8 Bad Habits That Crush Your Creativity and Stifle Your Success

“There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.”— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Standing in front of this massive banyan tree on Maui inspired me to try something new to capture the vision I had of this tree in my mind’s eye. And Maui will definitely vibrate the imagination of a creative artist. But such vibrational creativity can be elusive more often than not.

Artistry and Creativity work hand in hand. Artistry is defined as an expression of creative skill. Creativity is defined as the creation of artistic work using the imagination or original ideas.

The hardest block to overcome is simply beginning. Finding inspiration. The imagination can get paralyzed by overthinking and fear. Trying to create something that is authentic, yet unique enough to be recognized as original.

I was fortunate to attend Randy Jay Braun’s Tropical Island Boot Camp on Maui as a teacher and a student. As a photographer who specializes in people, it was inspiring to push myself to see in new ways and try my hand at expressing my vision in a different way.

It made me think about the process of creativity—something I actually think about quite a bit. Why is it so hard to break through the barriers of creative block? Could I be doing this to myself? In my ongoing thoughts on the creative process, I’d like to share an article (with permission) by Dean Rieck about breaking through the developed habits that crush creativity.

8 Bad Habits that Crush Your Creativity and Stifle Your Success

“The brain is a wonderful organ. It starts the moment you get up and doesn’t stop until you get into the office.” — Robert Frost

It’s a myth that only highly intelligent people are creative.

In fact, research shows that once you get beyond an I.Q. of about 120, which is just a little above average, intelligence and creativity are not at all related.

That means that even if you’re no smarter than most people, you still have the potential to wield amazing creative powers.

So why are so few people highly creative?

Because there are bad habits people learn as they grow up which crush the creative pathways in the brain. And like all bad habits, they can be broken if you are willing to work at it.

Here are eight of the very worst bad habits that could be holding you back every day:

1. Creating and evaluating at the same time

You can’t drive a car in first gear and reverse at the same time. Likewise, you shouldn’t try to use different types of thinking simultaneously. You’ll strip your mental gears.

Creating means generating new ideas, visualizing, looking ahead, considering the possibilities. Evaluating means analyzing and judging, picking apart ideas and sorting them into piles of good and bad, useful and useless.

Most people evaluate too soon and too often, and therefore create less. In order to create more and better ideas, you must separate creation from evaluation, coming up with lots of ideas first, then judging their worth later.

2. The Expert Syndrome

This a big problem in any field where there are lots of gurus who tell you their secrets of success. It’s wise to listen, but unwise to follow without question.

Some of the most successful people in the world did what others told them would never work. They knew something about their own idea that even the gurus didn’t know.

Every path to success is different.

3. Fear of failure

Most people remember baseball legend Babe Ruth as one of the great hitters of all time, with a career record of 714 home runs. However, he was also a master of the strike out. That’s because he always swung for home runs, not singles or doubles. Ruth either succeeded big or failed spectacularly.

No one wants to make mistakes or fail. But if you try too hard to avoid failure, you’ll also avoid success.

It has been said that to increase your success rate, you should aim to make more mistakes. In other words, take more chances and you’ll succeed more often. Those few really great ideas you come up with will more than compensate for all the dumb mistakes you make.

4. Fear of ambiguity

Most people like things to make sense.

Unfortunately, life is not neat and tidy. There are some things you’ll never understand and some problems you’ll never solve.

I once had a client who sold a product by direct mail. His order form broke every rule in the book. But it worked better than any other order form he had ever tried.

Why? I don’t know.

What I do know is that most great creative ideas emerge from a swirl of chaos. You must develop a part of yourself that is comfortable with mess and confusion. You should become comfortable with things that work even when you don’t understand why.

5. Lack of confidence

A certain level of uncertainty accompanies every creative act. A small measure of self-doubt is healthy.

However, you must have confidence in your abilities in order to create and carry out effective solutions to problems.

Much of this comes from experience, but confidence also comes from familiarity with how creativity works.

When you understand that ideas often seem crazy at first, that failure is just a learning experience, and that nothing is impossible, you are on your way to becoming more confident and more creative.

