Why Ego Kills Creativity
Greetings friends and hackers…✌️
Most people only mine from the surface of their creativity.
In order to master the true depths of your creative potential, you must learn to navigate your ego.
This article is about the science and philosophy of reigniting the creative genius within you.
Research has shown we were all born with creative genius but lost our connection with it over the years.
Strap yourself in. This is a deep one.
A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a babbling stream. It's too treacherous to cross, so the scorpion politely asks the frog to carry him across on its back.
This makes the frog a little suspicious. It asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”
That sound reasoning relaxes the frog. So he allows the scorpion to climb aboard and they shove off across the flowing water.
They get halfway across the stream and the scorpion stings the frog on his back. The frog feels the onset of the scorpion's poison and starts to sink. He manages one dying breath: "Why?!" And the scorpion managed to blurt out: “It’s my nature…” before he, himself, drowned.
This is a parable about human nature. It suggests that we are who we are and we can’t change that or our actions regardless of the self-sabotage and destruction it may cause.
But is this true or is it a construct we simply believe to be true?
Deep, huh? 😎
It’s certainly a thought experiment worth diving into. But how the fuck does this relate to creativity I hear you cry?
We’ll get to that later but first some context…
False self vs true self
False self and true self are psychological constructs originally coined by child psychologist Donald Winnicott in the ’60s.
He used it in the context when children were brought up by parents in a fashion that is not true to the child’s real self.
Imagine a child who is gay being brought up in a religious household where the religion believes homosexuality to be a sin.
That child creates a false self in order for them to fit in and be accepted. Every child wants to be accepted so they will subconsciously become somebody they are not rather than face rejection.
Or a child who is discouraged from pursuing their creative passions to emulate the success of their mother or father in a career despite having no real passion or aptitude for it.
"Other people's expectations can become of overriding importance, overlaying or contradicting the original sense of self, the one connected to the very roots of one's being” — Donald Winnicott
In most cases, the parents had the best of intentions. But for whatever reason, most of us adapted our characters as children to get attention and ultimately love as this is what all children need and crave.
We did this by creating a false self so we would be accepted and not be rejected.
We take these false selves into adulthood. We want to be accepted so we adapt our personalities to fit into our social networks and the industries that we work in.
We wear certain clothes, use certain jargon, listen to certain music, we adopt certain ideologies so we can exist within the acceptable parameters of the societal, social, and work tribes we want to be accepted in.
On social media, we carefully construct personas and brands to gain likes, comments, attention — and ultimately validation and acceptance.
After a while, the false self drowns out the true self and we become confused as to who we really are and the directions we should take in both life and creativity.
We don’t know where we start and our false self ends.
We see this play out in the existential quarter and mid-life crisis that scurge society. The courageous are the ones that stand toe to toe with the uncertainty and seek the truth, regardless of the pain.
But most don’t. They ignore it. And live their entire lives in quiet desperation feeling aimless and incomplete.
The most common dying regret is: “I wish I had lived a life that was true to myself and not what others expected of me”
If you’re feeling this way I urge you to deal with it so as not to become another dying regret statistic.
The false self is your ego.
Most people think of ego as arrogance. And when the ego is inflated is certainly does do that.
But for most of us, our egos are there to protect us from shame and rejection. In order to do that it creates an identity based on beliefs.
As described by Psychologist, Dr. Nicole LePera “Your ego is a very rigid identity. It has to be. It’s created a set of beliefs, patterns, and ideas, that most people label personality.
Your ego is very defensive about your identity. Anything outside of confirmed thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors will be rejected.”
We all need an ego. It is there to protect us. It is both a strength and a weakness. But it is a rigid identity full of self-limiting beliefs and a warped sense of our true potential.
We must learn to navigate the ego if we wish to master our creativity.
WTF has all this to do with creativity?
Your ego and false self kills creativity. How?
Because creativity, true creativity: the type of creativity that changes the world, shapes culture, and connects deeply with people’s souls can only come from your soul.
Creative genius is the art of authentic self-expression. The further you are away from your true self the weaker your creativity becomes.
Flow state is scientifically proven to be the essence of our creative genius. It is pure and untainted by our judgements, fears, or insecurities.
It is somewhat ironic that our best creative work is achieved when we stop thinking, judging, or trying to please others with our creativity.
In other words, when we drop our ego we tap into our creative genius.
In sports, they call it the zone. In the zone, athletes perform at peak performance effortlessly and achieve personal bests and smash world records.
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi the leading scientific expert, researcher, and New York Times best-selling author of “Flow: The psychology of happiness.”
“Flow is being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one.”
Flow state is the effortless creation of true art, culture-defining ideas, or sporting greatness. It’s when we shut down the relentless chatter in our lizard brains and become a vessel for our creativity which flows out of us naturally.
We are all born creative geniuses
Children start creating their egos around age 6 or 7. This coincides with the massive drop in creativity that the NASA creativity test discovered.
98% of the 1,600 5-year-olds NASA tested were creative geniuses.
Only 30% of the same kids remained creative geniuses just 5 years later. This gradually declines until only 2% of hundreds of thousands of adults NASA tested in the creative genius threshold.
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist as we grow up.” — Pablo Picasso
Creative genius remains in all of us. We need to learn how to reignite and cultivate the flames. As ever, we need to get out of our own way to re-connect with our creative selves.
