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These 17 everyday behaviours are killing your creativity

Creative thinking | 11 September, 2018

Your brain doesn’t want you to be creative. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. You’re a grown up. Best knuckle down and get on with the sensible things that pay the bills.

Creativity wastes mental energy and doesn’t fit the structured and efficient patterns your brain craves. Even if you work in a creative industry, it’s not always easy keeping your brain on your side.

To develop more creative and intelligent ways of working, you need to start shaking things up a bit and not let your brain get away with creative murder.

If any suggestions on this list seem counter-intuitive, that’s pretty much the point. Creativity flies in the face of convention.

To put it another way, conform to this list to ensure you’ll never progress in more creative ways.

#1 Work 9-5

Work was designed for our bodies not our minds.

When you come home after a day of work and just want to slump on the sofa, that’s not because you’ve walked too many times to the coffee shop and back, it’s your brain feeling fatigued after burning energy all day. Asking people to keep that up for hours on end is ultimately not productive.

Everyone has a different creative rhythm. What if you’re naturally creative late at night? Working to the same old routine as everyone else is only going to stifle that.

Because 9-5 has become so ingrained in culture, it’s very probable you’ll feel bad if you’re not working during those hours. Perhaps it’s time to turn work on its head and instead of getting caught up on working set hours, place the focus on when you can get things done in the most effective way.

#2 Work with the usual group of people

Similar minds are likely to come up with similar answers. A better diversity of ideas comes from a greater diversity of people and their experiences.

The best answers are not always going to come from the usual group of people. Rather than simply solidifying existing knowledge and opinions, bring in multiple different perspectives often.

Try mixing with people from different departments, seniorities, specialisms or even a completely different industry altogether. Never assume your group has all the insights it needs.

#3 Follow the usual method

Clearly defined methods and processes are great for efficiency and ensuring consistency.

However, they will be a condensed-down shortcut of years of know-how and experimentation. Follow models too closely and you will prevent yourself from exploring new approaches and angles. You’ll sail straight past any opportunities to improve.

Instead of sticking to ways things should be done, try doing things in ways you were never told to do or even told never to do. By regularly questioning the way things are done, you will always be looking to reinvent for the better rather than stay stuck in limbo.

#4 Do things you find easy

We usually do what we find easy as opposed to things we love. That’s because quite simply, our brains prefer to think about things that are easier to think about.

If you always pursue the tasks you find easy, you’ll never really push your creative abilities. If your brain was your belly, it would be a bit on the flabby side.

Of course you don’t want this to happen but unfortunately, it’s very easy to slip into a routine. The more you allow your brain the quick gratification it craves, the harder it becomes to dig deeper and explore creative alternatives. This can make you lazy and stifle the desire for even greater achievement.

However, this doesn’t need to be the case if you develop a more creative routine whereby you purposefully find ways of challenging yourself. You’ll need to set reminders and force yourself at first, but soon enough you’ll get the buzz from being a regular idea-machine and feel your mind getting sharper.

Try aiming beyond what you're currently capable of. This will be a bit daunting perhaps, but you'll be forcing yourself to actually develop ways of becoming better at what you do.

Furthermore, if you never allow yourself to be fully satisfied, you’ll always look to improve. You’ll avoid the trap of complacency that comes with success and become a creative force to be reckoned with.

Side note: There’s a counter to this. If you are incredibly lazy, you actually try and find new shortcuts that others might not ever uncover. That’s quite a skill in itself. So some occasional hyper-laziness can come in very handy!

#5 Be the consummate ‘professional’

I believe somewhere along the line, the world of work has developed a great-big-pin-striped-buzzword-reciting stereotype of what it is to be a professional.

If your idea of professional is to look smart and act austere, then you’re far from being your true creative self. Conforming to artificial constructs of what a professional should look and act like will only keep your mind on the straight and narrow.

If being professional it’s doing your best to bring value to others, meet their expectations and form trusted relationships, then there’s plenty of room for manoeuvring the real you in there!

#6 Make a pay rise your motivator

Many people end up playing the game of chasing positions for the sake of seniority and pay. It’s a dangerous game, as it narrows your focus to what matters just to you.

Instead of chasing opportunities to get more money in their position, a more empathic and creative person will look to achieve greater opportunities via their position.

There’s a big difference in terms of choosing a closed and inward focussed mindset vs an outward and value-driven mindset. The latter gives far richer and more rewarding experiences in the grander scheme.

#7 Stick with what you’re good at

This is great advice… if the Universe were to stand still.

Everything changes- technology, markets, customer demands, roles, responsibilities. Realise it too late and your skills wouldn’t have caught up with the new demands of the world.

By sticking to only what you know well, you are stunting your intellectual growth. Thomas Aquinas was well aware of this when he said, "Beware the man of a single book.” Too much of a narrow focus restricts your outlook and cements existing beliefs.

If you read only about your subject, only go on directly relevant courses and never dabble in extra-curricula activities, it’s easy to become trapped by function and you’ll be less able to spot new opportunities or explore new possibilities.

You’ll be fishing ideas from only a small pool in a giant lake. Learning new things, however irrelevant they seem, and trying things you’re not so good at keeps more pathways in your brain open and active. It’s this diversity of neural activity that keeps you alert to new insights and ideas.

#8 Wait for the right moment

The perfect moment rarely comes a knocking. You are going to have to spur it on.

Unfortunately procrastination is part of our nature. Our brains prefer actions that provide instant gratification. It’s easier to pursue short-term goals with an instant payoff than longer-term goals or those with less concrete outcomes. If you hold off on a project, chances are it is never actually going to happen.

So get into the habit of having a go and getting stuck in before you over think things. Otherwise your brain will never really allow you to make time for creative projects.

