Micromanaging the Universe

I once read an interview with Deepak Chopra in which he said that generally people spend their lives in activity and rarely, if ever, take time out for contemplation, or to simply be in their own presence, unaffected by outside distractions. We are, he concluded, not human beings, but human doings.

Lately I’ve been realizing how much I am a human doing. My secret (sometimes even to me) ambition is to micromanage the universe. In thinking about the source of this urge, I traced it to the fight/flight instinct.

It stems from the most primitive part of our brain, sometimes called the reptilian brain. However, what makes us different from the reptiles is that they had a more accurate perception of danger. They didn’t spend most of their time fighting or fleeing.

We humans expose ourselves much more to what looks like danger. In addition to what we hear and see on news programs, other forms of media can affect us.

I was watching a program on the Internet today when a commercial came on. It advertised a TV series about a serial killer. Featured in the clip were bodies, gunfire, and blood. Anyone who watches this program will be treated to many more multisensory prods that tell the undiscriminating primitive brain that it’s in danger. This kind of sensory input encourages us to see threats everywhere and magnify or misread ordinary occurrences.


I had written the first part of this blog when I had to go for a dental appointment. (Now, that is a true threat.) On my way there, I saw a car parked in my lane. It had probably broken down, and all I thought was that I would be late for my appointment. Enter road rage.

A truck pulled up behind me, blocking my view of the next lane. Then the driver got out, causing even further obstruction of my view. Magnify road rage. Then, to my surprise (and chagrin), I saw that he was directing traffic so that drivers in my lane could safely move to the other lane.

That emphasized to me that my insistence on doing could cause me to see a threat where none exists. When I came home, I made a list of the reasons why DOING is so important to me.

I’m nervous if I don’t DO.
I get scared if I don’t DO.
I’m afraid to BE.
They’ll sneak up on me.
They’ll DO.
And I’ll be DONE.
I’m not worthy if I don’t DO.

Then I made some notes in favor of BEING.

When I am BEING,
I’m allowing intuitions and insights to flow in.
I’m opening the door to inner creativity.
I’m receiving guidance about how and when to DO.

When I’m scared, angry, or in other ways dancing to the tune of the primitive brain, I can never find a creative solution to any problem. It’s in that place of BEING that creativity flourishes. BEING conserves our mental and emotional energy and allows it to flow in the direction of a creative solution.

If you need a reminder to just be, consider doing one of the following:

If a cat is in your life, study it. Cats have the art of being down. If that cat jumps into your lap, relax into the experience, paying special attention to its purring (which may be the best tranquilizer around).

Squirrels and birds also offer opportunities for observation. They are both known to sit on branches for extended periods of time in apparent contemplation.

Basically, if you watch any animal long enough, you will find that it’s a master of being.

Another of my preferred routes to being is to listen to one of my favorite Beatles songs.

Let It Be http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=RdopMqrftXs

How to Crush Your Creativity: Say “I Know.”

This is an especially powerful way to crush creativity. When I KNOW, I can’t learn.

In one of its most devastating forms, I KNOW equals prejudice and bigotry. If I KNOW that someone of a particular religion, sex, gender, race, age, or any other category is a certain way, or age, I prevent the ability to see anything unique and individual about that person. I can’t find points of identification and communication. I lose any opportunity for a relationship with him or her.

KNOWING closes doors on opportunity, possibility, and creativity, not only in terms of the big areas of prejudice but in more immediate ways.

If you know your kid isn’t going to clean her room no matter what you do, you walk into the designated health hazard day and in your mind begin to compose the dialogue for the same fight you’ve had for months (worst case scenario: years). You expect difficulty and resistance, and your child fulfills all your expectations because you KNOW she will.

KNOWING not only shuts the door on relationship growth with family members and friends, it can prevent you from expressing creativity in your preferred artistic pursuit, whether it’s a career or not.

This happened to me all the time when I was learning to paint. I wasn’t happy if I didn’t achieve a near-photographic representation of whatever I was painting. That’s how I KNEW it had to be.

At the same time, I wanted to be more imaginative, abstract, and exciting with my painting, but that meant taking risks. My message to myself was, ” I’m afraid to change. The unknown frightens me. I have to stay with what I know.”

When I Don’t Listen to Myself

When I make the decision to stay safe by KNOWING, I don’t listen to myself.

Our intuition and inner wisdom is always giving us new possibilities for thoughts and action. It might say, “Use that color,” “Try treating your child like a human being who’s interested in sanitation?” The protective self says, “Scary, unknown, dangerous, no.”

