Creative team: “The client doesn’t get it. Why bother hiring an agency? Clearly they think they can do this. They’ll never go for this. No, we can’t combine three concepts. The logo should definitely NOT be bigger!”
Client team: “That’s very clever, but is it going to increase sales? We’d like to get feedback from our team, have people vote on these concepts. I don’t like red. That looks like a duck, is that intentional? We decided to have a naming contest and get everyone involved. The type is too small. Our logo has to be bigger.”
Sound familiar? It’s easy to stop listening and jump to the knee-jerk reaction: we know the drill; we know what happens next. Both as individuals and as teams we create patterns of relating to colleagues and clients that are based on fixed ideas about “us,” “them,” and how “they” will respond, generally with their oh-so-predictable failures of imagination.
So, are we immutable creatures of habit? Increasingly, neuroscience research suggests the opposite — that we can make big mental shifts that lead to lasting change. What we often think of as our “personality” is not as set as the experts once thought. We can change the way we show up in the world and, in the process, positively influence our careers and creative outcomes.
Creative flow in the face of “back to the drawing board”
Let’s face it. It’s not easy being creative! What do we do when our ideas are not embraced with enthusiasm? When frustration and annoyance get in the way of revision four, or worse, when “who gives a @#*&?” threatens to take us over?
How do we break that cycle of creative doom and despair? Could there be an alternative to firing the client, living for the weekend or taking our talents elsewhere?
Absolutely. There’s both solace and success in the ancient wisdom of mindfulness. Mindfulness gives us access to the depth of our creative potential, allowing us to experience each moment as fresh, new and unencumbered by pre-existing judgments, stories and concepts. This way of being, rooted in Buddhist philosophy, teaches us to master our own minds — the first step to “ruling our own world.”
Become a high-performance user of your brain (the right side and the left)
We can learn to curtail the hair-trigger emotional reactions that render us ineffective and often deeply unsatisfied — creatively, professionally and personally. By training our brains, we become high-performance users of the dynamic hardware we were born with.
Self-mastery and collaboration through the art of non-attachment
Emotional management skills allow our innate mental adaptability and clarity to surface. We tap into a “self-aware presence” that exudes confidence. We’re able to be both collaborative and influential. And that’s what we need to effectively interact with our team and our clients, especially when our ideas are being critiqued and “improved” by people who likely do something else for a living.
Mindfulness practice hones a talent we all possess but are rarely taught, mentored or coached to fully develop. It’s the art of non-attachment. Knowing when to stand up for an idea and when to stand down. Learning to maintain equilibrium with one foot in a pool of passion and enthusiasm for what you’ve created, while the other foot relaxes into waters of reality, which will always be swirling with client subjectivity and ROI requirements.
Pick your path in the creative process
As creative people we know intimately the two paths in the creative process. One is born of a mind that’s free and the other arises from a mind that’s closed or stuck in one spot. When we narrow around “our” ideas, we limit the possibilities and shut off the creative flow. And if our ideas don’t fly with the client, we may project our internal frustration outward, claiming, “they don’t get it.” An attached state of mind that clings to an idea or blames others doesn’t lead to long satisfying client relationships, rewarding days in the office or campaigns that yield impressive business results.
Three simple steps to mindfulness and non-attachment:
- Recognize what is present by tuning into your inner landscape. What are you thinking and feeling? What sensations are present in your body? Are you adding to your experience, through judgments, interpretations and stories?
- Allow your experience to be as it is. Can you open to your experience? Drop all forms of resistance, which often look like distractions, problem solving, idealizing, and wanting things to be different. Try using a phrase to lean into your experience. “Yes.” “As it is.” “This moment is like this.”
- Drop identification. You are not your feelings. They’re simply feelings. Label them as “fear, frustration, anger, impatience, etc.” and see if you notice your mind and body begin to relax and open. Remember, “you” are not your creative work. Drop your personal identification with the word or the image or the concept, and you’ll be rewarded from the inside out.
While mindfulness practice is profoundly simple, it’s not always easy. It takes brain exercise to create new neural pathways that build our mindfulness muscle, making states of flow, creativity and ease a way of life. When we’re not resisting what is, we experience the inner freedom and self-mastery that allows us to rule our creative world. It’s wisdom at work.