I have been terrified to put myself and my work out there in the public. I’m not sure why, but I know that I have always preferred solitude over crowd. Instead of following the common belief, I have tried to my research in my own comfort and formed my own opinion. When I’m satisfied with my findings, I just file them into my ever growing cabinets of notes of articles that someday I will write, but do not have the courage to go ahead and finish them.
But after years of skipping publishing my work, I couldn’t help but feel that something is missing. Yet going back to try and finish an article was even more excruciating. I was stuck in between : the need to share what I’ve learned and not being able to pen them articulately. It’s maddening not being able to put my thoughts and findings onto the white blank pages
After many attempts of trying to write for the perspective of others, I finally made the decision and simplified the objectives : How about I just write for myself.
This is when I came up with the concept of Audience of one - me. Before I started writing it, I googled some keywords - only to find out that someone has beaten me to the punch. There it was, the book with the exact theme I was going for.
At first, I got irritated which soon grew into full curiosity. It was fascinating to learn that someone has the same problem, and a small part of me was relieved since the research part was done! Yes, I can be lazy like that. It also helps to find that this book is succinct and straightforward, cause I can be impatient like that as well 🙂
Here’s an interesting insight thus far: While separating your effort and result is one of the hardest things to do, it’s also one of the most important. Otherwise, your sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, happiness, and overall well-being will fluctuate, depending on the “results” and not the actual work.
The Real Value of Creative Process
Have you ever been so immersed and engaged in doing something that you lose track of time? That’s the definition of joy. The creative process—not the result—is the source of our happiness. It’s those unguarded moments of creative, daring, and magical which happen along the way that make it all worthwhile.
And the good news is, our commitment to and belief in the process is entirely in our control. We can decide to show up, sit down, and create - regardless of the outcome. If we listen to the call of creativity and stay attentive, it can be our gateway to meaningful creative experiences.
Teresa Amabile, Professor, Director of Research at Harvard Business School & author of The Progress Principle, actively teaches courses on managing creative professionals in the business world. Over ten years, she and her colleagues looked at what makes people happy, motivated, productive, and creative at work.
The participants - dozens of creative professionals - were asked to submit a daily electronic diary about whatever creative project they were working on. They would answer questions about their emotions and the events of the day, something Amabile and her colleagues refer to as “inner work life.”
Their first discovery was that,
When people are feeling most deeply and happily engaged in their work, they’re more likely to be creatively productive.
The second discovery, known as “The Progress Principle,” revealed that,
The number One Drive of positive inner work life was making progress in meaningful work, even if that progress was a small win.
The fact is, we make progress daily but in really small ways. We tend to overlook these minor accomplishments because we’re so obsessed with major ones. This can dangerously skew our perception of personal progress.
But when we actually acknowledge small wins or get in the habit of tracking them, we can not only challenge that perception - but also build up our momentum and enjoy desirable progress on our most meaningful work.
Reaching The State of Flow
To truly experience progress, one must hold on to an ongoing commitment of creativity; To make it a daily practice, regardless the form or shape or sizes. Only then will we be able to taste progress and productivity.
Ultimately, we’ll reach a state called “flow” or “deep work” more readily, and that scientifically increases our happiness. Why? Because human brains are actually wired to crave this state of flow.
Here’s a list of getting to the flow through a series of exercises :<hr />
Step 1: You At The Center - Listen to YOUR creativity
When art is not your way of earning a living, you get to have a full control and freedom. You can create whatever it is you’re proud to put your signature on, even if it doesn’t have the potential to pay the bills. The downsides to your creative risks are minimal - perhaps even none.
This is the artistic equivalent of childhood: the opportunity to experience creative effort as play rather than work. In this beautiful and special time, you’re liberated from the expectations of others with uninhibited freedom of expression.
"There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and To Know One's self."Benjamin Franklin
Ever heard of the saying “ dance like nobody’s watching and sing like nobody’s listening”? It’s the idea of approval from others and certain standards that stop us dead in our feet or ears.
We’re aware of their opinions and we aim to swing them in our favor. Our fascinating quirks are then buried under a validation-inspired façade. We brush it off as compromise, but sadly it’s our core values that have been compromised.
To restore our true creativity, we need to learn to listen - but not to others. Instead, listen to yourself & amplify these goals in mind:
A satisfying creative life is a matter of staying true to your voice & not seeking external validation.
Don’t try to create for the approval of a hypothetical audience in your head.
Avoid the myth of and aim to create for an audience of one: yourself.
Remember: the reward is in the process, and the only audience you have to worry about is you.
