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10 Fears Holding You Back from Creativity and How to Beat Them

10 Fears Holding You Back from Creativity and How to Beat Them

You may have heard others say that everyone is creative. Little kids certainly seem to be. And yet, so many of us lose that creative confidence as we go through adolescence and into adulthood. We turn into a person who fears creative ideas.

Dr. Will Schutz, a prominent psychologist and pioneer of the human potential movement, believed that fear is the biggest block to creativity. Rather than creating something new, many of us are held back as we do our best to avoid the consequences of our fear.

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love says that “Fear and creativity are conjoined twins. What holds people back from being creative is that in order to murder the fear, they end up killing off the creativity as well.”

Messages which encourage conformity and control pervade our schools and our workplaces. Yet we crave creativity. Innovation is admired and held up as a model for us to follow. If only we could stop fear from holding us back.

Here are the most common fears and how to tackle them:

1. Fear that you are not a creative person

People with this fear don’t believe they are creative in the first place. They have created a self-definition that excludes even the possibility that they might be creative. Sometimes they see themselves as too rational, or too dull, to be creative. They might say things like, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”

Often these people forget the ways that they demonstrate creativity every day, but dismiss it.

One woman told me of a time she had run out of lipstick and couldn’t afford to buy more. But her appearance was important to her so she used a brush to combine tiny amounts from the bottom of two old lipstick tubes, and created a new color with just enough to wear for the rest of the week.

All day she received compliments on her lipstick. Her creativity naturally responded to the circumstances she found herself in.

What you can do:

Universities and consultancies that support people who want to be more creative have learned that their job is not to teach them how. Instead they help them re-discover the inherent creative confidence they had as children.

Start by widening your definition of creativity. You don’t have to be Van Gogh. Look around at the ways you overcome difficulties and see how creative you already are.

Are you someone who can work around a computer glitch? When you don’t have an ingredient for a recipe do you know what to substitute instead? Can you build spreadsheets from scratch? All these are creative activities. You may not be a visual artist, but that doesn’t mean you are not as creative as one.

2. Fear of failure

We are told again and again that the best way to learn is by doing. Yet, throughout our lives we are criticised when we get things wrong.

No wonder we fear failure. No wonder that perfectionism (excellence distorted to the point of paralysis) is rife.

The consequences of failure seem huge. Fail our exams and we are told we will never get a job. Fail in our job and we lose our livelihood. Failure makes everything precarious.

And yet, the greatest entrepreneurs and innovators fail often. They cultivate the resilience to deal with failure, because the only way to do something new is to learn to cope with failure.

What you can do:

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“Fail, fail again, fail better,” said Samuel Beckett.

Find ways to try out new things, without reaping consequences of failure that are too big to cope with.

Start by calling the things you do “experiments” rather than failures. You are testing something out, and learning from it. By redefining success as the process of exploring and learning rather than the result, you can cultivate your curiosity.

Try creating a new meal at a time when you are the only one who’ll have to eat it if it is disgusting. Play with paint or clay and keep the results to yourself.

And remember, mistakes can lead to the best results. Famously, Post It Notes were created when a new type of glue being developed by a scientist at 3M was not sticky enough. Who knows what innovation might your mistakes lead to?

3. Fear of the unknown

Creativity requires people to be unclear about the eventual shape of their creation.   Whether they are creating a picture, a computer programme or starting a new business, the new design frequently takes a form that was unanticipated by its designer.

Amazing creations are often those furthest from their starting point. Being willing to take the journey of creativity demands that you let go of your pre-conceived ideas and be willing to go to places you have not explored before.

This is hard when staying in control seems to be how we manage our busy lives and get things done.

What you can do:

Acclimatise yourself to doing things without a plan. Finger paint. Go for a walk in a new environment without a map. Visit shops, museums and galleries you’d wouldn’t normally do to.

Try to include people with different ways of seeing the world in your life. They will open your eyes to new possibilities.

Find the enjoyment in these new activities, then start letting go of control in some of the more tightly managed parts of your life. Remember the words of Margaret Attwood:

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”

4. Fear of being unstructured and illogical

Rationality is highly valued in our culture. But while the left brain can make logical connections, it is the right brain that truly allows our creativity to flow.

Albert Einstein put it like this,

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

What you can do:

“Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes,” said composer John Cage.

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Remember that both right and left brain processes have a place in your life. Use your unstructured side to generate a wealth of ideas, however silly they seem. Allow each to become a jumping off point for further creativity.

Only when you let your right brain have free rein do you let your left brain loose, to hone those ideas and decide which have merit.

5. Fear of being judged

It can hurt to feel judged. It can leave us embarrassed, or worse, cut to the core. We’ve all experienced times when the judgement of others has hurt us.

Sometimes even the judgements that are not intended to hurt, still do. Sometimes we feel unappreciated or ignored. Or, even when someone praises our work for what we think are the wrong reasons we can feel stereotyped or misunderstood.

It often seems like the way to avoid judgement is to never do anything that can be judged. But by doing this, we keep ourselves small. We waste the huge potential that resides in every person.

In fact, your biggest critic is likely to be your own mind. We all have an inner critic, nagging at us and feeding our fear.

Your inner critic is trying to keep you safe from the judgement of others. But in the process it can stop you from taking even reasonable risks or trying something new. It will always default to the patterns it knows, long after you have outgrown them

What you can do:

Defer judgement on your creative output. As you create, just let yourself try things out, letting your creativity flow. During the process your only job is to keep things moving.

