Tag: anxiety

my big creative year : percolating ideas and MacGyver

I’ve been thinking about some of the painful parts, the really not fun moments, that are part of creative work. The fear and panic I feel when inspiration or solutions aren’t appearing and a deadline is looming. I felt a lot of this during my fox project. The schedule was ambitious – they had to be photographed in mid November and I started designing from scratch in October. They are relatively large, they are jointed (this is brand new to me), they needed to be free standing (nightmarishly difficult for this kind of creature) and their posture and body language were important to the mood, the mood was everything and I wasn’t getting it.

This was waking me up at 4 in the morning night after night – frantically replaying the work of the day and searching my mind for solutions.

During one of my 4 AM worry sessions I took a vacation from my fox problem. This is a coping tool I’ve been using my entire life and it works remarkably well. I say to myself “I’m taking a vacation from my problems” and it flips a switch in me – for a little while I can put something out of my mind – get out of obsessive mode, step temporarily out of unproductive worry. I think it works so well for me in part because I’ve been doing it for so long – habits and practices are so powerful…. My brain knows just what I’m looking for when it hears that phrase. So I took my vacation and fell back to sleep. When I woke up I knew exactly what to do about my foxes. The solution was a combination of things I had tried separately but not together. My conscious mind couldn’t get there – couldn’t see the forest for the trees, had too much anxiety and judgment in the way but when given the opportunity my subconscious stepped right up.

Taking a vacation from my problems doesn’t always involve sleeping – in fact it usually doesn’t. The mix of deeply repetitive work and intense creativity and problem solving works for me. I work on a problem or reach for inspiration or an idea and then let it go – I don’t think about it. I take a vacation from my problem and do something else, something that doesn’t require that kind of thinking. It’s my percolation phase. And then when I’m sewing a million birds or packing and shipping or doing the dishes something shifts and I know what to try next or what to let go of. My problem may not resolve completely but there is movement.

Last week I came across a very simple, direct and intentional practice for accessing one’s subconscious and this is where MacGyver comes in.

I listen to The Unmistakable Creative Podcast (Srinivas Rao) on the regular, in this episode Srini talks to Lee Zlotoff – the creator of infamous 80‘s action TV show MacGyver.  Please listen to the episode for Lee’s story or learn more about him and find a detailed explanation of his creative process/ problem solving technique  and the science behind it here.

How it works – the basics:

Ask a question

It’s important that you write it down on paper then ask your subconscious to work on it.


Give your subconscious a crack at it. Do something to distract your conscious mind from the problem – something that occupies you but doesn’t require too much brain power. For me something like cutting paper for lots and lots of flamingos works beautifully.

paper flamingo cake toppers

It is important that you not watch TV, read or have much conversation etc. I’ve been listening to a wind in the pines sound loop while I work for my percolation time.

Ask for an answer

After a pre-determined period of time ( I’ve been using 2-3 hours – could be longer or shorter but for me longer works better), ask your subconscious, “What have you got for me?” And start writing. If there’s nothing there just write anything at all – just write and ideas will begin to emerge….

Do it again. 

It’s creative muscle, it’s marking a path to an elusive place – the more you do it the stronger the muscle and the connections get.

It sounds so simple … simplistic even or like magical thinking, but I’ve been repeating the process everyday for a week with remarkable results (it has gotten better with practice). I’ve been playful and curious with it – I’ve asked my subconscious to work on little problems and big bold questions – really expecting nothing and gotten some remarkable clarity and insight. I hope you play with this – it’s interesting……