Instead of dividing the world into the possible and impossible, divide it into what you’ve tried and what you haven’t tried. There are a million pathways to success.

6. Discouragement from other people

Even if you have a wide-open mind and the ability to see what’s possible, most people around you will not. They will tell you in various and often subtle ways to conform, be sensible, and not rock the boat.

Ignore them. The path to every victory is paved with predictions of failure. And once you have a big win under your belt, all the naysayers will shut their noise and see you for what you are — a creative force to be reckoned with.

7. Being overwhelmed by information

It’s called “analysis paralysis,” the condition of spending so much time thinking about a problem and cramming your brain with so much information that you lose the ability to act.

It’s been said that information is to the brain what food is to the body. True enough. But just as you can overeat, you can also overthink.

Every successful person I’ve ever met has the ability to know when to stop collecting information and start taking action. Many subscribe to the “ready – fire – aim” philosophy of business success, knowing that acting on a good plan today is better than waiting for a perfect plan tomorrow.

8. Being trapped by false limits

Ask a writer for a great idea, and you’ll get a solution that involves words. Ask a designer for a great idea, and you’ll get a solution that involves visuals. Ask a blogger for a great idea, and you’ll get a solution that involves a blog.

We’re all a product of our experience. But the limitations we have are self-imposed. They are false limits. Only when you force yourself to look past what you know and feel comfortable with can you come up with the breakthrough ideas you’re looking for.

Be open to anything. Step outside your comfort zone. Consider how those in unrelated areas do what they do. What seems impossible today may seem surprisingly doable tomorrow.

If you recognize some of these problems in yourself, don’t fret. In fact, rejoice! Knowing what’s holding you back is the first step toward breaking down the barriers of creativity.

About the original article’s author: Dean Rieck is one of America’s most creative advertising copywriters. He shares his writing and freelancing experience at Pro Copy Tips. Thanks Dean for your permission to share your article with my readers!

I can tell you from personal experience that this article is spot on. It’s important to let go of our old habits of thinking and doing. Instead, challenge yourself to do something different this time around.

Creative inspiration came to me standing in front of this massive banyan tree. The lighting was bright and dark all at the same time. HDR (High Dynamic Range) landscape panoramas are something that was foreign to me. I was inspired to try an HDR technique with this tree. A regular exposure would not have been able to capture the incredible dynamic range in this scene. This image is the result of 9 separate exposures combined together in Photoshop.

So tell me, which habit do you relate to most from this article? What techniques have you developed to break past self-inflicted barriers to creativity?

This Post Has 34 Comments

  1. Hey Randy, cool shot of the tree – very creative! If you like that sort of writing you’d really enjoy some books by David duChemin – another Canadian! I’ve got two of his books and he has got me thinking about WHY I take an image, not just HOW. Makes a huge difference if you think about the message before you click the shutter – not just composition and lighting. What do you want to say with your image?

    He’s got actual books and ebooks – check them out, I think you’ll relate to his writing. He also talks about how to find creativity and keep it going. That’s in his ebook The Inspired Eye – it’s only $5.

    His books—I have Within the Frame, and Vision Mongers – love them!

  2. Thanks Randy, enjoyed the article.
    I’ve come across many of your suggested stifling points before. I have trouble creating focused time to pull things together. It takes me a few hours of relaxed browsing and reading before I dig in and work some new code together. Blogging I find comes naturally while I’m out walking, but is almost painful if I’m sitting in front of my computer. This lead to the last 500 or so posts made while out walking.

  3. Helen

    Hi Randy! I loved the post and the pictures are fantastic!
    Love the one of the Banyan Tree. It reminds me of the beautifully
    fantastic tree in Avatar.

    Thanks and blessings to you in your work,


  4. Great post. And good timing for me.

  5. That was very well said. I have now snapped out of “analysis paralysis”, thanks for sharing.

  6. Joe Thomas

    Seems like these are the 8 things the educational system is designed to teach.

