The mind-blowing power of creative restraints

The mind-blowing power of creative constraints

Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.” ~ Ray Bradbury

Beating the Odds

If you’ve ever read the book Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, you know the inspiring tale of Brian, a young boy who survived alone in the Canadian wilderness for nearly 2 months. Starting from scratch, Brian taught himself all the skills necessary for survival: how to make a fire, build shelter, find food, and craft his own weapons.

Brian didn’t just survive – he thrived.

Why is that?

Well, he had little choice. Either he’d let himself die, alone in the cold wilderness, or he would transform his life and adapt to the reality of his situation. But the constraints of his situation didn’t just demand a response, it required creativity, adaptability, and focus.

Clarity of Thought

The lesson from Hatchet is this: the human will is very capable of performing well under pressure. In fact, close calls, tight restrictions, limitations and constraints require an even higher clarity of thinking and an even more creative response than your everyday ho-hum situations.

Ironically, even self-imposed limitations can trick your mind into increased clarity and focus. Using this strategy can help you get stuff done, find a creative solution and think in ways you’ve never imagined.

Here are some creative constraints to try out for yourself:

  • Limit yourself to 3 sentences in every email. You’ll be saving your own and you’re recipients time. Find a creative way to say what you have to say without the fluff.
  • Set a time limit for important projects. When I’m working on a blog post or writing a paper I give myself a time limit of say, 1 hour. Instinctively, I become more focused and the creative juices start flowing.
  • Try to live with just 100 things. A favorite of minimalist bloggers, this challenge forces you to decide what’s essential. Check out the lists of a few people who took up the challenge:
    • Dave Bruno
    • Everett Bogue
    • Leo Babuata
  • Write a blog post in just 50 words. (I’ll try this someday soon.) Like haiku, a short and concise form of Japanese poetry, short blog posts must make an impact in few words. Imagery, tone, and content must harmonize to deliver a beautiful message.
  • Do an intense full-body workout in 20 minutes. Sometimes your day is so packed full of things to do that you barely have time for a workout. So you skip it. But what if you’re workout was only 20 minutes long. Would you be less apt to skip it? Try this workout to get started:
    • Walk for 5 minutes
    • Run for 5 minutes
    • Stretch for 3 minutes
    • Do push-ups for 1 minute
    • Do sit-ups for 1 minute
    • Skip (emphasizing height) for 1 minute
    • Push-ups for 1 minute
    • Sit-ups for 1 minute
    • Run for 2 minutes
  • Read Proverbs – one verse a day. Loaded with timeless wisdom, this book of the Bible is a must read for anyone who wants to live deliberately. Savor just one verse a day. Mull over its implications in your mind.
  • Try loving just one person. Some people have the idea that freedom means having multiple lovers, flings, and hookups. But how intimate can that really be? Try devoting yourself to one person. At first, you might struggle with having just one partner, but each human being has enough complexity to explore for a lifetime. Grow close together by sharing needs, wants, hopes, and dreams.
  • Set a budget (say $200) and take a road trip. There’s nothing more exciting than hitting the road, exploring the countryside, and seeing new things. Don’t let a tight budget get in the way. See how far you can get with $200.Grab a friend, thats $400. Assuming $10 a day for food (each), $3/gallon for gas, a car that gets 25mpg, and sleeping in a tent – you could take an 8 day road trip spanning 2000 miles. Not bad for a tight budget!
  • Make your next group meeting 20 minutes long – not a minute more. Everyone hates business meetings, why not be the hero and cut straight to the chase? Here’s how: 1.) Hit the key points early and keep it to a max of three 2.) Nobody should have the floor for more than 15 seconds – that’s all it takes to make a solid point. 3.) Leave time for responses and rebuttals but cut them off when the same points start getting regurgitated. 4.) Offer an online forum such as a company blog or Facebook group to keep the conversation alive. Sometimes a subject warrants more discussion.
  • Delete all but 50 friends on Facebook. We’re constantly being inundated with useless information. Do you really need to follow the lives of 826 different people? Rather than having a bunch of friends who you barely stay in contact with, cut the number down to 50 and make them a bigger part of your life. Restraints always force you to choose quality over quantity, and this can be applied meaningfully to real life relationships as well.

You might not want to do apply any of these limitations all the time, then again you might. Find a balance that leaves you happy and productive.