8 Bad Habits that Crush Your Creativity And Stifle Your Artistic Success


artistic success“The brain is a wonderful organ. It starts the moment you get up and doesn’t stop until you get into the office.” ~ Robert Frost

It’s a myth that only highly intelligent people are creative.

In fact, research shows that once you get beyond an I.Q. of about 120, which is just a little above average, intelligence and creativity are not at all related.

That means that even if you’re no smarter than most people, you still have the potential to wield amazing creative powers.

So why are so few people highly creative?

Because there are bad habits people learn as they grow up which
crush the creative pathways in the brain. And like all bad habits, they can be broken if you are willing to work at it.

Here are eight of the very worst bad habits that could be holding you back every day:

1. Creating and evaluating at the same time

You can’t drive a car in first gear and reverse at the same time. Likewise, you shouldn’t try to use different types of thinking simultaneously. You’ll strip your mental gears.

Creating means generating new ideas, visualizing, looking ahead, considering the possibilities. Evaluating means analyzing and judging, picking apart ideas and sorting them into piles of good and bad, useful and useless.

Most people evaluate too soon and too often, and therefore create less. In order to create more and better ideas, you must separate creation from evaluation, coming up with lots of ideas first, then judging their worth later.

2. The Expert Syndrome

This a big problem in any field where there are lots of gurus who tell you their secrets of success. It’s wise to listen, but unwise to follow without question.

Some of the most successful people in the world did what others told them would never work. They knew something about their own idea that even the gurus didn’t know.

Every path to success is different.

3. Fear of failure

Most people remember baseball legend Babe Ruth as one of the great hitters of all time, with a career record of 714 home runs.

However, he was also a master of the strike out. That’s because he always swung for home runs, not singles or doubles. Ruth either succeeded big or failed spectacularly.

No one wants to make mistakes or fail. But if you try too hard to avoid failure, you’ll also avoid success.

It has been said that to increase your success rate, you should aim to make more mistakes. In other words, take more chances and you’ll succeed more often. Those few really great ideas you come up with will more than compensate for all the dumb mistakes you make.

4. Fear of ambiguity

Most people like things to make sense.

Unfortunately, life is not neat and tidy. There are some things you’ll never understand and some problems you’ll never solve.

I once knew someone who sold a product by direct mail. His order form broke every rule in the book. But it worked better than any other order form he had ever tried.

Why? I don’t know.

What I do know is that most great creative ideas emerge from a swirl of chaos. You must develop a part of yourself that is comfortable with mess and confusion. You should become comfortable with things that work even when you don’t understand why.

5. Lack of confidence

A certain level of uncertainty accompanies every creative act. A small measure of self-doubt is healthy.

However, you must have confidence in your abilities in order to create and carry out effective solutions to problems.

Much of this comes from experience, but confidence also comes from familiarity with how creativity works.

When you understand that ideas often seem crazy at first, that failure is just a learning experience, and that nothing is impossible, you are on your way to becoming more confident and more creative.

Instead of dividing the world into the possible and impossible, divide it into what you’ve tried and what you haven’t tried. There are a million pathways to success.

6. Discouragement from other people

Even if you have a wide-open mind and the ability to see what’s possible, most people around you will not. They will tell you in various and often subtle ways to conform, be sensible, and not rock the boat.

Ignore them. The path to every victory is paved with predictions of failure. And once you have a big win under your belt, all the naysayers will shut their noise and see you for what you are — a creative force to be reckoned with.

7. Being overwhelmed by information

It’s called “analysis paralysis,” the condition of spending so much time thinking about a problem and cramming your brain with so much information that you lose the ability to act.

It’s been said that information is to the brain what food is to the body. True enough. But just as you can overeat, you can also overthink.

Every successful person I’ve ever met has the ability to know when to stop collecting information and start taking action. Many subscribe to the “ready – fire – aim” philosophy of business success, knowing that acting on a good plan today is better than waiting for a perfect plan tomorrow.

8. Being trapped by false limits

Ask a writer for a great idea, and you’ll get a solution that involves words. Ask a designer for a great idea, and you’ll get a solution that involves visuals. Ask a blogger for a great idea, and you’ll get a solution that involves a blog.

We’re all a product of our experience. But the limitations we have are self-imposed. They are false limits. Only when you force yourself to look past what you know and feel comfortable with can you come up with the breakthrough ideas you’re looking for.

Be open to anything. Step outside your comfort zone. Consider how those in unrelated areas do what they do. What seems impossible today may seem surprisingly doable tomorrow.

If you recognize some of these problems in yourself, don’t fret. In fact, rejoice! Knowing what’s holding you back is the first step toward breaking down the barriers of creativity.

How about you? What mental habit has been hardest on your creativity? Let us know in the comments how you’ve handled it.

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Robin Miller

    One of my barriers has been the dichotomy of loving to do portraiture and loving to do abstract work. I simply gave myself permission to do both at different times. I also subscribe to the idea that art doesn’t have to make sense. 🙂 Even things in portraiture don’t have to make sense in a literal way. I still catch myself being the anal perfectionist and letting words fill my head when I’m working. I stop. Take a break and get back to it when I can shut the words down and go with the flow of creation.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hi Robin- Thanks for your comments. It’s interesting that you do two kinds of work at the same time, portrait and abstract. I can see how that would help with the flow of ideas. Thanks again and it is always good to hear from you.

