Living a creative life—with wellbeing—can be an act of minimalism. Often, creatives thrive when we do less, not more, with our time and energy. We lower our unrealistic expectations and judge ourselves with less frequency. We acknowledge how much we do (and do well) already. We winnow our priorities.
Then, we can breathe! In that space, with fresh eyes, fewer worries, and renewed intention, we meet the blank page or canvas, the dust-covered musical instrument, or the amorphous idea in our heads. It’s not about planning and productivity. We learn to say “no,” “I deserve rest too,” “I’m not taking from my kids, I’m being a creative role model,” and “I’m enough already, but this sounds like a fun creative experiment.”
I share this because it’s a relief, and it’s empowering. Yet, we often forget that minimalism, mindfulness, and breathing can support us. Instead, our culture bombards us with off-base and ineffective creative and business advice. Sometimes, the tone seems harsh and judgmental (I don’t know about you, but I’d rather “practice” my craft than “hustle.” If you wouldn’t word it like that to your kid, or your best friend, should you aim that language at yourself?).
Where does that harsh advice leave you? What thoughts do you hold about where you “should” be in your life right now, and what you “should” be doing? I have a feeling you know them well; you think them dozens of times each day! Step back and put it in context: how exhausting are these thoughts? Fortunately, there’s a healthier way.
Mindfully Work with Thoughts, Feelings, + Sensations
Notice that I shifted from sharing reassuring thoughts to asking what thoughts get in your way. That probably brought up some emotions for you. Hang with those uncomfortable feelings for a moment. Maybe you can notice shallower breathing, a constriction in your throat, or a swirly feeling: all signs of anxiety.
The biggest obstacles to getting our creative work done are not lack of clarity nor logistical issues. The obstacles are our thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
It’s human nature to want to turn away from discomfort and toward comfort. Have some self-compassion; you’re only human.
As creativity coach Eric Maisel writes, “A creative block is the wall we erect to ward off the anxiety we suppose we’ll experience if we sit down to work.” Creative anxiety can prevent us from even wanting to think about doing our work. It’s easy to distract ourselves. We use the same stories and uncomfortable bodily sensations as excuses for why we can’t do something, can’t do it right now, or why it’s not the current priority.
No matter how clear you are on your goals and next action steps, nor how well you plan out your schedule, thoughts will get in the way. They’ll prevent follow-through. More importantly, they’ll chip away at your wellbeing.
Where Do I Start?
The practice is simple, but it’s not easy.
Start by subtracting tasks from your schedule, rather than thinking that you need to set your sights higher. Can you relax into letting someone else watch your kids for a few hours? Do you have to volunteer at school again this month, or can you let another parent have that privilege and carry the load? Can you skip that meeting? With less on your plate, you can focus on the mind/body work at hand.
Again, let yourself be human. Treat yourself with self-compassion. Don’t mentally chew yourself out for any past or current procrastination.
It’s hard to sit alone with your ideas and thoughts (a necessity for creating art, crafts, businesses, and volunteer projects). Our culture doesn’t help us cultivate that ability to accept and work with thoughts, feelings, and sensations. It doesn’t give us the clear tools for how to do so. Often, the promoted tactics reinforce negative thoughts, anxiety, and depression (for example, using positive affirmations has been shown to backfire, fueling negative thoughts as we doubt and counteract the affirmations. We want tools that work with us, not ones that create additional hurdles.).
Remind yourself that every creative has self-doubt, procrastinating habits, and crappy first drafts—perhaps daily. Don’t hold yourself as the exception, as someone who should perform at a higher level. Normalize the obstacles, rather than dwelling on them. Refocus on your breathing, or the next small action you can take. Implementation happens most easily when you kindly tend to what’s going on in your brain and body.
Approach the thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations that arise naturally. Trust that you’re capable of sitting with your feelings and doing your creative work.
A Framework from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
The fabulous book The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt by Russ Harris may help you. It’s based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It so beautifully gets at the essence of our challenges. Harris says that people lack confidence, and become overcome by fear and self-doubt, because of:
- Excessive expectations
- Harsh self-judgment
- Preoccupations with fear,
- Lack of experience and
- Lack of Skill
We counteract these challenges by instead:
- Unhooking from excessive expectations
- Practicing self-acceptance and self-encouragement
- Making room for fear–and, if possible, using it
- Stepping out of your comfort zone and then getting the experience you require
- Practicing the skills, applying them effectively, assessing the results, and modifying as needed.
This is a process, a practice. It unfolds gradually. There’s no magic quick fix for creativity nor wellbeing, as much as we’d like one.
You’ll need to build in reminders to use this new framework:
- Re-read these tips as needed.
- Put up visual reminders in your creative workspace.
- Work on them with a friend, group, or coach.
The good news is: they work, and they can become your habits.
Breath as Metronome
When you find yourself playing the mental tug-of-war between doing less and doing more, all for the ultimate goal of feeling better, you can set your own pace. Breathe through what arises during this practice. If nothing else, return to your breath; it’s the essence of minimalism and mindfulness.
I believe that these practices will help you shift from engaging the sympathetic (arousing) nervous system to the parasympathetic (calming) nervous system. It will help you feel more mindful and prepared for what’s next.
With the creative process, your breath is your metronome.
P.S. You may like:
Share a Comment: What thought(s) do you struggle with most? How will you start to accept and work with them?
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Photo Credits: Sky by Kristopher Roller via Unsplash.