Overcoming the 10 Biggest Obstacles to Creating

Overcoming the 10 Biggest Obstacles to Creating

Guest Post by Leo Babauta

Every day I struggle with the resistance to writing, and every day I lose the struggle … but then I beat the struggle.

I lose more often than I win, but I win every day. And that’s what matters. Because we can’t get rid of the resistance to create — whether that’s creating art, starting a business, or writing. The resistance will always come up … but we have to learn how to overcome it, to work with it.

Do you face this resistance, and struggle with procrastination? Do you want to create daily, but face difficulty finding focus and fighting off distractions?

Let’s talk about creating that habit, and how to overcome the obstacles that get in the way of the creation habit.

Today I’ll share the main obstacles and what I do to overcome them.

What stands in our way of the creation habit? Here are the main ones:

  1. Distractions. We all face the problem of distractions, and we all give in to them. The only way to overcome them is to clear them away with a clean sweep: bookmark all your tabs, close your browser, close all other programs, turn off your phone, and open only the program you need for your creating. A blank text editor, a sketch pad, nothing else. Set a timer for 5 minutes, and just start. When the 5 minutes is up, congratulate yourself, let yourself be distracted, then set the timer again. You can work your way to 10-15 minutes over time, but start with 5.
  2. Fantasies about how easy/nice the creating will be. It’s not easy — it’s hard and messy. These fantasies get in the way, because when we face the reality, it never measures up to what we’d hoped. Instead, we need to recognize that our fantasies aren’t real, turn to the reality, and be grateful to be here in this moment. It’s hard and messy, but still great, and we should be thankful for the opportunity.
  3. Fear of failure. Yes, putting ourselves out there is scary, and not being good at something is frightening as hell. But how do you ever get good if you don’t try? You have to suck, daily, for a long time. Unfortunately, that’s not easy. So to get us through the suck, we have to have fun, embrace the suck, allow ourselves to play. Write a shitty first draft, work on it some more until it’s a bit better, get the help of someone who knows what they’re doing, get feedback and get better. And play around the whole time, like we did when we were kids. We didn’t stop from finger painting when we were kids because we might suck at it — we did it for the fun!
  4. Discomfort with the difficulty/confusion. It’s uncomfortable to do something that’s confusing, where we don’t know what we’re doing, filled with difficulty. The only way I’ve learned to overcome this is to sit there, as I’m feeling like quitting, and just feel the discomfort. Allow my mind to complain. Allow myself to want to quit, to feel sorry for myself. And just sit. I’ll feel this discomfort, and realize it’s not that bad. Then I can just write, even though I’m uncomfortable, and realize that I’ll be OK.
  5. Perfectionism. We want things to be great, so we nitpick and are unhappy with the results. It stops us from actually creating. So we need to smash through perfectionism, embrace shitty first drafts, and get into the habit of just putting stuff out there imperfectly. I do this by not allowing myself to edit before I publish a post. I just publish, tweet it, then go back and edit. It’s scary, but by forcing myself to put it out imperfectly, I don’t worry about perfectionism anymore.
  6. The urge to switch. As you’re trying to write/create … you’ll want to switch to something else. Check email, check social media, check the news, clean the kitchen. The timer method (5 minutes) helps to highlight this … set the timer, don’t let yourself switch to anything else until the timer is up. Just write one sentence, draw one line. Just start, then when you get the urge, sit. Stay. Feel the urge. Let your mind complain. But don’t give it anywhere to run. Then start again.
  7. Interruptions. I write in a house full of kids. I just kindly tell them I need to write for an hour (or whatever), and plug in some headphones. Or get out of the house and go somewhere with solitude.
  8. Not enough time. We are all busy. Who has the time to focus for an hour or two? Well, forget about an hour. Just do it for 5 minutes. You have that much time. Cut out some distractions, some social media, some TV, some online reading, and you have an extra 5 minutes (or more). After awhile, find another 5 minutes. If it matters, you’ll find a few minutes here and there, and put the creating first.
  9. Being tired. It’s impossible to focus and work hard when you’re tired, right? Wrong! You can do it, if you really want to. You can go for a run if you’re tired. You can carry a stranger to safety if their life is in danger, even if you’re tired. You just need to really want it. So ask yourself this: why do you want to create? Is to help others? To express yourself? To do something good for yourself or other people? How important is this intention to do good? Is it important enough to prioritize, to set aside time, to push through confusion and distractions? Is it important enough to push through tiredness? If not, just forget it.
  10. Negative self-talk. We tell ourselves, “I can’t do this,” or “I suck at this,” or “I can do this later.” This kind of self-talk, often unnoticed, can be defeating. So how do we counter it? By paying attention. Shine some light on it. Use the timer method, and when you want to quit and the timer is still going, force yourself to sit there. Listen to your talk, but don’t believe it. Your mind will do anything to get out of this work, so don’t heed its commands, but just sit there and heart the talk, like the complaints of little kids. Give your inner child some compassion, but don’t give in to the complaints!

