Often times, in the creative world, there’s confusion differentiating between resources that are limited and unlimited.
I’m constantly having conversations with creative friends of mine about the fact that ideas and creativity are an unlimited resource that is regenerative. One idea leads to another and it compounds on itself. To read more about that, CHECK OUT THIS POST.
On the other hand, time and energy are a limited resource.
The fact of time and energy being limited is obvious, however, what we don’t talk about enough as Artist & Creators is “Creative Energy” and our need to be intentional with it.
Now, In my mind, Creativity and Creative Energy (although tied in close relationship together) are two different things.
I define Creative Energy as: “The strength and vitality required for sustained imagination and creative activity.”
We’ve all been there, you’re deep into a session or rehearsal and you’ve hit your limit on Creative Energy. I swear I’ve had moments where I can almost physically feel the right hemisphere of my brain turning off. Sure, I can still push through and perform the songs but any innovation or creativity past that point isn’t going to happen by “working harder”.
Side note: Discernment and awareness of Creative Energy is actually one of the most important roles of a producer in a studio session. Reading the room and knowing when everyone can push deeper, when it’s time to take a lunch break or even call it a day can make or break the creative process. A drummer and band leader friend of mine, Aaron Johnson, once said something I always keep at the front of my mind when I’m music directing, “Whenever you’re dealing with live performance and human output, you’re dealing with a limited resource.”
Even those of you that aren’t musicians can easily fill in the blank by remembering a similar scenario in your own creative journey. I’ve been in plenty of brainstorming meetings where you can sense the moment the creative flow stops being productive.
Another misunderstanding of Creative Energy is that it also functions in a compounding way a lot like sleep. If you push yourself too far for an extended amount of days and weeks without intentionally recharging, our creative sub-conscious responds with things like “writer’s block” or even physically with burn-out.
I was sitting in a green room this weekend when my friend, Matt Berry, shared what he called his “Peanut Butter Theory” with me. He started off by acknowledging that it’s a goofy analogy but somehow works as a helpful visual. He knows I'm a sucker for a good analogy no matter how nerdy.
Side Note: The analogy can be translated and used for multiple creative situations, his original one being in reference to a specific live performance scenario we were in, but what stuck out in my mind was in reference to this thought of Creative Energy for which I tweaked a bit here.
Our own personal Creative Energy is like Peanut Butter. Say you have one jar and you want to share it with other people via spreading it on a piece of toast and giving it to them. A few scenarios come to mind:
Scenario 1: Your goal is to share it with as many people as possible so you focus on spreading the peanut butter thin to make it last. You’ve committed a piece to quite a few people and you want to keep your word. Unfortunately, some of the last slices you can barely tell that there is anything on them as you scraped the bottom of the jar for the final remnant of what used to be peanut butter. You’re intentions were based in generosity, you’ve held up your end of the bargain, but now all you have are a ton of people who will only remember eating a dry boring piece of toast.
Scenario 2: You want to share your best with the world and you’re hyper aware of only having one jar. Because of that, you hold onto your peanut butter tightly and wait for the perfect moment. The perfect person. The perfect opportunity. Time goes on, a month goes by and you realize that “The Perfect Moment” never showed itself to you and you ended up not sharing it with anyone.
Scenario 3: You’re aware of what you’re personally able to give away and decide to function in a state of thankfulness and intentionality. You intentionally split it evenly within a number of slices that allows you to give a generous amount to each one. Matt went on to talk about the experience that you can most likely already picture in your mind: The peanut butter melting over the warm toast. Everyone eating it would enjoy the experience, your gift to them and the universe.
Artists & Creators: YOU GET TO DECIDE where your time, focus, and Creative Energy goes.
If you don’t decide (by setting goals, boundaries, “Not-To-Do Lists”, and daily creative disciplines) the focus of your time and Creative Energy will be decided for you.
From my personal experience…
the result is rarely sustainable.