To live creatively, though, we need to step off the familiar track. Creating is making something new, and sometimes that involves risks.

To do something new, you can’t say “I know.” Remember that “I know” equals “No.” Solution

Start by noticing how often you say or think either “I know” or “No.” Then do something small, a minor deviation in your routine. Listen to your intuition and do at least one thing it suggests.

Keep a record of your yes votes, and see if your life gets more interesting.

Another Creativity Killer: Don’t Check the Expiration Date on What You Believe

When I was a child, my mother ordered me to never cross the street by myself. This led me to believe that it was unsafe to do so unless she was with me. It didn’t take long, though, for this belief to pass its sell by date.

We discard the most obvious expired beliefs, but some of them are sneaky. Many people learned when they were young that you need to work hard in order to get by or that the doctor knows best when it comes to your health. These beliefs sound so reasonable that we may accept them as facts.

We all learned many beliefs masquerading as facts from childhood authorities: parents, teachers, and others. We absorbed them at a time when our ability to question what they told us was untried. A lot of what I picked up along the trail of growing u p still inhabits my being, rent-free. They block the path of original thinking and creativity.

My squatters tell me all kinds of lies that I believe to be true, like “You don’t like to cook,” “Housework is hell,” and “You’re not very good at technical or mechanical things.”

Like most of the unexamined beliefs I hold in my head, I acquired these from a number of sources.

“You don’t like to cook” comes from a period when my mother worked at night when I was in junior high and high school and had to cook dinner several nights at week.” I hated cooking then, and now, though my circumstances are entirely different, my adolescent attitude carries over.

“Housework is hell” comes directly from my mother. She had four children, including two boys with the destructive capacity of puppies. Again, I have carried this attitude into adulthood.

“You’re not very good at technical or mechanical things” has several roots. It stems in part from my believing I was no good at math. I clung to that belief, ignoring much evidence that I was good on computers and designed and constructed several web sites.”

The mechanical part of this has more general roots. The other day I was wishing that, instead of taking home ec and learning how to make aprons and biscuits, I’d gotten a course in unblocking drains, simple carpentry, and elementary car repair. When I was growing up, girls were going to have husbands who would do all of that, and somewhere in my crowded mind lounges the belief that females aren’t supposed to do such things.

The belief family most destructive to creativity usually begins, “You can’t do that (whatever that is). You can’t draw a straight line, carry a tune, express what you feel, ask for favors, or risk your security. You have a black thumb; you can’t read a map; you can’t eat strange food. Solution

1. Notice what beliefs are blocking your way. Sometimes they take this form: “I’d like to . . . but . . .”

2. Ask yourself, “Why is that true?”

3. Ask yourself, “How long has this been true?”

4. Ask yourself, “Who told me it’s true?”

5. Decide it’s not true. Replace that belief with one that serves your creative purposes.

How to Crush Your Creativity: Get Discouraged

I’m not suggesting that you will never get discouraged. The key questions here are: How easily are you discouraged, and how long will you stay discouraged?

To take writing as an example, some people jump ship at the first sign of difficulty. The plot isn’t gelling, the characters went AWOL, or you can’t find the information you need for background research.

Others get through the writing part and give up either because some agents turn it down or because they can’t figure out self-publishing details.

Whatever your source of discouragement, you will hear in the background the words, “It’s just too hard.” You may also hear, “It isn’t fair,” in which case, check out the post on resentment.

The more you repeat the unmagic phrase, “It’s just too hard,” the harder it will seem. Imagine that each repetition is like placing a rock in your way. Your goal is on the other side. If you say the phrase 10 times a day, that’s 10 rocks. Uncontrolled repetition leads to building a wall.


Try to eliminate that phrase.

Replace it with others, such as “Maybe I can ask someone.” “Maybe I can get a critique.” “I might be able to find a helpful book or information online.”

Remember the little train that could. Even if you’re not sure you can, say, “I think I can.”

How to Crush Your Creativity: Put Others First

However you express your creativity, you need undisturbed time for its expression. One of the best ways to crush your creativity is to avoid setting boundaries that others will respect.

Virgina Woolf wrote at length about the importance of having a room of one’s own. With all respect, I’d take it further. You need a life of your own, one that isn’t constantly interrupted by the child who can’t find his shoes, the teenager who urgently needs a ride to the mall, and the mate who wants to know who used the last light bulb.

It seems to be a law that, whenever you go into that room of your own and close the door, everyone wants to open it. This, however, isn’t a law of nature. Unlike the law of gravity, you can change it, but it’s going to take moral fortitude, fueled by the conviction that a life of your own is important.


