Have you been banging your head against too many walls to count lately? Do you ever miss having both, the dreaming and the doing, working together and in synergy to get you faster (or at least on time) exactly where you need to go?
As I was banging mine the other day, brains in the clouds and feet nowhere to be found, I realized there are all kinds of walls we (and others) have built around ourselves: the empty, cold & hard cement kind you can’t even bare to look at; the crowded, filled with pictures and distractions kind you can’t stop staring at; the one playing a mental film fest of all your imaginary failures and inadequacy and other scary made up movies staring all your ghosts and fears, 24/7… and so on.
These walls can bury you alive before you even have a chance to break through, and suck all your creativity dry without you even noticing. And keep you busy or bitter or lonely or afraid your entire life, locked up in a cage you actually do have a key for. That key is understanding that there are no locks, but only the ones you allow and, oh the irony, create yourself.
I hate prescriptions. You don’t know me! — I feel like saying every time someone wants to tell me what I need or what I “have to” do. We are problem-solvers by nature so it’s only natural that we should try to fix others just as we’re dealing with our selves. But “you can’t solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it,” (in Professor Einstein’s words). So before throwing out quick fixes or hitting our walls head on, how about we stop & check the cause?
A creative block is just like any other physical discomfort. It’s a symptom, not a cause. A sign that something else is not quite right inside.
There are many tips and to-do lists on how to overcome creative block, just as there are hundreds of ways to stay creative — some will work for you and others won’t. But unless you understand what your walls are made of and why you can’t cross them, you’ll swing from one quick fix to another, without ever striking at the root.
So, instead of telling you what to do (though I can’t help suggesting), let me tell you what (I think) your problem is. If it’s true that we’re 99,5% alike, then I shouldn’t be too far off.
Here are the top 5 invisible but thick and hard as stone walls that separate you & me from advancing in the way of our dreams and creating the life we imagine. Behold the number 1 enemies of your creativity:
1. A lack of purpose and ideas + difficulty seeing the big picture, paired with an excess of busyness and organization. EFFICIENT, YES, BUT NOT EFFECTIVE.
AKA, as Tim Ferriss would put it in his 4-Hour Workweek book I’m currently re-devouring,
I resent this obstacle so much, I have a hard time when it becomes visible in my team work and life. It’s the corporate feeling, the policeman in your head feeling, the need to keep busy about the little things while ignoring the major, game-changing solutions.
The 9 to 5, cubicle mentality is mostly a state of mind and a very hard one to get rid of, even as you pursue your most creative and entrepreneurial life solutions. It’s a mental trap most of us fall under without barely noticing.
What works for me as a reminder is… post-its. Lately I’ve been writing my daily to-dos, in function of my biggest priorities on tiny post-its — as this doesn’t leave any space for my otherwise endless, unrealistic lists, which I will later curse myself for not finishing.
Tim Ferriss suggests that,
I also took his advice to “put a post-it on your computer screen or set an Outlook reminder to alert you at least three times daily with the question: Are you inventing things to do to avoid the important?”
If you are a rational-emotional creature like myself, your first reaction will be to justify what you’re doing. I can tell you exactly the why behind every little action in my day. But when the entire day goes by and at the end of it I’m still stuck with my second bests without barely or very slowly advancing in the direction where I most want to go, I can’t help but wonder if I suffer from purpose dyslexia.
So I follow the above question with: How does this (whatever I’m doing at the moment) relate to or take you in the direction of your highest priority? Re-committing at least 5 times each day to my creative priorities helps me stay on track. Man is the most forgetful (or distracted) animal.
Stephen Covey just texted me:
As the song goes…
It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got your swing.
2. An excess of ideas and inspiration paired with a lack of organization and a constant struggle with administrative work. SCATTER-BRAINED GENIE LOONIES.
I want to plead guilty about each one of these points. That’s because creative blocks are systemic. When you suffer from one, another finds its way in, and soon enough, your middle name is Chaos.
My mind is usually feverish with ideas. I wake up in the middle of the night to pee, and I have to write things down I just dreamt before I turn off the light for another sleep phase. I don’t remember ever being bored or blocked. I suffer from excesses and too-muchness rather than lack of inspiration. Life is incredibly complex and there is so much to take in and put out, I would need 5 additional brains and 3 more bodies to be satisfied. I wish I had 20 fingers to convey this thought to you in all the multiple dimensions I’m experiencing it right now.
