This series, curated by Brian Johnson, founder of PhilosophersNotes, features big ideas from leading thinkers on a wide range of personal-development topics.
Find the full version of “How to Create Fearlessly” (free!) below. For more optimal-living wisdom, visit www.BrianJohnson.me.
The creative life is fraught with worries, doubts, and other challenges that can easily cause a person to avoid creating.
It’s challenging to work on a novel for years in a world already filled with books or to share another image when it seems everybody is a photographer.
When we do work that doesn’t turn out, we might feel frustrated or sad. When we don’t know how to complete a project, we might feel anxious or defeated.
Here are 10 tips for bravely manifesting your potential, creating deeply and regularly, and living your life as an everyday creative person.
1. Honor the Creative Process
Many people claim to “love the process,” but nobody likes the idea of spending two years on a novel that ultimately is not well received. Intellectually, we may accept the fact that not everything we do will turn out well. But in our bodies, we hate that idea.
We have to accept this reality and learn the dance of detachment: Maintain your dreams, desires, and ambitions for your project, while at the same time accepting that what’s in front of you may not be “it.”
Start by viewing what you’re creating as a body of work instead of a single creative endeavor that may or may not be successful. What you’re doing, essentially, is making and creating meaning in your life, and like anything meaningful, that involves things that don’t work. One leads to another, so you just have to keep showing up.
2. Get OK With Mistakes and Messes
Growing up, we’re told to follow the rules and get things “right.” In most situations in our daily lives, this makes sense.
But to be creative, we need to give ourselves permission to make mistakes and messes. To help you shift from the everyday mind of always following the rules to a mindset of creativity, I recommend using some transitional practice, like a ritual or ceremony, that helps you shift gears.
One possibility: Take a deep breath — five seconds on the inhale, five seconds on the exhale — while repeating a short phrase or mantra that affirms you are now entering a creative mindspace and abandoning the rules you normally feel obliged to follow.
3. Create in the Middle of Things
This is a very simple idea: You have to do your creating right here and right now. You may tell yourself that you can’t create until circumstances are perfect — when the in-laws leave, the school semester ends, or X happens. This is a creativity killer, because when the “perfect” time comes, you’ll have another reason for not working on your project. That’s why it’s imperative to carve out time to create in the middle of your everyday life.
4. Crack Through Everyday Resistance
Beginning the creative process is harder and scarier than a lot of other things we can choose to do instead, like watching TV or surfing the Net.
The antidote to this everyday resistance is simply acknowledging that the resistance is there in the first place — and then doing something about it.
Again, a ritual can help you get past inertia. For example, you might light a candle in your creative space, or ring a bell, or put on some music. This type of practice sends your brain and body the signal that it’s time to get started on your creative work for the day.
5. Get a Grip on Your Mind
This is probably the most important step to creating fearlessly — because what we say to ourselves determines how we live and whether or not we’ll create.
If you tell yourself you’re too busy, too tired, or have no talent, it’s practically guaranteed you won’t create.
Instead of being held hostage by your thoughts, notice them and then challenge whether they are true. Listen to what you’re saying to yourself, and if it doesn’t serve you, let it go. Substitute it with affirmative language.
6. Institute a Morning Creativity Practice
Most people spend their days in “maybe,” and that almost always turns to “no.”
By starting your creative practice first thing in the morning, you begin your days with “yes,” and this sets you up for success in three ways: First, you will be mentally fresh from sleep; second, you will be able to make use of the creative material your brain has generated during the night; and third, you will start your day with meaningful momentum.
7. Expect Risks to Feel Risky
Most creative people will say they’re willing to take some risks in the service of their art — they just don’t want those risks to actually feel risky!
But as a creative person, you have to embrace risks and the anxiety that accompanies them. The very act of choosing provokes anxiety, and the creative process is one choice after another.
Finding healthy ways to manage your anxiety (like exercise and meditation) can help you face your fears with more resilience and equanimity.
8. Err on the Side of Completing
Even if you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing or where to go next, try to stick with the process and finish the project. Make it a point to finish, show, and sell your ideas.
If you start feeling like your project doesn’t measure up, consider getting some feedback on it instead of just setting it aside.
You don’t have to finish everything — sometimes it’s right to abandon things that no longer serve us — but get into the habit of completing more things than you drop. (For more wisdom on the importance of finishing a project, see “Finish What You Start” .)
9. Let Meaning Overcome Mood
OK, so maybe you’re not in the mood to create, but aren’t your creative, meaning-making efforts more important than your momentary mood?
Believe that your creative efforts matter and that attending to them (rather than your mood) is your first responsibility.
10. Get over your fear of rejection
We all want what Virginia Woolf called an “echo” — an audience and reception for our work. But the idea of an outside audience can also be scary — the source of silence, rejection, criticism.
Know that every single creative person since the beginning of time has experienced this anxiety. If you are creating for a specific audience, it makes sense to know what they want, but ultimately, you have to embrace your own efforts and do the work you want to do. Be true to your own creative spirit, and share the best of whatever it inspires.