When Creativity Feels Hard, Take Action

You might think being creative on demand is “hard”. Here’s what I’ve learned on the job.

I’m sad that society heavily sells this idea that creativity is “too hard” That we are constantly being indoctrinated into it. Adults spout tropes about the difficulty of creativity, sounding like children talking about monsters under their bed. No evidence of a monster, just fear. (See also: Face the Fear of Failure)

Hard is one of my least favorite words. Most of the time considering difficulty is impractical. When you catch yourself doing it, take it as a sign to practice. Pondering how easy or difficult a task manifests as a common procrastination habit. We place mental blocks in front of our own goals to protect us from imagined outcomes.

Anyone who got to the point where they could read this has already tackled countless difficult tasks.

Fairly early in my career, a more experienced designer told me starting with a blank page is the hardest part of the job.

So I’ve found to make it easy, at the beginning of a project I focus on the most practical parts of it. Break apart the project. Open a document. Get the size right. Put something on the page without judgment.

If it’s a particularly creatively challenge project, I name the file “Project Name Ideas”. Then it’s a super judgment-free space.

If you know any text or ideas for text, put it on the page. If it’s even more intimidating, scribble some messy thoughts on paper.

Sometimes just drawing boxes or grabbing a photo or texture works. Or make a list of steps.

Creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Look at inspiration and try using very specific parts of what you like in your own idea. Draw from a few inspirations and try getting them to mesh together

Try out the bad ideas too. Afraid of becoming unoriginal? Copy something and then try to fix it until it’s unique. Make something hideous and see if you can fix that too. Even at your worst, you’ll have some usable thoughts.

The important part I’ve found is to show your work. If someone could see you, could they describe an action? Thinking is not an action in itself.

Think through actions and through making.

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

How Gratitude Maintains Connection: Artists and Designers Networking Guide Part 4

Artists and Designers Networking Guide: Part 4 embraces the power of gratitude. Networking means connecting with other people. Everyone wants to be around grateful people. Jump to the other posts about networking:

Gratitude is the key for easily maintaining connections in all of your relationships. I was originally going to write this part of the guide focusing on “connection maintanence”. Not only does the idea of maintaining relationships like a car sound cold and fake, it’s not accurate. We don’t just fix and replace our relationships just so they’ll keep working for us. We help others because we care and want to contribute to others happiness.

Whether it’s with friends, family, coworkers, former coworkers, client or other professional contacts, the one easy way to connect, reconnect or reach out is to give thanks. Who doesn’t appreciate a simple thank you note? Even if it’s for something that was a long time ago.

In the first part, I talked about how our network is our friends and family. Introducing those connections to our art and design work is a key idea in networking. As artists we strive for creativity, authenticity, and a sense of sense. Understanding our role as a kind of friend to those at work and in more professonal contexts is key to become an amazing networker. In part two, the focus was learning how to talk to others no matter where we go. In part three, there were ten tips to following up with your existing or new friends. How does gratitude factor in at the point of maintaining a connection?

Networking has a sleezy reputation that’s based in the realm of “I need something”. Sending a simple thank you note when you need nothing is not only the way to make your relationships more human, it’s also just a nice thing to do. Attach a thank you note to an invoice, and add sentence expressing thanks to more emails. When you express that you’re thinking about the other person’s point of view, they’re more likely to help you. When you don’t know what to say, there is always something to say thank you for.

Gratitude creates win-win situations

An article in Fortune titled “Why gratitude is good for business, year round” tells the story of how a limousine business held a lunch for the secretaries and coordinators who contact them for services. Usually they are the ones who get to watch their bosses and collegues attend events. A simple one-time event of gratitude became one of the biggest selling points for the business. Now by using this particular limousine company instead of others, their bosses were able to get the side effect of giving those who assistant them a cool event.

