Creativity is a fragile and precious thing. Everybody who has ever tried to be creative knows how hard and elusive it can be. This is an issue that most artists and creative professional face on a daily basis. “Blank Page Anxiety” is a very common phenomenon and it is generally accepted that artists must face it in order to work and that it is part of the creative process. However, not many people really looked into the topic of its origin and causes.
Why is it that children naturally draw, sing, write stories and invent games to play with their friends while adults seem to have great trouble with these things? Children know nothing about perspective, melody, tune, syntax and grammar. But despite all of that, they are extremely creative and do not complain to their parents about any anxiety to create. Can you imagine a young child telling her parents that she would like to sing but that she first needs to take lesson and read books to make sure she does it correctly? However, most adults do not dare to do these things without formal training and they are the ones really struggling with creativity.
Our mind is resisting everything that is threatening our ego. Things such as our social standing, our self-image or the idea that other people have about us are all particularly important breaks to our creativity. Seth Godin calls it the “Lizard Brain” and Steven Pressfield calls it the “Resistance”. In essence, doing any kind of creative work puts us in emotional danger. In the past, being creative so by definition being different would have put us in danger of being ostracized and our brain has been trained to make us avoid such risk. Most of the time, the risk was just not worth the reward. However, this system while being highly effective to protect us in the past is now an important liability in the modern world. Demonstrating creativity and an innovative mind is a requirement of more and more positions. And this movement will only accelerate in the coming years.
As an example, an aspiring artist will have his mind make him think he is a fraud and give him fears of never being good enough to be a professional artist. But then once he is established and the more successful he is, the more his mind will influence him to not try new things and reinvent himself to not lose the reputation he already gained. So this “Resistance” of our ego does not go away as we get more recognized or successful. The reasons our mind uses to be afraid and not to be creative just evolve. And even worse, a lot of these reasons are justified. When artists are well established and try new things, they often offend their existing audience.
Another part of this resistance from the mind is coming from having expectations. The more expectations we have about our work, the more resistance we will have to face. The more we increase expectations about the outcome of a creative endeavor, the more mental stress it will generate.
If we are just drawing something to put on our fridge, it will be far less pressure than if we are going to show it to thousands of people. And if the potential outcome is for us to gain millions of dollars if people like it but to end up with nothing and everybody hating us if it fails, stakes will obviously be much higher. So not only are we blocked by potential negative but also positive outcomes make it more difficult to create.
Moreover, having expectations is not the same as having a vision for what we are creating. We can have a crystal-clear vision about what we are creating but without considering the outcome of our work or its influence of our reputation or social standing. The paradox is that the freer we are from expectations about the outcome, the more creative, interesting and better it will be.
Being creative is by definition an act of generosity and risk-taking. It is scary, unsafe. new, without safety net and it has the potential to upset people. It stems from our inner abundance and our authenticity. If we find any kind of inner scarcity, fear of not having enough of anything, an inner emotional lack, it will impede our creativity. Notice that there is a total disconnect between our actual circumstances and what we feel about these circumstances inside of ourselves. We can really live in poverty and be uncertain about having something to eat the next day. And there are plenty of examples of people that created spectacular works in these conditions. This is why the real issue is not our actual circumstances but our inner state. For us to be able to create, we need to have inner freedom and passion that demands we express it. We are never creating anything from a place of lack but from a place of abundance. In a sense, we need to have too much of something to express so by definition any lack mentality will diminish our effort.
Another problem that you may run into while creating is being in either physical or emotional bad shape. There are exceptions to this rule but most people have difficulty being creative when they are exhausted, sick, in a low mood or preoccupied. And people are not equal in that regard, some people have naturally a better mood or a better health than others so this is something to keep into account as well. Different people are also affected differently in their creative process. Some people are much more sensitive than others to a change of their condition. Creativity is very taxing on the mind and requires that you can keep sustained periods of focused effort to produce anything. Even if we have sparks of genius ideas, we then need to continue to flex that creativity for hours on end to bring these ideas to life.
So the real problem with creativity has nothing to do with it. It is our natural state to explore the world, come up with new ideas and try them out. The problem stems from ego, fear of rejection and abandonment, our well-being and everything that is between us and having the freedom to create. It is not about some people having an inner talent and being more creative than others but about the conditions for everybody to be able to express their creativity. It is our natural behavior to express our creativity when we are at peace inside of ourselves, well-rested, balanced and happy and it disappears every time we lack these things. This creativity does not necessarily express itself through what people consider to be artistic but it can express itself in every realm of human activity. The real issue is that people struggle with expressing their creativity without knwing why and drawing wrong conclusions such it being reserved to a select elite who are creative while they are not. Children try new things and fail at them all the time, this is how they learn. No child failed at speaking one too many times and decided that talking was not for him after all and adults should not behave differently.