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Stress, Personality Traits, and How We Work

When I was younger, I used to think that creativity was this magical, endless thing that switched on inside your brain every time you wanted to have an idea. I never had a problem coming up with ideas and solutions to problems. I blatantly ‘borrowed’ from everything that inspired me, like little kids are wont to do. My imagination was better than any toy I had, better than even my favorite TV programs.

As I got older, I was still creative, but I looked for ways to stand out with my ideas. I think that’s the natural growth path of creativity — first, we emulate, then we learn to gestate ideas on our own, giving birth to brand new ideas that have never existed. Laying claim to these new ideas was both terrifying and exhilarating — if people liked them, it was the best feeling in the world. And it seemed that my brain was popping out ideas nonstop, at least through my teens. Then adulthood set in.

Perhaps it’s because our personalities are still changing, still growing and developing through our teens and early twenties, that we seem to be able to retain that creativity even when life gets trickier. When the cares of being a grownup set in, it’s almost like, for some of us, our minds can’t process both creative ideas and stressful ones at the same time. Some of us, it seems, are not great multitaskers when it comes to balancing our creativity and our everyday lives.

As an adult, I turned back to creativity to earn a living and help me accomplish a lifelong dream of finally writing a book. I spent a few years freelancing as a content writer for others, but finally took the plunge and began writing fiction again after not having written any in over fifteen years. I absorbed as much knowledge as I could from other indie authors and I watched as some showed me just how successful and lucrative a self-publishing career could be. These successful authors all had one thing in common — they showed up every single day in their career and wrote the heck out of some books.

Many of the writing groups I found pushed the ‘publish frequently’ method to success. Others stressed that less frequent publishing could be bolstered with the right advertising strategies. But no matter which method was used, one thing was clear — consistency was key.

Great! I could do that, right? I mean, I consistently get up at 4:45 to get kids out the door for school, I consistently keep the family fed and in clean clothes, and I consistently check in on social media to see how my friends are doing. Consistently being creative, that was just one more task on my to-do list that I could tick off every single day, or so I thought.

On the days when life was good and things were going smoothly all around me, I could churn out words just fine. In fact, some days I could actually manage to write decent fiction and create ads to promote it. These days left me feeling efficient, in control, and downright awesome. But then there would be the other days, the days where a kid would get sick or I would have an argument with my husband or I would realize that I forgot to pay a bill — those days were not awesome.

I discovered that when I was stressed — when things weren’t running smoothly — I could not be creative. I could not write a chapter, even a really badly written one, to save my life. I thought that there must be something terribly wrong with me, that I must be horribly broken because other writers could write during stressful times. Other writers could just push through, get it done, and move on.

At first, I blamed depression, because that dog’s been trailing me my whole life. But I realized that, even when I wasn’t feeling particularly depressed, I was having a problem with the writing. Of course, depression certainly doesn’t make it easy to write, but if you’re used to living with it, you learn to write around the depression, to pile it underneath you and hold it still long enough to empty your mind of your creative thoughts before it knocks you off again. At least, that’s been my experience with it. Your mileage may vary, as they say…

I was lucky enough to be introduced to an author who also coached writers and other people in order to help them figure out how their personality ‘types’ affected the way they worked. Now, some people are quick to dismiss personality tests like Meyers Briggs or the DISC personality tests as a bunch of rubbish. I happened to think my Meyers Briggs was pretty spot on, but then again, I always thought my horoscope sounded pretty accurate, too. So I decided to find out a little more for myself and I took a class that delved deeper into personality traits and specifically how they affected the way I wrote and my creative process.

I discovered that one of my personality traits included a very high need for stability in order to be able to be creative. It showed me that my brain is literally hardwired to require a certain level of stability before it gives up the creative goods, so to speak. Another trait showed me that I was the type of person who required more time to think about things for much longer than some people do before I could comfortably take action.

These revelations kinda blew my mind. I suddenly went from feeling like a broken failure to feeling like I’d been way too hard on myself. And, thanks to the course, I also learned ways to handle those situations that blocked my creativity. I discovered a way to take control of my brain a little better, once I understood how it worked.

How does this apply to you, dear reader? You may think that because you don’t work in a creative field that it doesn’t matter how your personality traits affect your creativity. The reality is, your personality traits affect more than just creativity. They impact your whole life and how you react to the things that happen to you.

I highly recommend taking a few of the personality tests you can find online, but only the reputable ones. Meyers Briggs is probably the most well-known one, but there’s also something called the Strengths Finder 2.0 (you can buy a book for this at most reputable bookstores — it has a code that gives you access to the test and the book explains the results.) And it was my DISC personality test results that showed how much my brain needed stability. You can Google all these and find sample tests for them (except the Strengths Finder one), and they can be a lot of fun and quite revealing.

More importantly, I hope you take a minute to look at why you think like you do. Why does your brain need certain things in order to cooperate with you? And always make sure that you’re giving yourself what you need to be successful, whether that’s cutting yourself a little slack on those hard days or learning to take things at your pace, and not someone else’s.

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