Escape the Comfort Zone: Uncanny Creativity 41

Making art often means getting out of the comfort zone.

Alan Henry of Lifehacker explains the science of breaking out of your comfort zone:

Routine and patterns minimize risk. Making something scares us. Creating something inherently feels risky. Who knows if it’ll be good?

The comfort zone feels happy with low anxiety and low stress. This is why most people never make anything.

Optimal Anxiety

Slight anxiety helps us. “Optimal Anxiety” increases performance. Too much stress and we do poorly. Comfort is the opposite of productivity. Volunteering as a designer helps me escape my routine. It can feel stressful, yet also I’m helping people.

Regularly facing fear in controlled ways prepares you better for out of control problems according to researcher Brene Brown:

Try this: Venture a new medium, performance art, visual arts, practice new tips. Small tweaks to normal ways of producing art involve exploring your curiosity.

Productive Discomfort

It gets easier to push boundaries the more you do it. Alina Tugend describes this effect of “Productive Discomfort” for the New York Times.

It’s easier to brainstorm if you’re seeking new experiences, new skills. You get used to looking at the world in new ways and question confirmation bias. Old problems will seem new.

Try this: Do old things differently. New restaurants, drive a new route, switch out apps you normally use.

Take small steps

Avoid putting things off. Keep a list of “someday maybes”. Review it regularly to see if they match with your schedule. Always wanted to paint dogs or nudes? What’s the next small step to make that happen.

Take small steps. Set small actions. Weekly daily. Think big in the long-term and small in the short-term. If you want to have a huge gallery show, first you need to slowly make painting
Try this: find clarity through action.

Remember to return to your comfort zone. Have rituals that you return to for comfort.

Try this: Slow down or speed up on decisions that you have to make. Be more spontaneous in areas where you’re usually very planned. Try being more calculated in the parts where you usually are carefree

The Sweet Spot Between Overconfidence and Anxiety

Optimal levels of anxiety tested as middle range by scientist, Business Insider explains. If we’re overconfident, there may not exist enough anxiety to focus and perform the task at hand. With too much anxiety, we’ll have trouble performing even basics of tasks. Self-described worriers tended to have “high levels of brain activity when they made mistakes”. The test became difficult compared to those with less anxiety.

Try this: Actively Practice worrying less. Actively practice worrying less. Working out. Meditate. Question and answer the facts behind your worry. Practice optimism. Seek help – friends, family, therapy.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

How to stop multitasking: Quick Tip 6

Try this: Stop Multitasking.

Focus on one task at a time. One aspect of one task.

Multitasking even hurts well-practiced habits. A 1990’s experiment on productivity demonstrated that switching between two tasks slowed participants. The experiment was shared by the American Psychological Association. If a participated repeated the same task again and again, they were better at it. Bilingual individuals matched colors and numbers in their native language versus a second language. Working in their native language became more difficult.

Switching goals and changing trains of thoughts is hard! Notice when you get distracted and choose to refocus on one thing until your goal is met. We naturally switch tasks throughout the day. Switching from one thing to another less often makes it easier. When you note you’re tempted to start and stop often, gently push yourself back.

I always have many projects on all of my lists at every moment. Especially when collaborating, I try to stick with what I’m doing. So if I’m at an improv comedy practice, I’m not talking much about my art and music. When I’m at the piano, I try not to let my mind wander to work or another improv show. I’m at my best when I can just obsess for hours about one thing.

Have you faced a problem with focusing?

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Ideas I Stole From Tina Fey: Uncanny Creativity 40

I previously read the book Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. I’m working on reviewing the follow-up book “Show Your Work. Inspired by Kleon’s discussion of his inspirations, I think the creative ethic of Tina Fey is pretty great. So I’m going to discuss some of her ideas and how to apply them to be creative. One thing I love is that her ideas inspire having humor about art. Humor has been linked to idea generation.

Make sure to write and even sketch your answers to these questions. Writing a powerful way to take action.

What are you resisting?

