This week’s guestblogger is writer, content producer extraordinaire and sales process architect Dave Baldwin of Raleigh. I’ve known Dave for over eight years starting when he showed up at a publishing panel I was on in Durham. Since then, we’ve collaborated on writing workshops, writing projects, referrals and blogging. I consider him a great friend and he’ll be posting here once a month. Dave gives us FIVE creativity-killers to be aware of so we can be the creative hero we were meant to be. I love how he weaves his message about procrastination into this very blog post.Dave is now working on an amazing project that will help introverts achieve great success in the business world. Read on and learn more about Dave at the bottom of this post.
Do you think you’re “not creative?” Think again.
There’s a popular misconception in the world that has persisted throughout the ages: the idea that some people are “creative” and some are not. Betty Edwards dispels a similar misconception about the visual arts with her self-study course, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. (See my review here.) She created a simple process for teaching people how to draw. Countless people have taken her course—who were convinced that they were “not artistic”—only to surprise and delight themselves when they realized their latent capabilities. I believe that what Edwards discovered about drawing is true about all of creativity. It is not a rare and precious gift that only some people possess at birth; it is a combination of skills that we all must develop through deliberate practice.
There is no step-by-step formula for becoming creative. I have yet to discover any way to guarantee inspiration, but there are a number of ways to protect against the things that disrupt it. I’ve found that when I am disciplined and mindful about removing these creativity-killers, the best insights start to come to me again. When I neglect to deal with them, they grow like weeds and choke off the creative flow.
The number one factor that is guaranteed to kill creativity before it starts is a head full of noise. Have you ever tried to meditate and found that you could not stop thinking—or obsessing over your ever-growing to-do list? Removing mental static is simple, but not easy. The first thing to recognize, if you have a hard time concentrating or being present, is that you cannot eliminate this chatter by sheer force of will. If you take even thirty seconds and pay attention to the ceaseless stream of thoughts that bombard your mind, you will most likely notice yourself thinking about a multitude of things.
Lack of Focus
During the first few years of my career as an entrepreneur, I oscillated between euphoria and panic, largely as a result of having too many irons in the fire. There were many months when I had no steady base of income to cover my expenses while I was trying to build a business. I believed that I could use my creativity to find new sources of income—which I often did. However, it put a crippling strain on my ability to contribute to the world. One weekend, I was attempting to write a book while I was in dire financial straits and had no job. A friend gently suggested that I focus on more practical things. When I decided to direct my energy to writing cover letters and applying for jobs that were an appropriate fit for my skills, my creativity started to flow again. (Within weeks after that, I had a job!)
I won’t belabor this one—you know what the culprits are. In particular, I’ve found that white sugar has a potent detrimental effect on my creativity about 30 minutes after I eat it. I also notice that red meat, dairy and fatty foods tend to drag me down. Whenever I hit a plateau and cannot find any new angles from which to look at a problem, the first place I look is my diet. Thankfully, this hasn’t been an issue for some time.
Boy, could I tell you stories about this one! Here’s an area that sometimes requires making some tough decisions. I won’t go into details, but there have been numerous times in my life where I felt stuck and powerless. In nearly all of these cases, it was the decision to eliminate at least one person from my life that freed me up and cleared my thinking. Sometimes, you may need to drop out of a club or group if you notice that dysfunctional dynamics run rampant there. Removing people from your life is not easy, especially when the situation is complicated. But if someone is holding you back from being the person you were meant to be, chances are you know exactly who that person is. If you’re hoping that the situation will improve with time, it probably won’t. Until you deal with the problem, you will most likely continue to experience difficulty motivating yourself to push forward with your creative endeavors. It’s just too hard to muster the energy when someone is sucking the life force out of you.
Inability to Say “No”
Being creative is hard. It requires discipline and commitment. If you are finding your creative projects stalled, start to listen to the words that you use. In particular, pay attention to how you respond when someone asks you to do something. If you always give yourself a back door or an easy way to wriggle out of things, this will prove a serious liability. For example, if you are invited to a party and you know perfectly well that you have no intention of going, do you say, “I’ll try to come?” When someone makes a request of you, do you feel the need to come up with excuses and justifications for refusing? Do you say “yes” when you really wanted to say “no,” then proceed to do the bare minimum and resent the other person for asking?
What to Do about It
If you identify with any of the above, the solution does not lie in changing your behavior. Instead, make a continuous effort to raise your level of presence and awareness from moment to moment. Rather than trying to change your diet, pay closer attention to what you’re eating and how it makes you feel. Don’t make a hasty decision to file for divorce—instead, just start to observe the way you interact with the people around you and notice how it affects you. If you are unfocused and have a hard time making clear decisions, be mindful of how many decisions you make over the course of a day. Some people find journaling to be a useful practice for the purpose of heightening awareness. I have used it myself at times when I needed to create new habits. Currently, I am tracking my bank account balances on a daily basis to stay more aware of my spending habits.
Being creative is a 24/7 endeavor—and that’s great news! The next time you find yourself struggling to write a short story or too tired to practice your musical instrument, realize that you are making it a lot harder than it needs to be. By exerting a tiny bit of effort to be more mindful during the unremarkable moments of daily life, we can create an opening for our brilliance to emerge at the moment of truth.
Dave Baldwin helps introverts become better salespeople. His unique approach to selling is designed to be natural and authentic, designed for people who have a passion for what they do, but who are not “natural salespeople.” A Toastmaster since 2007 (Raleigh Talkmasters), his areas of expertise include: content writing, marketing and communications strategy, blogging, whitepaper/e-book writing, process flow documentation, business software implementation and computer programming.
Dave’s ultimate vision is to transform the field of education by creating tools that empower people to build stronger relationships. His BHAG (“big, hairy, audacious goal”) is to make an appearance on Shark Tank.