What Pressure does to our Creative Flow

The highs and lows of 7 days of a new journaling practice.

I recently committed to taking a new slant on my journaling practice, inspired by Benjamin Hardy, a writer I have recently started following on Medium. The agreement I made with myself was to ask my subconscious for guidance before falling asleep at night and then to write in my journal as soon as possible (three year old allowing) when I wake up in the morning, with the aim of tapping into that threshold state between the waking and sleeping mind and accessing hidden sources of creativity.

My first experience, which was gratifying and profound, spurred me on to stick with this practice for a week, to see what discoveries I might make. I envisioned seven mornings of deep processing, where imagery from my dream world fuelled new realisations and creativity.

It didn’t quite work like that.

Granted, I had set my expectations quite high and I was due for a fall. Each morning, I grabbed my journal dutifully and willed something deep and meaningful to spill out onto the page. What I found was that it took a whole lot of warming up. Some days, I felt like I was showing up at the table for my tasty feast of journaling and all I found was a stale crust of bread and a glass of water. I wrestled with sensations of disappointment as I tried hard to be creative, productive or revelational (I wanted this follow up post to be juicy after all.)

The process differed from my normal journaling practice in that I usually go to my journal when I have something meaty to write: when emotions and experiences, positive or negative are flowing, or inspiration is knocking at my door, waiting to be heard. There is no predictable rhythm to how I have journaled over the last nearly 30 years, but it is unquestionably one of the most helpful and beautiful elements of my daily life.

Yet here I was, arriving at the blank page in the morning and feeling like I had little to say. My subconscious, which seemed to have given me a clear invitation on my first attempt, did not seem to be ‘communicating’ with me in the same manner as it had done that morning.

I likened the experience to the contrast between being in a new romance – journaling, as I often do, from a place of whimful passion and lust, with emotions flowing fast – to being committed to a steadfast marriage, which is based on a predictable routine rather than spontaneity.

And yet, despite the unremarkable results, when the week came to an end, I continued to reach for my journal each time I woke up (I think my three year old got used to the idea too). I could feel how, as Hardy writes, being in a mode of creative output first thing in the morning, as opposed to tapping into social media on the smartphone and being in a state of reactivity, set up my thinking processes differently for the rest of the day.

And interestingly, once the seven days passed and I was doing the morning journaling out of choice, my sessions became much more productive. In fact, on about day 11, I wrote down a flurry of new ideas for writing and resources that I want to create.

I admit that I pretty much omitted one piece of the puzzle in Benjamin Hardy’s method, as I understand it. I neglected writing in my journal last thing every evening. The first night I was able to because my kids were away with the grandparents and I had time to myself. But once family life was back in full flow, I found it hard to make the time at the end of the day. I wonder to what extent doing that would have altered the experience for me.

Or perhaps it was simply the self-applied pressure of having dedicated myself to the week of this practice and having promised to blog about it that gave rise to the strange and uncomfortable mix of high expectations, trying too hard and subsequent feelings of disappointment.

As with all practices, it undoubtedly takes time to get into a groove with this one in which the benefits are more abundant and the mind sinks more easily into a flow state. I certainly want to give it more of a chance. But I am not going to promise to blog about it or predict that it will change my life just yet. I’d rather just let it unfold and see what happens.

I have learned from this experience that the pressure to live up to my own lofty expectations can stifle my creativity and mess with my mind. With the ubiquity of social media there is a thin line between what we create for its own intrinsic value and for the love, pleasure and release of it and what we share with others as part of an evolving online profile. I am increasingly aware of the internal game that this evokes, and this week-long experiment provided yet another reminder of this conundrum.