The key to upsetting the law of interruption is to closely examine the idea wanting time for yourself is selfish. My guide on this subject is Edward Bach, M.D., who also created the Bach Flower Remedies, designed to deal with emotional imbalances.

Many of us learned that to follow our deepest desires is to be selfish, despite Shakespeare’s observation that we’re true to ourselves we will be false to no one else. In Dr. Bach’s view selfishness consists, not in honoring our own desires, but in interfering with the desires of others.

In other words, anyone who wants to interfere with the time you’ve set aside for yourself is saying, “Don’t be selfish and do what you want. Be unselfish and do what I want (so I can be selfish).”

Your beloved family and friends don’t think of themselves as interfering. They may be upset that something seems more important to you than them. They want reassurance. They want to know that they’re LOVED.

And the truth may be that after the sixth interruption in as many minutes, you may not be overflowing with love. They’re right to be worried.

Everyone’s situation is unique, so you’ll have to figure out the particulars of how to shift the dynamics in your relational world. You may find these general guidelines helpful.

1. Believe in yourself and in your creative urges. Honor them as if you needed them to survive and thrive. You do.

2. The more you respect yourself and your creativity, the more you will automatically draw respect from others.

3. The more you insist on fulfilling your needs, the more interest you’ll have in helping others fulfill theirs.

4. To whatever extent possible, include others in your creative life. If you write paranormal fiction, ask “What’s a good name for a vampire?” If you paint, ask others to be on the lookout for compelling views in nature. Do whatever works to make them feel included rather than excluded.

5. Finally, consider this analogy. If you were a car, you wouldn’t say you’re too busy taking people to where they need to go to stop in for a checkup/tuneup, because you know a car can’t do what it has to do unless it gets serviced. Know this applies to your creative life, and communicate it to others.

Creativity and the Dreaded “Mommy Guilt”

Connie has written some excellent blog posts in the past about how effective guilt is at stifling creativity; I know this firsthand.

Ever since I became a mother, almost a year ago now (although it doesn’t seem like that long ago!), I’ve been battling the dreaded “Mommy Guilt.” It doesn’t matter that I took a year off from my high-pressure position as an editor and inhouse author in trade publishing (and recently resigned from it) because I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, I still often feel guilty about the hours I spend each day on my keyboard, freelancing part-time as a “book doctor” and editor. Most of those hours occur when she is tucked away in bed for the night, slumbering sweetly, but some of them necessitate her going to nursery school two days a week.

However, as my girl grows and increases in independence by the day, I’m beginning to realize that—even if it means late nights and sacrificing some time with my child and a good deal of my social life—my work has benefits for her as well as for me (and for our household in general). For me, my work in the creative arts is not a luxury: it is a necessity. While I devote much of my time to freelance editing, and sometimes begrudge that it doesn’t allow me enough time to write, I am one of those lucky individuals who can say, for a fact, that I truly love what I do. It is my passion. I love taking a diamond in the rough and polishing it up to add more facets. I love helping other authors make their work the best it can be.

For my daughter, my passion for my work means that she not only gets to see firsthand the value of having a strong work ethic, but that she will also grow up appreciating that work should be a delight, something you actively look forward to doing. Already, I am seeing the shoots of her own burgeoning creativity as she indulges in her daily play. My love for the written word has also inspired in her a love of books. Even at just one year of age, she loves to carefully turn the pages (now recognising that pages are for turning and not for tearing) and to point to the bright pictures. Spending time reading to my darling is quality time, and although she is too small yet to fully understand the stories I write for her, I hope that one day they will number among her favourites.

When she was very small, my guilt at snatching short, private moments to write was overwhelming—and sometimes paralysing. But as she grows, I’m realizing that she, too, actively values time spent alone in creative play. She doesn’t always want an adult playing with her or hovering over her; sometimes she wants to explore objects in solitary (although supervised) reflection.

Interestingly, my book of short stories, “Cage Life,” although written some years ago before I became a mother, deals with themes relating to guilt and freedom in motherhood. In it, a young mother longs for the carefree life she once led, which leads to disastrous consequences. Now that I am a mother, it is probably not a story I could bear to write, but I still feel that it explores many of the wistful, private moments that mothers, particularly first-time moms, struggle with: the loss of a singular identity; the guilt; the longing for freedom, either creative or just a few hours to take a long bath or to go to the hairdresser. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mother. My child will always be my greatest work, and a work-in-progress for my entire life. But, as a creative, I also know that I have other children—children stuffed away in drawers and hastily scribbled upon in brief snatches.

