I get a lot of questions from readers, audience members, fans and followers about discipline.
Not because I’m an “expert” on discipline.
More because I AM discipline.
From wearing a nametag 24-7 – to exercising and meditating daily – to starting work at five AM – to writing seven hours a day … I guess discipline is kind of my thing.
I blame my mom for this.
She’s 30-year veteran of the fitness industry. From teaching aerobics – to one-on-one weight training – to studying nutrition – to lecturing on cholesterol – to instructing Pilates … I guess discipline is kind of her thing too.
Oh boy. It just occurred to me that I’m exactly like my mother.
But with smaller biceps.
Anyway, I reached out to my friends on Facebook and Twitter with the following requestion:
On the topic of the discipline of creativity: What would you like to learn? Where are you stuck? What questions can I answer?
The response was outstanding. Got tons of emails, tweets and comments.
I’ve compiled twelve of the most common themes and challenges below, each containing answers, resources and exercises.
So, special thanks to everyone who was willing to share their creative challenges publicly. Not an easy thing to do.
Here’s the first six. Let the discipline begin:
1. How do I flesh and idea out into a blog post? Beginning with a list is the simplest and most non-threatening way to write (and read) information. First, read this guide to the science of using lists.
Second, allow yourself to begin with a list, but then escape from structure after that. Let the material take you where it wants to go. Remember: Creativity is nothing but active listening.
Finally, reframe your approach to categorizing your material. Always think modular. Everything you write is a module, which I define as, “An uncategorized chunk of creative material.”
Thinking modular objectifies your creative process and prevents premature cognitive commitment, aka, falling in love with your own ideas. It keeps your creative process open ended and makes it easy to simultaneously work on multiple projects.
Thinking modular also matches (and leverages) the way your mind works. It enables easy editing and makes content management easier and faster. Remember: It’s not a blog post – it’s a module. Everything starts as a module.
2. How do I get past the “just do it and start” phase? Don’t worry about making it good the first time around. Just get something down. You can go back and make it better later. Trust your resources that more will come, and when it does, it will be better.
Also, consider honestly asking yourself what misguided fear is in place that’s preventing you from starting: Fear of self-disclosure? Fear of looking stupid? Fear of your Aunt Patty reading your blog and being offended? Odds are, those fears are easy to overcome once they’re pinpointed.
For further reading, check out The Easiest Way to Overcome Your Fear of Writing and How to Make Your Fear of Writing Melt Away Like a Creamsicle in August.
3. How do you maintain the creative burst after the initial one? Take a break every fifty minutes to do something completely perpendicular to your current activity. Engage a different part of the brain by taking part in activities that free up your peripheral consciousness.
For example, when I’m ready for a break from writing, I go grab my guitar and start jamming. Or wash the dishes. Or walk to Starbucks and back. I never fail to return with renewed energy and spirit. Another suggestion is to embrace the philosophy I call Solvitas Perambulatorum. This is the process of using movement to solve problems and re-ignite your creative fire.
4. How do you push through when it’s no longer fun? Pinpoint past successes. Ask yourself, “What, specifically, made this fun initially?” Write your answers down. Then, for each one, brainstorm three ways to duplicate those fun patterns.
Another suggestion is think about what, in general, makes ANY activity fun for you. For example, I never EVER write without music. Ever. And, because I have 11,000 songs in my library, I know exactly which albums are going to put me in a fun mood. (Today, it was The Thrills.)
So, if I find that my level of fun is wavering, I change the music. Check out this guide on How to Create a Portable Creative Environment. That way, it’s ALWAYS fun.
5. How do you quiet the inner critic? As I learned from The Tao, “Any over determined action produces its exact opposite.” So, my first suggestion is relinquish your resistance to your inner critic. If you’re trying to quiet it, it’s only going to yell at you louder. Instead, consider having a conversation with it. Partner with it. Love it.
Remember: A bully’s source of strength derives from your fear of it. When you greet your inner critic with a welcoming heart, you’ll be amazed at how quickly its momentum dissipates.
Next, read The War of Art. This is my favorite book of all time. Ever. Seriously, I buy a new copy and re-read it every summer. It’s specifically written about creative resistance and will change your creative practice forever, guaranteed.
Third suggestion: Every writer on the planet needs to read Eric Maisel’s fantastic book, Write Mind: 299 Things Writers Should Never Say Themselves and What They Should Say Instead. He approaches “the creative critic” from a psychotherapy perspective. This book will blow your mind.
6. How can I tell the difference between awesome ideas and potential high-flying ideas without just throwing the whole lot against an audience to see what sticks? For the most part, you can’t. That’s not your job. Even if you could discern the value of your ideas prior to publishing them, it’s not a wise practice.
My suggestion is three words: Discard evaluative tendencies. Treat every idea, every experience and every thought with deep democracy. I learned this practice from one of the coolest books ever written on creativity, Unintentional Music. Author Layne Arye suggests we value everything whether it was intended or not. “Let all the different parts of the idea express themselves and influence your creative decisions. Be deeply democratic by listening to – and valuing – all parts.”
Therefore: Stop telling yourself, “Well, if I don’t remember it when I get home, it couldn’t have been that important.” That, right there, is the fatal flaw. That, right there, is where most people go wrong. If you make an appraisal of your idea before it’s even written down, you’re assuming and operating on the assumption that how good or bad an idea is, (especially in the early stages of that idea’s development), actually matters.
It doesn’t. Good or bad means NOTHING. Assigning value to your ideas before they’ve been brainstormed, explored and expanded is a creative block. This causes you to fall victim to premature cognitive commitment, which prevents your idea from blossoming into its truest and strongest potential. The idea isn’t “good.” The idea isn’t “bad.” The idea simply IS.
That’s it. No adjectives allowed. So, stop judging. Stop evaluating. Stop appraising. Write everything down, as soon as it enters into your brain. Don’t worry how amazing, how ridiculous or how insane the idea sounds, just get it down. If it strikes a cord with people, they’ll tell you. If it doesn’t, that’s cool too. All that matters is that it strikes a cord with you. That’s the only music that matters.
If you have further challenges with the discipline of creativity, send me an email.
Hey, at least you’ll be writing!
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What awaits you in the refining fire of discipline?
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For the list called, “49 Ways to become an Idea Powerhouse,” send an email to me, and I’ll send you the list for free!
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That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur
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