Setting limits to fuel your creativity

‘Like a great poet, Nature knows how to produce the greatest effects with the most limited means.’  Heinrich Heine

Creating legacy as a creative endeavour

Creating legacy is about taking an idea that is in your head and making something tangible out of it, something that can be accessible to others and that will keep your memory alive for a long time to come. Creating legacy is therefore, as the first part of the term suggests, a creative act. You are giving birth to something that would not have existed without your focus and determination to bring it into this world.

This means that legacy creators have the same kind of problem that creative people across all areas have: how to fuel creativity on days when things just aren’t happening, when the brain seems dead and uncooperative? How to tempt the muse into a visit on days when she is resolute not to come?

Setting limits as a way to trick the muse

Here’s the secret: the muse likes to visit a clearly defined space; she does not like to arrive into nothingness.

So the best way to be creative is not to try to think without limits, but in fact to set limits for yourself even when you are completely free to do what you like, and to very carefully define what those limits are. Setting limits will help you focus your energies on something concrete, rather than staring blankly at an infinity of possibilities.

If you have the feeling that you are getting nowhere or that you can’t keep your impetus going, the reason is very likely to be poorly defined limits. The cure is to narrow your boundaries down and define them more closely. You will find paradoxically that you are able to exercise far more freedom within your narrow boundaries, than the deceptive ‘freedom’ that has no focus, no boundaries and is ultimately unsatisfying because it is going nowhere.

What kind of limits?

1. Limiting criteria.

Even if you are completely free to do whatever you like, set criteria that you have to meet. For example, if you are writing a poem, you could decide on the number of syllables in each stanza, or the number of letter a’s, or the number of words etc.

After drafting something and struggling to meet those criteria you have set yourself you may decide not to follow those criteria entirely – that is fine, the whole point is that setting the criteria helped you create something in the first place. Remember that the limits are there to help you, to fuel your creativity, they are not there to make you lose sleep over them.

2. Limiting resources.

Unlimited resources are never good for creativity. Instead, set limits for yourself even when you don’t need to. Set a limit on your time, your budget, the materials you can work with etc. I have found that setting strict deadlines for myself is particularly useful even if I then end up allowing myself an extra day or two after the deadline for finishing touches.

As with limiting criteria, the point about limiting your resources is to help your brain get into creative gear quickly and effectively, rather than endlessly agonising about what to do without actually getting much done.

What about you?

How do you fuel your creativity? What techniques do you use to create even on days when you feel decidedly uncreative? Please jot down your ideas in the comments section.

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Alexa Ispas

I am a social entrepreneur, blogger, and talent scout, interested in helping people who want to create legacy. I have recently completed my PhD thesis in social psychology at the University of Edinburgh, and am originally from Romania. I am writing a daily blog on creating legacy, which you can find at