The fear haunting all creatives is the same: The switch flips, and suddenly you're not able to produce high value work. It's the moment when you know you could produce something, but nothing comes out of the faucet.
These four strategies are intended to keep that switch from flipping, allowing you the confidence and strategy to continuously output on the level you desire:
1. Spend 5 minutes creates outlines in advance (this will save you hours)
In his book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown explains a method he uses to save time and enhance creativity. Hours, or even days, before jumping into a creative activity, he spends just 3-4 minutes creating an outline.
Once the outline is built, he walks away from it. When he starts into his project, the outline triggers a flood of information getting him quickly into the zone; rather than having to mentally generate all the information he needs from scratch.
2. Quit taking short-term gains for long-term losses
I've taken on project after project offered by my research advisers that I had no genuine interest in because I feared responding, "No". It's a short-term win (the good feelings of saying "Yes") for a long-term loss (feeling resentful or frustrated in addition to being distracted from what really matters to you).
The short-term win just isn't worth it. Don't take gigs just because they're available. In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins explains that most opportunities -- even once in a lifetime opportunities -- are a waste of time.
3. Design triggers for aggressive and emotional creative bursts
We all have triggers, many of which are completely subconscious. However, triggers can also be consciously designed in the form of pre-performance routines. For instance, Michael Phelps had a routine he did religiously before each swimming event involving music. He's not alone. Many athletes use music before events to trigger relaxation from the pressure and even to psych them up.
When asked by Time Magazine about his use of music prior to races, Phelps said it kept him focused and helped him "tune everything out, and take one step at a time."
When asked about the kind of music he listens to, he answered, "I listen to hip hop and rap."
Interestingly, research has found that high tempo music like hip hop can create strong arousal and performance readiness. Other evidence suggests the intensity of the emotional response can linger long after the music has stopped. So, while Phelps is in the water swimming, he's still hyped from his hip hop.
According to Steven Kotler, expert on neurological flow, there are 17 triggers activating flow:
- Elevated risk (i.e., the stakes are high)
- A rich environment (is a combination novelty, unpredictability, and complexity)
- Deep embodiment (i.e., activating all bodily senses during activity)
- Clearly defined objectives
- Immediate feedback
- Intensely focused attention for long periods of time
- When the challenge/skill ratio is right (i.e., you're challenged but not over-challenged)
- Social concentration when collaborating with others
- Shared, clear objectives
- Good communication (i.e., lots of immediate feedback)
- Equal participation when collaborating with others
- An element of some form of risk (physical, emotional, whatever)
- Familiarity with collaborators such as having shared language and knowledge base
- Blending egos, which is a form of humility wherein no one in the group is hogging the spotlight
- A sense of control which combines autonomy and competence
- "Always say yes," to create additive rather than argumentative conversations
- Creativity, which is a combination of recognition (the brain's ability to link new ideas together) and risk-taking (the courage to bring those new ideas into the world)
4. Be uncomfortably vulnerable and honest
If you're getting blocked up in your work, chances are you're skipping rocks on the surface. When you dig deep into what you really want to convey, creative outputs become more organic and less forced.
The challenge, of course, is that being vulnerable and truthful is scary. It's easier to hide behind mediocre work than to publish something you feel strongly about.
However, the more vulnerable and shameless you are with your art, the more creative bursts you will experience. When you are shameless, you stop worrying about what the masses will think of your product.
Everyone outside your intended audience is irrelevant. As your focus shifts away from your own ego and onto the people you're trying to serve, your creativity will emerge from a genuine and authentic place. Your work will be about them...from a deep part of you.
When you become desperate for a particular outcome, the work it takes to get there becomes irrelevant. Your success is less about your internal resolve, and more about the systems and conditions you establish to ensure you succeed.
These strategies will no doubt help you. Better still is designing and adapting your own to meet your needs.