How to Kill Your Creativity…And Bring It Back To Life

Is your creativity dead?

I honestly believe that few of us – regardless of whether we work as “creatives” or not – intentionally set out to kill our own creativity.

We may just gently turn our backs on it, dismissing it as something reserved for children, or as something only “irresponsible” adults indulge in, or as a waste of time that could never serve a purpose in society (ie, getting paid money for it), or as something only “talented people” get to do.

I’m here to say that none of those is absolutely true.

Creativity is not limited to art…

So, let’s say you’re longing for a more creative life. That could mean anything from having more freedom and flexibility in your current job, to finding a way to support yourself while expressing your own creativity.

I don’t define creativity as being limited to “artistic” activities like painting, dancing, singing, or sculpting pottery. I define creativity as our innate human ability to connect with the unseen. By this definition, I see every human being as creative, by virtue of our brain’s ability to spontaneously form images that are only seen in our mind’s eye.

How you choose to use your creativity is a different story.

And this is where many of us have killed our own creativity, or least left it for dead.

How Creativity Dies

Let’s say you don’t believe that you ever killed your creativity. But somehow, it just died.

Why would it be useful to spend any time thinking about how it died? Shouldn’t you just move on, get over it, and start creating?

I could have written an article on how to practice creativity in your life right now. I actually did that, and maybe it spoke to some of you.

But what I’ve found with more time talking to adults in life transitions is that in order to recognize how we want to change, we need to talk about what gets in the way of that change. Focusing on the big vision is important, and looking directly at the obstacles in our own minds is important. Only when we see what’s standing in our way can we shift our attention toward a clear path through.

The Voices That Kill Creativity

In my own journey, I’ve discovered that there are at least three characters in my mind who show up whenever I am step into my creative self.

I’ve named them, because it helps me form a humorous mental image of these characters and – importantly – recognize them as “not me”

Voice #1: “The Slavedriver”

I picture a relentless tyrant, holding a whip and demanding every ounce of energy and focus on the tasks he has deemed urgent and important. He shouts: “Work harder! You need to be making more money! How will you pay the bills if you don’t work more? You’re nobody if you’re not working hard all the time!

Voice #2:  “The Critics”

I picture the guys in the balcony from The Muppet Show, Statler and Waldorf. “Hohohoho!”, they sneer, reveling in their elevated status, far removed from the performances they are critiquing down on the stage. “THAT’ll never fly. No one will ever take THAT seriously. THAT’ll never be worth anything. What a waste of time! You’ll never make it!”

Voice #3:  “The Teacher’s Pet”

I picture the perfect student, eagerly listening to the teacher’s every word and raising her hand at every opportunity to give the right answer. She says, “I need to ask for permission or receive approval before I act on anything. I need to know it’s OK to do before I do it. I need to know that everyone will like me if I say what I want to say. I need to know that I have the right answer before I raise my hand, step forward, or speak up.”

For me, the dance goes something like this:

When I open my eyes in the morning, The Slavedriver makes a long To Do list, ensuring that the number of items on the list is not humanly possible to complete in one day. That ensures I’ll always end the day a little dissatisfied…and keeps the Slavedriver employed.

I manage to quiet the Slavedriver down long enough to create space for my mind, body, and breath to connect, and to hear the silence of a clear mind. I perform a morning ritual reminding me of space in my mind, body, and breath. From this silence, my creativity starts to speak through me. I hear words, I see images, I envision metaphors for how I can relate differently to a particular challenge, or I notice how tightly I am gripping and attaching to certain thoughts. I receive guidance that feels calming, freeing, and truthful.

I hold that guidance long enough to put the ideas on paper. That means I’ve successfully ignored the Slavedriver’s unrelenting wrath for another few minutes.

Now it’s time for the Critics. As I step back to admire and assess my work, I hear them immediately chime in with, “HA! Like THAT’ll fly! Good luck with THAT…not! Hohohoho!”. Their sheer delight at mocking my tender creative attempts is enough to stop me in my tracks, or at least send me running toward the nearest distraction (in my case, opening my internet browser and checking e-mail, scanning Facebook, or looking at the pageview statistics on my blog).

Once I’ve unfrozen myself from the stupor of clicking endlessly back and forth among the five or six open tabs in my browser, I wake up to the fact that the Critics have been running the show for me. It’s time to put something out there already.

Enter The Teacher’s Pet. She’s such a nice girl, so polite and well-behaved, so eager to be called on when she has the right answer that no one else does. She is SO afraid of putting a creative piece out in public when she doesn’t KNOW whether she got it “right” or not. She is terrified of losing her status as Teacher’s Pet, perfect student, A-plus girl. She grabs a hold of my shoulder, clinging with tiny fingers, begging me to wait until I know more.

