Thing) – having a desire to do your best is a good thing. Seeking perfection, on the other hand, tends to be a pursuit that gets in the way of creativity.
There are two big problems with a quest for perfection.
For one thing, it presumes that the final outcome is already set.
Planning is important, but most creative work tends to be organic. A plan is often a springboard to other ideas. A plan can also help keep you on track/task (structure is certainly important; shackles, not so much).
The magic, though, is found in the way the unconscious self takes over. Seeking perfection tends to keep that from happening.
Well, that’s the other problem with perfection – as we create, we have our internal critic turned on. We pass judgment on the work we’re doing, WHILE we’re doing it.
We end up like the poor dog on the leash that sees the bird perhced right there on the backyard fence but the dog can’t get to it. The dog keeps running and running in circles around the post where the leash is tethered. Without intending to, we plant one foot into the soil and then we try to run, but the judging part of us is constantly evaluating, keeping us from getting into any flow.
Think of a dancer with one foot nailed to the floor. The amount of fluidity and movement is quite limited. It’s so much harder to get into a flow.
Creativity Requires Flow!
Another problem with judging while creating is that the focus shifts from whatever it is we’re intending to work on to US. I’m evaluating how I am failing to do it right (or I’m worried that I won’t be able to get it right). When the focus is on the self, it can’t be on whatever it is we’re trying to create.
“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything
self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.” – Ray Bradbury
A friend recently told me: “Some days I can’t believe I work so hard at a project that may be entirely unsuccessful, by traditional measures.” This is a very common feeling among creatives (the traditionally accomplished ones and the newbies). For example, each time Alice Hoffman starts a new novel, she thinks, “I don’t know how to write a novel. I don’t know how to make it come alive. I don’t know how to tell a story. I don’t know what I’m doing”
My question to this concern is simple – what are you creating for? What is the deep-down intention behind that specific work? The whole concept of “success” again focuses on the outcome . . . before there actually is an outcome. The focus is so fixed on the destination that we often struggle to really get started. But if we remind ourselves, my intention is to explore this relationship and then we allow ourselves to explore, we tend to make discoveries we never even knew were possible.
I mean, Columbus, for all his faults, had no real idea what he would “discover” until after he set sail.
Critical Thinking (or being in your head too much) also gets in the way.
Art is a combination of the artist’s interpretation of something (an object, person, place, event, circumstance, emotion, etc). It is perception and point of view combined with creative expression. It’s the transformation of that perception into an idea that is communicated through the artist’s chosen language.
Critical thinking relies on logic and order and rules. It imposes constraints, and some constraints are useful for shaping a story or a painting, but not for the actual creating which requires “innovation” and response.
I love movies. And the best actors, the ones who have mastered their craft so well that you can’t separate them from the characters they’re portraying, they are the ones who use the framework of the dialogue and the scene to shape their actions, but they react to the other actors, to the environment, to the nuances of a particular moment.
The stiff, cardboard actors are the ones who just do everything as it is on the page. The “natural” or brilliant actors are the ones who embody the character and react intuitively.
When we spend time consciously thinking about what comes next, we’re the stiff actor. When we know this scene takes place here with these characters and then we just let go and see what happens, we tend to get into a flow. After we’re done, we can go back and judge it.
Ever misplace your keys and then spend time getting more and more frustrated the harder you try to remember where you put them . . . then, later, when you’re making dinner or driving to the store or taking a shower, you remember?!? Yep.
Sometimes doing some other activity can free up the creative mojo. One activity that often works is daydreaming (or “mindwandering”).
Being playful can also help. Take whatever it is you’re stuck on and imagine something nonsensical and try to create that. This can actually allow you to discover a sticking point without consciously setting out to do so.
Another way to get into flow is through movement.
Go for a walk. Do some yoga. Or thai chi. Or dance. But do so with intention! That’s the key. Use the movement of your body as a way into your writing or into your painting, as a creative tool you can rely on as part of the process. This is one way to help you get yourself into a flow.
Use your body as a way to get out of your head and into the creative process.
And remember, have fun! Creative expression should be fun. Most of the time, we don’t have fun by thinking hard this is fun this if fun. We just do whatever it is. Like Bradbury said, “Don’t think . . . You simply must do things.”
One of the reasons I like developing specific yoga sequences as a way INTO my writing is because of the way the brain works with the body. We tend to try to separate the two, when bringing them together is really a key.
“Albert Einstein said of the theory of relativity, ‘I thought of it while riding my bicycle.’ Anyone who exercises regularly knows that your thinking process changes when you are walking, jogging, biking, swimming, riding the elliptical trainer, etc. New ideas tend to bubble up and crystallize when you are inside the aerobic zone. You are able to connect the dots and problem solve with a cognitive flexibility that you don’t have when you are sitting at your desk. This is a universal phenomenon, but one that neuroscientists are just beginning to understand. ” To read more of this article on “The Neuroscience of Imagination” (and how moving your body can help with creativity) click here.
Photo Credit: Hang Gliding by Steve Slater photo above is used as per Creative Commons License on Flickr.