My Favorite Tools To Keep a Creative Mindset in All Circumstances

This post is for you if you can identify with one or more of the following:

–"Wow. I'm just NOT inspired today!"–

— "I'll never make it, I'm soooo lazy. Just can't stop procrastinating." —

–"Pfff…. I'm not sure I'm good enough"–

–"OMG!!! What if they don't like my music?"–

–"Don't even know where to start today…."–

Here are the resources I've found most helpful to stay calm in the face of adversity and build a quiet, unbreakable confidence in my creative abilities.

Even when life sucks.

"Wow. I'm just NOT inspired today!"

First off, give yourself a break. It happens.

That's when the box of inspiration and thoughts comes in handy.

I've heard different people talk about and describe similar practices so I'll just show you what my particular box looks like, what I put it in and how I use it.

This is what the box looks like

So the dimensions are not really important but my box is meant to contain A5 cards. 148×210 mm or 5.8 x 8.3 in depending on how you measure stuff….

These are examples of what's inside the box

I'll write a quote I like on an index card and file it in one of these categories. I might add a few comments in bullet points below the quote.

Marcus Aurelius' virtue
Marcus Aurelius' words on virtue help if I'm feeling overwhelmed because it reminds me of what's important and in my control. As opposed to futile and outside my control, i.e. a big waste of energy! But more on that later….

Sometimes, I'll even write out a creative exercise that I might want to go back to in the future.

James Altucher's Creative Mindset
James Altucher most DEFINITELY has a creative mindset as he recommends brainstorming 10 ideas every day. Just to stay in the habit of coming up with stuff. The point being it doesn't matter if you come up with weird or goofy or genius. What matters is that you have ideas.

This is what the box helps me with

  • Finding inspiration
  • Giving myself a kick up the backside
  • Challenging assumptions and myself
  • Getting out of a slump/rut/routine

The key to the creative mindset as I see it is NOT to effortlessly feel inspired everyday but to TRUST that inspiration will turn up if I am humble enough to look for it outside myself.

And there's something truly humbling and comforting about this little box full of beautiful words and wisdom other people shared 🙂

"I'll never make it, I'm soooo lazy. Just can't stop procrastinating."

Part of having a creative mindset is knowing that you're going to procrastinate and be cool with it.

Beating yourself up about how much you procrastinate is NOT going to help you create more music or better music.

This might:

(adapted from Mark Foster's Autofocus system to get everything done)

Step 1- Keep a list of EVERYTHING you have to do and/or want to try, EVERYTHING that comes to mind.

Big or small. In the studio or in "real life". Doesn't matter.

Write down everything that comes to mind. Preferably using a pen and paper.

The list will inevitably become long and scary at times but you'll manage it. Here's how.

Step 2 – Whenever you feel like working, even if it's just for 5 minutes, go through the list WITHOUT ANY INTENTION of working on a particular item….

Don't worry about what you think you SHOULD be working on or what's urgent or what your uncle would really want you to do or what you've been putting off for weeks.

Just skim through the list from top to bottom. Without any intention.

Step 3- THEN you go through that list again but more slowly and pick one item to work on, whatever jumps out at you….

When you see it, you'll know. You'll feel it.

Here's where this practice gets really powerful: there's really NO PRESSURE to complete the task or work a certain amount of time….

When you're done working, simply cross out the task and, if it's not finished, add a new entry at the bottom of the list.

That's it.

Managing to-do list, my example


You'll notice that stuff accumulates so, once in a while, you'll want to go through the list and ask yourself why something's not done yet.

Am I putting this off because it's actually not very important?

Recommended action: cross-off

Am I procrastinating because the task feels like a lot of effort compared to the expected reward?

Recommended action: cross-off

Is it the right time for this task?

Recommended action: highlight for later and, if applicable, add a related action item that is a first step to get you there

For example, a few years back I was thinking of setting up a page on Patreon for people to support my music but never seemed to get around to it.

Was I procrastinating because I'm lazy. Nope…. I was procrastinating because, deep down, I knew I wasn't ready.

There were a TON of steps I needed to take BEFORE I set up a Patreon page.

I needed to spend more time defining my music project and build a loyal following prior to launch.

Is the task well defined or is it too big or too vague?

Recommended action: cross-off and replace by a smaller, well-defined action item

For example, "find a publisher" is pretty overwhelming. It'll take hours (months?!) before I can cross that off….. If I read it like that on a list, chances are I'll keep postponing and do nothing.

