Creating in Flow

The world of creativity—with a twist of rationality

Convert Your Obsessions into Productivity

Put your brain to work -- be productive, not just obsessive.

Brainstorm by E. and A. Maisel

When we consider how our minds tend to obsess over what troubles or frustrates us, we're usually referring to a familiar sort of pointless ruminating.  And that's just depressing. Such ruminating may mean you're too stuck to be creative or find a way to take action. 

When psychotherapist and creativity coach Eric Maisel, Ph.D., and Ann Maisel write about obsessions, though, they're referring to a much more positive phenomenon: productive obsessions. In their new book, Brainstorm: Harnessing the Power of Productive Obsessions, the Maisels gently and thoroughly detail what they mean.

How can we writers and artists keep renewing our motivation and keep feeling inspired?  By learning to make better use of the brain's potential.  In a way, the Maisels are talking about flow here.  Or, if you will,  deep focus, or engagement, or mindfulness.

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Here's what you need to know about productive obsessions:

  • They aren't always easy, but they can help you find joy in the creative acts you're most passionate about.
  • You must plan how you're going to deal with anxiety and setbacks.  (Writer's block, anyone?)
  • Creative productivity isn't automatic.  You'll have to stretch yourself.  "Expect the emotional equivalent of aches and pains," writes Maisel.
  • You need to learn to switch gears between your everyday life and the obsessive periods of your art. The less you can make a big deal out of this, the better.
  • Get to know your own inner states so you can take a break when you need one. 
  • Expect to take risks.  "Take the risk that your project may not prove as important as you had hoped," notes Maisel. "Take the risk that it will prove exactly as important as you had hoped, taxing you with its difficulty and troubling you by its felt significance."


Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author. Her current focus is on the creative aspects of rationality and atheism.


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