3 Causes of Creative Burnout and Actions to Take To Prevent Burnout

Creative Burnout

In the Positive Painter Community we are focusing on the goals for next year, with “Planning for Creatives: Planning Mindfully With Action“, and it is really getting everyone thinking about their real desires, their big dreams.

One commonality that I’m seeing among all the participants is the goal to enjoy their creative time and have more creative time without causing creative burnout.

As a creative myself here is my equation for creative time:

creative time = self-care time.

Creative burnout is an equation that is a lot more complex.

Creative burnout occurs when there are multiple factors to the equation.   In this article, we are going to discuss 3 primary causes of creative burnout and the 4 actions you can take to prevent creative burnout.

Creative Burnout

3 Causes of Creative Burnout and Actions to Take To Prevent Burnout

#1 Everyone Over You = Sacrifice of Self

Creative Burnout - Sacrifice of Self

We’ve all fallen into this trap, it is such a common thing there is a term for it too – “People-pleaser”.  It is when you put everyone else’s needs before your own.  We do it as mothers, we do it as good-little-workers and we do it as artists!  We do it because we want to make people happy.  And in some cases, their happiness brings us happiness. BUT there comes a time when we break and say “What about me!”

It is at this point – the “what about me” – that you’ve hit the tipping point towards burnout.   When you put everyone else’s thoughts, desires, opinions OVER your thoughts, desires, opinions – in short, you put greater value on their happiness than your value.  This will lead you to feel resentful, taken advantage of, angry, and sometimes depressed.

I’m sure you have some stories that come to mind when you have hit this wall.

If you continue to give of yourself and it goes unchecked, you will lose yourself, and the journey to find yourself will abruptly happen.  Most people run into this feeling of being lost when their kids leave the house or unexpected death or retirement or divorce – needless to say, these are major life shifts where you aren’t sure where to focus your energy anymore and so you begin to look inward and find you’ve lost who you were and what you love.

From the artist’s perspective, this comes frequently when we create, create, create, and give to others the works we put our heart and soul into, and then people start asking for more and NOT wanting to pay.  And the adage “give an inch and take a mile” comes to mind … this is when resentment begins.

Burnout occurs when you place greater importance on everyone else than you do on yourself.

Everyone Else’s Needs > Than Your Needs = Sacrifice of Self

Your Action #1: Prevent Creative Burnout

To prevent creative burnout, you need to preserve and find your Purpose. To do this, you’ll need to do 2 things:

  1. Write down your Dream Big Goal.  This is YOUR Purpose, Your Dream.

Once you know your Dream Big Goal evaluate EVERY decision against it.

This single act will give you the clarity of your vision, so when noise and worry begin to cloud your view you can refocus.

For example,  when the “NEW YEAR: NEW YOU” people start shouting at you on what you need to change and/or when you compare yourself to all the picture-perfect moments captured in .002 second image and/or compare yourself to artists who have been working at their craft for 20 years:  I want you to see your dream big goal and imagine you achieved your goal– and then ask yourself before you take any action

“Will this help me achieve my Big Goal?”  If the answer is no, keep move on and don’t look back. The future is ahead, your goal is ahead – not behind you.

2. Journal about each piece you create. To preserve your creative purpose, spend about 10 minutes a on each piece you create to write about the piece you are creating.
What was your purpose to creating the piece, what do you want the piece to say, how do you want people to respond to it, at what point do you think it will it achieve your vision? What do you love about the piece?

If you have never journaled before, here is my process: I’ll sit with my journal, my coffee, with the piece or blank canvas in front of me (usually it is sitting on the easel or hanging on a wall/shelf) and I’ll simply start to writing…..I don’t care if it is legible, I don’t care if I spelled things right, I don’t care about grammar.  It is just me and the paper and my thoughts.  It clarifies my intention for the piece, my purpose.

You can download art journaling prompt pages here or click below (if you are member of the Positive Painters, you can find these here) .

Work towards achieving this equation:

When your needs are placed higher than everyone else’s needs you have found your purpose. 

Your Needs > Everyone’s Needs = Purpose

Now, I know this equation sounds selfish, but that’s the point.  You are allowed to have a purpose. Also, recognize that this equation is not 100% of the time, if your child comes to you bleeding and you are painting, you’ll know the balance shifts for that moment.  Your long-term focus is on the big picture, your big dream.

#2 Quantity Over Quality = Multitasking

Creative Burnout - Multitasking

When was the last time you did one thing at a time and really focused 100% on it?  There is a whole movement now called “mindfulness” (here is an article by Harvard about practicing mindfulness), the purpose of it is to really live and breath at that moment, in that activity.

When we begin putting the Quantity of things completed OVER the Quality time we spend on doing them we are not present in the moment.  We become those hero “Multi-tasking” moms, entrepreneurs, the doers, the go-to-person – and in the end exhausted…burned out….

