The Art of Creating, part three – The Finish Line

If you missed the other part of this series – click here for part one and here for part two.

When I used to work in the theater, I was always fascinated by what happened between the final dress rehearsal and opening night. With less than 24 hours to go, sets would be rebuilt, lighting cues changed, and at times even new lines would be written and learned. It always appeared to me that if we could harness the incredible focus, commitment, and productivity of those final 24 hours throughout the creative process, we would either get things done ten times more quickly or get ten times more things done.

We see this ‘something extra’ in sporting events all the time. Marathon runners seem to find an extra gear as the finish line approaches; American football players find an extra burst of speed as they approach the end zone. And if you’ve ever had to pull an all-nighter to meet a deadline at school or batten down the hatches witha team at work to get a product ready to ship, you know that somehow, we all find that extra something inside us when we need it most, even if we can get pretty tetchy with ourselves and one another in the process.

How does knowing this help us as creators?

Well, first, let’s take a look at what’s really going on inside our heads that leads to “the finish line phenomenon”…

1. A simplification of priorities

“Depend on it sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
-Samuel Johnson

In the movie of The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a man with only one thing on his mind – to get revenge on the man who killed his son. While we can debate the worthiness of that intention, this simplicity of focus carries him and his half-dead body past miles of treacherous terrain and hundreds of pretty treacherous people. He’s not worried about his appearance, or his self-image, or his mood – he’s just taking the next step, again and again and through some pretty unthinkable circumstances until he finds himself face to face with his son’s killer.

Great creators know that ability to single-mindedly focus on one thing to the exclusion of all others is within us, and they use it to great effect when they lose themselves in the process of creation, often experiencing a kind of altered flow-state that leads to them forgetting to eat, attend to personal hygiene, and acknowledge the existence of other people as they work towards the finish line of their next creation.

Of course, the happiest creator is the one who also knows how to come out of that state at the end of the working day, allowing other thoughts and people to come crashing back into their head and riding the rapids of that personal thinking until they once again regain their mental equilibrium.

2. A burst of hope

“If I had to choose a superhero to be, I’d choose Superman. He’s everything I’m not.”
-Steven Hawking

In his research into the psychology of happiness and success, Shawn Achor identified the point at which the brain releases higher than normal amounts of endorphins, dopamine, and other brain chemicals as ‘the X-spot’. This internally generated chemical boost is what provides the extra energy needed for a sprint to the finish.

Even though as creators, the finish line isn’t always so clearly defined, we can still benefit from finding the X-spot in our work by realizing that what actually triggers that burst of chemicals isn’t the finish line itself, but rather the burst of hopeful thinking that finish line engenders. There’s just something about feeling hopeful that gives us access to deep reserves of inner strength and creative possibility.

When we find hope – via an insight that unsticks our temporary stuckness, an unexpected bit of help from life, or simply a return to our innate hopefulness – our brains will reward that hope with a burst of the same kind of chemical boost that fuel the sprinter on the final leg of the race. In turn, we can use that temporary chemical boost to keep us moving forward with renewed vigor in the process of creating whatever it is we’re setting out to create.

So if simplicity and hope are the keys to finding that extra burst of power from somewhere deep within us, how do we incorporate the ‘finish line phenomenon’ into our own creative process?

By allowing ourselves to drop everything but the task at hand from our mental to-do list each time we enter into the studio, office, or arena.

We’re already designed for success – it’s just that we’ve learned to make things far more complicated than they need to be and our ego and intellect far more important to the creative process than they actually are. Each time we simply show up and respond to what shows up, without a personal agenda for what we need to prove or a lot of thinking about how this task will fit into the grand picture of our lives, the creative force shows up with us. And over time, if we let it, that creative force will reshape us into the perfect conduit for creation.

Have fun, learn heaps, and happy creating!

With all my love,
Michael Signature