Overcoming Creative Blocks: My Rules for Battling Procrastination and the Fear of Failure

When people face any sort of creative block, they often think they have to be inspired, waiting for some aha moment. Fortunately, the creative process doesn’t have to make one feel like such a captive. I was listening to an episode of the Lex Fridman Podcast the other day, and he had Joe Rogan on. Rogan spoke about his own creative process, noting the way in which one’s ego, or desire for acclaim, can stifle creative output. Their conversation perfectly summed up creativity, and I want to explore some of the points mentioned, as well as add on a few more.

The most important point that Rogan made related to passivity, the notion that you have to wait for your muse to contact you. Most of what we do (e.g. writers, comedians, painters) is produce, meaning that most of our outputs aren’t wonderful. Since I’m passionate about writing, I simply do it often. Therefore, I increase the probability that I’ll become inspired by some idea during the process. Sometimes, when I don’t know what to write about, I’ll just begin to write about something I’m thinking about, like how to help someone develop their creative side. And then, while writing, some idea will bring my article to a new level and I’ll explore concepts I wouldn’t have otherwise. Essentially, the muse arrives after some prodding. But, what usually holds us back from sitting down and doing the thing we love? Fear.

The fear of the other’s gaze, and in particular, the fear of another’s judgment, is usually the barrier behind the barrier of a creative block. We end up worrying so much about the output that we freeze. Rogan told Lex that creativity has to be an ego-less pursuit, that you can’t focus on acclaim. I’d even argue that you shouldn’t focus on yourself. When I write, I tend to focus on my values, exploring what’s important to me. Since I love using philosophical ideas to help improve mental health, I begin to think about the things I’ve learned that could potentially help someone else. So, my focus shifts from an assessment of my values to others’ emotional needs. And I think about some of the struggles that my clients have had, considering the ideas that they found helpful. If you produce something valuable, the recognition will eventually come, but you can easily psyche yourself out while pondering it.

Another important aspect of creativity is your relationships. I have consistent writing sessions with my friend Skye. In them, we discuss all sorts of ideas, from politics to philosophy to dating and romance. Sometimes, I even ask her what she thinks someone else would want to read about. And often, my articles are based on our discussions. So, the muse can be internal, stemming from the act of writing, or external, hiding in a conversation. Dialogues can be helpful because we often need them to unpack our ideas. Her and I ask each other clarifying questions and, as significantly, we let each other speak uninterrupted. Interestingly, thinking out loud is not the same as thinking in one’s mind; ideas can become clearer once expressed.

Our relationship has helped me increase my confidence in my work, and you need something like that, too. Once you realize that your work, whatever it may be, is valuable, then the procrastination, and foundational anxiety, will subside. I still get scared that people aren’t going to enjoy my blogs, but I can look back on my body of work to remind myself that it doesn’t really matter; I’ve had enough positive feedback to sustain my confidence. Some of my blogs perform well, and others flop. I recommend keeping a journal of all of the praise you’ve received about your craft. Like Rogan, I discovered that my material isn’t always going to hit the mark. Sometimes, the articles just don’t resonate with many readers. But, I’ll always know that the writers, and thinkers, I respect most appreciate my skill-set.

To sum up: focus on your values and how your work can matter, do the work when feeling uninspired, and develop relationships with people you respect who can provide you with honest feedback. Most importantly, and I seriously mean this, DO NOT discount the praise.

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