So instead, create for yourself and let yourself fail – repeatedly, until you really start to feel the process working and your voice getting stronger.
Step 2: You as The Audience : Write For Yourself
When it comes to writing, the question whether we should write for ourselves or for others is an important one. This can get complicated cause we tend to emulate authors we admire.
But here’s a thought : don’t we all want to write a book that we ourselves would like to read? One way or another, we’re always writing for ourselves. In a sense, you are always your own audience.
Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is highest wisdom.Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. Lao Tzu
I must admit, writing is a tricky medium. Unlike other art medium which is relatively open for public perceptions, writing only for yourself can seem narcissistic. The goal of writing is often not just to rant, but to share knowledge or value to readers. And for that, we do need others as our audience.
The key to managing these two aspects is to merge both you and others as your ideal audience. You can still curate your thoughts and pen them down, without losing your own true voice. At the end of the day, readers will form their own opinion, but don’t let that expectations or conformity take the steering wheel.
Instead, it’s best to put your own spin of tone and unique character into it. You can then offer your personal insight, contribute to others yet still find yourself in the front seat of audience.
Furthermore on this point, there are habitual mindset we can practice to make the creative process less crowded with self-consciousness :
- Trust yourself
How can you learn to trust yourself more? Here are a few things to highlight:
Listen to your gut & take care of it too.
This gem of advise is direct and never fails. We may pace back and forth in our decision making, but our gut is where true values lie - well, figuratively of course.
But do you know that by literally taking care of your gut aka body, it also helps in better decision making?
To improve hearing your own truth, lead a healthy lifestyle and rest plenty. Slow down to avoid feeling overwhelmed and put yourself as a priority. Your mind will be clear, your instinct sharpen and your confidence improve.
Uncover your hidden values
The act of listening to yourself can be as simple as creating work that is aligned with your own values. When this happen, you will not only be effortlessly productive but may produce your best work yet. It’s natural to advocate for your own values and really go hard for them.
For those who are still in search of the inner values, ask yourself these questions :
The author of Audience of One, Srivinas Rao, also hosts a podcast called The Unmistakable Creative. He founded it to be a place unlike anywhere else on the internet; a place that gets people’s creative juices flowing.
Similarly, you can use the approach by creating your own space that welcomes and serves people in your own valuable way. Think of how your work can benefit others, instead of just yourself.
For Rao, he can’t stand the idea of people who bury their own creativity by imitating other people’s creations. That becomes the central ethos of the Unmistakable Creative brand.
By knowing what you dislike or the things that anger you, it can help weed out the noise and help in uncovering your hidden values. You will steer out of the things that do not motivate you, and stay focused on your inner missions.
For example, being able to contribute to others’ wisdom lights me up. This is the opposite of the previous question, by knowing what you are truly certain of. Finding your true calling or passion is a journey to self-discovery that looks different to each individual. But once you’ve found it, it may very well be your hidden values too.
If you take time to reflect on these questions, despite their simplicity, you’ll find your answers to be quite revealing.
Visualize your Value
In his book Louder Than Words, Todd Henry encourages readers to consider the following questions: “
Through the Unmistakable Creative, Rao aims for a radical transformation of education. His dream involves an education system that isn’t driven simply by grades and test scores, but instead takes into account multiple forms of intelligence and places a higher value on creativity. Rao also dreams of seeing more people able to earn their living from doing work that they love.
The changes that you want to see in the world can be something simple to radical, but it’s important that you spend time visualizing it or even talking about it. It helps to see the views and listen to your thoughts out loud. You can revise, improve or upgrade the values to a point you are absolutely certain of them - thus making you more confident.
This is another question that may seem simple, but can be a compass to knowing your true map. Once you have discovered the values, remember to write a personal manifesto to affirm it.
2. Be Present
To be proficient at writing creatively for yourself, focus on today - not the past, not the future.
By being present, we’re fully engaged in whatever we’re doing. On the contrary, letting our mind trails off to the past or present only results in something inauthentic and manufactured within our comfort zone. It stiffens our creativity and clouds us with unnecessary judgments.
In one of The Unmistakable Creative podcast interviews, Thomas Sterner, author of The Practicing Mind, made a subtle but powerful distinction point. He said that, whatever our creative habit is, we can decide whether it’s
When it’s a learning day, we’re allowed to struggle and make mistakes - free of judgment. When it’s performance day, the goal is to create at the top of our game - also no judgment involved cause you just go at it. It’s a great system to train being in the present and deliver your 100%.
3. Cultivate Solitude
Numerous studies suggest that regular meditation (about six hours a week) may actually change brain structure. Scientists have found meditation is associated with a thicker cerebral cortex and more gray matter — i.e., the parts of the brain linked to memory, attention span, decision-making and learning.