This also is a great reminder of how much more meaning we can give if we thank people who are never thanked. The actions we deem with an entitled notion that what was provided is not extraordinary. Therefore less worthy of thanks. Without their service, what would your life look like? If they all went on strike or vanished in the next rapture, what would you do?If you lived in a country or situation without them or were trapped alone on an island never to have help again, what would that feel like? If they were hit by a bus tomorrow, would you care even a little? When looked at it that way, showing appreciation for the existance of others is one powerful thought that too many people never allow to cross their minds.

Gratitude the opposite of expectation

Why say thanks to people for doing what they “should” be doing anyway? The real truth is that no one is obligated to help you. Inducing fear, obligation, and guilt are network killers. Even if you’re not inducing those qualities on purpose, if you don’t cultivate gratitude it can appear that you’re only connecting to cash in down the line. The goal is to provide emotional support, not just receive.Seperate messages and emails of appreciation from ones you are in need. Do you only send an email to your coworkers when you’re asking for something?

“Learn how to be respectful to your friends, don’t just start arguments with them and don’t tell them the reason, always remember your friends will be there quicker than your family. Learn to remember you got great friends, don’t forget that and they will always care for you no matter what. Always remember to smile and look up at what you got in life.”  Marilyn Monroe

How gratitude helps you feel good

Thinking about others can be a very positive experience. When you realize all that they’ve done to help you, you’ll realize how much support you have. When you’re having a bad day, write thank you notes for all of those who contributed to your success.

In the TED Talk “Remember to Say Thank You”, Laura Trice discusses how asking for praise is a form of vulnerability: ” I’m telling you where I’m insecure. I’m telling you where I need your help. And I’m treating you, my inner circle, like you’re the enemy. Because what can you do with that data? You could neglect me. You could abuse it. Or you could actually meet my need.” Letting others know that you will appreciate them can be scary!

We let them know we do our best to meet their wants as much as it works for. We often don’t show praise for the same reason, it is vulnerable to trust and desire from others. What we cultivate by being appreciative is a world where it is easy to give and receive. When we do need to say no, doing so graciously and with thankful kindness is still a powerful act.

“True forgiveness is when you can say, “Thank you for that experience.” Oprah Winfrey

You might even decide to write notes that you won’t even send or to people who are no longer living. Writing a note to your departed grandmother for teaching you about perserverence provides you with a role model who you would strive to be more like. Psychologists found that those who focus on gratitude felt better about their lives; they also exercised more, became physically healthier and had a healthier general sense of well-being.

Other studies found relationships built on appreciation are more positive and  were more in working through concerns. Instead of showing your middle finger when a car honks, why not say to yourself “Thank you for being patient!” When you go through a crowd and say excuse me, why not add “Thank you for letting me by!”

How to respond to gratitude

When someone says thank you, we are taught to say “You’re weclome.” Other variants are “No problem”, “My pleasure” and “Of course.” In short form, the polite or common answers allow us to move on with our day. On Psychology Today, Adam Grant, PhD wrote about alternatives to “You’re welcome” providing a few reasons to give us a more thoughtful response. We can cultivate further gratitude rather saying that we’re happy to give. He suggests finding your own way to say “I know you’ll do the same for someone else.” That phrase let’s them know that you value appreciation as an idea in general. In the context of networking, friendship, and connection, we can imagine how we are more willing to do more for those who we know will appreciate it.

Thank people publically and privately. Sound grateful to people who aren’t even present and might not hear your words. One of my favorite things to do is when a friend or coworker comes up, I say a few things I like about them. Even if the person I’m speaking to doesn’t know my coworker, it shows that I think about how other people contribute. This tells my friend who is listening a powerful message that I will appreciate them too. They’ll imagine that I probably go around saying nice things about them too. It’s like positive gossip. Instead of social anxiety, this emphasizes social confidence.

Thank you for reading my post! I know you didn’t have to and I appreciate you giving these thoughts a chance.

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

Be Creative About Making Your Own Opportunities

It’s not that I particularly like being a person who tries to make my own opportunities. It’s just the easiest way. So I’m very lazy in that sense.

I wish opportunity just all appear before me. If all the things I want appeared like magic. Then everyone knew what I want and did it. So that I wouldn’t have to look to find all the things I imagine.

