Hackernoon logo7 Culprits That Cramp Our Creativity And How To Overcome Them by@poornima

7 Culprits That Cramp Our Creativity And How To Overcome Them

Poornima Vijayashanker Hacker Noon profile picture

Poornima Vijayashanker


Every day I meet brilliant people. They might not think or feel like they’re brilliant. But I see the potential in them. I see the potential that they might not see in themselves.

How do I know they’re brilliant?


I listen to them.

I pick up on ideas, thoughts, and solutions they share.

When I commend them and encourage them to pursue their idea, thought, or solution, their body language is very telling.

They cramp up.

They don’t believe me, but more importantly they don’t believe in themselves.

So what’s holding them back?

One of these 7 culprits:

1. Our inner critic cramps our creative confidence as it starts to emerge.

Earlier this year, I sat down to interview Maria Molfino. Maria is a women’s leadership coach and helps women gain the creative confidence to lead. She has a Masters in Design from Stanford and has worked with top managers and professionals at companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and IDEO.

During our conversation, we unraveled why people lack creative confidence: fear.

There are lots of fears surrounding taking a creative risk, such as the fear of failure, which is bigger than actually experiencing the failure. Then there’s fear of criticism from ourselves, bosses, peers, and loved ones, which is a form of rejection. Finally, there is a resistance around being self-promotional.

Fear causes us to stay in our comfort zone. We create what we’re told to create, and pursue an easy path.

But that easy path creates an uneasy feeling inside ourselves. We feel unfulfilled in our careers and everyday lives.

To achieve fulfillment we need to push our creative limits and take a risk.

But when we decide to take a risk our inner critic: that little voice inside our heads stops us dead in our tracks and fills us with various fears.

Fear of criticism, fear of rejection, and fear or failure.

It’s hard to put the inner critic in its place because of the way we’ve been educated and conditioned: to not make mistakes.

But we have to be vigilant.

Maria says,

“If you care about growing and expanding then you have to find out how to relate to your fears.” She continues, “If fear isn’t coming up, you’re not playing at your edge.”

You can watch our full interview below on How Practicing Creative Confidence Can Help You Embrace Risk:

2. Letting our mind be driven by interruptions and noise.

We all start off with great ideas, but to mold those ideas into creations, we need to concentrate and think deeply. That’s hard to do when we’re bombarded daily by interruptions at work and in our lives.

In his book, Too Fast To think: How to Reclaim Your Creativity in a Hyper-connected Work Culture, Chris Lewis writes:

“…if we assume a 10-hour day then that’s 36 ads, 12 emails and countless Facebook updates per hour. And that’s just the basics. We haven’t included instant messaging, mobile calls, Skypes, FaceTime, Instagram, Twitter, WeChat and WhatsApp. You can see it’s a wonder anyone has time to concentrate on any real thinking at all.”

He continues:

“If we want to be more creative, we have to be careful about how much noise we allow in our lives and how we allow ourselves to be used for engagement purposes.”

3. Discounting ideas based on where they came from or how original they are.

Ideas sprout wherever we are: when we’re in the shower, in our dreams, or on a yoga mat (my personal favorite).

Does it matter where they came from?

Not really.

But some attach a sense of shame an idea’s origin. The sense of shame is couched in the fear or criticism. Others may judge the validity of our idea based on where it came from.

In reality, it doesn’t really matter where, when, or how your ideas came to you.

And it certainly doesn’t matter how original they are.

It’s well known that greatest artists steal ideas.

The late David Bowie once said:

“The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.”

While T. S. Elliott said:

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which was torn.”

4. Setting aside time consistently to create.

This is probably the hardest thing to do because we’ve become so conditioned to making ends meet, meeting deadlines, and taking care of personal obligations. It doesn’t leave us with much creative energy.

Again the fear of criticism rears it’s ugly head and makes us feel like if we really cared, we’d just drop everything and all we’d do is create.

That’s a bunch of baloney. There is nothing wrong with having a day job, and then taking time off to create. In fact, one of the greatest challenges is to make time if we want to create.

Making time means setting it aside consistently, safeguarding it, and then when it’s time to create… you create!

This summer I had the great pleasure of interviewing Jessica Hische, who is a letter, illustrator, and type designer. During the interview, Jessica talked about why a day job can be immensely valuable and how to find one that is nurturing. She also went on to describe how early in her career, she’d set aside time in the evenings and weekends to do additional work.

Highly recommend watching the interview below I did with Jessica on How to Prepare to Strike Out On Your Own and Pursue Your Creative Calling it is chocked full for practical tips for creative folks.

5. Lacking depth of knowledge and experience.

We sit around waiting for a muse to show up, but to steal a moral from Kung Fu Panda: it’s already within us.

We have to go out, seek knowledge and experiences, through reading, travels, conversations, and studying.

The collection of all of it all gives us a unique perspective worth sharing.

Photo by: Nina Strehl https://unsplash.com/@ninastrehl

6. Rest and relaxation.

Why do your best ideas come to us when we’re in the shower?

Because we essentially stop thinking about a problem.

When we relax our mind, we give it time to synthesize information, and in that process, we end up arriving at a solution or creative breakthrough.

But time and time again, people think creativity is a death march, endlessly devoting every waking moment and some sleepless nights to the great act.

Professor Russell Foster in his book Sleep: A Very Short Introduction mentions the following three reasons we need sleep for creativity:

Restoration — some genes are only turned on when the brain is sleeping.
Conservation — some say it’s to save energy. This is unlikely because the difference between sleeping and staying awake is around 110 calories.
Brain process and memory consolidation — people who sleep are more than three times more powerful cognitively and creatively.
Sleep is the best cognitive enhancer we know. I’ve no idea why leaders don’t recognize this. It’s not just a matter of enhanced performance, it’s about safety as well. And it’s not just short-term cognitive functions that are a risk: ‘Just one night of disrupted sleep can lower the effectiveness of killer (immune) cells by 24 per cent. That’s probably because of the elevation of stress caused by the internal desynchrony.
The brain is like a net — held tight during the day. Sleep loosens this net and things begin to mingle. Part of the creative process is these free-ranging associations. This is what happens when the brain develops theta waves. These are the brain state of REM sleep (dreams), hypnosis, lucid dreaming, and the barely conscious state just before sleeping and just after walking.

7. Lacking grit.

We often give up on creating even before we start because our fears paralyze us.

Hence aside from rest and relaxation, grit requires putting the inner critic in its place, and coming to terms with each of our fears.

It doesn’t mean setbacks won’t happen. They will indeed.

However, setbacks don’t mean that we need to give up, they just require us to change direction.

Sarah Lewis in her book The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery mentions,

“Failure — a word originally synonymous with bankruptcy, is a seemingly dead end forced to fit human worth — is the bias of our limited understand of its value.”
“The near miss is experienced as an encouragement because, well, you’re almost there.”

Near misses give us hope. The hope we need to fuel our creativity and keep going.

I’ll conclude with the following quote by Steve Jobs:

“There is no such thing as failure — failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”

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