Emotions play a big part in the creative process. Not only can emotions themselves inspire and fuel creativity, but the way you handle your emotions can, too. We’ve already discussed, for example, how emotional resilience—the ability to manage your emotions in healthy ways—can fuel creativity. Today, I want to talk about creativity and taking responsibility for your emotions: how they’re related, why it’s important, and what it looks like.
What it means to take responsibility for your emotions
We know that emotional resilience means being able to experience and work through your emotions without letting them overwhelm you. Emotional accountability (taking responsibility for your emotions) is part of a healthy emotional response.
Taking responsibility for your emotions means:
Identifying your emotions
If you are going to take responsibility for your emotions, you need to know what they are. While this might seem straightforward or even obvious, it can be quite a bit harder than it sounds.
If you think about it, it’s not always easy to really know what you’re feeling. You could be experiencing an emotion (or mix of emotions) you’ve never felt before. You might be struggling to put words to your feelings. Or you might be so overwhelmed that you’d rather go numb and feel nothing than try to figure it all out.
But if you want to own your emotions and put them to use for you creatively, you need to know what they are.
If you struggle to identify your emotions clearly, it might take some practice. Try tracking your emotions (e.g. in a journal), verbally processing your feelings with a trusted friend, or meditating to clear your mind. Become familiar with how certain emotions feel physically (you might feel anxiety in your chest, tension in your shoulders, anger in your stomach, etc.). Pay close attention to how your feelings affect you so that you can identify them more quickly next time.
Understanding your emotions on a deeper level
Once you’ve identified how you’re feeling, you can start to understand your emotions on a deeper level, which can further help you take responsibility for them.
What are your emotions rooted in? Are you prone to feeling certain emotions more than others—and why? What are your natural reactions to certain emotions? What are your desired reactions to those emotions?
Digging deeper will help your creativity as you take responsibility for your emotions and come to understand them more. It will allow you to leverage them at the appropriate times and use them to your creative advantage.
Owning your emotions
It’s easy to become a victim to your emotions. I know that when I’m feeling sad, for example, I can easily use that as an excuse to not be productive that day.
It’s not wrong to respond to your emotions in ways that actually benefit you. There might be days when I feel sad and the best thing for me to do would be to take a day off. But more often than not, that’s not what’s happening. I’m not taking the day off to heal; I’m taking the day off because I can justify it with my sadness. It’s an excuse, not a reason.
Here’s the thing: you are in control of your thoughts and actions. Just because you feel a certain way doesn’t mean that you have to act a certain way. Feeling sad doesn’t mean you have to stay in bed all day. No matter how you feel, you can choose to respond however you want.
Being deliberate and claiming control over that choice is what owning your emotions looks like. You aren’t falling victim to a perceived inevitability; rather, you are acknowledging your emotional situation and using that as a data point to make a decision and take action that will help you move forward.
Not blaming others
Part of emotional accountability (not to mention healthy relationships) is realizing that no one can make you feel a certain way. While it might be easier to feel happy, sad, angry, bitter, etc. around certain people, they cannot force you to feel that way.
You can be around a miserable person and choose to be happy. You can be around a happy person and choose to be miserable. Your emotions are your own, and you are in control of how you respond to others’ words and actions.
(As a side note, you can also choose who you spend your time with. Setting boundaries and fostering healthy relationships is another way you can maintain control over your emotions surrounding other people.)
Realizing how your emotions impact others
It’s true that no one can make you feel a certain way. It’s also true that you can’t make others feel a certain way. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the potential impact you can have on someone else’s emotions.
Part of taking responsibility for your emotions is recognizing that your emotions—and the words and actions that they inspire—can have an impact on the people around you, for better or for worse. Do you make it easy for others to feel happy? Are you letting your emotions drag you and others down?
Again, you can’t force anyone else to feel something. But you can inspire or promote certain feelings in other people. Do your best to bring out the best emotions in others, and take responsibility when you don’t.
Creativity and taking responsibility for your emotions
So what does this emotional accountability have to do with creativity?
Emotional accountability can support your creative efforts because:
- It strengthens your emotional awareness. When you are aware and in touch with your emotions, you can apply them to your creative work.
- It teaches you to channel your emotions. When you take responsibility for your emotions, you don’t allow them to take control over you. You don’t give in to the “monkey brain,” so to speak. Instead, you learn to observe your emotions in a way that helps you channel them into productive thoughts and actions. Learning to do this is a key skill for creatives as well.
- It supports healthy relationships. Taking responsibility for your emotions can foster healthy relationships, and strong relationships support creative thinking, especially if your creative efforts require collaboration.
- It helps you practice ownership. Creatives need to realize that they have control over their creative life—what they create, what work habits they follow, how they respond to criticism, etc. Owning your emotions can make it easier to own your identity as a creative, so you can then create routines and mindsets that serve you creatively.
- It builds discipline. Identifying, exploring, and owning your emotions takes humility, patience, and discipline—all useful qualities when it comes to creative thinking.
Taking responsibility for your emotions matters. Not only will it help you become a more likeable, authentic, and wholehearted person, but it will also benefit you as a creative. Foster emotional accountability. Become familiar with your feelings and what they mean. Take ownership over what you do with them. Stay in control and use your emotions to your advantage. If you can do this, you’ll find that the process of creating will be easier and more fulfilling.