It sounds kinda stupid doesn’t it? Constraints set you free, really? But in fact, if you put up constraints, boundaries, fences, you’ll feel freer than ever before. This is how the human mind works, no matter how counterintuitive it may seem.
I first came across this idea that constrainst set you free years ago, with my then young stallion. When I wanted to work with him near spring grass and oh my, mares! I had the struggle of a lifetime. Whether it was a tight rope, lots of treats, shouting or cajoling – nothing helped and we both ended up so unhappy, not getting what we wanted.
Change of scenery: An arena with a high and opaque fence and some regular training? Problem solved. We didn’t even need a rope after a short while. It was the constraints that set us free.
A long, long way from the stallion to the desk:
Well, getting something in one area is one thing, and it most unfortunately doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it in a whole other context (and in this case the other context was my work desk). Consequently, it took years until I found the very same principle that works for stallions does apply for my enormous creative block I’d carried around for years (read first part here).
I’ve ever found creation (actually) comes kind of easy to me. I’d done writing [any imaginable format], video, photography, lots of music, drawing, etc. pp – and it all turned out kind of pretty good without a lot of training. And so, I began to dream of finding the thing that is “everthing” – the thing that represents all of my… “capabilities”. The ultimately satisfying creative act.
I didn’t work out (obviously, since this is plain text rather than a wondrous creative stroke of genius). All that happened was that the possibilities exploded. So did the decisions. And being a pretty normal human I don’t like too many decision too much. How on earth should I spend my roughly 16 waking hours? Improve this, produce that, follow one of one gazillion promising ideas. End of story: I did nothing. I felt like the stallion right in front of the spring grass and the mares.
And then they came: How the constraints set you free.
It’s been like magic for me: A few days ago and thanks to a dear friend I managed to said no! No to anything except being a “simple” writer. I said no to any subject except coaching and self-development and openly sharing my journey around this. (Plus: I committed to short time windows during the day.)
I’ve felt incredibly free since, as if a button was hit. Free to dance with letters and forget about all the other possibilities, relentlessly vying for my attention. I finally said yes to one thing and no to a hundred others, and now I have a pile of gold in front of me to work with. Before it felt like a mountain with a vein of gold, deep, deep inside. Anyone fancy digging with bare hands? Not me.
The really beautiful and again totally counterintuitive bit is: Over time, I might add one thing or another – Pretty much like my horse I can walk over the spring pastures today, without a rope. But for now, the constraints finally give me the freedom I’ve been looking for so long – at the very wrong end.
p.s. There’s a book!
While I wrote this, I remembered one of my favourite books (oh, irony!): Stretch by Scott Sonenshein. It’s all about how humans have created extraordinary pieces of not just exceptional art, but thriving companies, happy lives, even survival! – because they had heavy constraints put on them.