The Biology of Creative Gridlock: Why Success Causes Stagnation

When did creativity become so arduous, so heavy?

It used to flow so easily, as natural as breathing.

And then, something happened.

What started as a seedling — an idea, a side project, an artistic endeavor — grew into a message, an enterprise, a movement.

And that creation — formed entirely out of the substance of your thoughts dovetailed with soulful devotion — needs you. Its daily care and feeding requires your focus and attention and energy to corral the ongoing frenzy of running a high profile venture.

Decisions must be made. Fires dampened. Deals concocted and contracts penned. Who knew creativity could get so technical?

All this technicality and just the dailiness of running your creative venture has the paradoxical effect of siphoning your creative resources.

That’s a problem. Because no creativity? Means no growth.

And the last thing you want to do is coast.

This is a challenge a lot of change-makers, devoted actors, artists and craftsmen, thought-leaders, or influential founders and CEOs experience because, in a way, success comes pre-installed with its own glass ceiling.

Here’s the dilemma: you get to a place in your work where you’ve generated significant thought leadership and the infrastructure that goes with it, so now you’re running that infrastructure and trying to be a visionary at the same time.

The stress and frenzy materially and energetically suspend your creativity.

I call this inevitable hurdle: Creative Gridlock.

It’s the tension between sustaining what you’ve already built while simultaneously reaching for new levels of growth, and those who experience it are often committed to a cause or vision greater than themselves.

Let’s talk nerdy to each other….

The everyday frenzy of success is a form of neural activation.

And when your nervous system is activated, you’re primarily functioning from fight or flight, which is to say you’re in reactive mode.

There’s not a lot of time to contemplate the beauty of fall foliage when a tiger is in full pursuit. And let’s face it, we want to pretend we’re all evolved and intellectual now, but we still have that primordial survival software installed and operational.

So, there may not be a literal tiger with fangs poised for the kill, but only your neocortex knows that. The rest of your brain is running the same software it always has, and that chronic frenzy? Might as well be a predator about to pounce.

The “fight or flight” response is part of the sympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system. Autonomic means it’s involuntary — you can’t consciously turn it on or off.

The sympathetic branch has a counterpart: the parasympathetic branch, which is responsible for rest and relaxation.

In a normal system, they have an inverse relationship, meaning they’re not both active at the same time. The healthy nervous system swings, as a pendulum would, between activation and relaxation in a nice undulating wave.

Why is this important for creativity and what the hell does it have to do with running anything, from a high-profile venture down to a local charity race?

I’m so glad you asked.

Back to that fall foliage…. you’re not looking at it when you’re running away from the saber-toothed tiger. Your focus is singular: escape.

I had a Spanish teacher in college who admonished our class, on repeat, “Nada surge de la nada,” or, “Nothing forms in a vacuum.” She meant that the literature we studied didn’t sprout fully formed from the minds of the authors; it had context — cultural context.

Creativity requires data. New information is its rocket fuel. Without it, your brain can’t ignite the chemical reactions of innovation. That chemistry is impossible without the inputs.

When the sympathetic branch of your nervous system is active, you go all tunnel vision and you don’t assimilate information from the environment around you. That means your creativity has no context — you’re in the proverbial vacuum.

Have you ever seen Olympic swimming? I love watching them flip underwater and push off the edge of the pool, rocketing through the water.

That’s what context does for your creativity — gives it a launch pad. Without that new information, it’s like trying to generate forward movement while floating in the middle of the ocean.

Sure, you can do it, but it’s a lot more work and you’re fighting against the waves.

A balanced, regulated nervous system is receptive to the subtle information around it, which gives rise to those all-important gut feelings that direct you toward opportunity and away from cliff edges.

Nervous systems (read: people) that function under a never-ending slew of demands can become overwhelmed and eventually disregulated.

The constant activation of ongoing and accumulated stress pushes you way up high outside of what’s called the “window of tolerance,” which leaves you functioning in a perpetual state of frazzle.

The window of tolerance is a neural bandwidth within which you function optimally, and it’s different for each person.

If a stimulus exceeds this window in either intensity (traumatic event) or length of exposure (chronic stress), you can get pushed above your tolerance threshold.

And then you lose perception. You’re disoriented, you get dissociated and you’re not present, so you can’t take in information.

You literally become blind to the environment that’s around you and time moves really fast because you’re mind’s not here in the moment.

All of which is death to creativity. Not to mention that you feel like complete crap in this kind of state.

(And let’s not even talk about its effect on relationships.)

Success culture tells you that muscling through is THE only ANTIDOTE to stagnation, BUT THE PROBLEM WITH CREATIVE gridlock IS THAT THE HARDER YOU WORK, THE MORE FROZEN YOUR INSPIRATION BECOMES.

Chronic neural activation locks you into the same loops of thinking, doing and perceiving. And you can’t see anything outside of those loops because you begin to react out of past conditioning rather than responding from a place of choice.

Neural activation causes you to freeze up, disconnect and even avoid triggering stimulus. It can provoke you into actions that maintain your status quo because your biology is focused purely on survival — getting through this moment alone.

But there is a way to vanquish Creative Gridlock.

And no, you don’t have to move to a mountain top to do it.

The problem with maintaining the infrastructure of success is that even if you take time off to decompress, the frenzy just builds while you’re away.

Listen, I love self care as much as the next person. Massages and facials, mani-pedi breaks and vacations on the beach are all lovely.

But when you come back, even if someone was able to cover for you in your absence, the frenzy awaits and it murders all the creative juice you built up on your break in its sleep.

The way to transcend the glass ceiling of Creative Gridlock isn’t to work harder. It isn’t to escape.

It’s to increase resilience.

Resilience is your ability to absorb shock — or frenzy — and spring back, like a trampoline, without warping or snapping completely.

And this is my work.

It’s body focused. Because, working through the body, we can restore the natural rhythm of your nervous system while simultaneously expanding your window of tolerance.

The wider your window, the more you can handle, like increasing the voltage you can run through your system.

(Not literally. Please refrain from sticking fingers in outlets. My work is powerful, but it won’t save you from electrocution.)

Together, we explore movement patterns looking for stuck or frozen or armored areas that are blocking and buffering your experience of the world, like rocks interrupting the flow of a river.

And we dissolve that armoring.

We peel away tension that literally and figuratively holds you back, siphoning mental and physical energy.

We de-mechanize your body and your brain, restoring you to your organic nature and form, creating the potential for new movements and new thought patterns to take shape.

We unwind old programming that perpetuates in your muscles and tissues and bones. We unclench your jaw, liberate your shoulders and free your body to express.

It’s almost like a meditation practice that follows you everywhere, because we’re not just changing what you’re doing; we’re changing how you move and breathe and occupy your skin.

We’re changing who you’re being.

And when you move through the world differently, not only do you perceive it differently — taking in previously invisible information — but it also responds back to you differently.

This work allows you to handle change easier, absorb shock better, manage a greater workload, and expand your capacity for frenzy.

In short, it helps you grow your leadership without sacrificing your soul in the process.

And, maybe most importantly, it brings you back to yourself.

This is my work, and if it speaks to you, then I’d love to work with you.

I’m now offering private, in-person training intensives where I teach you the tools of neural regulation so that you can vanquish Creative Gridlock, increase your capacity for centered living and return home to yourself.

I call this work Somato-Sensory Attention Training (yes, it’s a chewy mouthful). You can learn more about the work, about the intensives, and about how you can sign up for one, should you wish, here >>

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