Penny Moon

Procrastination vs. Incubation

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4 min read

We've all felt it when we force ourselves to complete a project that we have little inspiration to finish: the internal groan, that lackluster feeling over the finished project, even if it's well done. You can't stand to look at it anymore. If we aren't careful, we can snuff out our spark with the pressure to perform. However, working in sprints dictated by your inspiration will increase the will to create. And no, I'm not talking about procrastination.

In talking with various creatives, I've found that more needs to be understood about structuring the creative workspace to enliven our creativity and productivity. Take, for example, the music industry. Almost every artist will say the first album was the launch, the second was high, and the third was pushed and thus slow, both for them and for sales. The pressure to keep creating ran their creativity dry, and the result was a good piece of work that lacked the magic of their first and second albums. They can feel it, and so can their fans. If they worked in creative sprints of two albums and rested until inspired again, their musical prowess would only ever reach new heights.

This is a story I've personally heard so many times from all art fields. I've experienced it myself. But why does this happen?

Think of the creative drive in you as a fuel tank. All the work and creativity required to start the blog, or any creative project for that matter, drains your tank. Now you're on E, and do you know one sure way to keep that tank dry? Guilt! The work world ingrains early a habit of regular 9-5 performance. In school, with our homework, we are taught that if we do not perform, we should be ashamed of ourselves. Thus, non-performance becomes equated with failure. So, the longer that project you were so excited about sits, the more you feel pressure and guilt until you cannot even look at it anymore. So, you start over again, hoping for a better result, but you perpetuate the cycle.

In fact, some of us may need the exact opposite of this start-guilt-start-over cycle. If we have a big creative idea, it may need to lay dormant even before you start. But if you assume that never starting means it's a bad idea when your brain is done incubating and says, "Okay, I'm ready," you might say, "No, I'm not doing that anymore. I'm embarrassed I never even started it last time." Creatives, please don't quit before you even start. Life's hard enough for us artists without us mistreating our divergent minds.

So, what are divergent and convergent thinking?

The creative process often involves divergent thinking (generating a wide range of ideas) and convergent thinking (narrowing down and selecting the best views). Taking breaks and engaging in unrelated activities during dormant periods can facilitate divergent thinking and encourage the emergence of new connections and perspectives.

Okay, but how will these concepts help your performance?

Allowing a project to go dormant allows your mind to wander, engage in unrelated activities, and gain new experiences. This shift in focus can stimulate divergent thinking by exposing you to different perspectives, insights, and stimuli that may not have been initially present during active work on the project. (Research by Alejandro Lleras and colleagues)

Incubation occurs during dormant periods and is a subconscious mental process where your mind continues to work on unresolved problems. Research has shown that during this incubation period, the brain engages in associative thinking, making connections between seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts. These associations can lead to novel insights and creative solutions. (Research by Jonathan Schooler and colleagues)

Now here is where convergent thinking gets to flex in the process.

Convergent thinking involves narrowing down and selecting the best ideas or solutions from the pool of generated possibilities. It requires focused attention and analysis. After a dormant period, when you revisit your project with a fresh perspective, you can engage in convergent thinking to evaluate and refine the ideas generated during the divergent thinking phase. This evaluation process benefits from the distance gained during the dormant period, allowing for a more objective and critical assessment of ideas. To put it in TED Talk terms: always be open to life, take time to live, sample it like a tasting menu, and let it move you to your next level of creative output.

We all know there's no such thing as perfect art. We all enjoy working with our minds as what we envision at the start of a project evolves into something else. So don't let your brain or anyone else guilt or pressure your creativity growing cycles. Like a harvest crop, plant the seed, let it grow, leave it, and let it grow. Every now and then, water it, and when grown, harvest the unique fruitage only you can create and bring into the world.

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Penny Moon is a writer and artist from Vancouver, British Columbia. Penny is passionate about creative expression through writing and art. She has written a collection of fiction and poetry and recently published a book of poems and continuous line drawings called "Dust and Moon" on Amazon.