  2. Donna Brown

    Habit #1 This is why it is so important to know that the first draft is just that, the first draft. Whenever my internal critic tries to jump in when the muse is in operation, I remind the internal critic that she will have her chance on the next draft, that right now it’s the muses turn to play. Every day I work on something that both muse and internal critic can work on so that neither feels that she has been neglected.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hi Donna- Thanks for your comments. You make an important point here. The internal critic has to be respected and turned off in the first stages and rough drafts. This is brainstorming phase and ideas should flow without interruption. Thanks again.

  3. Gil Robles

    I like your blog a lot and am grateful that I was able to connect on linkedin and then on facebook.
    The one thing that can be a struggle for me in this list you posted here is discouragement from others, (even my ordinarily encouraging wife). I would here things like, why would you paint that? More people are thinking of a picture of some flowers in a vase and I want to paint un-glamorized portraits or trees that have character, something unusual, but something I find interesting. Other than that I would think that the other things get solved by the discipline of working everyday at it. When I’m consistent I am more confident and ideas seem to flow easier and I am open to challenges.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hi Gil – Thanks for your comments. I agree, it is tough sometime to follow your creative vision in the face of negative opinions of others. And this is even more dramatic when the negative opinions come from people you love. I have struggled with this my entire career and I know what you are feeling. Thanks again for your comments.

  4. спасибо я нечего не поняла у меня не работает перевод но я думаю что все ок…желаю успехов в вашей дальнейшей работе….а me меня живопись вы смотрели???https://who-are.ru/index/galereja_kartin/0-21 это страничка у меня не продаються мои картины и я очень огорчена…с уважением Людмила.

  5. Walter

    Brilliant advice.
    Woke up this morning convinced I was wasting my time.
    I have a general rule:
    One third I keep.
    One third I throw away.
    One third I let age until my consciousness catches up.
    Your post convinced me I was not alone.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hi Walter- I love your comment. Very poetic and very insightful. I will certainly take this to heart.

  6. karenlongden

    Welcome back Gary! I’m pleased to hear your knee is recovering. There’s certainly nothing wrong with your mind! I loved your blog and your insights strung a few cords – stinging a bit with their truths!
    Your words “acting on a good plan today is better than waiting for a perfect plan tomorrow,” stirred some guilt in me as I have been somewhat unproductive lately, stuck in that creative void wondering what to paint next or whether to focus on my novel – too many decisions and too many variables on what I could do – result – I have done absolutely nothing! While a void might bring some ideas and a change in direction to grow, I am so frustrated and your Habit no 7 has come into play – the more I’ve bombarded my brain with more info and possibilities while researching the art market online, the less I feel able to find my own voice.
    Re the question of the hardest creative habit I am guilty of, I think it’s most definitely listening to everybody’s criticisms or advice of what they think I should be painting/ writing. (Your habit no 6) This seems to enhance one’s feelings of worthlessness in the marketplace; when you are desperate to follow your own heart but fear your work won’t sell due to others’ comments.
    One snippet of advice I retained in my research was in a blog I read yesterday, saying, “those who paint for everybody, become a nobody.” This helps somewhat to answer the habit 3 “fear of failure” – now I just need to overcome habit 5 and regain some confidence! Don’t you wish you’d never asked us for feedback!!!!

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hi Karen – Good to hear from you again. I really like the saying you posted, “those who paint for everybody, become a nobody.” That’s a very powerful idea and very true. We have to follow our own voice because that is the only path that will take us home. I always love your feedback.

  7. Carla Stein


    This post really struck a chord with me. Especially the part about production and evaluation being two separate endeavors that need to stay SEPARATE. I think one of the things that slows down my creative production is over-analyizing what I’m in the process of doing and then second guessing myself along the way. Thanks, for your valuable insight. I am going to try to let go of the evaluation until a piece is near completion, make note of mistakes, fix them if possible, or just note what didn’t work for the next effort and hopefully not repeat!

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hi Carla- Thanks for your comments. I learned that if I brainstorm first and then evaluate later that I become a whole lot more creative and productive. Thanks again.


    Years ago I needed money for food while attending Florida State University. I decided to start painting portraits of my roommates. One asked me to paint his portrait. He conditioned the commission by asking me to not emphasize his bad features. I agreed because I needed the money. When I finished and showed it to him, his response was, “This doesn’t look like me.” I replied, “Of course not, you have buck teeth, ears that stick out, and a big nose. Think of it this way, Which does the portrait look more like, You or President Eisenhower?” He had to admit that it indeed looked more like him than President Eisenhower. I got my $10.00 and I also learned a valuable lesson. I paint what looks good to me and don’t usually listen to non-artist’s commentary. If they don’t like my artwork, that’s fine. I paint what I like and get excited about.
    William Chesser

  9. Amber McClellan

    The first one is my downfall, creating and evaluating. I try to be such a perfectionist the first time around that I can never get anything done in a decent amount of time. One day will go by, then another and another and I’ll barely have anything complete because I’m critiquing every stroke I make as I make it. It feels like I’m pressing the gas pedal and brake at the same time. Relieving to know this is more common than I thought.

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