“Do your thing and don’t care if they like it.”  Tina Fey

Carl Jung would say that “what you resist not only persists but will grow.” This resistance connects to the psychological effect of priming. When we’re exposed to one thing, how we respond to other things changes. We often dwell on other people’s thoughts. These are real or imagined as worry. We’ll worry to the point where we’re less focused on our own goals and ideas. That’s natural. We have to counter balance the effect.

Ask yourself: What are you resisting? Notice your resistance. Be gentle without self and write something kind about the issue, Then refocus your attention back to your goals. We can counteract priming with “kindness priming”. When exposed to kindness, we tend to be more kind.

Is this information true and relevant?

When people say, “You really, really must” do something, it means you don’t really have to. No one ever says, “You really, really must deliver the baby during labor.” When it’s true, it doesn’t need to be said.” Tina Fey

This ties into a logic problem. There are various names for this including genetic fallacy, the fallacy of origins or fallacy of virtue. We can’t conclude based solely on history, origin, or source. We have to consider context. If you don’t want to do something and can live with that, it’s really all you need to know.

Ask yourself: Is this information true and relevant? If they say you must try yoga, do they really mean that they are think that it’ll help you? If you don’t think it’ll help you, thank them for being so thoughtful and move on.

What’s the next action?

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.”  Tina Fey

We call this analysis paralysis. We seek more and more clarity and not action. .One of my favorite poems Archaic Torso of Apollo describes in detail a headless statue. We can still imagine the head and arms, how intense this statue once was. Then we’re hit with one last detail: “You must change your life.” You know everything you need to act. Seek to balance seeking information with real creation. Small action leads to clarity.

Ask yourself: What’s the next action? Then do it. Make “Next Action” lists, not to do lists. David Allen describes next actions in detail in his book Getting Things Done. (To help you remember, print out my Getting Things Done cheat sheet.) This kind of list is specific verbs, places, and things. Avoid even broad goals like “Draw comics”. Instead try “Drawing in my sketchbook every day.” “Pencil a single comic panel every night”. Take action!

What can I do about this situation?

“Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.”  Tina Fey

Expressing negativity doesn’t make us feel better according to psychologist Jeffrey Lohr who studies venting. We just create a habit of venting. The issues you’re expressing are real. We often complain when we feel helpless. Acknowledge that we feel helpless and prepare to deal with that feeling.

Ask yourself: What can I do about this situation? As I discussed in the episode on Creative Optimism, helplessness comes from seeing problems as being an issue with who we are. We’ll see them as long-lasting. The story we tell us is that they will impact other parts of our lives. Once we’ve noticed a question or an obstacle, write a few actions. It’s great that we’re observant! Now put that power of observation to use on a task.

How can I turn mistakes into opportunities?

“THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities.”  Tina Fey

Scott Berkin writer of Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds says that making a mistake means that you’ve created a situation where you make interesting mistakes. Once you gain confidence to accept yourself, you’ll learn by being courageous about making changes.

According to Scott Berk, there are four kinds of mistakes. Stupid, Simple, Involved, and Complex.

  • A Stupid Mistake happens when we stub or toe. Just an accident of everyday humanity.
  • A Simple Mistake involves missing something in an everyday process.
  • An Involved Mistake involves becoming conscious of a pattern. Figuring out what makes us late for a deadline on a regular basis, for example.
  • A Complex Mistake might involve all of these plus unforeseeable issues and difficult information, even when we care the outcome.

Ask yourself: How can I turn mistakes into opportunities? Even a complex mistake is really mostly a series of Stupid, Simple, and Involved mistakes. Identify the simple low hanging fruit. As babies, we had to fall a lot so that we could stand. Mistakes happen. The biggest opportunity is finding ways to laugh at it.

What can I do to keep my promises?

“The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.”  Tina Fey

Creativity doesn’t just happen. We make it happen. It’s about making. Otherwise, we’d be trapped within the realm of thought and imagination.

Jon Stewart discussed with The Daily Beast how deadlines helped the Daily Show’s success. He made a promise to treat ideas as welcome from all staff members, not just writers. Stewarted created an environment where everyone felt comfortable sharing ideas remained important.

