Hitting rock bottom when you’re trying to create

Reaching the finish line on a journey of creativity means navigating the emotional ups and downs of the creative process.

If you’ve ever succeeded in getting to the end of such a journey, then the 6 phases outlined in the slides below will feel very familiar to you:

Sadly for many of us, the emotional drain of the ‘lows’ can be overwhelming.

We find ourselves hitting rock bottom at the third and fourth phases, creatively stuck there until we can no longer find the motivation to carry on, abandoning many a good idea before it comes to fruition.

The reality of the creative process though, is that by the time we hit these ‘low’ points, we have actually done much of the hard work – we just don’t know it. All we need is a little reassurance and help to get us moving again:

The first strand of hope to cling onto is that these creative lows are perfectly normal.

Whilst it may seem counter-intuitive that a journey to success would take us away from the initial euphoric highs, down through despondency and loss of confidence, it is in fact a common feature of being creative.

Therefore, when you experience these lows, be clear with yourself that it is not a sign that your idea is poor or that you are inadequate.

Creativity requires immersion into the field or topic on which your idea is focused.

As such immersion is mentally intense, it is often energy sapping; so trying to pull yourself out of your creative lows immediately after a sustained period of immersion isn’t going to give you the best chance of succeeding.

When you’re on a creative journey, it will therefore help to cut yourself some slack and commit to:

  • i) Not forcing yourself to dive deeper into your idea when your tanks are running low; and
  • ii) Not feeling guilty about letting go of your idea for a period, while your creative reserves replenish.

Remind yourself that creativity is about innovation, not invention.

“Being creative means having one foot in the familiar and one foot in the novel.”

Allen Garrett

Most successful ideas about new products or new ways of doing things make use of existing ideas, products or technologies.

Despite this, it is still a commonly held view that to show innovative thinking, we must come up with something that is unique in all aspects.

But this misconception only serves to exacerbate our emotional lows, as we convince ourselves that our idea has no creative value as each and every feature isn’t an original concept in its own right.

To escape this destructive ‘invention-or-bust’ mindset, we should instead take comfort that by keeping one foot in the familiar, the bulk of our idea can probably already be implemented.

This will free-up more of our energies for finding the novel spark that will make our idea innovative as a whole.

Hitting rock bottom and staying there has a profound impact on our outlook:

  • i) We feel increasingly negative about ourselves and our abilities; and
  • ii) Rather than seeing our idea as an opportunity to show our creative flair, we now just treat it as yet another problem that needs a solution.

It’s no surprise then that when we look to our colleagues for help in these moments, what we want from them is ‘To make me feel better about myself’ and ‘To solve the problem’.

Naturally, the colleagues we’re most likely to reach out to for such support are the ones we have a close personal bond with.

These ‘strong ties’ make us feel safe and they’re the colleagues we normally turn to in times of pressure and stress.

Whilst such colleagues are rightly the bedrock of our internal networks, it is possible that what your (still in development) idea really needs, is the input of someone who feels less inhibited to turn everything on its head.

These ‘weak ties’ often sit on the periphery of our networks.

Exposing an idea to critique by someone we don’t have a strong personal relationship with, means such interactions can feel pretty uncomfortable.

But by opening up to opinion and thinking that’s different to what comes from the majority of your network, weak tie colleagues have the power to jolt your idea into a creative renaissance – and it could just be what you need to lift yourself off rock bottom.

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