The Modern Creative Problem — Does Too Much Choice Kill Your Creativity?
Decision anxiety, talk about a first-world problem…
Have you ever been sifting through the massive Netflix catalog to then realize you’ve been browsing for half an hour? This is a great example of what happens with too many choices.
It stifles your decision-making abilities, and thus your creativity.
While this applies to practically every creative pursuit, it is especially true when it comes to the modern 21st-century music-making DAW.
We’re bombarded with possibilities: plugins, effects, routing possibilities, instruments, microphones, arrangements, chord progressions, samples, melodies, etc. The choices are endless.
You must find a way to render the vastness of infinity into your creative work. You have to constrain, clarify and calibrate your options to stimulate your creativity.
The myth we seem to have bought into is that if choice is good, more choice is better.
However, in his book “The Paradox Of Choice” Barry Schwartz says “this mantra of the 21st century — applied to all manner of choices — gives rise to anxiety, unhappiness, and even clinical depression.”
This is the counter-intuitive truth to the concept of choice. More choice doesn’t mean more freedom. Being faced with overwhelming possibilities leads us to paralysis by analysis, or the smoother sounding term: “analysis paralysis”.
You know… the moment when you’re completely immobilized in your head from a million different ice cream flavours? I’ll…umm…just do vanilla, I guess?
Then you instantly regret picking plain-jane vanilla, as a tear crawls down your face. “Oh, how I wonder what could have been?”
I always completely freeze up when my girlfriend asks me the daunting opened-ended “where you want to go out for dinner”? After circling indecision for a while, we usually end up going to the same place. Maybe too many choices aren’t actually helping us?
“When you have all these choices, you have an enormous problem gathering all the information to decide which is the right one. You start looking over your shoulder, thinking that if you’d made a different choice, you’d have done better. So there’s regret, which makes you less satisfied with what you have chosen, whether or not there’s good reason to have regrets. It’s easy to imagine there was a better option, even if there wasn’t really, because you can’t possibly examine all of them.” — Berry Schwartz
This kind of “possibility overload” can lead to anxiety, especially within a creative project.
The solution? You must consciously limit your options.
The Creative Power Of Self-Constraint
With our modern music production home studios, there’s no expensive rent to pay. So, we splurge on more software instruments and plugins. We have more options than ever before which means, more choices, and consequently more decisions to make.
There’s no extra cost to having more things to tweak and fiddle with, right? Right? RIGHT?
If you sensed some frustration in that last sentence, you’re right. I’ve encountered analysis paralysis too many times.
What’s the cost of crippling your ability to complete projects? What’s the cost of stifling your creativity? What is the true cost of all these extra options?
Think about this:
When time or money is on the line, we’re a lot more motivated to complete something.
Or; It might be hard to write a song, staring at an empty DAW session. But someone with an acoustic guitar will map one out, almost effortlessly.
Why is that?
It’s because there’s a set of constraints that have been laid out.
It’s more difficult to summon your creative genius without first setting limitations for yourself. Especially true in a home studio, working on your own projects.
Deadlines, a clear vision, a structure are the necessary constraints for your creativity to become “needed”. When your creativity becomes a requirement to complete a task, you’re a lot more likely to utilize it.
“Research on creativity and constraint demonstrates that, when options are limited, people generate more, rather than less, varied solutions” — Bob Sutton
It seems that limiting your options to choose from actually produces more creative freedom. Creativity itself needs a constrained space to completely manifest.
Your creative potential = The creative requirement
Clarify — Calibrated Creative Constraint
The mind has a threshold for how many decisions it can make throughout the day. The better you can limit the number of unimportant choices your brain is forced to make, the more energy it will have to think creatively.
Think of it as building the foundation of a house, or a pyramid.
You can’t start exploring different layout ideas, room dimensions, internal decor, or your mummification chambers unless you have a foundational architectural structure mapped out.
That plan is the basis that all your other creative ideas will grow from. Fight against the overload of the chaotic and complex with some self-initiated structure and constraint.
The nature of a foundation, system, or structure, is that it narrows the field of possibilities in favor of a certain design, plan or specific goal. This can drastically boost your creative thinking, since having fewer variables allows you to go more in-depth to explore all the possibilities.
All while contributing to the big picture vision you established via your structure or “vision”.
Setting limitations by selecting sounds and establishing a vision is the first step I take in the process of creating a new project. Restrictions create meaning, a framework, a context. It’s very hard to be consistently creative without a context.
I call this step “clarification”.
Step #1 — Clarification
Clarification — This is the first step of alchemical creative workflow based on the calcination or the “reducing” phase. Tailored towards music creation, it involves project preparation and defining your sonic palette.
1. Clarify and affirm the music you intend to create (even if it’s exploring and experimenting)
2. Determine the required instrumentation and what types of sounds you want to use (aka build your band, tuning, scale, tempo, swing, key)
3. Play, or design instruments with a maximum range of expression.
4. Setup all the technical requirements of your session (routing, load plug-ins, effects) to optimize your creative potential.
This alchemical workflow aims to take the various steps of the music creation process and synchronize it with your mental headspace.
For the clarification phase, you need to REDUCE and DETERMINE both your work environment of options and your mental environment of distractions.
Make sure they are both *in line with your goals* and restrict you in the right ways. This will support a more productive and clearly-defined work-ethic.
Here are some tips to help you optimize your environments.
Mono-task — Narrow your focus on the vision of your project, and what it will need to accomplish it. Once you know, lay down that foundation.Reduce your distractions — Turn off your internet connection, put your phone in the other room, and set the mood to focus your flame of attention.“Bag of tricks” — Use familiar creative tools such as a DAW template, effects, saved presets or instruments to streamline your creativity.Limit yourself — Limit your tools! Use a set amount of tracks, only certain types of sounds or give yourself a deadline. Embrace ‘less is more” and try to embrace your uniqueness by pushing your creativity with fewer options.Schedule — Plan out a time to properly establish and lay the foundational ideas for a project, then commit to FINISHING it by a certain date. Your productivity and creativity will greatly surprise you.
I hope this helps spark some inspiration for you to create with a new perspective, how do you deal with too many choices?
– Alexandre Joyal