So there I am, with my creativity gasping for breath, stuck between the ongoing cries for productivity from the Slavedriver, the sneering Critics’ seeds of shame, and finally the doubts and fears of the Teacher’s Pet.

How To Resuscitate Your Creativity


If you’ve never faced a problem with your creativity, then please stop reading. Go back to your prolific output of one-of-a-kind masterpieces in the making, and don’t change a thing.

But if you’re anything like me, and experience periods of creative “flatlining”, read on. You might be thinking that with all this chatter in my head, it’s a miracle that I even made it this far in writing this blog post.

You’re right. It is a miracle. And here’s a process that really works to bring my creativity back to life, just when it seems to be slipping away.

  1. Acknowledge the characters in your head. What are the voices killing your creativity? Hear what they have to say. Ignoring them doesn’t work. Pretending not to hear them doesn’t work. They want to be heard. Sometimes that’s all they need before they begin to quiet down. Really listen, and try writing down or saying out loud what you hear.
  2. Name them. This helps you recognize them as “not you”, and to see when they are running your show.
  3. Form a relationship with each character. Now that you’ve stepped back and noticed that these characters are not who you are, talk to them from the place inside your heart that knows your greatest truth and creative power. Treat them with the kindness and gentleness you want for yourself, not the criticism and judgment they appear to hold against you. For me, this involves saying to the Slavedriver, “Thank you for your concern. You’re right, I need to make money, but there are many different ways to make money with the gifts I have to offer. I don’t have to struggle. I notice all the ways in which money arrives effortlessly.” When the Critics chime in, I notice that they’re not on the stage with me, and they’re also not the whole audience. They only occupy two seats in a huge auditorium that is my potential audience. Let them laugh and sneer, because there are (or will be) plenty of other seats in the house for supporters and fans. To my beloved Teacher’s Pet, I offer reassurance that life is not a school classroom, and I don’t need to know before I raise my hand. I thank her for all the times her niceness served me, and stand in the trust of my own power.
  4. Create space for silence and solitude each day. Finally, the best antidote to quiet and calm all of these characters is silence and solitude. I find and create space for this each day, whether through meditation, yoga, singing, walking in nature, writing, gardening, or reading inspirational wisdom. As I soak myself in the open space of silence, and feel my body in the freedom of solitude, I gradually learn to trust my own creative power, and the characters in my head become more cartoon-like and less real. I can observe them and laugh, and know that they have only the power that I grant them in my mind.

When I practice these four steps, with patience and gentle persistence, I always find an opening for my creativity to flow. You may notice that I haven’t done anything to “eradicate” the voices. I haven’t killed the characters. I also don’t wait for them to go away. I treat them with creative energy, and that’s what I receive in return.

Try this with your own creativity. But only if you’re prepared to be surprised.

2 thoughts on “How to Kill Your Creativity…And Bring It Back To Life

  1. Sarah

    Wow, Dr. Chu, it's like you're reading my mind with those 'three voices.' It's impressive how well you distinguish each one and describe the sequence in which they come out and paralyze you.

    I've been feeling really frustrated lately–like I have so many ideas, so many things I want to do and create, but I feel like I can't move, and why is that? I'd been trying to figure out if it was a) because I was pushing myself too hard or b) I wasn't pushing myself enough (!)

    That's why this analysis of the different voices helps so much. The problem can be trying to do too much AND inhibition, etc. I think you sum it up so well here: "So there I am, with my creativity gasping for breath, stuck between the ongoing cries for productivity from the Slavedriver, the sneering Critics’ seeds of shame, and finally the doubts and fears of the Teacher’s Pet."

    I also really like your point that creativity needs space. Space to think, stillness–to quiet the voices that crowd out your creativity and to give your creativity space to grow.

    Thank you very much for your insights. –Sarah

    Reply
  2. Sonya Shannon

    I really like this piece, Dr. Chu. You do an excellent job of identifying the various internal voices that threaten the creative process. I like your solution, too! Befriending and knowing those threatening voices is the way to quiet them. Also leaving space (chi) for the Universe to come in and soothe or re-inspire our souls is a great reminder.

    In addition to what you identified, I find my creativity also suffers when I compare myself and my life to others. Why are they more successful? Why wasn't I given such (fill in the blank – talents, opportunities, parents, etc.)…? I feel unloved when I engage in this behavior and my creativity is stifled. Luckily, I have some wonderful friends. On occasion, I have asked them how they see me and I am always astonished by their perceptions. Instead of being judgmental, they admire all kinds of qualities I never even imagined I have. So a supportive team can help foster creativity (and self-esteem) as well, in my experience.

    Thanks so much for writing on this valuable topic. And thanks for helping so many people with your work! I am going to refer people to your site.

    Reply

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