You’re doing this for a reason that should be as important as saving the life of a loved one, or it’s not worth doing. Ask yourself how much you want this, then take the steps you need to take — sweep away distractions, put on headphones, set a timer, sit through the urge to switch, push through the tiredness.

If it’s important, you have it in you.

trust the process


Something about this word almost makes me think someone made it up.  However, I am reading this book called Aha! 10 ways to free your creative spirit and find your great ideas.  The author is Jordan Ayan, and as I was reading it, several thoughts stuck me as powerful quotes that needed to be written down.  The first one was this: New ideas are like bad dreams: They can be difficult to understand and they may go against the grain of our belief systems and thus frighten us.  Wow.  It occurred to me that I knew some truly frightened people out there.  Don’t read into it.  If this fits you, you know who you are.

The next thought I wanted to explore was this: Openness also pertains to being aware of and “tuned in” to the coincidences of life.  A closed mind shuts out the chance meetings and events that often become opportunities for discovery and invention.  How open am I to new experiences?  Food?  People?  Most of my friends would rate me pretty high on this scale I think.  Want to go to a new restaurant?  Of course!  So and so wants to come along.  Sure, why not?  I have an idea.  Want to try this?  Count me in.  I have two tickets to a band you don’t listen to on a regular basis, but they sound cool.  Who wants to go?  Me, me!  Yup.  It was bluegrass.  Don’t laugh.  You know who you are.  I wanted to play the banjo for a while after that.  Anyway, in researching the word “openness”, I came across this personality test based on the Big Five.  It really was free, and did not require any personal information before showing me my results.  I wanted to take it before I told you about it.

Lastly, I wanted to share this thought: Risk taking is tied to your comfort zone.  If you are tolerant of risks, you give yourself permission to leave your comfort zone to encounter new ideas, people, and information that can enhance your creativity.  Paraphrasing here, but likewise if you are risk averse you will stay within your comfort zone, forsaking the potential challenges that might inspire you to new ideas and new experiences.  I loved the use of the word forsaking here.  Abandoning or to turn one’s back on new ideas for fear of the “potential challenges”.  If this is you, please get out a notebook right now, journal every idea you have ever wanted to try, and write down why you didn’t do it.  What is your fear?  Then cross off that fear and look at it in a whole new way.  What if that obstacle was removed?  Would you be able to do it then?  Okay, for me, that obstacle is money.  My number one dream is travel.  I am working on it.  I really am, but I also know I am procrastinating, and perhaps even “forsaking” my dream if I wait much longer.  So, I am working on a plan.  That’s where I will you today.  Make your plan.  Change your life.  Take control of your fears.

“By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.” 

~Richard Dawkins

On being creative…

It finally snowed enough to play in on Friday.  The problem was, I had to take a class on Saturday.  Ha.  Lucky for me, I was e-commuting on Friday.  I’m not sure if the super meant for me to go walking in the woods while it snowed with my girls and then take them sledding, but we needed a day spent entirely outside.  Besides that, a few folks feel a little beat down lately with all the budget cuts and money coming out of our paychecks, so I needed time to just be in the moment.

The roads were icy as I headed off to class.  I must admit, I kept hoping it was going to be canceled.  I got a one hour delay.  When I arrived, a few things struck me at once.  The class had music playing much like my yoga class, the chairs were in a circle, and I noticed what I thought were brightly colored mandalas on the wall.  Cool.  The class opened by everyone getting to say their name and why they were taking the class.  Almost everyone was an educator of some sort.  You could feel the reluctance of some to say anything at all.  The class was diverse in backgrounds, race, and ages.  It was quite a unique mix.  When we got around to a rather big man, and I mean big as in presence, he said he had spent 3 tours in Iraq and was now teaching at one of our ummm corrective schools.  Wow.  This tiny older woman got up and hugged him when it was her turn to introduce herself.  I almost cried.

Then we watched a thought-provoking video called Everyday Creativity with Dewitt Jones.  He is an amazing photographer.  This will not do it justice, but I actually found the key points here in a Power Point.  The first point he made blew me away…not just because it was right, but it was because I have been saying this for years.  I actually made a post about this some time ago called The Long Lens.  I talked about looking at things from a million different perspectives.  Since this man can go through 400 rolls of film to get 35 extraordinary photos, I think he said it better than I could.  He said “The lens we chose when we view a problem is critical.  Our perspective is what holds the key to whether the solution is ordinary or extraordinary.”  Wow.  I know many artists who have such perspective everyday.

The question is, can you be creative without being an artist?  Of course you can.  You have to learn to think differently, and of key importance is that you realize you are going to make mistakes.  He stressed that there is always more than one right answer.  So true.  A few other things I was told that day are:

  1. Every act can be a creative one.
  2. Creativity is a matter of perspective.
  3. Break the pattern.
  4. You’ve got to really care.

Amazing things are out there for all of us, we just have to find the place of most potential.  Embrace change…re-frame.

“Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work.” ~Rita Mae Brown