The majority of us know that fear is not helpful in general, but here’s why it’s particularly is bad for a creative from a neuroscience perspective: fear actually suppresses generative impulses in your brain.
Deep inside, I believe we’d all like to express some level of design superpower. We’d like to be known to be awesome at wielding our creativity, even if it is within a small group. While no one expects to be able to fly, have superhuman strength, x-ray vision, or leap over a building in a single bound; I do believe that there’s some part of ourselves that desire to be superheroes professionally in some way, shape or form.
As designers, we are immensely powerful. We have the capacity to solve problems by transforming the imagined or envisioned into the tangible and usable. Even further, we can use ours powers to provide betterment and positive change in the world through our work.
However, while we may have moments of brilliance, we still can be thwarted from consistent success by our own form of Kryptonite: Fear.
If you are periodically debilitated and paralyzed by fear, take heart: you’re not alone. In the book Idea Revolution by Clare Warmke, designer Mikey Richardson of the Amoeba Corp in Toronto shares some of his own: “…fear that the idea isn’t my best, that others may not like it, that I may not like it. Fear that it isn’t the ‘right’ idea. Fear that the idea will ruin everything and that I will be exposed as a hack. Giving birth to an idea can be a very stressful, heavy, scary process.” Most (if not all) of us can relate to Mikey’s fears, and probably have several additional ones including fear of critique, fear of letting down the team, and the fear of not being able to generate anything “new”, “original”, or “fresh.”
The majority of us know that fear is not helpful in general, but here’s why it’s particularly is bad for a creative from a neuroscience perspective: fear actually suppresses generative impulses in your brain. Fear disables your ability to think, rendering you incapable of coming up with new ideas that result from the new neurological pathways your brains creates when disparate concepts together to spark new ideas. Plainly put, fear makes you dumb and uncreative.
You don’t have to be experiencing sweaty palms and heart palpitations to be in fear. Most often, this fear comes in subtle, insidious forms that you may not immediately recognize. Three of the most common are the Inner Critic, perfectionism, and impostor syndrome.
Your Inner Critic is that incessant, persistent voice that constantly nags at you, second guesses your choices, and questions your abilities. This critic is your brain’s allegedly protective voice: a conglomeration of every piece of criticism, bad advice, and misguided information about you and your abilities you’ve ever received. Some Inner Critics are vociferous, while others keep their grating voices at a constant low hum of nagging judgments. One of the best ways to deal with the inner critic is to banish it.
If you’re in the habit of just taking a little more time to work on and execute an idea so that it will be perfect when you show it to the team or client, then you’re probably suffering from perfectionism. You know: just a little more time…just a little more tweaking…just a little more…and then they will have to love it, then they won’t be able to poke any holes in it, then won’t be able to say anything negative about it. Right? Perfectionism has been said to be “the highest form of self-abuse” because whatever you’re creating will never perfect, as perfection doesn’t truly exist.
Naturally, your professional success is just dumb luck, but you’ll just keep pressing on until someone finds you out to be to be the fraud that you are, right? My friend, you are suffering from impostor syndrome, the inability to see your talents for what they are and being driven by the fear that you’ll be found to actually be a talentless incompetent.
No matter what form your fears may take, here’s my guess: despite your best efforts, your hidden insecurities and fears are blocking you from being as creative as you could be. You want to be a superhero: you want to give your best to the project itself, the spirit of the ideas that come to you, and your team, but sometimes that feels akin to walking through quicksand.
To be able to really kick-ass at what we do professionally – regardless of industry – we need to remove blocks and filters to be able to do great work on your own and as part of a team. And you can’t do that if you’re letting fear put the breaks on the natural expression of your brilliance.
Here’s the good news: your fear response was learned, and has become a habit. Therefore, as a habit, it can be broken, and replaced with practices that are far more beneficial for your mental and professional well-being.
Here’s a quick three-step process to start ousting your fears so that you can begin to truly let your creativity flow.
- Step-up your awareness of when these voices pop up in your head and start putting the brakes on your creative mojo.
Have a notebook on hand to make a mark every time a fear-based thought pops up.
- Acknowledge the thought as the F.E.A.R. (“False Evidence Appearing Real”) that it is.
- Replace the thought with a different one.
Use your strong powers of visualization to imagine deleting the thought like an unwanted file, then think something true about your ability to create instead.
Pro-tip: it helps to have reminders of great things you have made in the past around you for these moments.
What can come of this? At the very least, after a certain period of time (they say it take approximately 30 days to break a habit, so be patient), you’ll start having a better flow of better ideas. At best, eventually you may be able to achieve something I like to think of as “cavalier creativity”: creating without caring about the outcome simply because it feels great to create. Of creating at this level, Chris Flink (formerly of Ideo) says this: “There is no challenge, big or small, in the world that could not benefit from a healthy dose of cavalier creativity.”
In stark contrast to Superman who did not a have a choice about his reaction to Kryptonite, we do have the capacity to look our fears straight in the eyes and transform them into productive creativity. Getting to the point of fully expressing your creativity superpowers is well worth it, considering the good that can come of it. It just starts with the first step.
Originally appeared in the book Designing Together. Reprinted with permission.