Think about yourself in the kitchen for a moment; kids rushing around you, telling you about their day in rapid-fire-incoherent sentences about some halo on level 68 of some game, you have cooking going, and another problem in your head you’re trying to solve – are you really present for anyone? – Nope…(true story…)

As a creative, we often feel guilty about taking time to draw, journal, paint because of all the other tasks pulling at our minds.  We feel like we are playing, but really this is our self-care, our mental break and, in some cases, our career.  But imagine, how calm and relaxed you can be if you just stopped and said – I’m here right now and I’ll just be here right now – I feel the paint brush, I hear the pencil making the scratching sound…suddenly you’ll calm, suddenly time shifts.

You are reading this article right now, what other topics are coming to your mind right now?  Are you focused on getting it all done or doing this one thing right now?  Pause for a moment and breath – relax – do you feel better?

Being present is in itself a discipline. Be present in the moment, be present in that painting, in that drawing, with your child, with your FOOD!

Being present is the best gift you can give yourself or anyone else.  One that is available anytime and loved by all.  Be present.

Your Action #2: Prevent Creative Burnout

  1. Start decluttering.  You don’t have to declutter your home (unless it bothers you) but work on decluttering your mind and your schedule.  How do you mentally declutter?
    1. Grab a piece of paper, your beverage of choice, take 10 minutes, and write down what you don’t enjoy doing.
    2. Then take another 5 minutes and write down options to offload/modify that task.

For example, I don’t enjoy going to the grocery store.  So I order the groceries and have them delivered or I’ll schedule a pick up when I know I’m going to be out already.

I don’t enjoy laundry (hate it actually).  So, I talked to my husband and let him know that I really hated doing laundry and, much to my surprise, he said he could do it while watching football!  As a result, we modified the existing schedule to laundry on Sundays.

  1. Practice Mindfulness. If you haven’t done this before it is going to sound weird, but trust me – you will feel more centered after you complete the exercise.  Take 5 minutes with your coffee or tea and be present with it.  Here are a couple of short mindfulness practices that I enjoy:
    1. Coffee Mindfulness Meditation – that will leave you refreshed and relaxed.
    2. Chocolate Mindfulness Meditation – what a lovely reason to eat chocolate.

Work towards achieving this equation:

Your quality time is greater than the quantity completed, you are in the Your Present. 

Quality Time > Quantity Completed = Present 

When you start saying no to doing more you can start enjoying the quality time you have with the things you say yes to.

Armed with the knowledge from action #1 (your Purpose), you can open yourself up to being more present by saying no to the things that don’t drive you towards your big dream.

#3 Quality Over Joy = Perfectionism

Creative Burnout - Perfectionism

Did you know that DaVinci wrote thousands of codexes but didn’t finish them or show them to anyone!  He was passionate about science, mechanics, art, and more but he didn’t share any of his findings with people because they weren’t perfect.  He found joy and passion in what he did but withheld information that would’ve put optics 2 centuries ahead of its time!

DaVinci suffered from perfectionism.

What is perfectionism really?  Perfectionism is worrying about not being good enough, worrying about being questioned –  you weren’t born a perfectionist, perfectionism is a learned behavior (here is a terrific article about perfectionism).  When you’re a perfectionist, you focus on spending an exorbitant amount of time to increase the quality and sacrifice your joy of creating….all because of worry…because of fear.

Fear and worry are not conducive to creativity. 

Therefore, another part of the equation that leads to burnout is when you place Quality OVER Joy to achieve Perfection.

When you begin placing quality OVER the joy of creating your art, or anything in life, that is when you begin the slippery slope of burnout.

What will bring you great satisfaction is when you are able to have the Quality of what you create equal the joy that it gives you.  When you have that you have found joy, YOUR Passion, meaning you take great joy in providing a quality product/service.    That is a job well done.  Then you are in balance. 

Quality = Joy = Passion

Your Action #3: Prevent Creative Burnout

Perfectionism is a learned behavior, as a result, the course correction to prevent burnout is not an overnight correction. This one is going to take some self-discovery.  Here are your actions to prevent creative burnout.

  1. Review the Action Steps from #1 and #2 above (Journal for Purpose, and finding time to be Present).  You are now armed with your big dream and what is important to you.  Now is the time for action,  take the time to be present with your intention and create.You are allowed to pursue your passion.

Work towards achieving this equation:

When you are able to achieve equal quality, equal joy, you are in Your Passion. 

Quality = Joy = Passion

The Ultimate Equation to Prevent Burnout

The ultimate equation to prevent burnout is simply said, but a difficult balance to maintain unless you take action to protect your needs, your quality time, and your joy.

When you achieve this balance you will be Present in Your Purpose and Passion.

The Ultimate Equation is Being: Present + Purpose + Passion = Creative Abundance. 

Click here to learn more about Planning For Creatives this will help you stay focuses on you Purpose, Passion so you can live in the Present.

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