Insights For Success

Strategy, Innovation, Leadership and Security


The Hidden Killer of Your Creativity

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
Image by  Becky Wetherington  used under creative commons license

Image by Becky Wetherington used under creative commons license

Last minute work on school assignments was the norm for most university students. They wait until the last minute then “pull an all-nighter”.

Many feel that this pressure to deliver makes them work better but recent scientific evidence shows that this may actually be completely false.

It seems pressure may actually stifle innovation and creativity. It pushes you down a conventional path.

Some of the most successfully entrepreneurs are people that have learned to deal with pressure. Even when carrying the weight of the world, they are cool, calm and in control.

Be mindful

Any yogi or meditator will extort the virtues of living “in the moment”.

Think about the last time you were waiting in the lobby to be interviewed for a job. In this particular situation, most people feel stressed. They feel fear. They feel eager. Their body reacts to this stress by releasing cortisol. They may sweat a little and even have some nervous ticks.

None of these is ideal for creativity. You are rarely putting your best foot forward in these stressful situations.

But remember that the stress you feel isn’t because of something that is happening then and there (in the moment). It is because you are worried about what you think may happen.

If you are able to be “in the moment”, then you will release the stress and shine like the star you are meant to be.

The research

Professor Teresa Amabile (from Harvard Business School) conducted research into creativity in the workplace and discovered that employees under pressure almost never performed optimally when completing tasks. Funny enough many thought they were optimally creative but measurably they were not.

Rear my article Monotasking is the new productivity hack

Read my article How to set personal goals, which talks about starting with the end in mind.

Stress Physiology

Epinephrine and norepinephrine are stress hormones produced when you feel stressed. It is the physiological response know as flight or fight. These hormones help you move faster during emergencies.

The other hormone produced during excessive stress is cortisol. Psychology Today called Cortisol The Stress Hormone public enemy No 1

Excess cortisol in your system can lead to a host of health issues including weight gain, osteoporosis, digestive problems, cancer and much more (1, 2, 3.

In addition to wreaking havoc on your body, it can have devastating effects on your mind.

Stress creates free radicals

Cortisol creates a surplus of the neurotransmitter glutamate. Glutamate in turn creates free radicals that attack brain cells (similar to how rust affects metal).

Stress makes you forgetful and emotional

One of the early symptoms of stress is becoming forgetful and emotional.

Studies show that stress causes a reduction in brain electrical activity associated with memories and an increase in activity associated with emotions.

Stress negatively impacts intelligence

I wrote about stress on creativity and stress makes your brain seize up. Think about our primitive ancestors and how they reacted when being chased by a lion. The fight or flight response means your physical characteristics are improved, your reactions are improved but your reasoning and logic suffer. After all you don’t need deep critical thinking when running to save your life.

How can you handle pressure?

First thing first, remember that regardless of how important you think your job is, you aren’t performing brain surgery. Our job is important to us but it isn’t critical to the survival of all humans so chill. Take it easy on yourself.

When feeling stressed about an upcoming situation, ask yourself, “whats the worst that can happen? Then realize that things aren’t actually that bad and relax.

Olympic athletes spend as much time mentally preparing as they do physically. They mentally perform their duties over and over to ensure they are relaxed when they need to perform. It becomes automatic and routine. If you are heading into an interview and you know you will be stressed, prepare and practise.

The second tip is to mentally practice over and over. Make sure you know what the ideal final result looks like and focus on that.

I ran the information security team for a large multinational manufacturer that was regularly attacked. By constantly practising the incident handling processes, our handlers were calmer and more confident when the real thing did happen.

Confidence is the third technique I want to share.

Having confidence in yourself will usually lead to less stress and increased productivity.

When handling an incident, it is easy to get overwhelmed. You are dealing with a skilled adversary out to get you. They are technically strong, well funded and extremely motivated. It is easy to get overwhelmed and freeze up. But I always tell my people to be optimistic. Regardless of how bad it may seem in that moment, I truly believed that things would get better. And my ensuring my team believed in that as well, it makes the process easier to manage and made my people more productive and efficient.

Optimism is the fourth technique.