Frustration and anxiety as gateways to creativity

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Some links shared by readers point to the creative value of the things we often try to escape... stress, frustration and the awkward silence that comes with waiting.

Pamela Kinnear and Stephen Mugford spotted this podcast talk by Tim Harford on the subject of messiness. This talk is well worth hearing - especially for the opening story. Tim provides great inspiration for coping with the stress and frustrations of creative processes, arguing that this is often what brings out the best in us, even if we don't think so at the time. 

And Patricia Ryan Madson, spotted this quote by writer Lillian Firestone. (Patricia is the author of Improv Wisdom, a wonderful book of insights that has inspired us in our work.)

"The first rule in answering, if there is one, is to wait. The part of our brain that has the 'right' answer for everything is a dull place, built of endless chains of associations, everything we knew in the past. This knowing may be factually correct but there’s a problem with it. It is dead.

"To touch something that is unique, alive, calls for a search: 'Is this really true right now?' (Most likely that first instant response is already known to the questioner, and she is hoping for something new.) A response unique to the moment is precious, and even, one might say memorable.

"But waiting even a split second takes courage. Dare I search in myself for what is more true? What if nothing better arises? Never fear, there is a deeper wisdom in each of us, and it needs space, and a little time to appear. It needs my trust."


One of the most useful practices when facilitating is to get good at waiting: getting more comfortable with "awkward" silences, and not rushing impulsively to quick but superficial answers.

And in this article from Open Culture, we found this quotation from David Foster Wallace:

It turns out that bliss – a second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious – lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (tax returns, televised golf), and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Constant bliss in every atom. 

Constant bliss is probably a stretch, but an unhurried approach to frustration and boredom can make it a source of creativity, rather than something to be escaped in a panic.

(Photo by Nathan Dumlao at Unsplash)