You can never be your creative best in a restricted environment

Don’t keep hitting your head on a wall. Change your environment.

I haven’t lived exclusively with my parents all through my adult life. There have been certain periods where I’ve lived alone, and some where I kept swinging back and forth. And it would certainly be erroneous on my part, to deny admitting that I’ve experienced some of my most creative streaks of writing during such periods. Besides the obvious, there are subtle ways in which our environments influence our psychological states, having a direct bearing on conscious thought processes, which negatively or positively impact work outcomes.

You must be familiar with the phrase: A person is a product of his or her surroundings. Nothing could be further from this truth. Especially for those working creative jobs. Creative work isn’t something you get through in an assembly line, conveyor belt manner. You don’t log onto your computer, open a software program, and complete the jobs in your queue one after another.

This isn’t a call center job!

As most creatives well know, an Aha! moment could occur to you anywhere, at any time. And you better have something handy to record those insights, lest they fade away, and your mind is reeled back in to the present moment. Creative geniuses conscious of these state fluctuations, go the extra mile in controlling their external environments, to as much as their advantage as possible. They are cleverly aware that these cogitative environs, meant for quiet contemplation, act as catalysts for light-bulb moments to occur.

But what do you do when you’re forced to live in less than ideal conditions, and still under pressure to perform and show results?

Here’s some of the drawbacks of living in poor environments or under guardianship:

You creative brain is bound and gagged
While there’s more physical work involved living independently, it still doesn’t compare to the mental constraints imposed by co-living. The constant need to feel validated and accepted while living with a parent takes up a significant portion of your mental bandwidth, something that could easily be directed towards more creative pursuits.

If your job requires you to be creative and churn out a ton of content every day, you’ll realize that living with someone else happens to be very detrimental to fulfilling those objectives.

  • You can’t de-clutter the house (which is known to inspire creativity).
  • You can’t tap into your mind wandering mode. Simply put, you can’t brainstorm with yourself, because of the perpetual indoor noise generated by said roommates. Visitors, phone conversations, pet sounds, the movement of furniture, and dishes clattering are all constant reminders that you’re not alone.
  • Your housemates may disturb you from time to time, breaking your trail of thought.

You’re so preoccupied with pleasing them and being acquiescent, that there’s barely any blank space left in your head to generate new thoughts, or have moments of insight. I’d go ahead and add another point to the above list for those who are forced to live in noisy areas because of a spouse or guardian, and have no say in the matter of housing:

  • Outdoor noise

When living alone, there’s no one to bother you with the things you did or didn’t do, the words you said or didn’t say, or the way you behaved. There isn’t that persistent voice in your head reminding you of the consequences if you didn’t get certain things done.

You can choose to do the dishes, or not.
You can choose to arrange your clothes neatly inside a cupboard, or not.
You can choose to groom yourself, or not.
You can choose to clean the house or not.
You decide when to sleep, and when to stay awake.

And so on and so forth. All of these put together act as a perpetual sources of distraction, and such environments are pathetically inconducive to unconscious mind wandering, a major fuel for creativity.

Socialization does come with a price.

In a study titled “Creativity- the unconscious foundations of the incubation period”, a possible reason why unconscious mind wandering sparks creativity, is because of unconscious associative processing:

When your mind is liberated from trivial concerns, which a parent or guardian might require you to have, genius strokes of creativity naturally occur. You now reap the dual benefits of not being answerable to someone, plus the moments of insight generated by living in a quieter house.

You get:

  1. Time for quiet contemplation (no screaming and yelling going on in the house, no one breathing down your neck to get chores done, etc)
  2. Opportunity to take up other interests, which in turn, indirectly boost creativity. (no one stopping you from taking up vocations of your choice)

Lynda Coker speaks about the importance of varied interests in an article about improving writing through art and observation, saying:

As a fellow creative, I can totally relate to the above statement. When your life is controlled by someone else, be it your spouse, an elder sibling, a guardian, or a parent, you don’t get the opportunity to go out and explore these interests. This curtails the diversity of thought and action in your life, significantly lowering chances of lateral thinking.

You can bid creativity good bye living in such soporific environments.

Another writer, James Clear, explains how your immediate environment influences your behaviour, in his blog on health and productivity:

You are stressed out and tensed all the time
After all the constant nagging and grumbling you face on a daily basis living with a guardian, you’re bound to feel exhausted to put together anything worthwhile. To be able to creatively put words to paper, you need to have a calm and meditative frame of mind. A house full of people constantly at each others necks is a terribly poor setting to work in. There’s just too much clutter and mental noise to work around.

You are target oriented and result obsessed
No creative genius ever made it big, working with time constraints. The creative process just doesn’t work that way. The most exciting and lively content comes to you when you least expect it. The way that many corporate companies function nowadays is somehow, antithetical to the creative process. They want you to churn out one article after another. They want quick results.

This is why content managers on strict deadlines employ techniques such as brainstorming to fast forward the process of ideation. When a team of writers get together to brainstorm, worthwhile ideas are bound to be generated. In plain words, your internal peer review system is externalized. The very ideas that might occur to you later in the day, while driving, running, or while in the shower, could be suggested by someone else right then and there.

Regardless of whether the pressure is internal (guardians, spouses or roommates), or external (an open office), you’ll always find yourself longing for your very own den of peace and quiet, where the desire to hear the echo of your own thoughts can finally be fulfilled. Living with someone else who pays the bills and runs your life does not spell the death knell for creative vocations. We can work around this.

While there’s categorically no substitute to independent living at a location of your choice, there are a few steps you can take to minimize environmental stressors.

For example, Niharikaa Sodhi, another writer on Medium, feels her work mode comes on at the dining table. Keeping her phone in another room, practising delayed gratification, and decluttering are a few other measures she takes to create a supportive working environment for herself. If you can’t rearrange or de-clutter the rest of the house, you definitely can for your own room. If you can’t afford to move out, you can definitely improve your tolerance to stress by meditating or practicing delayed gratification.

While solitude and tidiness isn’t everyone’s creativity fuel, it is for most of us.

Do let me know some of the measures you’ve taken which helped in activating your wandering mind and got your creative juices flowing. If it’s something that took your brain straight out of a fuzz to put some of your best writing on paper, then I want to know it.

I am an avid trekker, content writer, photographer and sports enthusiast. I write about trekking, society, overpopulation, lifestyle and veganism in general.