So what do I do? I cross out that item out and add a new, smaller item that will get me started.

Perhaps something like "send music submission to the first 3 music publishers I find when typing 'music publisher jazz music' on Google".

"Pfff…. I'm not sure I'm good enough"

Whenever you're doubting yourself, thinking you're maybe not good enough and shouldn't be deluding yourself, it's time to….

Pick up Gavin Aung Than's book: Creative Struggle.

Creative mindset illustrated

It's the perfect pick-me-up for when you're feeling low because you'll see just how much EVERYONE struggles and has self-doubts.

Yes, even Einstein, Stephen King and Leonardo da Vinci. I mean Leonardo da Vinci….. Come on!!

Side note: you can get a taste for the author's work for free right here on his website.

"What if they don't like my music?"

Worrying about what other people think is a sure-fire way to kill your creativity.

A creative mindset starts with understanding that the act of creating is all that truly matters.

It's what's in your control, what you enjoy doing and/or need to do.

What happens outside of that creative process is secondary, including how people perceive your work. After all….. everybody's a critic but nobody knows shit, really!

So how do you stay focused on what's truly important, i.e. your music, the creative process?

Develop a creative mindset with Stoic philosophy
Yes…. I know my photos are poor quality. Lost the piece that covered the photo lens on my phone so now all my pics are blurry. Wanted to show you I really do use these tools anyway :p

Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman's book The Daily Stoic and its companion journal have helped me:

  • focus on what I can control
  • see the positive in every situation*
  • react quickly when I feel overwhelmed

So what if they didn't like my music? It just means I have more work to do, either finding a better-suited audience or making better-produced music.

This terrible thing just happened?* Ok, let me be sad and angry and feel sorry for myself for a bit. I'll take it slow for a while, take the time to recover but also make sure I focus on the little things I can do along the way.

*Side note: I am not writing this from a place of happy go-lucky, everything always works out for me experience . This has worked for me in the face of truly testing adversity, including death, abuse and the usual shit life has a way of throwing at you when you're lucky enough to be alive.

"Don't even know where to start today…."

Ok so you've got a lot on your plate but no clue where to start.

As a result, maybe you tend to work aimlessly on stuff without making much progress or, worse, you don't get started at all….

Here's what I recommend: try taking 5-10 minutes in the evening to think about the next day.

What would make that day great?

What would you need to accomplish in the next 24 hours to feel great about yourself?

Write down 1-5 things you want to get done the next day.

— The smaller the better…. "record album" is daunting, "open DAW" is not.

— Being specific also helps…. "open DAW and work on song B for 30 minutes" is nice and specific and achievable.

— Focusing on the process instead of the end goal…. "work on song A mix" is less intimidating than "finish mixing song A". It makes it easier to actually sit down and start working.

I use a list structure to make sure I stay focused and clear and know exactly what I need to do the next day.

Here's an example of mine….

Planning for the next day to unleash the creative mindset

Knowing what I have to do helps me sit down and do creative work.

Doing it in the evening helps me save my decision-making energy in the morning.

By the way, I do the same before I walk into the studio….

creative mindset in the studio

BONUS TRICK To Develop A Creative Mindset

This last tip is the glue that ties everything above together.

Or at least makes everything else that little bit easier.

You don't HAVE to do it (of course you don't!),

But please try it for 7 days straight before you dismiss it entirely….

It's something that's helped me cut the crap, procrastinate less (emphasis on LESS!) and feel more creative…. the Headspace App.

I especially like "Everyday Headspace": 3-20 minute guided meditations with a different theme and quote to ponder every day. (I usually go with 5 minutes)

Headspace and mindfulness for musicians

I'm actually on day 304 at the time of writing but didn't like the quote! :p

Side note: there are other apps like Calm and the Mindfulness App that do similar things. Don't get hung up on Headspace if you don't like it.

In fact, you don't even have to use an app. You could just decide to focus on your feet while you walk for 10 minutes everyday or focus on your breath while you sit in silence for 5 minutes.

Whatever works for you. I've just found that using an app that guides me through the meditation and tells me how many days in a row I've been at this really helps.

By the way, if you're not into the woo-woo meditation stuff, I get it. I wasn't either.

This is the quote that convinced me to give it a try:

The Happiness Hypothesis - Creative Mindset

Something to think about….