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How to stifle your creativity in 10 easy steps

How to stifle your creativity in 10 easy steps
  1. Be afraid. Be very afraid. There’s nothing like fear to put a stop to any kind of creativity: fear of getting it wrong; fear of what other people may say; fear of embarrassment; fear of change. The more afraid that you are, the less creative you will be—and the less you will act on any creative thoughts that manage to break through the curtain of anxiety.
  2. Remind yourself of all the times that you failed in the past. Keep them fresh in your mind. Dwell on them—the pain, the shame, the hurt, the way others sniggered. Let your imagination go to work and really re-live those cringe-making moments. That should stop you ever trying again.
  3. Never waste time. Stay constantly busy. Never mind what the tasks are, just keep them coming thick and fast. Time is money, isn’t it? There’s no mileage in leaving any moments free from gainful activity—especially for self-indulgent activities like day dreaming or reflecting on what has happened. If you fill every waking moment with busyness, you won’t have to worry about creative thoughts sneaking up on you. There will be no space for them.
  4. Always try to fit in. Be much more than a good team player—be the person who never, ever rocks the boat. Whatever seems to be the majority opinion, go with it. People who have ideas of their own can face suspicion or—horror of horrors—criticism and dislike by the majority. Don’t risk being on the wrong side. The minute that it’s clear what the majority (or the most powerful players) want, that’s where your opinions and thoughts must be.
  5. Stick to what you know. Tried and true is what’s right for you. Change and novelty involve risk, and risks can go wrong. If you give in to entertaining innovative thoughts, you may find that what you’ve been doing all these years isn’t as good as you thought. That would upset you and maybe force you to do something risky, like altering your habits or changing your viewpoint. So don’t be rash. Caution must be your watchword at all times. Whatever that new idea is, let it wait a while—say a decade or so—before considering it seriously. You’ll be surprised how many will go away in far less time than that.
  6. Always defer to authority. The people in charge must know what they are doing, or they wouldn’t hold the positions that they do. It would be presumptuous to inject any of your own ideas, when they clearly have all the answers. Rules exist to be obeyed, not challenged. If you always do exactly as you are told, you won’t ever risk disapproval from your betters.
  7. Don’t ask stupid questions. Best of all, don’t ask any questions. They only get people into trouble. Folk who develop the nasty habit of questioning things may upset the status quo, and that simply causes trouble and disruption. Things are as they are. There’s no point wasting time or effort wondering whether they ought to be different in some way. Only dissidents and weirdoes don’t understand that simple fact.
  8. Always listen to your Inner Critic. It’s there to stop you making a fool of yourself. Whatever it says, pay close attention. It will unfailingly point out how useless, pointless, and silly those creative ideas really are. It will explain to you that they will never work, and how expressing them will only make you a laughingstock. It’s your friend. Trust it implicitly.
  9. Leave thinking to the experts. There’s no point in bothering them with with your pathetic notions or observations. If it was an idea worth having, the experts would already have thought about it. They have all kinds of qualifications and can use long words too. If you think that some change might be needed (and you can’t simply ignore such a disruptive idea), hire expensive, expert consultants to do the thinking. They’ll quickly tell you whatever you want to hear, then add what others are doing, so you can copy them. Best of all, if it goes wrong, you can first of all say that what you did was follow industry best practice (whatever that means); and, if that doesn’t disarm any criticism, you can blame the consultants.
  10. Keep it simple, stupid. The worst thing about creative ideas is that they so often make life more complicated. The best way to stay on an even keel is to keep everything very, very simple. Find one or two rules of thumb and stick to them like glue. Don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you that there aren’t simple, easy answers to every situation. There are. It’s just that, for some odd reason, they don’t work very often—if ever. Still, persistence is a great virtue. If you stay with these simple, superficial approaches long enough, one or two are bound to work in some circumstance, sometime. Then you can point out to the clever dicks that you were right all along. Why mess up your head with learning? It’s learning that allows creative ideas in the first place. Anyway, learning is for children. Adults like you don’t need it.
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    Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

      , is now available at all good bookstores.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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