  7. Creativity is a slippery slope to stay on. Some times you can into the zone on purpose. Most of the time when working on a problem I get hit out of the blue in the middle of conversation on completely different subject by ideas. The hardest thing then is to blurt the idea immediately before it gets lost. As you say don’t prejudge the idea just let it flow out.

    Sometimes dumb ideas aren’t dumb. It is easy to discard half baked ideas without thinking them through.Sometimes within the basis of the dumb idea lies a real gem. It may be an offshoot of the original idea that would never get explored unless you start from the core idea.

    Ideas in the rough are very fragile things. They can be extinguished by a small distraction never to reappear.

  8. Alexandra

    Excellent. I am very guilty of the creating/editing at once syndrome.

  9. Wow… thanks for the comments and show of support!

    Darlene… thanks for the links! I am downloading Volume I and II as I type.

    Mark… I’m the same way. Especially when it comes to blogging which requires great effort on my part. Many times, I know what I want to write about but it takes me another week or longer to formulate the ideas and flesh them out. Then when I start to write it all comes together, mainly because I’ve let my brain work on it for a while.

    Helen… that’s what I thought when I was standing there. I’d love to see a tree like the one in Avatar. Now THAT would be a challenge to capture!

    Roger… slippery slope indeed! One of my favorite thoughts on nurturing creativity come from a 2009 Ted Talks presentation by Elizabeth Gilbert. If you have not seen this, go watch it right now!

    It’s amazing that we all struggle so much with creativity.

    Thanks for your support and comments!

  10. I love the idea that creativity is only limited by how creative you allow yourself to be. For example, it is absolutely impossible to be creative when you are worried about what people will think of it. Creativity can only be from your heart.

  11. SJ DUI Lawyer…

    That was a point I wanted to make, but felt my post was getting a bit long winded. We are only limited by ourselves. So many times, we look around us to see what others are doing. We use their success to determine our limits. Many times, NOT knowing where the boundaries are allows you unlimited success. There is nothing to stop you but yourself! 🙂

  12. LC

    These are amazing and so very NEEDED today! Thanks.

  13. excellent article. to sum it in one word i would say that to be creative think with a free mind. freedom breeds creativity….

  14. Great post you have here, Randy. As a graphic designer, I really value the points you’ve stated because a lot of us could be guilty of all these bad habits that inhibit our creativity at one time or another. It is great to have your post as an eye-opener. Thanks!

  15. Zoran

    This is very brave approach from your side and i really enjoyed reading it.
    I just don’t know if there are any limits ever, except those that we define ourselves.
    I intend to turn every bad thing into motivation more, it’s a good practice and the result is very good, but i also find motivation into something nice too.
    The important thing is to be very honest with yourself, even when it’s hard to admit it.
    Thanks for the post!

  16. Zoran… I don’t know about being brave. I just resonated with the article and felt my readers would too. I’m glad it’s hit a nerve.

    I agree that the only limits we face are self-imposed. By constantly looking around at what others are doing, it’s easy to never reach further.

    Being creative is frustrating on those days when you want so badly to express an idea you have and feel like you hit a brick wall. It doesn’t turn out the way you wanted or it just feels lackluster.

    However, I feel that the discipline of showing up puts you in a much better position to be creative than being paralyzed by your fear of NOT being creative. We need to give ourselves permission to fail. Creativity and art are a journey, not a destination.

    At least for me… it’s a constantly changing, shifting and oft times elusive journey.

  17. Zoran

    It’s definitely a hit nerve, talking about human psychology with so much certainty, field that brings out so many questions, since different people feel different way about this, but that’s why I like your post.

    I like your approach about being flexible with own self and allow to ourselves a failure and learn from it.
    I am very good web developer and decided to learn web design as well, learned all the photoshop tools, but when it comes to draw something nice, I just feel stuck with ideas, mostly cause I have drawn a straight line in my brain that good designers were born like that and they don’t become that good with just work.

    It’s not an easy fight to win, cause the opponent is myself from the other side, strongly determined that I cannot be good web designer. It’s also about being strong enough to recover from a big lose or disappointment, which is also not so easy. After all, I agree with your statement that creativity and art are a journey and not destination.

