The Value of Relaxation on Creative Work

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This week my Freewill Astrology horoscope was spot on and hilarious. I don’t put a lot of stock into astrology but I’ve read mine weekly on FreeWill Astrology for years as I like the writer’s tone, and often the messages are useful and broad enough to inspire. This week my horoscope just told me to re-commit myself to truly relaxing, which was a very timely reminder as my schedule has been a bit extreme lately.

2016 has been a year of Learning to Relax again for me. I have this stupid belief where if I am not Driving The Hardest that I won’t succeed, I guess I don’t want to look back and wonder why I was lazy or missed an opportunity because I took down time instead. But that usually results in years like 2014 where I worked every moment and burned out so badly in early November it took me 2 months to recover….Or January of this year which I spent almost entirely in bed and violently ill. Obviously driving yourself at 100% for months on end is a recipe for serious illness and a shit social life.

In North America there’s this whole work-ethic and productivity fetish, we have built a culture that glorifies “hard work” as a redemptive magical concept that will rescue us from our toil (all personal problems or financial issues are caused by not “working hard” enough etc, which is obviously a big smelly lie). We’re taught it’s an Effort In Results Out equation, if you just toil enough you’ll get everything you wish for – and that’s just not true. Success comes from a myriad of variables such as educational opportunities, health, connections, support networks, and luck (and lots of other sources). You can put 100% of your soul and every ounce of blood/sweat/tears into something and still not succeed- and that sucks. I’d so prefer the fairytale of effort in results out, but we live in a real world full of class structures, student loans, etc etc.

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The problem is I like to work hard. When I drive myself I can strive towards goals and see results, and that pushing can be almost addictive. No one can say I didn’t work “hard” enough for my art. I forget to take breaks, to socialize, to just take basic care of my body and then I get wildly sick (I have some permanent issues with my lungs as a result of this habit, you’d think that alone would have cured me of the idea). If I am not pushing myself then I am slacking- Relax Guilt sets in! I feel guilty for inert moments, like I am wasting my time.

So this year I decided I wanted to learn to relax to see if it would improve my work and my happiness (and health). I stopped coordinating shoots on weekends (apart from large scale collection launch ones) and stopped double booking myself with work things 24/7. When I was sick in January I started playing an old computer game I’d loved a few years ago, and discovered that letting myself be immersed in it for an hour meant I wasn’t thinking about work or my next project, my brain ceased it’s constant grinding. After I finished playing I returned to my to-do list energized and calm, not feeling harried or swamped by it. I loaded my kindle with non-work-related books. I went for more hikes/walks with friends, and crafted things just for the sake of.

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And the results have been kind of amazing! Having down time means when my brain snaps back to projects and to-do lists it’s recharged and has a deeper well of creative energy to pull from. New ideas and inspiration appear when my brain is not frantically balancing everything. There are countless scientific studies that claim this is true across the board. Neuroscience says that bursts of creativity come when the brain is at rest. If you want to improve your creative work you need to truly relax, that’s how you do better and stronger work- not driving yourself to illness.

So if you’re a creative type who likes to push yourself make sure to schedule some true down time. You need to shut your frantic pacing thoughts off so you brain can help you create even better work. For me that comes in the form of hiking in nature (sans phone), computer games, and reading mainly. Find what helps you turn off the noise and it will make your efforts blossom.


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