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Accessing your creative reserves
Getting stuck is something of a choice. Building a reserve of potential and nurturing the creative engine prepares you for difficult times.
I have a theory about creative individuals – that they have infinite reserves, if they figure out how to access them.
Getting stuck with something like writer’s block, unsuccessful brainstorming sessions and other creative stopping points generally occurs from one of two things: stress or overthinking. Stress I’ll leave you to handle on your own – but overthinking we can do something about.
It’s a problem that happens to the best of us, but it’s curable. The first step is a brief understanding of the physiological reason why overthinking is harmful.
A story I found from Scientific American outlines some interesting research, here’s the important part for us to understand:
Trying to concentrate on monitoring the quality of your performance is counterproductive because the cerebellum, which controls complex motor tasks, is not consciously accessible.
…In a 2008 study psychologist Sian L. Beilock of the University of Chicago divided novice and skilled golfers into two groups and instructed them to perform a series of golf putts. The researchers encouraged members of the first group to take their time, whereas they exhorted members of the second group to swing as quickly as they could. Novice golfers performed less accurately when speed was emphasized, but skilled golfers showed exactly the opposite pattern: they performed best when told to execute quickly and faltered when advised to take their time.
Overthinking is an instant destroyer of highly skilled, developed tasks of any sort – whether the mental or physical variety. The Scientific American article focuses mostly on overthinking causing you to choke under high-pressure, live situations like golfing or public speaking, but this is an affliction that can also hurt you during work that isn’t live.
This insight from a decade ago remains as relevant today as ever. As we navigate our diverse but always similar creative journeys, we often encounter moments of profound inspiration and effortless flow. Yet, there are also periods when our inner creativity seems dormant, hidden away. The paradox is this: if you identify as a creative person, your wellspring of inspiration is in theory always available, awaiting summons, but overthinking kills your ability to accomplish this. What if we could route around this, at least some of the time?
Let's go a bit into the concept of creative reserves – the repository of latent ideas and untapped potential. It's the place where accessing can bridge connections, facilitating the execution of creative projects at the highest level. It can get us unstuck.
“The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.” - Emile Zola
How do we tap into our creative reserves? Here are a few methods that work for me, and are drug/alcohol free (I am actually 365 days fully sober as of yesterday, perhaps will write on this too when ready).
Explore the uncharted
Engage with new music, new art, new books, and ideas from unknown creators. Step out of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in something entirely novel. This may be difficult for some trapped in the corporate-industrial art complex. But your mind thrives on diverse patterns and connections, so exposing yourself to fresh perspectives forces your brain to create new synaptic links. Harder but worthwhile for some of you: exploring ideas that challenges your beliefs can contribute to growth.
Nourish forgotten nostalgia
Revisiting older experiences, especially those from your formative years, can be a potent way to rekindle your creative fire. These memories and stimuli, even if hazy, are stored within your mind somewhere. They act as mental waypoints, reconnecting you with past versions of yourself you’ll view from a new perspective. It's like stepping into a time machine of emotion. As Marcel Proust wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
You can use AI here
I’ve written on how AI can lead to nihilistic outcomes. As I said in that post, the thing that’s it’s only the case if you’re fully offloading creativity to the machines. No one says you have to do that except some misguided engineering nerds who don’t really get how this process works. Anyway, AI is a great tool to spark initial ideas if you get stuck. Almost like in audio and video software there are tools that act as random number generators to start a sketch of something, AI tools can act as a directed version of this. I even used an AI image from a prompt I thought of at the start of this post.
Make a personal archive
If you’re a 20-something start on this now. If you’re a 30 or 40-something it’s not too late but I wonder why as a creative person you haven’t done this yet (you probably have without realizing and it’s just not organized yet). My friend Ben Hunt wrote on this as I have before as well. And not just a clean archive of completed works, have something as simple as a Google Docs draft of potential ideas to expand on when you’re ready to. Those sparks of ideas can prove as valuable as completed ones.
Self-actualization: a key to creative reserves
Self-actualization is a potent pathway to accessing your creative reserves. Highly self-actualized individuals appear to have harnessed the ability to tap into their creative reservoirs consciously. Contrary to the common belief that creativity is a purely subconscious force, it becomes a deliberate choice for them.
Abraham Maslow's principles of self-actualization offer guidance:
Embrace reality: face facts rather than deny truths
Embrace risk: choose progress and growth over safety
Let the self emerge: trust your inner experience to express your true feelings
Honesty and responsibility: when in doubt, be honest and take responsibility
Follow your tastes: be true to yourself, even if it makes you unpopular
Use your intelligence: pursue your interests diligently, regardless of their perceived significance
Challenge illusions: discard false notions and discover your strengths and weaknesses
Know yourself: identify your preferences, strengths, weaknesses, and mission in life
Fueling your creative fire through exercise and diet instead of substances
In modernity there’s a massive disconnect between the mind and body, which everyone needs to overcome. I don’t believe you can have sustainable health and performance in one area without the other. Regular exercise not only enhances overall well-being but also stimulates the brain, promoting sharper cognitive function and improved problem-solving abilities. A balanced diet further complements this equation. Thus, incorporating exercise and a wholesome diet into your lifestyle becomes a catalyst, ensuring that your creative reserves remain abundant and readily accessible. By nurturing the body, you fortify the mind, empowering your creative potential to flourish. Without appropriate fuel and a fine-tuned machine to use it, you’re not going anywhere.
Understanding how to access your creative reserves (and keeping them full) is a requisite in both personal and professional life. While I've shared a few paths that work for me, remember this journey is deeply personal. Experiment, introspect, and uncover what best fuels your creativity. The more you understand your unique creative processes and quirks, I believe the better you can refine them and unlock on-demand. And of course sometimes you’re simply not going to be able to. In which case, it’s probably time for a vacation.
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