Thursday, February 23, 2012

How to Crush Your Creativity: Be Self-Critical

To get clear on this, we need to distinguish between "criticize" and "critique" and throw in the word "evaluate."

We need to evaluate the work we're doing. If I'm writing something (as I am now), I want to stop and see if the words make sense and if they will communicate what I mean.

However, even with the supposedly neutral process of evaluation, timing is everything. If I stop to check every word, my creative motion gets stalled. In the beginning stages of a creative process, it's often more effective to let it have its way and evaluate it once the burst of energy has slowed down or stopped.

Evaluation that says, "I think this word/idea would be better than the original" and goes on to make the replacement can enhance the creative process. Criticism is a different species.

Criticism says, "That's the stupidest idea I ever heard. I really have no talent. I should give up before it's too late." Too late, to use an architectural analogy, can mean that if you continue building your idea/project, it's going to crumble. It also means "Quit before someone else finds out how stupid you are and laughs at you or punishes you."

In psychological terms, criticism is the voice of a parent speaking to a child, a voice you've internalized. You learned to summon and hear its voice because you didn't want to get punished, whether that punishment was physical or humiliation. The critical voice punishes you in advance in order to save you from worse.


Self-criticism is deadly. Sometimes people stumble into the practice of criticizing themselves for being self-critical. Don't.

Here's another solution that won't work: Give up creative expression so that you won't hear the critical voice. That voice is on constant combat mode. If it can't criticize you for stupid thinking, it will criticize you for forgetting something or for how you tie your shoelaces. You need to face it.

Antidotes to the poison of self-criticism can include the following.

Tell yourself that it's okay if the first round (or the second or third) aren't perfect.

Even better, give up on the idea of perfection. Replace that notion with one of doing the absolute best you can.

Don't criticize. Evaluate. Instead of focusing on how bad something is, focus on what would improve it.

Don't pound away at it. Sometimes it's best to walk away and come back later.

If you feel really stuck, ask your inner wisdom, first trusting that you have it. You do; it's part of the software in the package that accompanied you into this world. Say, "I ask for an answer" or whatever wording works best for you.

Finally, as much as you may want to hate this voice, bear in mind that it originated in an attempt to save you pain. Sometimes the most useful act is to thank it for its efforts and tell it you don't need it any more.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

How To Crush Your Creativity: Envy

When you want to identify a negative emotion that's crushing creativity, it helps to be as specific as possible. That's why envy is on this list.

Envy bridges resentment and anger. Like resentment, it has a strong charge of "it isn't fair." It's more like anger in being active.
Here are some specific differences between envy, anger, and resentment.
If you and another person have both applied for a position in your company, and the other one gets it, you are more likely to be angry. You will tell people that you deserved it. Under very unfortunate circumstances, you may ever tell your boss.
If someone else gets a raise, and you didn't, you are more likely to envy them. You probably don't consider them undeserving of the raise (although sometimes envy can escalate to anger at the person who got what you didn't), but you wish you had gotten one, too. You may wish you were them. You may wish you were anyone but you.

If you think the other person didn't deserve the raise and you did, but you don't want to make a big deal out of it (except to all your friends), and you would never think of complaining about your boss, you will most likely feel resentful.

You don't need to know a person to envy them. Maybe you read about an author who sells several thousand books a month. Why doesn't that happen for you? This can apply to any area of creativity.
The basic error that leads to envy is the belief that there isn't enough to go around, i.e., a belief in scarcity. If someone else gets what you want, you won't.

Believing in scarcity is totally normal. This is probably the predominant belief in the world. That doesn't mean it's correct. If you consider it more deeply, you'll see that this belief tends to keep people at each other's throats.

Do we really know that scarcity is real? There used to be a belief in the publishing world that people would only buy so many books, and that number was dropping steadily. Then the ebook revolution was launched, and everything changed. Senior citizens who had been reading less found that they could increase the type size of their books on an ereading device. Books by independent authors sold at a lower price than traditional books.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." The best way to free oneself of envy is to find a creative way to get your share of resources that are unlimited, once you find a way to attract them to your door.