Only after you are done do you get to edit. This way, you have something to work on and improve, rather than stifling the creative process.

When you are evaluating your efforts, be careful about the language you use. Treat yourself kindly, avoiding unhelpful criticisms like ‘this is crap.’ Instead, be specific about what needs to be improved.

6. Fear of revealing yourself

Creativity can feel very personal and that can leave you feeling vulnerable if you show it to others.

The harder you’ve worked at something, the further you’ve reached out of your comfort zone and the more it matters to you, the more risky it can feel to open it up to external critics.

What you can do:

The more a work matters, the more vulnerable it makes you feel. Turn this truth on its head, as Steven Pressfield recommends in the War of Art:

“The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

Rather than getting stuck in the fear, reconnect to why it matters, and what it makes possible. Use that as fuel to push through the fear.

7. Fear of rejection

Human beings are social animals. Loneliness has been shown to affect not only our mental health, but our physical health – and even our life expectancy. So, is it any wonder that we are so scared of rejection?

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Our schools teach us to conform to social norms. Creative people are often written off as weird, quirky or freakish.

This is not new. Pioneers have been dismissed throughout history as they challenge convention and disrupt the establishment. Galileo was forced to recant his proof that the earth went round the sun, not the other way round. Van Gogh, one of the most admired artists in the world, only sold one single painting during his lifetime.

What you can do:

In the modern world, we have one big advantage that neither Galileo nor Van Gogh had. The internet and other modern communication technology has made the world smaller. Now it is possible for us all to find a group of like-minded people to share our passions with, however weird they are.

Remember, as Henri Matisse, himself a ground-breaking artist, said “Creativity takes courage.”

Take a step by step approach to the risk of coming out of your creativity closet. Start by creating in private. Then choose a safe group of supporters to share your work with. As you gain confidence that you have not been rejected, gradually extend the circle of people that see your creations until you are no longer hiding it at all.

8. Fear that you are not worthy

So many of us compare ourselves to others and find ourselves wanting. In fact, even very successful business leaders can find themselves feeling like they are only successful by accident, that they have tricked others and don’t really deserve to be in their roles.

They feel this despite evidence to the contrary, which might include praise, qualifications or positive results.

This feeling, of being a fake, is sufficiently common that it has been given a name: imposter syndrome. It is particularly prevalent in women and minority groups – people who has directly or indirectly had their ability questioned throughout their lives.

People with imposter syndrome can take any sign that their work isn’t as perfect as they hoped to ‘prove’ their belief that they are not good enough. And this can deter them from even trying.

What you can do:

Remember, a creative idea in our minds is never as good when it is realized. Inherent in any creative endeavor is imperfection. Rather than being a sign of your unworthiness, this is normal.

The poet, Robert Browning, mourned the inevitability of imperfection, but also pointed out “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Or what’s a heaven for?”

Even the most creative people can find it impossible to fully realise their visions. It is the nature of being human. Aspiring to more does not mean that your efforts are not worthwhile.

9. Fear of no reward

The conventional image of the starving artist living in a garret dominates our culture. It leaves us believing that indulging our creativity can only lead to poverty and obscurity.

To get ahead, or even just to feed our family, we believe it is necessary to follow ‘rational’ career paths such as business, law or medicine. Anything else is a recipe for financial hardship.

What you can do:

Remind yourself of the many successful and financially sustainable creative careers. Film-makers, advertising creatives, graphic designers and others do make a living from creative pursuits.

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Some of these include a measure of luck. Not all actors, painters or sculptors hit the big time. But combining creative pursuits with a job that pays the bills is a strategy successfully used by many, and keeps their creative options open.

These alternative jobs don’t have to involve waiting tables. An actor can do voice-overs, teach kids or work with business people on their presentation skills. Film-makers who don’t make it in Hollywood can create campaigns for charities or advertisements for businesses.

And don’t forget, creativity is an inherent part of almost every job. If you can find a better way to do something, even if you are working in a factory, you are being creative.

Shutting off the inherent creativity of human beings makes us more easily replaceable by robots. Make yourself invaluable in any role by using your creative potential.

10. Fear of the first step

Starting is usually the hardest part of anything worthwhile. Before you start, the sense of anticipation gets your fear going, without engaging with the real issues yet.

This is the time your monkey mind goes wild, filling you with anxiety rather than action. Or worse, your mind goes completely blank and you are frozen.

Writers block is well known, but the same effect applies to all creative pursuits. It leaves people procrastinating and ruins reputations.

Creative block affects even well known and genuinely creative people. Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, had his book editors confine him to a hotel suite for three weeks to get him to finally write So Long and Thanks for all the Fish, the fourth book in the Hitchhiker series, because he had put it off for so long.

What you can do:

Many authors say they don’t believe in writers block. What you need, they say, is discipline to just start.

Write anything that comes into your head, even if it is nonsense. Describe the scene outside your window. Imagine yourself starting in the middle of the story rather than the beginning. Don’t worry about quality. Just start.

The same applies to other creative endeavours. Pick up a paintbrush and splodge something on the canvas. Play a note on your instrument. Try a solution to a problem, even if you think it won’t work.

Rather than anticipating problems, grapple with them. Fix a time when you make a commitment to do something, even if you know it will be no good. After all, you can edit later. Writers often cross out their entire first paragraph, or even a whole first chapter.

Franklin D. Roosevelt reminds us:

“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

How will you convert retreat into advancement? Let go of the fear holding you back and embrace the creativity you already possess within.

Featured photo credit: Where is the Creative Spark? Photo: Morgan Sessions via unsplash.com

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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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