I’m a realist. We see many who live as if that fantasy is what’s supposed to happen. They serve as a good reminder to ask for what you want. Be cool when you get what you get. Do what you can to find what you’re looking for.

At the same time it still often feels like I imagine things and they happen.

When you’re used to be a creative, you forget about the work a lot of the time. It’s a habit that is developed and cultivated.

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

Awesome Secrets to Super Inspired Procrastination

If you’re anything like me or the rest of the human race, you have put things off that in theory you would want to do. Yet the time to act is never right now. You haven’t decided when. Even if you did know when, then we have to figure out how. Trying to move an idea from imagination to completion is really tough!

I always tell friends or even strangers that I’m waiting for my roommate, Lamount Montgomery to do all the things. Lamount doesn’t wash dishes, load laundry or vacuum. Laziest roommate ever, I lament. I’m not doing it until he does! Unfortunately for both of us, Lamount is just my Cabbage Patch kid that I’ve had since I was a child.

“Procrastinate now, don’t put it off.”
Ellen DeGeneres

The story starts in the boom of the 80s. My mom wanted to get the uber popular toy for her three kids. Sold out everywher, she took advantage of a local bank that traded the toys in exchange for opening a bank account for kids. In all these decades since, he doesn’t have much to say for himself. No matter how long I wait, nothing seems to get done. Maybe a few of these tips could help me and Lamount out?

Write it down, don’t memorize

DON’T be too quick to judge your ideas as good, bad or impossible.

DO write thoughts in the most convenient way possible.

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In one of the most popular productivity books out there – Getting Things Done, David Allen sets forth the basic principle of productivity: Write it down. Rather than stewing in worry, find a place to write all things down. We can make it a habit of writing down a next step rather than worrying. The “next step” is a doable task.

Write your task where ever it makes sense. It might be on your calendar, on your to do list, just in a strip of notes. I keep endless notes in the “cloud” using Google Tasks and an Android app. I save all articles, thoughts, and titles that come to mind. When I sit down to paint or draw, I already have all of my ideas ready for me to act. This isn’t the time when we ask if an idea is important, good, or bad. I keep track of the terrible ideas as much as I do with the good ones. That’s something I can figure out in the next steps.

Lamount doesn’t write things down. I can’t solely blame him when I know he has the memory of a doll. He’ll never be able to get anything done. Your memory is only slightly better than a doll.

“Rename your “To-Do” list to your “Opportunities” list. Each day is a treasure chest filled with limitless opportunities; take joy in checking many off your list.”
Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You

Procrastinate, don’t procrastinate

DON’T deny your tendencies to procrastinate.

DO procrastinate on one task by doing another on your list.

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“If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it,” John Perry wrote in his 1995 online essay Structured Procrastination. “However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.”

I’ve definitely found this to be true. The path of least resistance for washing dishes, cleaning, or vacuuming is when I’m running late to work. I’m most productive at work when I’m trying to leave work and get to the gym. I get the most blogging done when I placed my podcast on the top of my list. We can exploit this idea just by making our top priorities the lesser tasks. If I made vacuuming every morning a priority, my procrastinating brain will tell me to get out of the house that much faster.

Except for time spent on meditation practice, you’re not sitting around doing literally nothing. Place the least important tasks and smallest as the top priority on your to do list. Plan to watch a few YouTube videos. Give yourself time to read on the internet. Which apparently you’ve already found time to do by reading my blog, so thanks for that. Imagine that you’re procrastinating on those tasks too. Either you’ll get a lot of quick dusting done, or you might just finally get to painting your next masterpiece.

While I’m procrastinating on that talk I need to have with Lamount Montgomery about how are rent is due and how he is not contributing, I might as well get some of my artwork done or at least sketch a little.

“Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It’s a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write.”
Paul Rudnick

Work together, not alone

DON’T just get help, be a helper yourself.

DO include others in your creative process.