This may look like a blessing compared to Block #1, but it’s also been my biggest curse. Excesses without the proper organization and structure ultimately lead to nothing. My biggest failures in life so far (and I’ve had quite enough for 3 decades of life), have come as a result of this lack of structure. Without a body, a mind is just a cloud passing through. It may rain and thunder for a while, but it doesn’t last.
I’ve lost so many million-dollar ideas, just because at the time they were pouring through my head, I didn’t have a structure to hold them, the patience to build upon them and a system of my own to help me organize and develop them. So I didn’t even notice them slipping, because there were more and more and more coming… SO STOP! CONTROL YOUR CRAZY BEFORE IT CONTROLS YOU. And by controlling, I don’t mean shutting yourself up, but channeling and organizing your ideas so they don’t end up undigested, down the toilet.
A lack of structure or family backbone growing up (like in my case) or a resentment of structure (like in the case of those who have been badly hurt by a restrictive, “totalitarian” upbringing — excess of structure) will cause you to adopt the opposite — Viva la anarquía! — but self-destructive anarchy is not a solution either.
Everything in you — every little cell, organ, operation, thought and feeling living inside you and creating your outer world — abides by strict universal laws which, if broken even in the smallest, would result in immediate disaster, major life interruptions or even death.
If you don’t build your own system, you will subconsciously abide by the very system that hurt you or its extreme opposite, a confusing anarchy that will turn your best thoughts, game-changers and personal revolutions to dust. So much potential wasted and genius evaporated. Don’t be that story.
3. Feelings of inadequacy or not-enoughness. POOR ME, POOR ME, POOR LITTLE LONELY CREEPY ME.
“Who am I to…” Seriously, what good has your whining and victim attitude brought you so far? Only more of the same. No matter who you are or what you can and have and will accomplish, there will always be plenty of reasons to feel like a wronged, small and inadequate wet rat. You’ll never get there (the pitiless promised land, the blissful hallelujah) because there is no there.
There is only Here, and Now and You-ness, Me-ness, Us-Ness. And at the root of You, there’s a decision. At any given point in life, you’re travelling through yourself, so don’t stop at the not-enoughness station. More so, refuse to put it on your map.
Turn your apparent ineptitude around: “Who are you not to…”? Answering this question honestly will give you a wider perspective. You’ll realize that most of your reasons not-to are actually the very reasons to. Recognize the god in yourself and his / her need to create a world, reign over it and make miracles.
Rationally, you may be quite convinced of your gifts and often feel self-confident about your mission. Yet don’t measure your effectiveness by feelings, measure it by results. One day you’ll be a god, another day, an ant. But what are you actually doing? If you’re not doing what you are supposed to be doing by your highest self and creative deity’s standards, then your cape is just a metaphor. Review your deeper, core story for any lies of inadequacy you may still be telling yourself, despite your apparent warrior attitude.
One effective affirmation & creative ass-kicker is reminding yourself that you deserve IT — whatever your heart is aching for — and re-committing to making IT happen.
Once you tell yourself you deserve something you know deep down it should be yours, because in potential it’s already yours (even if you aren’t yet manifesting it), and then you commit to going after that which you deserve, your heart will light up in a way nothing else can set it on fire & fill you with creative energy to make it happen.
Don’t attach any specifics to it, because this will restrict your own creative power working in synergy with the rest of the universe, and it will interfere with the most optimal results. What you truly need is not an exact person, a house, an object, a trip, a better job, a specific action, circumstance or manifestation. What you really desire is the feeling and state of being that results from breaking through, practicing your vision and advancing in your mission.
Example: I deserve to (what do you deeply ache for? what do you most dream about? say it here) and I commit to making (IT -repeat your desire in an affirmative mode) happen.
What’s interesting about this exercise is that if you already believe you deserve something, once you say it out loud, you won’t feel the rush of energy but a redundant: “duh!” Same case for something you don’t truly desire or ache for. It’ll feel like talking about the weather or other blah blah blah. Example – try saying this with food or water or anything else you already are convinced is in your birthright. Of course I deserve it! And I’m providing for myself — in one way or another — every day, based on this belief.
The overwhelming heartwarming touchè feeling only comes when you hit the nail and address the dissonance between your heart and your current reality, by naming the unnameable ache that keeps you up at night or strangles your creative throat disguised as a “block.”
So why not provide for yourself when it comes to your passion, creativity and wildest dreams in the same way you do for the rest of your rights? Aren’t these as legit as your food and water and other comforts you take actionable steps towards? Could it because you haven’t given yourself permission to believe that you deserve to have your dreams come true, just as much as you deserve to have your primary needs to be fulfilled?
