January 5, 2023

Almost certainly more psychological than tactical


Is there one underlying reason for the widespread creative dissatisfaction in our society?

Probably not. There are as many causes of human unhappiness as there are humans to be unhappy.

At the risk of oversimplifying, here are five possible reasons. See which ones resonate most with you.

First, there’s the problem of over delivering.

Firing all of your weapons at once because it’s gratifying to your ego. Like the people who put too much energy into things that only need a quick fix. And then wonder why they feel exhausted all the time.

Second, there’s problem of losing a sense of proportion. Not having any perspective on incoming input from others. Like the people who interpret every casual suggestion as an essential imperative. And then act surprised when the don’t have enough time to complete their projects.

Third, there’s the problem of detail orientation. Getting lost in the weeds. Like the people investing their time comparison shopping and reading reviews, rather than just taking a chance and buying something. And then wonder why they’re angry at themselves for taking action.

Fourth, there’s the problem of option anxiety. Drowning in the sea of infinite choices. Like the people who refuse to accept what’s good enough, rather than quickly meeting their own standards and ending the search for the perfect whatever. And they get upset when tasks take twice as long for them to finish than everyone else.

Fifth, there’s the problem of financial scarcity. Making decisions from a place of fear and lack. Like the people who can’t enjoy anything they’ve just acquired because they are still stressing about whether or not they got ripped off and should have picked the lesser option. And their stubborn need to be right keeps them trapped in a ruminative loop.

Therefore, what is the underlying pattern in all these problems?

Permission. The force multiplier of human happiness.

When people don’t give allow themselves to set cognitive boundaries, a sense of dissatisfaction intensifies. They become victims of their own chattering, chaotic minds.

If that sounds familiar to you, then the solution is twofold.

Saying no and letting go.

Two skills that the vast majority of people don’t have, for perfectly understandable reasons. Both actions trigger the fear of missing out, the possibility of disappointing others, the vulnerability of losing control, and the pain of loss.

No wonder people say yes and hold onto everything.

And look, finishing what we start is important to achieving fulfillment. Saying yes to new things is where many of life’s great adventures begin.

But we have to examine things through an economic lens. Opportunity cost is a very real thing, and should be taken into consideration. If rejecting an exciting but erroneous career opportunity from the outset liberates and strengthens us to fuel our life forward, then we should give ourselves permission to say no.

If it makes more sense to ignore the sunk cost of a failed project so we finally can move on with our lives, than we need to give ourselves permission to let go.

Anytime I’ve conducted a workshop, presentation or mentoring session around the creative process, this is the issue that always comes up. Saying no and letting go.

But it’s rarely in direct form. People assume their blocks have something to do with the words on the page, images on the canvas, notes on the staff, or pixels on the screen.

But those are just the artifacts. Tangible representations of something deeper. Symptoms rather than sources.

People seldom address their internal issues with creativity, which are almost certainly more psychological than tactical.

If somebody spends forty minutes writing a single email to their team, it’s not because they don’t enough words in the dictionary. It’s because they can’t let go of perfectionism. Or they’re afraid of looking weak. Or they don’t want to hurt people’s feelings.

If somebody stares at their blank canvas all morning without putting a drop of paint on the surface, it’s not because they don’t understand coloring basics. It’s because they don’t have confidence in their artistic voice. Or they’re afraid of repeating themselves in their work. Or they don’t want to paint something that looks derivative because that would mean they’re not special. T

hat’s what permission looks like. And the more effective you become at saying no and letting go, the more satisfying your life is going to be.

What cognitive boundaries are you not allowing yourself to have?