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This is often a difficult idea for the most creative souls. We get so used to doing tasks on our own. Get support from others in your network. It’s not an all or nothing proposition, sometimes we’ll work alone and other times we collaborate. We don’t exist in a vacuum. It’s often appropriate to seek criticism, ask friends to remind us, or just reach out and talk about our work. The point of productivity is to both keep moving forward and hopefully finish tasks. Build in ways to take care of each other, both give and receive help freely.

As much as I enjoy waiting for Lamount Montgomery’s help with my chores, it often makes a lot more sense to just take care of things myself and relieve my Cabbage Patch roommate of the pressure.

“He who sees a need and waits to be asked for help is as unkind as if he had refused it.”
Dante Alighieri

Plan it out, don’t wing it

DON’T create steps without goals and guidelines.

DO plan to deviate from your plan.

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While flying by the seat of our pants is a huge part of the process, giving it some structure actually helps! How do you color outside of the lines without knowing where the lines are? (tweet this) Set deadlines and make outlines. Let’s say I was typing a blog post. Which I am currently doing, coincidentally enough. It helps to brain storm a few short phrases on the main ideas, organize them, and then fill inthe blanks. Sure, when I research, read, and type it often turns out my initially assumptions were wrong. Making mistakes and successfully failing is where true innovation comes from. We can’t solve problems unless we have problems.

It would be naive of me if I decide to wait for whenever Lamount is ready. I know him well enough to trust that he won’t stick to any schedule I set up. Fool me once, Lamount Montgomery. Fool me once. As much as I’d love for the sun to set at midnight and for a doll to do all things for me, it makes more sense to allow for that possibility and plan accordingly.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

And yeah, I procrastinated on writing a post about productivity and instead just wrote a passive aggressive letter to my roommate. I don’t expect him to ever learn. I can only hope these ideas will help you experiment with how you look at productivity.

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

You’re not an innovator and you never will be: 7 Reasons

Optimism

People who believed that impulsiveness could benefit creativity had an increase in effort-based performance on creative tasks according to new research. Led by Alexandra Wesnousky of New York University, the study helps support the “silver lining theory”: those who tend to see even their negative traits positively will be more motivated and provide more effort. Apparently, if you feel your flaws only hold you back, you won’t be as creative. Tweet this

Nostalgia

Research presented in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that nostalgia can boost innovative thinking. Participants were instructed to think of “nostalgic” experiences versus “ordinary” ones. The first group were rated as more creative. If you look at your memories as merely ordinary, you won’t be as innovative. Tweet this

Society

Another study led by University of Chicago Psychologist Sarah Gaither found that self-examination of our roles in society may be a creativity booster. When writing about themselves and imagining how they are perceived in various life roles such as gender, race, and family participants scored higher on creativity tasks than the group who focused on their daily lives without instruction. If you focus on your daily life rather than the roles you play in it, you might not be as innovative. Tweet this

Political Correctness 

A professor at Washington University in St. Louis tested the assumption that political correctness is a hindrance to creativity. Groups of the participants were instructed to list examples political correctness prior to a brainstorming session on how to use a vacant space on campus. Compared to the group who had no discussion before brainstorming, the political correct aware group had more ideas and those ideas were more unique. The researchers interpret that certainty about clearer expectations helped creativity. If you are unaware of political correctness, could you be less of an innovator? Tweet this

Naps

Short naps have been shown to boost creativity and short term alertness according to a study published by Georgeton University. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you can’t be as innovative. Tweet this

Boredom

Boredom benefits creative thought. Researchers at Pennsylvania State found bored participants did better on creativity tests than those who were self described as distressed, elated, or relaxed. If you don’t let yourself experience boredom, maybe you’re not going to be as creative. Tweet this

Walking

A Stanford University study found that walking helps with inspiration. It also found that those who walked outside versus a treadmill were twice as creative, though all walkers were more creative than the sitters. If you spend all of your time sitting inside all day, you might not be as innovative as someone who goes for a walk. Tweet this

You're not an innovator and you never will be: 7 reasons

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