#9 Believe creativity requires a special talent

Many people get in a muddle over the meaning of creative talent (drawing, dancing, writing etc) and what is essentially creative mindset. A creative mindset requires no specialised equipment other than your brain. Which means it’s open to everyone, with perhaps the exception of football hooligans.

Once you realise how to shape your creative mindset and overcome any existing limitations in belief, creative opportunities will gallivant around your head.

On the flip side, if you do work in a creative field, don’t rely on pure talent without also working to continually develop your creative mindset. You can have all the painting skills of Rembrandt and yet produce worthless artwork if the creative imagination is not there to shepherd the talent.

#10 Wait for inspiration to strike

If you don’t work at it, it’s not going to happen.

Creative imagination is the speciality of your subconscious mind. It whirls away in the background trying to make sense of the inputs it receives. This is why we have weird dreams that feature things you’ve seen and done that day.

The more input your subconscious receives, the more it has to work with. The more often you make conscious creative effort part of your normal routine, the more your subconscious will thank you by bubbling up interesting thoughts and ideas to the surface.

I have previously written an article on how prime your subconscious mind to get into a state of heightened creative awareness - [sweat fuelled creative thinking]

#11 Take no for an answer

No only means no if you allow it to.

You might instead see no as a ‘not right now’, a ‘not for this audience’, a ‘not in this form’… which in every case there is still a yes just waiting to be explored.

There is always an alternative. Even seemingly impossible ideas can be honed down into workable solutions once you explore useful concepts and probe at different angles.

Taking no as a firm no means you’ll give up on ideas too quickly before you’ve had a chance to adapt and mould them in a different way.

Equally, if you yourself are only giving no as an answer to others, you are slamming the door on an open mind and preventing yourself from wondering what could be.

#12 Don’t embarrass yourself

Whenever trying something new, it’s easy to worry about something going awry and ending up feeling foolish. I get it. Better safe than sorry.

But feeling embarrassed is a sure-fire sign that you’re doing something outside of your comfort zone. It’s can actually be life-affirming that you are able to experience thoughts and emotions beyond your typical existence.

There’s a big difference between something that is embarrassing and something that you believe could be embarrassing. It might just be embarrassing in your own head. It’s more likely you’ll surprise yourself with what you can achieve if you allow yourself.

And if you do proverbially fall flat on your face, so what? Who died? Take a leaf out of Dr Pepper’s marketing book, “What’s the worst that can happen?!”

Don’t let fear of failure cripple you. If you believe you can’t, you won’t. You’ll doubt yourself and end up bottling it up. So deducing from the equal and opposite forces law of physics, if you believe you can, you will, even if there’s a little embarrassment along the way. You are always going to miss the shot you don’t take.

#13 Point out problems

It’s far easier to criticise than invent. Our brains have evolved to spot and avoid any danger. It’s the ‘fight or flight’ instincts that win over the lesser known (i.e. I’ve just made up) ‘solve or evolve’ mechanisms.

When you dwell only on the problems and negatives, you’re exercising your judgement but not your ability to invent. Go too far and it starts to become Troll behaviour. Criticism gets you nowhere and wins you no friends, unless you are able to be constructive with it and put your energy into helping rather than hindering.

If you only point out problems then you have a problem-oriented mindset. If you acknowledge the problems and get straight onto doing something about them, then you’re solution-oriented. No prizes for guessing which the world’s greatest innovators possess.

#14 Show no vulnerability

The best of us know when it’s time to ask for support. It doesn’t make you any less of an expert. It isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, believing you are infallible can have the opposite effect. You will be protecting a sense of superiority whereas humility keeps your mind open to improvement.

Proclaiming you have the perfect solution will only raise suspicious eyebrows. Clients and customers are never going to complain if you ask for their feedback on how you can provide a better experience.

#15 Try to reach perfection

Having high expectations and looking to better yourself is always a good thing. But always judging yourself with ridiculous notions of perfection will only be crippling.

You’ll either feel stressed in achieving the holy grail or talk yourself out of bothering in the first place. Perfection doesn’t exist. Knowing you’ve tried your best whatever the outcome is a far healthier mindset.

Unless you experience the bad and unexpected, you’re probably not trying hard enough and remaining safe and conventional. As long as you’re learning and moving on quickly, imperfection can be far more beneficial for you in the long run.

#16 Pander to authority

We are conditioned from a young age to respect and not question our elders. This creates a barrier where it’s easy to become intimidated and more cautious around those we see as more authoritative.

But they are just people. They may have more letters after their name, be older or earn more, but they are still just a person. Of course respect them, but don’t act like someone completely different around them.

Being reserved and guarded means you’re not being your natural self. You won’t be able to explore ideas with them in ways you would with others. You’ll become less authentic and much stiffer in the way you create. And that’s no good for anyone.

On the flip side: If you are in a position of authority, stop to realise how people are acting around you and whether or not your approachability is giving people a sense of persimmon to be creative.

#17 Keep up with the competition

Keeping up with the competition is usually a case of mimicking what’s working well for others and becoming satisfied you are on par with the main contenders. It is easy to become part of the industry herd and perpetually remain a step or two behind the industry leaders.

Instead don’t just do enough to compete with them. Go overboard to out-do them. Find ways they have to compete with you.

Creating a difference or adding new value is possible in so many ways. From bold new design to a full on service model overhaul, it is always possible to look for innovative ways that will leap-frog the competition.

Do you recognise these behaviours in yourself or others? Any more you’d add to this list?

To understand more about the habits and behaviours we we slip into and why we think the way we do, visit and learn what it takes to develop and more creative mindset and culture.

Written by Simon Jack