With this overall friendly environment, he could set a firm meeting with writers and producers at 9 am, first drafts of scripts due by noon with rewrites due by 2 o’clock. With his name and voice on the show, he felt free to rewrite drafts in his own voice which could frustrate others.

Ask yourself: What can I do to keep my promises? Notice how you’ve met deadlines in the past. If you had someone checking in on you, you might ask someone you trust to keep you accountable. You might be better with scheduled dedicated alone time. Find ways to make it super easy to finish what you start.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Imagine You’re 7 Years Old: Quick Tip 5

Try this: Imagine you’re a 7 year old.

Children playing is filled with curiosity. They haven’t learned the stock responses of adults. Ask yourself what a kid would do in this situation.

In one psychological experiment, college volunteers were asked what they’d do if school was cancelled for the day. A second group was given the added idea to “imagine themselves as a 7-year-old”. The group asked to think like a kid had more original ideas. Those who were tested as introverted, more inhibited, and less spontaneous were especially more creatively original. Details of this research were published in the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.

To be honest, I often forget I’m an adult. It’s kind of weird that we get older and we’re the same person. Adults are really just old children. We’re not as limited as we think we are.

Has thinking like a kid helped you?

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Make Practice into Fun: Uncanny Creativity 39

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Albert Einstein

Make a game of it.

A study at MIT Sloan found that games helped participants come up with more ideas. This episode has ideas to make your art practice fun. When I say art, I mean all things creative. Whether you’re creating web design, paintings, or knitting.

Since you need to practice your craft regularly, find ways to make the habit fun. Practicing in art also is better when deliberate and specific. Work smarter, be productive, and keep your art into a fun activity.

What do you need to practice? Your weaknesses. Being bad at something isn’t fun. Turn your weakness into strength and have fun while at it with these suggestions

Try a sketchbook challenge.

I know that not every designer draws. And if you’re a different type of creative, you may think it’s not for you. Doodling has been shown to help with memory. Set a goal to keep a sketchbook in a certain way. A new drawing every week? A thirty-day sketchbook challenge? The internet is filled with many sketchbook challenge prompts.

Change things up.

Variety of learning methods and material helps us learn more.  

Practice liking things.

Negativity, judgement, and dislike is a habit that interferes with our ability to learn. Take an interesting picture every day. This way you practice noticing new things every day. Better yet, let it inspire you. Look for colors, objects, textures, and designs that you’d love to use in your artwork. This takes you away from looking for inspiration online. Look for inspiration in the real world. Even better, post it on Instagram or Facebook along with some details imagining how you could use for your art.

Manage Time

Time is an important variable in learning. Have a physical calendar and make an X on it each day. What’s your high score for days in a row of drawing?  

Know your goals.

If your desire is to be a prolific artists, spend time making and finishing art. Come up with tiny weekly deadlines that move your toward a goal

Learn something new.

Try a drawing exercise. Use ideas from a tutorial. Not just reading. Trying

Flash fiction.

Engage your imagination by writing short stories filled with ideas

Notice your good luck

Draw a comic about the lucky events that happen in your day. Individuals who believe they are lucky tend to notice opportunities. Can you edit your Mental First Draft about your day and turn it into a story about luckiness? Comics are also helpful since it’s natural to think in stories as discussed in episode 7, Tell a Story.

Play with toys.

Playing with physical children’s toys will engage your imagination.  Play is practice. Animals play to practice skills they’ll need later.

Watching others helps learning. Go on YouTube and watch some drawing or design tutorials

Change locations.

We learn better by moving around! Practicing in different rooms and environments helps us learn. Change your scenery. On a beautiful day, draw outside. On a rainy day, sit by a window with a view. Go to coffee shops, the library, and museums.

Get up and dance.

Exercise helps us learn. Put on happy music and take a dance break to reward yourself after working on your art.  

Take breaks.

Relearning after a break helps us get better. Step away from your purpose and don’t forget to do something outside of art

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.