My advice to all new mothers who write, and who are struggling to find the time to be creative while keeping up with diaper changing, feeding, playing with and consoling babies, is that we should try not to feel guilty about anything that rounds us out and makes us who we truly are. Our children need us to be ourselves, with all of our passion, creativity and individuality intact. It is how they learn the value of those elements to humanity. And if nothing else, writing provides an escape from the everyday that is empowering and fully imaginative. We may be covered in baby vomit, have been up since 5 am, and really, really need to mop the floor sometime today, but in our heads we can be dancing flamenco, solving murder mysteries, trying to eke out a living on an alien world, or any manner of other exciting possibilities. So guilt be damned! Tonight she is sound asleep and for those silent hours in between the little cries in the night, I’m not a just a mommy, I’m a writing mommy, and write I will!

Karin’s book of short stories Cage Life is available from Amazon US http://www.amazon.com/Cage-Life-ebook/dp/B005DC6AHM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1332765096&sr=8-1
Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cage-Life-ebook/dp/B005DC6AHM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1332765161&sr=8-1
Her book of poetry, Growth is available from:
Amazon US http://www.amazon.com/Growth-ebook/dp/B005D5RCD0/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_2

Amazon UK Growth
Barnes & Noble http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/growth-karin-cox/1104361734?ean=2940011380730&itm=2&usri=karin+cox
Follow Karin’s blog at www.karincox.wordpress.com
Read more about Karin’s work www.editorandauthor.com
Follow Karin on twitter @Authorandeditor
Or Facebook www.facebook.com/KarinCox.Author

How to Crush Your Creativity: Feel Guilty

Guilt sometimes involves self-criticism, which was described in an earlier post. However, the kind of self-criticism I described involved tearing your work apart, condemning yourself for even thinking talent lurks somewhere within you, and similar acts of self-sabotage.

Guilt as it relates to creativity, is less related to the actual creative project. It has much more to do with stepping beyond the limitations you may have learned as a child.

Here’s an example from my childhood. My father had dreams of becoming a minister. However, he made what he thought was a more practical choice, graduating from college with an engineering degree. Because he made a choice that didn’t come from his deepest desires, he went into his work life with an attitude of resentment that deepened into total dislike of his job, a dislike that he never hesitated to share with the family that depended on his income for survival.

Even though his career decision had been made before he got married and had children, in telling us how he’d had to give up his dreams, he made us the cause of his great life’s disappointments. Illogical as this was, young children, who rely on their parents for their understanding of the world, are inclined to choose loyalty over logic.

It took me years to figure out how thoroughly I’d been programmed to believe that you weren’t supposed to like your job. Whenever I had the opportunity to switch careers and choose one I would enjoy, I managed to talk myself out of doing so.

Finally I uncovered the truth: that I felt guilty about the idea that I could enjoy my work life much more than my father (who had allegedly sacrificed his happiness for his children) ever did. Once I managed to cut the unconscious ties of guilt, it was surprisingly easy to make creative choices and create a career that totally thrilled me.


Ask yourself if you’re afraid of having too much fun in your career/work life and why this is so.

If you can relate this to dissatisfaction on the part of either of your parents in their jobs, explore this connection.

Ask yourself how your dissatisfaction can increase their happiness. You may find reasons: Your success could make them feel like failures. They could feel that you are disloyal to the family.

You can tease out answers by imagining telling your parents how happy you are in your career, how much you enjoy the money you make and the creative opportunities. Imagine their responses. (This works whether they are alive or not.)

Finally, make a choice. You can choose to be loyal to your family or you can take the risk of independence and happiness.

How to Crush Your Creativity: Be Self-Critical

To get clear on this, we need to distinguish between “criticize” and “critique” and throw in the word “evaluate.”

We need to evaluate the work we’re doing. If I’m writing something (as I am now), I want to stop and see if the words make sense and if they will communicate what I mean.

However, even with the supposedly neutral process of evaluation, timing is everything. If I stop to check every word, my creative motion gets stalled. In the beginning stages of a creative process, it’s often more effective to let it have its way and evaluate it once the burst of energy has slowed down or stopped.

Evaluation that says, “I think this word/idea would be better than the original” and goes on to make the replacement can enhance the creative process. Criticism is a different species.

Criticism says, “That’s the stupidest idea I ever heard. I really have no talent. I should give up before it’s too late.” Too late, to use an architectural analogy, can mean that if you continue building your idea/project, it’s going to crumble. It also means “Quit before someone else finds out how stupid you are and laughs at you or punishes you.”

