Some emotions we have, appear to be misplaced in the modern world. Our lives are profoundly non-violent and our emotions tend to burn. Fortunately, we can harvest these emotions and use them for creative outbursts. Want to understand how? Continue reading. Also, you can check here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Anger, anxiety, envy, obsessive thoughts… Our most powerful emotions are very old. As such, they were useful for predators and prey: to compete over females and food, to run away from danger, to steal food from other predators, to wait for days until the right timing happens. Fortunately, we have enough food now and our lives are profoundly non-violent. So we need to find what to do with outdated remotions. Some of the popular choices are:
- Ignore: breath deeply, count, think about something else
- Replace: with a productive emotion. Competitive drive instead of anger, insurance and data gathering instead of anxiety, learning from instead of envying to, …
- Channel the energy into productive activity. This is the subject of the current article.
Creative blocks are commonly mentioned by authors. At some point, as authors, we start to lose the drive and energy. Our texts become grayish and not sufficiently emotional. We are sliding from charismatic to informative or even boring. This is a reasonable response of the organism that cannot support the required suspense and tension for too long. Typically, if we rest long enough, we tend to recover. This is not limited to authors: people of many professions occasionally lose their “mojo”.
An alternative to rest might be very useful. If we can harness our emotional instability into our creative machine, we can theoretically produce something remarkable.
Focus, energy, time
When talking about productive expression, I usually address separately focus, energy and time.
Time is easy. If we are energized by any sufficiently powerful emotion, we have to deal with it. So we find the time.
Energy is more tricky. Sufficiently powerful emotions might be overwhelming. We can try to ignore or replace the emotion – just enough to make it manageable. Certain self-help techniques we describe elsewhere, like doodling (visualization), a diary (CBT) or swish pattern (NLP) may do the trick.
Focus is something we should prepare in advance. Simply keeping the emotions in check is hard enough. If we have tasks that are sufficiently important and not very urgent, we might pre-allocate them for emotional outbreaks. So basically, we do the research and prepare some basic ideas, and then we wait.
Quite often I use this method in the current blog: I have hundreds of articles waiting for the right mood. So when the mood comes, I leave other tasks and focus on writing.
Preprocess and postprocess
While we can get into the “flow” state and create some impressive pieces on the energy of a misplaced emotion, the more technical states of preprocess and postprocess should be done in a very different mood.
Typically we need research and prepare information for the creative stage in the mood of “restless curiosity”. We need to be sufficiently restless to crawl through multiple research questions, sufficiently curious to respond to the material we read, and sufficiently emotion-less to write down the main ideas and move on. This is a mood I often get in the morning: I want to do something, but I do not want to commit to any particular task yet.
For post-processing we need to be focused and unemotional. This includes several very boring and technical tasks, which are prone to mistakes. Emotions and creative drive would generate these mistakes, as would boredom. So we need to be focused but somewhat inert. Sometimes this is the feeling I get after eating: the body is processing and not quite ready to burn energy, but also content and able to focus.
Knowing your circadian rhythm you can find just the right time to do the research and editing for writing or design and debugging for programming.
Emotions may change the ideas
Our perspectives often change as our emotions change. This is one of the reasons we want to harness the emotions: to generate new perspectives. A burning emotion may erode as we use it. Our understanding of the subject may also change. This results in a very uneven product. So you should expect to do some post-processing.
Additionally, the creative drive (a new perspective, lots of energy and subject we know about) may generate very new understandings. Suddenly we may need to write down new ideas for additional projects, or represent the current project in a different way.
The main quality of a job done in a state of burning emotion is intensity. We tend to use more contrast, brave technical tools, complex architectures. Basically we take more risks, are less detail-oriented and can support long periods of focus. Some of my best technical work was done to prove to my boss that he is wrong. Wrong or right, the result was impressive.
If the intensity gets unmanageable, do not judge what you produce – play and brainstorm instead. Social animals often play to deal with their burning emotions. So can we.
The technique is not limited to burning emotions. Pessimism can be used to analyze details and deal with objections. “Critical thinking” is often fueled by anxiety.
“Return on investment” loses its powers when we are emotional. We can solve tasks of a low priority and get unexpected revelations.
A different change
Sometimes the creative change will happen in ourselves. Usually, there is no way to prepare. We might suddenly want to acquire a new hobby or habit, become exceedingly grateful or forgive an old grudge. Creativity is often unpredictable, and it can turn in any direction.
Playing the game everybody else plays is limiting, The things we often consider our weaknesses might be leveraged and used as a competitive advantage. We might invent a new game and play it instead. Being limited by a different set of rules, we can generate profoundly new results.
Many people are tormented by chronic powerful emotions. For example, OCD and ADHD generate such effects. While being different is very hard for a teenager, when this energy is productively channeled it can generate profound breakthroughs. Many entrepreneurs and artists have profound personality issues, with long periods of low activity and short creative bursts. The more bursts these people can harvest, the more impressive is their work. This approach is profoundly different from medicating the issues away, and can be used as a complementary modality.
Limitations and constraints often boost creativity. If you are limited, search for ways to generate profoundly new solutions.