Things are crazy right now.
Race protests prompting deep reflection and accountability amid a world-wide pandemic; meanwhile, the usual distractions bidding for your attention are just as loud as ever. Creativity seems relatively low priority.
Can we still create right now?
This is a valid question that I’m curious to explore.
The short answer, yes we can still create right now – but not in the same way as we do in peaceful, ‘normal’ circumstances.
Creativity is an outlet for emotions; a way to process and understand the world. For those who usually create but haven’t gotten around to it lately, you’re probably feeling the pressure even more.
A better question, perhaps, is, “Why are we not creating now and what can we do about it?”
The answer will enable you to be intentional about your creativity and also help your process overall.
The Three Biggest Threats to Our Creativity Right Now.
1. Our environment is not primed for creativity.
Let’s have a look at how our environment is impacting our thinking so that we can make some changes to encourage more creativity.
Our brain’s primary function is to keep us safe. It is always assessing our environment to understand what’s going on and prepare us for potential futures that await us. Much of this happens beneath the surface.
Information is constantly coming in through the senses. For example, the words “riot”, “violence” and “brutality” are really common at the moment. When we read these words or see related images, they start a cascade of activity activating in your brain called associations.
Your mind automatically connects these words together: forming a scenario in which riots cause violence. This set you on edge. Violence normally occurs in specific contexts, such as danger, fighting, war and bullying.
These concepts connect to memories which cause emotions that, in turn, cause facial expressions and other reactions which intensify the emotions and feelings and reinforce the ideas.
This all happens in an instant and as a result, your mind is primed for survival.
Whether we are in the middle of a high-stakes protest, or just reading about one that happened in a far away city, mentally and physically, we’re responding as if this is our current reality.
Survival trumps creativity and this perceived environment threatens our survival.
- Take note of triggers in your environment: consider objects, images and words in your immediate environment, news and social media you consume, conversations you’re having and note the major things that could be priming your survival instinct.
- Minimise unhelpful priming: Schedule news and social media after your creative time, spend more time in natural environments and protect your creative space.
- Take time to prime your creative brain by intentionally reading and looking at inspiration for a few minutes before you start creating. Avoid social media, rather, read a positive poem, do an intentional image search, check out nature photos.
2. Increased fear and anxiety blocks our creativity
You may feel like your creativity has left you.
The environment is unfamiliar, dangerous and isolating, a triple threat for creativity.
Navigating this environment, physically and mentally, takes effort, consideration and attention.
You don’t want to risk making a misstep or contributing to the problem by standing still and silent. As a result, you’re likely to feel exhausted by the end of the day; lacklustre and unable to conjure motivation and inspiration.
Your emotions are in the driver’s seat and you’re on high alert. You may have noticed a shorter temper: snapping at your partner or impatient outbursts in traffic that are out of character. That is because you are not yourself.
You have a stranger inside of you: a part of your brain processing all of this information below your conscious awareness but guiding and influencing your physical response. Normally, this is aligned with how you would respond anyway, so you don’t notice.
But, in times of high threat or stress, the stranger acts out.
You need to be sensitive to this stranger, to work in harmony with them rather than against them.
Under these circumstances, the temptation is to slip into judgement and comparison.
You feel guilty for lashing out, you beat yourself up for not reaching the level of output you intended, you’re sure that everyone else in the world is holding it together and not acting like a jerk.
It is incredibly important for our creativity that we limit judgement and evaluation:
- Practice self-compassion, talk to yourself as if you would talk to a friend
- Evaluate your work, not yourself
- Set fair expectations by releasing the output goals and focus on the process and growth.
(Click the bullets above to deep dive into each concept).
- Get plenty of rest: sleep more, nap, meditate, gentle walks in nature to offset the exhausting effects of mental high-alert.
- Be compassionate to the stranger: it’s trying to keeping you safe. Try not to judge yourself or the world too harshly.
3. New environments change our creative process
Creativity hasn’t left you, but, your creative process might look different.
Let’s think of the creative process like the cycle of the moon.
We celebrate the end result of creativity—the picture hanging in the gallery, the novel written, the theory peer-reviewed—the bright and shiny full moon.
But, there is also a quiet part of creativity: the new moon. It appears as though we’re not creating at all because there is no output, but the moon is still there, out of view.
During the ‘new moon’ phase of our creative process, we absorb light and information and process it quietly in the background.
Dr. Shelly Carson, author of Your Creative Brain, calls this the Absorb Brainset.
“When you access the absorb brainset, you open your mind to new experiences and ideas. You uncritically view your world and take in knowledge. Everything fascinates you and attracts your attention.”
Our brain is naturally attracted to novelty and so this uncertain environment, upsetting as it is, also captures our curiosity, causing new ideas that may become manifest in the future.
Perhaps, rather than judging your low output, you need to lean into this new experience, drink it in, allow it to simmer and fuse with other experiences, memories and knowledge. Trust that this is happening, you are being creative, even if you can’t see it right now.
Acceptance of these quieter moments of the creative process enables a harmonious approach, free of judgement, which ultimately enhances the quality of our output.
When we judge our quiet moments and fear that creativity has left us, we stop the flow of ideation and inspiration and ask our brain to concentrate on these new questions instead: what’s wrong with me? will I be ok?
- Stop measuring your success by your output. Instead, concentrate on learning, growth and process.
- Lean into curiosity, notice how your brain likes to absorb information, ask questions, seek to understand. Execute later.
- Scratch your execution itch by practicing your craft. Review simpler exercises like playing scales on a piano, and quick-win activities like 15 minute drawings: these encourage you to get comfortable with imperfection and also provide the satisfaction of completing something within the session.
Creativity is a delicate and stunning process. It is meant to be enjoyable, not another to-do list item. I hope these strategies relieve some of the pressure and help you see that there is nothing wrong with you — the landscape has simply changed.
Be Brave and Curious,