Creativity is more of an art than a science. There is no recipe, no combination of ingredients and circumstances that will guarantee a creative state, process, or result. That said, there are certainly many factors that can affect your creativity in very real ways, and if you can find what works for you, you are going to be much more successful at inviting creativity to show up when you need it. Today, we’re talking about one of these methods: using your emotions to power your creativity.
Creativity and emotion
Creativity spurs emotion. It’s safe to say that we’ve all had an experience where a story, painting, song, photograph, design, or other creative work stirred some emotion inside of us. In fact, people go to great lengths to make sure their creative works inspire emotion, because that emotion is what gets us to subscribe, follow, click, or shop.
But while we can definitely say that creativity brings out emotion, we can also say that emotions power creativity.
From Van Gogh to Edgar Allan Poe to the Beatles to Taylor Swift, great artists have always been famously inspired by their emotions. Love, grief, fear, rejection, loneliness, and every other emotion you can think of has sparked creativity in humans for centuries.
And yet, many of us fail to leverage the ability of our emotions to power our creativity.
It’s easy, after all, to either wallow in negative emotions or bask in positive ones. It’s simple to just take our emotions at face value instead of putting them to good use.
But putting them to good use is exactly what we should be doing.
Using your emotions to power your creativity
If you want to start using your emotions to power your creativity, there are some things you need to remember.
Both positive and negative emotions can power creativity.
At Design.org, we talk a lot about positive thinking. We talk about controlling your thoughts, choosing love over fear, and the power of happiness. It’s true: we shouldn’t underestimate what positivity can do for ourselves, the people around us, and the world at large.
Positive emotions are more likely to lead to open brainstorming, better collaboration, and exploration of new ideas.
But as powerful as positive emotions are, negative emotions can be powerful too.
If you are choosing between positive and negative emotions, for example, which is more likely to inspire change? Feeling bad about something or seeing the negative side of a situation is probably more likely to make you want to do something about it.
Negative feelings can also help us to see flaws or faults that we might not otherwise notice. Quoted from Psychology Today:
“Pessimistic moods can help with detail-oriented tasks that require critical thinking; in these moods, we see all that is wrong with the world, and that is sometimes actually called for (such as when proofreading or trying to think what can go on with a business plan or a presentation to prepare for it).“
In other words, negative feelings can highlight the bad, so that we can then eliminate it.
Finally, negative emotions in and of themselves are powerful. For every great love song out there, there is a killer breakup song; for every song about confidence and belonging is another one about loneliness and isolation. These works of art are powerful in their own right, because negative emotion is part of the human experience, just as much as positive emotion is. Beautiful things can grow from pain.
When it comes to emotions inspiring creativity, the intensity of the emotion matters—possibly even more than the emotion itself.
The Harvard Business Review highlights research done by Eddie Harmon-Jones and his colleagues that suggests that motivational intensity—which they define as “how strongly you feel compelled to either approach or avoid something—” is what really determines how your emotions drive your focus and behavior.
What the research really boils down to is this:
- When you feel something very strongly, your brain is better equipped to focus on a specific goal.
- When you feel something less strongly, your brain is better equipped to handle broad, big-picture thinking.
This can be super helpful when you are trying to harness your emotions to power your creativity. If you can recognize when your emotions are heightened, you know it would be a good time to do detail work, or to finish up a project you’ve been procrastinating. When your feelings are less intense, that gives you a clue that it might be a good time to brainstorm, do some thoughtwork, or start a project you’ve felt excited about.
Recognizing the intensity of your emotions can help you use them to your greatest advantage for your creative efforts.
Memory and mindfulness can help.
Sometimes, tapping into our emotions isn’t as straightforward as it seems. The question “How do you feel?” doesn’t always have a single or clear answer.
If you want to use your emotions to power your creativity, but are having a hard time identifying what your emotions even are, I have two things I would recommend to you: memory and mindfulness.
When using memory, think back to a time when your emotions were heightened or when you felt the specific emotion you’d like to tap into. Try to relieve that experience and feeling to help drive your creativity in the present moment.
Speaking of the present moment, mindfulness can be helpful too when it comes to becoming more aware of your emotions. Try sitting in stillness or doing a session of meditation. This can help you get more in tune with your body and mind, which can help your feelings become clearer.
Turn emotions that are “working against you” into emotions that “work for you.”
Sometimes, we think of emotions (especially negative emotions) as “working against us.” But as mentioned above, there are times when even negative emotions can serve a real and useful purpose.
Try harnessing even your worst emotions and channeling them into a creative medium. Not only will it likely result in a powerful creative experience, but it will also help you process the negative emotion in a healthy way and leave you feeling better.
Be aware and take action.
The key to using your emotions to power your creativity is becoming aware of the emotion and then taking creative action with the emotion as a guide. To do this, I would suggest following 5 simple steps:
- Name the emotion. Be specific. What is it that you’re feeling? (An emotion wheel like this can help you hone in on the exact emotion.)
- Describe the feeling. Being able to describe what the emotion feels like will make it easier to identify next time. How does it feel in your body? How does it manifest itself through your actions?
- Identify the trigger. What brought on the emotion? Was it an experience, an interaction, a thought? Maybe something in your environment? Knowing what triggered your emotion can help you if you ever want to access (or avoid) this specific emotion again.
- Describe the intensity. How intensely are you feeling the emotion? This might help you know what type of creative work you should try to engage in (big-picture or detail-oriented).
- Do something creative. Even if you can’t get yourself to work on a project, put your emotions to work by exercising your creativity in some way. Even if all you can do is doodle on a sheet of paper, go with it. Let your emotions lead, and see where they take you.
Using your emotions to power your creativity can lead to life-changing experiences. Not only can it help you create something meaningful, but it can also help you get more in touch with your emotions so you can live a happier, more fulfilled life.
Don’t fight your emotions. Embrace them. Use them. They are powerful, and they are yours. Put them to work for you, and discover the magic within.
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