Effects Of Stress On Creativity
In recent episodes of The Daily Larb Podcast, I've been speaking a lot about the importance of creating for the sake of it, for the benefit of one's self as a priority.
Harry said that he writes for himself first and has no thought for the listener.
Some of us believe in our naivety, that this approach is damaging to our success. But as The Artist's Manifesto says, this selfish approach is vital if we are to make something worthwhile.
Worthwhile not only to ourselves but to others too, because when we make something from that pure place, others want to be a part of it – eventually.
True success can't be based on the feedback from others.
Investing in that applause will invariably take us away from the place we are meant to be.
That outside focus on other people and their response to the stuff we make will eventually cause us stress and anxiety.
We become reliant on it. We begin to believe we're incapable, we don't have what it takes.
When You Don't Know Which Way To Go
I received a message on Twitter recently from an artist who was feeling stuck.
She had recently begun to take her work seriously (her own words) and didn't know what direction to take it.
She felt all this creative power to create something great and yet was stressed about making the wrong choice, taking the wrong path.
I know how she feels.
Often we can convince ourselves that going one way or the other will take us down the wrong road and we'll end up having wasted our time.
Analysis paralysis it is sometimes called. The truth is that there is no wrong direction.
Too much commentary from the outside disrupts our focus, takes us away from the creative process that if left to itself would take us where it needs to be.
I told her that she should simply go with the flow because to try to determine the direction of the creative energy is to interfere with its momentum and slow it down.
I believe we need to adopt a frame of mind that detaches from the need to have it one way or the other. It is a lose and free approach.
It is the purposeful engagement in the work simply for the sake of it.
The result is Purposeful Accident.
The Effects Of Stress On Creative Performance
Psychological studies tell us that stress can be beneficial such as when we are engaged in a high-intensity physical activity like in sport or other competitive endeavours.
I've run a ton of marathons and played teams sports so I know how that feels.
I can say for sure that there is stress writing a book too. To others, it may manifest in a different way but to me, it feels like a good form of stress.
The stressors that impact our creative ability can be environmental such as noise, temperature and visual distractions. Or they can be psychological.
Psychological stressors are said to result from our interpretation or assessment of conditions.
But there comes a point it seems, where the stressor can overtake us and our creativity begins to be affected.
A 2010 study by Kristen Byron et al, at Syracuse University, analysed 76 experimental studies on the relationship between stress and creativity.
They found that in general, low stress-inducing situations caused an increase in creative performance. High stress-inducing situations caused a decrease in creative performance.
These results are also consistent with the Dual-Tuning Model of Creativity proposed by George & Zhou in 2007, which says both positive and negative emotions can enhance creativity.
Long story short, the results of the study seem to suggest that how we interpret conditions can impact our results.
Feel directionless and out of control? Stress won't be long impacting your creative ability.
Feel in charge and self-determined? You're on the right road.
Cultivating A Positive State of Mind
I feel and struggle with stress just as you do.
Stress, strain and frustration are things that all of us experience to varying degrees throughout our days and perhaps there is no getting away from that completely.
On analysis of my own experience, I have come to realise that how I respond is entirely up to me.
In that regard, I do have control.
I also find it beneficial not to beat myself up when I feel this way. Accepting that I feel the way I feel helps me get over things quickly.
If I focus on my lack of commercial success, for example, I end up in a bad place.
It takes me down.
I begin to feel that I'm wasting my time or that I picked the wrong thing.
But these days that doesn't last long. In half a minute it has disappeared and I'm back on track with what I was doing.
It takes practice though, a certain amount of grit and determination to stay in a good place about the work we do. However, that doesn't need to be a gritting-the-teeth thing.
We can be quiet and accepting in our determination.
You could say it boils down to our concept of time.
If a future, better you exists, and you feel less than that today, then anxiety won't be far away.
However, if you feel content that you're already doing what you love and you are where you are, then anxiety and stress about being somewhere other than that won't affect you.
That doesn't mean you don't have goals.
Rather it means you accept that they will come about when the time is right – when you've done the work.
The key is to immerse yourself in that thing you do and ignore everything else.