But a year of silent meditation isn’t always necessary. One study found people who meditated at least once a week for four years showed increased our information process.
It’s little wonder why some of the most creative minds of the world practice meditation regularly. From Lady Gaga to Paul McCartney, and Bill Gates who makes sure to meditate as often as he can or 2-3 times a week!
If you’re new to meditation but wish to kickstart it into a habit, try the “Ulysses Contract” technique. It’s a psychological way of forcing yourself to be so committed to your goal that you eliminate all potentials of self-sabotage.
For example, aim to have a total of 60 minutes of meditation session/ week as your Ulysses contract. If you fail to achieve it, you will have to do something you absolutely hate - for example spending a day with your in-laws ( or something). Since the risk is too much, you will go out of your way to achieve your goal.
My recommendation is to identify what’s realistic for you to do in terms of making meditation a part of your lifestyle, then grow from there.
4. Stay Curious
Tina Seelig, author of Insight Out
The most interesting conversation we can have sometimes is with ourselves. It fuels us with creativity and even makes us a better listener, thus a better creative person.
Since this post is filled with plenty of questions, it’s definitely time to really ask yourself and keep digging the ever-changing answers for yourself as the audience.
C. Position Yourself In An Ideal Environment
In addition to our community and daily experience, our biggest inspirations come from our surrounding. Environment matters and this is how to situate yourself in an ideal environment:
1. Create a better physical location.
Perhaps you’ve already read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo. Either way, you should know that the title is indeed accurate. With some simple decluttering of your physical environment, you’ll benefit from both a cleaner space and decluttered mind.
2. Take care with the tech setup
When it comes to my working space, I personally have set up a ritual for creative process. I will first remove the computer to sharpen my focus, put on my headset, and start scribbling. It’s easy to lose focus when you have the internet at the tip of your finger. Not to mention the endless distractions coming from the gadgets all around you.
3. Separate your workspace : digital & analog
In his book “Steal Like An Artist”, Austin Kleon wrote about the need to work with your hand- especially if you spend most of your time on computers.
I really like this concept of creating two working desks : a computer desk and the other the “idea desk”. It’s simply a desk, no computer is allowed and only creativity is! It’s a space where you can draw, write, doodle and do anything manually - as messy as possible.
4. Allow a space to be physically active
Imagine a set up where you can work 9-5 but still squeeze your daily 3 miles in. How? Well, a treadmill desk is now actually a thing. But essentially you will need a walking pad and an adjustable table, arrange them both strategically and you can multitask like a pro.
If this feels too much, you don’t have to opt for it. Still the idea to move and stretch in between your sitting period does wonder for your creativity and your physical well being. So be sure to walk to refill your water bottle, go to the toilet, stretch and keep moving somehow!
5. Leave your home and start a new
Challenge your idea of working environment by thinking out of the box. What if your working space is not limited only to a table, a cubicle or a room? What if actually your working environment is also what’s out there, and you owe it to yourself to explore by traveling.
Traveling is a necessary tool to reset your perspective. It does not even have to be a foreign or a faraway place, as long as it’s somewhere new and fresh. Try visiting places that scare you or force you out of the comfort zone, for example : a place with different language, a country of unique culture, or even a restaurant with menu you can’t even pronounce. Ethiopian restaurant anyone?
Want more ideas about fresh ways for creativity and sharp mind? Check out this article 4 Must-Try Exercises To Keep Your Creative Mind Sharp
D. Team Up With Like Minded to Level Up
Now that you have understood and worked within yourself, created an ideal environment, the last step to be creatively productive is to seek help or team up with others.
To begin with, it’s a good idea to start small with another creative partner. As a dynamic duo, there are many benefits to forming an alliance and having someone onboard. In addition to providing confidence, trust and commitment for each other, a two-person team can also keep reality on check - taking turn as the dreamer and the doer to get the wheels always on the move.
Even if it’s technically an audience of two, ultimately it’s still a single united front.
Return to the joy of creative process and aim to create for ONE person that is YOU.
No more delaying turning your ideas into reality - like I used to. It’s time to succumb to the joyful ride of the creative process. Before I close this article, let’s recap some of the most important points:
In order to get closer to your unique creative voice, listen to BOTH your mind and body. Take good care of your physical health, this is vital in order to function well and think clearly.
Keep your environment toxic-free and no distractions.
It helps to be part of a supportive community and be mindful of the influences you take from it.
Finally, remember that everything that you is FOR YOU and no other. You do this because you want to learn, not to show off your new skills.