Relax Expectations

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Updated November 3, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Creative Doing, by Herbert Lui. 75 practical techniques to unlock creative potential in your work, hobby, or next career. Purchase now for instant, lifetime access to the book.

With vision comes expectations. We believe this project will be the one that enables us to break through. It would be weird if we didn’t—there might be less of a point in working on it. This expectation can serve as an occasional fuel, but more often gets in the way of us doing our best work. It’s where many creative blocks start.

“It’s important to keep the ideas going. A lot of times, you can’t get too worried about the results. I’m in a business where basically I get hired and fired as soon as a song comes out,” Dacoury Natche told me in an interview for this book.

Chris Kim, who produces music under the name CVRE, is known best for making songs with artists like Justin Bieber, Future, and Don Toliver. Based on his wide range of musical experiences, he observed to me, “Expectation always kills creativity. … You expect a certain result and you have to achieve that industrial definition of success that always kills the magic that could happen in the unknown.”

If you feel your expectations rising, that this project you’re working on is going to be a hit, acknowledge that there’s a chance it might also just be another project. The external measures of success might come after the next one, or the one after that. That is the beauty of consistency. You always have another shot. Another opportunity is just around the corner if you want it to be.

Keeping your expectations modest will ensure that you cultivate the consistency you need not only to improve, but to make an impact. As recording artist Pharrell Williams said, “I never feel anxious about anything. Why would I? If I felt anxious or put pressure on myself then nothing would be fun.”

Relinquish Results

Throughout the years, we are conditioned to do things well and to constantly improve. If we’re not doing that, we’re led to believe we’re getting worse. If we regress, we are failures. These beliefs are all based on the flawed assumption that progress is linear.

At an extreme, this could lead us to chase perfection. If we can’t do something perfectly, we just won’t do it. Perfectionism creates an impossible standard for us to meet. This is just one of many reasons we start procrastinating and get blocked.

In his book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman recalls an art class when he was instructed to draw without looking at the paper. He was impressed with the results, noticing a “funny, semi-Picasso like strength” in his work. He knew that it would be impossible to draw well without looking at the paper, so he didn’t consciously try. He writes, “I had thought that ‘loosen up’ meant ‘make sloppy drawings,’ but it really meant to relax and not worry about how the drawing is going to come out.” The solution is to do something without caring about the results.

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