What is your deepest ache, longing, desire? You deserve it to be fulfilled, it’s your birthright, that’s exactly why your heart is making you sick begging and waiting for you to commit and take actionable steps towards it.
RECAP: Please practice this daily and let me know if it works. Our mind can be rewired but just like with any new habit, it needs reinforcement through repetition.
Step 1: Start wiring your mind to believe you deserve to create and receive (the life, project, circumstances) you imagine.
Step 2: Commit to making it happen just as you commit to making your food and water and rest and other primary goals happen.
4. Fear: of failure and of greatness. SHITTING YOUR PANTS ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.
This and the next point are the most paralyzing motherfuckers of all life. They are completely opposite to the way nature operates. Nature expands. She’s not afraid of multiplying, growing and blooming until the old gets recycled into more, never-ending newness. She’s not small-minded, selfish, scarce or cowardly.
Like all her creatures (except brainiac humans) she just is. Maybe this is the most important lesson of our lives: learning how to just be ourselves and watch everything else fall into place.
My former self just texted me this, from my Ode to Fear:
More simply put,
So you’re afraid. So am I. So fucking what? Fear is an irrational projection, not a fact, so whatever we say to ourselves via reason, this shadow won’t ever leave us alone. But maybe it’s not supposed to. Maybe the point is, be afraid! Be very afraid, be scared shitless of every still or moving shadow, good, bad and ugly, especially your own… but go ahead and do it anyway.
Enters legendary artist Georgia O’Keeffe:
Two questions that are helping me move through my fear, also borrowed from Tim Ferriss go like this:
1. What’s the worst that can happen if you _____ or _____? Meet your worst fear in the face.
2. Say the worst happens. What’s the best you can get out of this worst? How can you grow from your worst nightmare — if it came true?
When fear meets creativity:
The same thought is echoed by Stephen Pressfield in another excellent, must-read fear breaker, The War of Art:
5. Perfectionism. Winner of the Award for Sickest Dream Crusher in the History of Mankind. PSYCHOSIS REDEFINED.
Julia Cameron said it best in her classic creativity manifesto, The Artist’s Way:
Perfectionism has nothing to do with getting it right. It has nothing to do with fixing things. It has nothing to do with standards. Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. It is a loop—an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you to get stuck in the details of what you are writing or painting or making and to lose sight of the whole. […]
To the perfectionist, there is always room for improvement. The perfectionist calls this humility. In reality, it is egotism. It is pride that makes us want to write a perfect script, paint a perfect painting, perform a perfect audition monologue. Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough – that we should try again.
No. We should not.
Perfectionism is everything except the now. It is a parasite that feeds on presence.
It is not only an enemy of your creativity, but also of community and of the entire concept on which the whole of nature and life is based: synergy. Where do you end and where does otherness begin? Whatever your answer to this question, are you sure?
So if you’re not sure about your own confines, what does “perfect” even mean and how far does it reach? If you can’t answer this either, then why are you so obsessed with a utopian destination that you can’t even describe, are not sure it exists, can never seem to reach and is keeping you from taking one step further and, like Benjamin Franklin put it, “either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about”?
Respectfully and diplomatically, fuck perfectionism.
As I suggested in my first Break-up Letter with Perfect a few years ago, simply admitting that you have issues is the first step to un-having them. So if you are a perfect sicko too, repeat after me:
I am a recovering perfectionist. And I would like to stop kicking my own ass. Because, among other reasons, it hurts.
How do you walk through walls that your own mind has created, Dear Crazy Human?
The only way to make imaginary walls come down is to stop believing in them. If you’ve built them through repeatedly putting one limiting mental brick on top of another, then at least stop adding more bricks.
Most of our strongest beliefs are like fairy-tales — they are only as true as we want them to be.
So stop trusting the spells your mind and broken world has cast upon you, and these spells will have no power. Stop authorizing your fear apps and not-enoughness software, to operate your whole creative system. Stop making up lies about yourself and feeding the ones others made up, and start cultivating the truths that set your heart on fire.
Say No to the things that say No to your highest aspirations. Let the two No’s fight each other, while you sneak out with your dreams hand in hand and focus all your time and energy on making them happen.
Creative blocks are not exactly blocks. If you’re alive, your blood is still flowing, your heart feeling and your mind doing. You’re just not operating out of beliefs that are aligned with your truth, passion and deepest desires. Otherwise you would not feel a dissonance.
Your heart is the compass, your mind the captain and your beliefs, the map. Experiencing creative flow and harmony is just a matter of these 3 getting along and working synergistically towards the same goal: your utmost aliveness. And this aliveness only happens when you are following your most intense dreams and desires mercilessly.
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