The Freedom of Restraint
Creativity is one of those things that many people seem to feel they lack, and I think often it’s because they expect to be hit by it, rather than believe it’s a thing that arises from a process they can follow. I discovered that becoming an author with a contract – and hence a deadline – was a very different experience to being an author who set his own agenda; suddenly I couldn’t sit and wait for my muse to show up. As luck would have it I stumbled across a quote from artist Chuck Close, which struck me right between the eyes just when I needed it:
Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will – through work – bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art [idea].’
Inspiration is for amateurs…and I was now a professional, so I started to just show up. Every day I set myself a word count and I didn’t finish my day until I’d hit it. Sometimes I’d be 500 words in before I knew what I actually wanted to write, and have to scrap the lot and start again. And after a while that wasn’t failure, it was just a part of the process. A singer warming up doesn’t judge her practice notes a waste of time, so why should I?
So mind-set is very much a part of the process of creativity. To be prepared to fail allows you to experiment. To be prepared to fail allows you to innovate, which usually just means putting two existing ideas together to make something new – 10 years ago who thought we’d be listening to music on our phones? And being prepared to fail means everything you produce isn’t used to measure your overall success. 10,000 light bulbs had to fail before Edison discovered the one that didn’t. He succeeded, in each case, to find one more thing that wasn’t the answer, believing that the number of those had to be finite. So perseverance is another part of the mind-set of creativity.
Ross Perot, a one-time Presidential candidate once said, “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game one foot from a winning touchdown.” The single best predictor of success in life isn’t IQ, it’s grit, the ability to consistently keep going in the face of adversity. Which doesn’t sound at all like the creative process, does it? Until you listen to Michelangelo, “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”
So I think that often people feel they lack creativity simply because of how we expect it to arrive, in a flash of inspiration, probably while wandering in a field of daisies. Now that field definitely has a place in the process, but hard work, over an extended period of time, and the grit to treat failure as a learning experience has a much bigger place.
And then there’s the idea of what kind of environment we need to be creative. Quiet, reflective, with lots of time and the absence of worries or distractions fills the brief for most people. And that would be nice, but like inspiration, needing perfect conditions is for amateurs too.
Researchers gave a top Japanese artist a mixture of blank canvases, and those with a random line or mark painted on them, and got him to paint. The finished pieces were then given to a panel of judges who marked them for originality and creativity. I expected those that gave him complete freedom upon which to splash his creative juices – the blank ones – would yield the best results, but it wasn’t so. The limitation of the random line or mark actually led to a more creative product. Constraints can make us more innovative. I think this is a vital thing to realise, because it can change your life.
I come across so many clients (and students) who would like to change their lives – shift jobs, launch a new business, retrain in something they have a passion for – but tell me they can’t…yet. And then they give me their list of reasons why, and they’re always constraints. Their children are too young, the economy is too uncertain, they don’t have enough saved in case, they’re too busy with life, they don’t want to give up something else…the list isn’t endless, more just many variations on a theme. The thing is, there will never be a perfect time to move into uncertainty – that’s the thing about uncertainty – and having a tolerance for living with it is a key characteristic of the successful self-employed people I’ve come across.
Like a line on a canvas, your constraints can either be the thing that stops you from starting to paint, because the canvas isn’t perfect, or what makes you more creative in the way you begin to make your life into what you want it to be. Your life should actually be your most creative act, and yet most people allow it to just be a pale imitation of what it could be, a collage of what the media, advertisers and society inveigle you to aspire to, instead of the one your heart yearns for.
So the question becomes, do you want to create a life that imitates the art of others, or do you want it to be a unique creation? Are you going to let your constraints keep you stuck, or could they be a part of the uniqueness of your creation? And are you prepared to accept that your life won’t unravel perfectly formed, but will involve setbacks, and mistakes and wrong turnings, and believe that they need to happen in order to find what you need to learn in order to finally succeed. And will you find the grit to keep going because you may be only one more foot from the try line?
It’s within our limitations that we can actually find our greatest strengths, and from our constraints that we can create our freedom. It isn’t easy – it’s not supposed to be otherwise everyone would paint a Sistine Chapel, but it is possible. Whether you want to weave a basket, learn to paint, or rebuild your life, apply these principles to your endeavour, and see what emerges.
Oh, and the daisy fields. There is no doubt that, amidst the hard work of being creative, regular periods of day dreaming is essential. There is such a thing as a creative state, and it usually emerges during and following a period of defocused thought – the kind that arises from a relaxing walk, or staring into a fire, or meditating. Or, of course, utilising a Wordweaving download that a Cognitive Hypnotherapist can create for your particular need. This is a short recording – typically ten minutes long – and it primes your brain to go looking for new connections that your hard work may be uncovering; a new way to look at an old problem, an idea that circumvents, or even uses, an existing constraint to help you move forward. In other words, it gives your brain a chance to be a ‘Thinkubator’, a device for nurturing your imagination and training it towards your purpose.
Research has shown that early morning after waking up is a good time for listening to it, although I also find that last thing at night is too, because Freud was wrong. Dreams don’t reveal hidden truths; they’re just a product of the brain exploring new possible connections.
I’m confident that, taken together, working hard (including enriching your mind by reading outside your field and talking to people you have nothing in common with) and changing your attitude to failure and constraints, along with making time for other aspects of your brain to engage through play, physical activity and unfocused actions will enhance your creativity. And then bringing your efforts together through listening to a self-hypnosis recording, could really help you to move that to another level you never knew existed within you. A level that might not just make you more creative in what you do, but actually who you are. In Cognitive Hypnotherapy we suggest that our sense of self is just part of a story our brain is making up to make sense of what happens to us, and that we can actually take control of the plot and make your life the story you want it to be. So it makes sense that the more imaginative we can help you become, the more amazing the changes you can believe you can make to yourself and your life.