We all make up stories in our heads. Tales that tell us why we’re supposed to be doing all the things we hate and justifications for why we’re not doing the things we want to do. In some cases, this is a Very Good Thing. After all, we need to remember to eat, go to work, feed our children, etc. Likewise, we need to avoid doing things that we might crave in the moment but that would be detrimental or even dangerous in the long run – like taking that first drink when you’re an alcoholic or saying “no” to that impulse buy that would overdraft your bank account.
If only all the stories in our minds were true stories. You know as well as I do that many of those stories are only half truths while others are downright lies. Yet we keep telling ourselves, “I can’t do that!” or “No one would like me if I did this!” when, realistically, there is nothing stopping you from doing it and, for many things, no one really cares whether you do it not. It’s all in your head.
For many of us the predominant stories about creativity are negative ones. Do any of these seem familiar?
- Artists are crazy
- If I try to be an artist, I’ll starve.
- No one will like my art, so why waste my time?
- Employees aren’t supposed to have ideas, that’s for supervisors/engineers/managers/etc.
- The best way to solve a problem is the way it’s always been done.
- It takes a special talent to be creative.
I’m sure you have some of these same stories running over and over and over in your head. And probably some others that are unique variations to your specific situation.
But they are mostly lies. Sure, SOME artists starve and a few were considered crazy and some bosses don’t want to hear new ideas from employees, but not all. Not every case and probably not in your case. Don’t even get me started on where civilization would be if no one ever came up with a new solution to a problem or the fallacy that creativity is only for very special unicorns born under the seventh full moon of the seventh year, blah, blah, blah.
The only thing standing between you and your creative process is you! These stories that YOU tell YOURSELF.
Luckily, you already have the best weapon for defeating those stories – and every other block you put up to keep yourself from a more creative life. You have a creative spark inside you and the power to turn it into an ember, and then a flame, and, eventually, a roaring fire. If you’re having trouble finding or feeding that spark, you need to step back and think about what stories are throwing cold water on your creativity. Then give yourself permission to be creative anyway.
Really, that’s the first, and hardest step. You have to give yourself permission to be a creative person. Face down all those stories, all those lies and half-truths and voices that tell you “no” and “don’t” and say “I’m going to do this anyway!”
Remember when you were a kid and you really, really wanted to be big enough to ride the cool rides at the amusement park? When you wanted to ride your bike down the street by yourself? It wasn’t really about being “big enough” it was about reaching whatever milestone required in order to have permission to do it. Getting permission from a parent, a teacher, even an older sibling or friend was the golden ticket to so many things in childhood. You wouldn’t dare to do it without permission first.
So many of us wait around for someone in authority to give us permission to be artists, musicians, writers, inventors, entrepreneurs. The secret is that if you are an artist or a musician or inventor, etc., you don’t wait for someone else to give you permission. You just start doing whatever it is that you want.
Now, no one is promising you that you will be good at whatever creative pursuit is calling your name. That will require practice and you will probably have to acquire some new skills and background knowledge about whatever media or field you pursue. It takes work. A lifetime of work – however much of your lifetime is left, in fact. So stop wasting that lifetime waiting for someone outside you to give you the permission you need to override all those warnings and cautions in your head.
Here’s one way to give yourself permission. It will seem silly, and that’s the point. You need to counteract all the “voices of reason” in your head by embracing that sense of play and fun that goes hand in hand with creating. Remember the way you felt when you had your first box of crayons? Your first time cutting and pasting some art project? That’s the fun you want to recreate.
Start with a blank piece of paper and something to write with – no using the computer for this one. Though if you have a drawing or painting app on your phone or tablet, that could be fun.
Now, write, by hand, 3-5 sentences giving yourself permission to be creative. Use whatever language resonates with you. Use whatever colors, shapes, etc., that will work for you. Put several sentences on one page, like a checklist, or give each statement its own piece of paper. Whatever feels right to YOU.
Here’s a few sample sentences:
- I have permission to think creatively at work.
- You have permission to write a crappy first draft of that novel.
- This grants the bearer permission to draw something every day.
- I give myself permission to invent new things.
- The Universe gives me permission to play with clay several times a week.
Once you have your permission slip(s), read them out loud. Start by telling just yourself. Then, as your confidence builds, read them to a spouse or close friend. If you want, share them with me on Twitter or Facebook or take a photo and put it on Instagram. #Ihavepermission
You may choose to use this as a one-time exercise or you may want to post your permission slip somewhere in your house where you will see it every day, maybe over the table where you’ll be working on your great creative pursuit. Some people have found it useful to use the statements as an affirmation or as a ritual that they recite before doing any new work. As always, whatever works for you.
So, what do you give yourself permission to do?
“No Admittance” photo by Brent Ozar under Creative Commons License: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic