Sometimes creative ideas burst out of me like brilliant rays of light, all youthful, fresh, and energetic…like toddlers seeing butterflies for the first time. So long as I feed them and let them out in the yard to play for a while, they run around spreading the joy of precious baby laughter forever…or at least until the 6:00 whistle blows and it’s time for dinner.
Other times, however, like when I’m an ignorant dick of a pretend parent and lock the idea toddlers in the basement so they won’t bother me while I’m doing “important adult things,” these ideas wither and die, one after another, leaving behind a decomposing pile of rotten-egg baby waste. The problem for me is that these ideas (or toddlers) never stop sprouting (or asking for food and attention), so this decomposing pile of rotten-egg baby waste just keeps building as long as I continue ignoring it.
The problem for you is that it all has to come out sometime, so I will pre-apologize for the unpleasant stench of rotting ideas that you’ll have to endure while reading the rest of this. Perhaps you can find yourself a clothespin to obstruct your olfactory organs over the next few minutes. Or a chip clip if you don’t hang clothes anymore. Once upon a time folks used to hang dry their laundry, and it saved a boatload on electricity and dryer sheets. And fabric softener, if you’re into that sort of thing. Seriously, where does it end? And what if your clothes get too soft?
Let’s go over all my enemies of creativity, one bolded sub-heading at a time.
If I’m distracted enough, I don’t notice all the sprouting creative ideas vying for my attention (or the crying toddlers banging on the basement door). The object of distraction confiscates so much of my mental bandwidth that I lose awareness of other things going on around me, perhaps right in front of me…possibly downstairs in the basement. When was the last time I checked my sump pump? Never mind…I’ve got to stay focused here.
My most distracting distraction lately has been The Great Distraction, which I wrote about in that link I dropped a few words ago, but not all distractions are bad or unpleasant. In fact, I’ve been pleasantly distracted a lot this summer chasing fish with friends, siblings, and my father. At times my mind has been so consumed with weather patterns, fish migration patterns, equipment specs, sonar output, maps, jigging techniques, and visualizing netting a monster walleye (to replace the painful memory of losing a beauty at the net in early October) that I simply couldn’t pay attention to other creative ideas.
In fact, the distraction of fishing took over the garden in my brain and started growing its own sprouts, crowding out normal blog topics of awareness, personality, and other random better thoughts (like these).
Once I give my brain such a firm directive of focus, it’s unlikely to think about much else. But that’s cool because it’s been a pretty rewarding fishing season too (minus the one botched net job and getting stuck in a few Nor’easters). I just had to learn not to beat my head against a wall for feeling unproductive when I felt like tying spinner rigs or watching fishing videos on YouTube instead of sitting down and writing blog posts. So that was the key to my feeling better, first recognizing that I was distracted, and then accepting it.
So how does one recognize they’re distracted. Sometimes the best way to explain things is through a good, old-fashioned, real life example.
You might be distracted if…your conversation during a haircut goes something like this:
Stylist: How was your weekend?
Stylist: What did you do?
Me: Um…(processing…processing…processing)…I went to a place. And I think there were people. I drove there.
Stylist: Oh, that’s nice.
As you can tell, that stylist at Sport Clips was clearly distracted. It was either all the games on the little TVs or how amazingly not bald I am at age thirty-four (no small feat in my bloodline). Or maybe it was the excessive hair in my nose and ears and on my eyebrows, which I refused to let her trim. I’m not totally helpless. Whichever one it was, she will be better off once she becomes aware of her distraction and accepts it.
In reality, when I say “focus,” what I really mean is uber focus combined with pressure and stress, but that was too long for a sub-heading, and my OCD really wanted every sub-heading in the post to consistently be one word. I’m going for minimalistic and orderly here.
I don’t know if the following rings true for everyone, but my brain seems to operate on a spectrum that looks much like this one:
Clearly you can see my personality bias come out in the illustration. Not that the left side is inherently bad, but too much of it makes me fidgety and annoyed.
Often times I’m operating in a comfortable balance somewhere near the center. In rare, super creative moments, I’m way on that right side. When I’m meticulously working on a very logical, analytical project, especially with any added stress of time constraints, I operate way on the left side. And the curious thing about it, at least for me, is that these sides seem to be “sticky.” In other words, once I’ve swung way out to one or the other, it tends to take a while to fall back to equilibrium.
I also seem to get more easily stuck on the left side than the right side, and I think it might have to do with my personality type and cognitive functions I talked about in Personality 2. As an INFJ from the Myers-Briggs world, my primary function is Introverted Intuition (sounds a lot like the right side of the spectrum up there), and my third function is Introverted Thinking (sounds a lot like the left side).
My primary function is more integrated, and I can move more seamlessly in and out of it. The third function, though, takes attentive effort for me to control, thus I have to force it a little, maybe overcorrect, and expend a bunch of energy in the process.
So what trips my Introverted Thinking function? How about eight to ten hours a day working on investment analysis software systems? Now, to be fair, there can be some room in there for creativity and intuition, more so within the system design and architecture part of things.
However, when I’m spending days on end mulling over portfolio codes, portfolio names, mapping tables, Excel sheets (still the number one business software application in the world), database column names, request templates, sector hierarchies, industry hierarchies, and any other kind of “archy,” (except anarchy, which would be the exact opposite type of “archy”), my dial gets turned so far left that it breaks, and I can’t turn it back to the right until I get a replacement dial from the product website which takes like two weeks for shipping. Unfortunately they don’t sell such things on Amazon Prime. I know, I was shocked too…they have everything else…including live, Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. Seriously, check that out.
This heavily focused, analytical project has been a bigger and bigger part of my day job lately, and I’ve been red-lined on the left side so frequently that often even a full weekend isn’t enough to find my way back from left-sided, analytical, over-think hell. Sometimes I’d sit down to my laptop on Sunday night, at home, figuratively cracking my knuckles, ready to write something creative, and I just find myself staring at the wall for thirty minutes until I decide to tie a fiftieth tube of spinner rigs, go to bed, and drive my car back to the right side of the spectrum again in the morning where it all starts over for another week.
By the way, to those of you who noticed that spectrum graphic kind of represents the whole left-brained, right-brained thing, nice catch. I’m guessing the brain isn’t quite so simple as left and right, but there has to be some truth to our tendencies to be more intuitive and creative vs. logical and analytical and how we react to being pressed into using one vs the other. Take it for what it’s worth (which may be nothing…or something…that is literally the universe of options).
When you’re low on energy, you can’t be creative. That’s why they call it “creative energy.”
Was that last section necessary? No, but if you’re going to have subheadings, you have to at least have three (OCD rules). And as lame as the joke was, I feel liberated having gotten it out there. As I said, there was going to be some smelly, rotten crap you were going to have to deal with, and I’m glad I let it out on you. Feel free to remove the clothespins from your nose now.
Let this be a reminder to occasionally let your ideas out to play in the backyard of your mind, before they start to die, rot, and stink. While locking figurative toddlers in the basement of your brain isn’t illegal, it may be destructive to your personal wellbeing (locking real toddlers in basements, however, is very illegal…don’t do that either). And next time someone complains about your gas, it might not be the beans…it might be the stench of rotting ideas. Write that down.