    Thanks for the answer Randy and I am glad I found your website.

  18. Love it! This article is spot on. Thanks for the words of wisdom, I’ll try and keep working on improving these areas. You keep writing and I’ll keep reading.

  19. Pawel Pachniewski

    All of this is true. I’ve read tons of self-development and success materials, and this list, especially for creatives, is what it is about. As I said in my tweet about this post: read, print & hang it up on your wall…

  20. A tweet made me come here to see what were you talking about and I have to say it’s so true to me. The 7th item completes my “thinking way” and I really have to improve this aspects on my working routine.
    Thank you.

  21. Love the banyan tree. Don’t agree with some of the points. I don’t think creativity means coming up with something original even though I’ll bet most readers will agree that it does. To me artistic creativity is what you use to solve the problems of communicating your message.

    The “message” doesn’t have to be metaphorical or profound or even anything big. It could just be “look how yellow these flowers are”. But without a message what do you have to be creative about?

    You don’t have to be original. Look at popular music. There is very little originality. That isn’t a criticism. If you are too original you run the risk of not being understood because you are too far out. I ponder some the same kinds of questions on my own blog.

  22. Amber

    HOLY CR*P that tree photo is amazing!!

    As you know, my parents lived on Maui for several years, and I have been there many, many times… but I’ve never seen a banyan tree in “randyvision” before today when I checked your blog.


    As always.

    Loved this post, the photo and the article…

    As always.


  23. Hi Randy,

    I love your work! That tree image is beautiful, and I totally agree with the article. I’m not yet engaged, but searching out photographers to be prepared. 😉

  24. Jessica Veltri

    This is great Randy! I absolutely LOVE the image of that tree! I was trying to figure out how to shoot it but ended up giving up because too many people were around and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do it any justice. Thanks for the inspiration!

  25. Jessica,

    Thanks! As you very well know, that tree was massive! And there were a LOT of people hiking and climbing on the tree. The most difficult part was finding a spot to capture the mood and feeling of standing there in front of that masterpiece. Once I did that, it was frustrating to sit there for 10 minutes and wait for people to get out of the tree or stay out of the frame long enough for me to capture a few exposures!

    On top of that, it’s beyond frustrating that Canon cameras only allow you to capture an exposure bracket of three images at a time, while Nikon cameras allow you to capture a 9 exposure bracket! Trying to set up my camera to shoot a 9 exposure spread, wait for people to clear and just let go of the fact that the wind was blowing the leaves around and there was no way to fix that in post when layering 9 images…

    The ghost removal capability in CS5 HDR PRO needs to be worked on a bit. It was less than desirable on the final image, but works for web. 🙂 Your Hawaiian images are stunning Jessica!

  26. Thanks for a good article and some great pointers to avoid to be more creative. 🙂

    I also like the image of the Banyan tree a lot! Very distinct look to it.

    It reminds me a little of some digital art I have seen, or even a drawing.

    Looking forward to browsing more of your blog.

  27. Thank you Berit! That banyan tree does have an illustrative feel to it. I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment and stopping by. Look around, enjoy!

  28. Joe Hilton

    I love reading up about all of this kind of stuff because it fills you with the drive, confidence and self-belief that you CAN actually accomplish things from within, just by believing in yourself and shifting your emotions and trusting yourself.

  29. Erin

    Every day I think of what E.M. Forster wrote: “Only connect.” And every time it happens, every single time, I am amazed all over again. That what one person says can angle out onto a slender thread, the other end of which is inside another mind. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I really needed to read it tonight.

  30. Erin… that is absolutely beautiful! Thanks for sharing that and taking the time to share your thoughts. Your comment completely made my day!

  31. I love this post Randy. It has helped me and the team I lead as much as anything we have read this year thanks.

  32. Very inspirational. Thank you for sharing.

  33. This is awesome! I’m gonna make a nice poster out of these points 🙂

    Thanks a lot for sharing.

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