Dr. George Land who invented the Creativity Test for NASA explains why our creativity levels fall off a cliff when we get older:
“When someone asks you to come up with new ideas, as you come up with them what you mostly learn at school is to immediately look and see: “We tried that before”, “That’s dumb idea”, “It won’t work” and so forth.
This is the point and this is what we must stop doing:
“When we actually looking inside the brain we find that neurones are fighting each other and actually diminishing the power of the brain because we’re constantly judging, criticising and censoring,” says Land.
“If we operate under fear we use a smaller part of the brain, but when we use creative thinking the brain just lights up.”
Fear is ego-based thinking. It’s the ego trying to protect you.
In order to reignite our creative genius, we need to discover the art of being ourselves — and stop creating with ego.
The four P's of Ego that kills creativity
Prove: A quick look at any subreddit or forum and you will see a bunch of people triggered by their egos trying to prove they are right and everyone else is wrong.
It’s ego central. No one ever convinces the other person. It’s just ego clashing until one out debates the other who gets tired and quits.
If you’re trying to prove you’re right; that’s your false self. It seems good to have a bit of gusto and prove people wrong about your creativity.
But that blocks your creativity. It blocks the flow as you’re creating from a place of negativity, anger, and fear.
Protect: Our egos protect us from vulnerability, being rejected or ridiculed. It achieves this by creating fear.
Fear is to protect us from the shame of trying and failing. Your ego would rather not try at all. It would rather you fail without trying. Most people refer to this as their comfort zone.
Nothing ever grows in your comfort zone aside from apathy and mediocrity.
Fear of being ridiculed stops you from sharing your ideas with the group.
Fear stops you from being you.
It achieves this with self-sabotaging self-talk. It trash talks you and tells you you are not good enough. It tells you your ideas are dumb, that people will laugh. It undermines your confidence…” Is this good enough? “
It stops you from taking risks. It shames you which paradoxically it is trying to protect you from.
Our egos create fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of ridicule. It uses sabotaging self-talk which destroys your creative confidence and potential.
Perfect: What can I perfect? How can I perfect this? Again this is to protect yourself from criticism.
The pursuit of perfection destroys both the joy and depth of creativity. Perfection is a fallacy. It does not exist.
Creative projects are never done. There are thousands of different directions you can take your creativity. It will drive yourself crazy.
Listen to your gut and not your head.
Seek excellence in your work but accept it will never, ever be perfect.
People pleasing: When you use your creativity for external validation to maintain your self worth you are in deep trouble.
People pleasing with creativity is trying to control how people feel about you but it has the opposite effect.
When seeking external validation you lose complete control of your happiness, your destiny and your self-esteem for you have placed them in the hands of others.
If you're creating work you don’t believe in for money, likes, and comments, or you're coming up with ideas you think your client wants instead of what they need then your work will be below par.
It’s more fear-based ego thinking.
The four C’s of your true creative self
Creativity: What can you do? What can you create that has meaning?
If you want your creativity to have meaning then you should use your innate skills to have an impact and make a difference.
How can you use your creativity to help others? That may be writing, making music, or building a business that solves a problem for society.
Find this and you will have found purpose.
Follow your creativity and you will find your true self.
Connections: Humans are hardwired with a desire to connect with others when we are functioning for an authentic place.
The best way to connect with others is with creativity. It requires empathy to understand how other people are feeling and the compassion to try and help them using your creativity as the vehicle to do so.
Do that and you will connect deeply with others.
Stop chasing success through numbers. Chases connections, the more people you connect with the more successful you will become naturally.
Viktor Frankl, the New York Times bestselling author of ‘Man’s search for meaning’, a psychologist and survivor of Auschwitz concentration camp stated
"Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it." -Viktor Frankl.
Curiosity: Rather than living your entire creative life hamstrung with fear and insecurity, adopt a creative life of curiosity.
New projects are just experiments. Most creative projects fail, which has no reflection on you or your talent. It’s just the way creativity is.
Live your creative life with curiosity, remove the shame of failing and enjoy each project as an experiment.
Courage: without courage, there is no creativity.
Courage inserts the absence of fear and it moving on despite the fear.
The fear will never go away. It is an indicator of your levels of creativity. The more fearful you are the better your work.
Fear is something to aim at and not shy away from.
This has been a long one. Give yourself a pat on the back if you’ve reached this far!!
We’re nearly done…
The neuroscience is clear:
Fear, judgement, and self-criticism shrink the brain which severely hamstrings your creativity. Create without ego and the neurons start firing. And your creativity levels increase massively.
The most common fear I have heard from every creative is: “Am I good enough?”
This never goes away regardless of how much success and awards your work may win. Your creative heroes and icons still think the same, except for a tiny caveat, which is “Am I still good enough?”
This is a futile question, we are too close to our creative projects to be objective.
The truth is we are all good enough. We are all born creative geniuses. If you can learn to get out of your own way you can rediscover your natural talent.
To change the world or connect deeply with others you need to create your work from your soul and not your ego.
Thanks for reading ✌️
If you want to dig deeper into your creativity and your long term strategy you can go here
I do discovery calls.
Time? 30 mins
A bit about me
I’m an ex- multi-platinum artist manager. I created strategies and built audiences for artists who sold millions.
You can read more in the archives here. Find out more information on my website