In psychological terms, criticism is the voice of a parent speaking to a child, a voice you’ve internalized. You learned to summon and hear its voice because you didn’t want to get punished, whether that punishment was physical or humiliation. The critical voice punishes you in advance in order to save you from worse.


Self-criticism is deadly. Sometimes people stumble into the practice of criticizing themselves for being self-critical. Don’t.

Here’s another solution that won’t work: Give up creative expression so that you won’t hear the critical voice. That voice is on constant combat mode. If it can’t criticize you for stupid thinking, it will criticize you for forgetting something or for how you tie your shoelaces. You need to face it.

Antidotes to the poison of self-criticism can include the following.

Tell yourself that it’s okay if the first round (or the second or third) aren’t perfect.

Even better, give up on the idea of perfection. Replace that notion with one of doing the absolute best you can.

Don’t criticize. Evaluate. Instead of focusing on how bad something is, focus on what would improve it.

Don’t pound away at it. Sometimes it’s best to walk away and come back later.

If you feel really stuck, ask your inner wisdom, first trusting that you have it. You do; it’s part of the software in the package that accompanied you into this world. Say, “I ask for an answer” or whatever wording works best for you.

Finally, as much as you may want to hate this voice, bear in mind that it originated in an attempt to save you pain. Sometimes the most useful act is to thank it for its efforts and tell it you don’t need it any more.

How to Crush Your Creativity: Anger

Anger is somewhat different from other emotions categorized as negative because sometimes the biggest problem we have with it is that we don’t want to feel it. Many people have been raised to believe that anger is destructive, uncivilized, and overall, not very nice.

Attitudes are quite different in the world of animals. I have seen tiny kittens hiss and shriek with all their might when a big dog approaches them. Sometimes it’s not the biggest but the loudest that wins or prevents a battle.

When we hold anger inside ourselves, we become candidates for high blood pressure, ulcers, and a number of other conditions. Anger, when used constructively, can relieve stress. When repressed, it creates stress.

Unexpressed anger also has a strong tendency to turn into the sour bile of resentment. (See previous post, no, not the cat. I understand he has no trouble expressing anger. It’s the one before that.)

Give yourself an outlet for expressing your anger. For years I’ve recommended to my clients that they write down everything they’d like to say to someone with whom they’re angry. Don’t hold back. Say every terrible, vicious, and vindictive thing that you’re feeling.

If you happen to be living with that person, put the file somewhere that it won’t be found. Why not delete it? I would highly recommend and even urge that you do this eventually. However, I often find it helpful to cool down and read the letter a while after I’ve written it.

Once the heat has been dissipated, you may discover that some of the things you wrote range from ridiculous to hilarious. You may wonder why you were so upset about some of the subjects you covered.

These realizations help to train your awareness. The next time you feel anger coming on, you may have the mental acuteness to ask yourself if this is really such a big deal. That needn’t stop you from writing about it. However, you might melt a few less keys as you do so.

Let me reemphasize: The release of anger is healthy, but the degree of healthiness depends on how it’s released.

Oh, and don’t forget to delete that document.

How to Crush Your Creativity: Worry

Worry might be described as a single-minded focus on negative possibilities. It doesn’t have the strong physiological intensity of fear. Worry’s effects more gradually—but just as surely—erode the creative urge.

Start with this scenario. You get a really exciting idea that you’d love to develop.

Worry that someone has already thought of it.
Worry that you won’t be able to keep your inspiration high for the idea.
Worry that it isn’t as good as you thought it was.

Next, work on your project, and don’t tell anyone about it, because you worry that they’ll laugh at you. Even if they don’t laugh, they will think loud thoughts that would destroy you if you heard them, so you imagine them instead.

Complete your project and worry that no one will like it. Again, tell no one and do nothing to unveil it or in any way bring it to anyone’s attention.

Worry is really very creative. You may not like what your imagination is delivering, but there’s no questioning that it’s at work. If you can pause in the midst of one of the humiliating scenarios you’re concocting, you’ll recognize this. If you’re a writer, you have material for an enlightening expose of a character. If you paint, you can describe in color and form the complex emotions that worry arouses.

No matter who you are, once you’ve managed to detach from your emotional turmoil to realize that you are the artist who’s created it, you can begin to make the necessary shift. Now that you’ve proven your ability to create through this nightmare scenario, realize that by changing your intention to experience positive energy, you can imagine the circumstances and details to do so.

Challenge: Practice changing your mental story.