With the help of our resident Positive Psychology and Philosophy guru Taylor Kreiss, for this month's Holstee Guide we did a deep dive into tons of great research and writing around one of our favorite topics: Creativity. From Carol Dweck to Steven Pressfield, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Austin Kleon (just to name a few!), here are five things we learned this month about living a creative life.
1. We can reshape our relationship to failure
One of our favorite concepts from this month’s research is Carol Dweck’s Fixed vs Growth Mindsets. Someone with a Fixed Mindset believes their abilities are what they are, there’s no real room for improvement, and every challenge is just a test to prove their skills or mastery. Failure becomes an indication of deficiency, weakness, or lack of skill — all of which bring about shame, embarrassment, and low self-esteem.
On the other hand, someone who has a Growth Mindset sees failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Actively trying to cultivate a Growth Mindset towards your creative projects helps you build resilience to move through any challenges that arise. It allows you to bounce back from failure and offers a clear direction — to keep moving forward, to keep trying.
2. It’s never too late to start
Many researchers identified a common thread that connects most creative people: intrinsic motivation — a drive to do something because it makes us feel happy or fulfilled, not for validation, wealth, or external rewards.
One of the beautiful things about intrinsic motivation is that is gives you permission to do something new at any point in your life — whether or not it’s the creative activity you randomly picked as a kid (raise your hand if you were a 10-year-old school choir star 🙋) and have always been told you’re good at.
It means you can pick up a set of watercolors, start a blog, buy a cheap guitar from a thrift shop, or try something completely new without the pressure to succeed at it. Some of the most rewarding creative work you can do is the kind you do just because it seems fun.
3. Constraints = Freedom
For painters it’s the curse of the blank canvas, for writers the empty page (or screen 💻 ). It’s the often overwhelming, sometimes anxiety-inducing question all creatives ask some point: where do I start? Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist, recommends starting with constraints. When you know the limitations within which you have to create, you have something to guide those initial challenging steps and a framework throughout the process.
Assign yourself a strict time limit, participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), try to create something using only sticky notes, commit to writing a daily haiku. The important thing is that these constraints help you, not hurt you. So try to think of something that will jumpstart your creativity.
Our favorite example of this? Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat with only 236 different words, so his editor bet him he couldn’t write a book with only 50 different words. His response was Green Eggs and Ham, one of the bestselling children’s books of all time, composed — you guessed it — using only 50 different words. 🙌
4. Fear is not the enemy
One of the most challenging parts of living a creative life is overcoming the fear and anxiety that often come along with it. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, recommends not trying to live without fear, but to create alongside it.
She offers this incredible message directly to her fear, a helpful reminder that we have some say in fear’s role in all of our lives:
“Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you'll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I'm about to do anything interesting — and, may I say, you are superb at your job ... There's plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still — your suggestions will never be followed. You're allowed to have a seat, and you're allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You're not allowed to touch the road maps; you're not allowed to suggest detours; you're not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you're not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”
5. There are no shortcuts
In their book Art & Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland tell a story of a ceramics teacher who on the first day of class divided his students into two groups: one would be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produced, the other would be graded on the quality of a single piece.
At the end of the term, when it came time to grade, he found that the group that produced the higher quantity of pieces were able to more quickly learn from their mistakes and make adjustments, instead of fixating on creating a perfect pot—which yielded better work overall.
The lesson here is that most creative work takes time and repetition, showing up every day even when practicing your craft seems boring or challenging.
Jennifer Lioy is a writer, designer, illustrator, feelings-haver, and all-things-doer at Holstee (technically, the Creative and Communications Lead if anyone important is asking). She lives in Austin, TX and eats breakfast tacos every day. If given the chance, she will corner you in a bar to ask you what you’re afraid of.
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