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Sleep is arguably a topic that already has enough coverage. I mean, you probably don’t need another person telling you you should be getting more sleep or giving you random advice for sleeping better.
But… I’m kind of going to do it anyway. My reason being is that if I can share one tip on this podcast with one person that helps them get a better night sleep, then it’s worth it.
In addition, I’m on my high horse about sleep at the moment because I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that since I’ve been travelling, my sleep hygiene has taken a real hit.
The truth is, sleeping in different places every few weeks not to mention different time zones, makes it nigh impossible to keep up the kind of military-like sleep regime I had pre-January 2019.
And I’ve had to admit to myself: it’s affecting me. I know my energy is dipping way quicker than it used to, I know I’m abusing coffee in a way that isn’t doing me any favours, and I’m sure my memory and attention span aren’t what they once were…
Where was I again? Oh yeah, sleep!
I recently took matters into my own paws and decided to dive into the much-recommended best-selling book, Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.
For someone who thought they knew everything they could about getting a good nights sleep, this book blew me away. I learned SO much, and not just about getting a good night’s sleep but about dreams and our body clock and a whole host of other fun facts I don’t have time to dive into on this episode, but in short: read the book!
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Why sleep is so important for creativity
Oh and before I dive in to my recipe for an excellent night’s sleep, I should mention: I am not a natural good sleeper. I always found it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep even as a child, and I’m still a very light sleeper to this day.
I struggled most with sleep in my late teens, and resorted to herbal sleeping pills which didn’t seem to help me sleep, but did seem to make me feel drowsy the next day… Oh and as a side note on sleeping pills, I’m not one to preach but after reading Why We Sleep I can honestly say I wouldn’t touch those with a barge pole. Really – there’s some scary stuff in that book regarding sleeping pills – it’s worth giving it a google and making your own mind up though.
I’m also not someone who can get by on 4-6 hours sleep. I have friends who claim to be of that genetic ilk, but I actually don’t believe them. I can’t help but think: sure, you’re great and all on a few hours kip, but what would you be like with a solid 8? You’d probably be a superhuman!
I seem to be at my best with at least 8 hours sleep, even closer to 9. In the book, Walker makes it quite simple to figure out if you’re getting enough sleep. Quote:
“First, after waking up in the morning, could you fall back asleep at ten or eleven a.m.? If the answer is “yes,” you are likely not getting sufficient sleep quantity and/or quality. Second, can you function optimally without caffeine before noon? If the answer is “no,” then you are most likely self-medicating your state of chronic sleep deprivation.”
Yeah. I realised that of late, I can honestly say I’m not getting enough sleep, so I’ve decided to do my very best to put together a sleep-regime that will work for me on the road, and that will hopefully be of use to you too, regardless of where you are.
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I know I’m not the only one who has ever found themselves in a creative funk. You know, being in a state of uncertainty, confusion, overwhelm, apathy… whatever the flavour a funk takes, I can for sure attest that isn’t pleasant. In addition to making daily life a grind, they make doing creative work hard or nearly impossible.
Note that this podcast is intended just as a guide to show you how to get out of a creative funk, but if you have prolonged sadness, anxiety or feel like this mood is affecting your life in any significant way: please please do ask for professional help. There are loads of people who are qualified to help with mental health, I am not one of them.
Here are some resources, which I’ve vetted and believe in wholeheartedly:
Oh boy do I have a show for you today… I’m actually a bit nervous about airing this one, purely because it’s quite revealing about my current belief system and if you haven’t heard me chat about this stuff before, and you happen to be particularly skeptical of such things, then… I don’t blame you if you want to stop listening.
But on the off chance that you’re an open-minded creative introvert who is willing to leave prejudices at the door in the quest for self knowledge and on a grander scale, a deeper understanding of life itself, then you might find this episode both useful and entertaining.
Anyway, that’s my warning. Today’s guest is Sam Reynolds, and I don’t want to spoil any surprises about the topic of our conversation today so I’m just going to get straight into the interview. Enjoy.
How Sam has learned to embrace his introversion
How he went from trying to disprove astrology to being a full-time astrologer
Why astrology doesn’t need to be classified as a science
What the Five Love Languages are
How your Myers-Briggs type relates to Five Love Languages
How Myers-Briggs types relate to the classical temperaments
Should astrology be self-diagnostic?
How all these different tests and models can be useful for self-knowledge
How learning anything often begins with black and white thinking
Why astrology’s latest Renaissance might come to a stop
Personally, I find the creation of a plan both very soothing on times of stress and overwhelm, AND exciting in times of apathy or boredom.
A good plan gives you direction, motivation and a structure that ultimately can make your life exponentially easier and more rewarding.
And let’s get real: it’s half-way through the year of 2019, if you’re listening to this when you should be – the very day it comes out…!
It’s worth thinking about where you are, where you wanted to be back at the start of the year, and where you want to be by the end of the year. Maybe you had big plans to get your new website launched by the summer and oh look… it’s kind of half done but it’s already June. A revised plan can help you get back on track.
Or maybe your new years resolution was to start podcasting and you bought the mic on January 1st… but it’s still in its box. Womp womp.
Regardless of where you are, whether you overshot the mark or didn’t have a mark in the first place, there’s NO judgement here. Heck, I’ve long since stopped setting goals thinking I’ll literally achieve them by the exact deadline, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still plan for success. You can’t succeed if you don’t at least try, right? And part of being a creative introvert who attempts to make a living doing what they love, is trying, failing, making adjustments and trying again.
Anyway, I know that planning is what I’m spending some time on this week, and I figured it would be worthwhile sharing what my plan is to plan for the next 6 months… if that makes sense. Basically, this is your plan for planning.
And I know not every creative introvert listening will be quite the fan of planning as I am. But the point of this episode is to try to break down the process of planning in a way that is as pain-free as possible, that you can do within an hour and that you can actually implement over the next 6 months without losing track or getting overwhelmed. So if you’re a procrastinator or a rebel (see Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies for more on that) then I highly recommend giving this process a try. Can’t hurt to try, right?
I’ve also made a handy printable PDF guide that will take you through this planning process, so if you’re in the car or out running or doing the ironing, you don’t have to worry about taking notes: it’s all there ready for you below:
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OK, without further ado, let’s get to the plan…
Before we look ahead, we gotta look behind. I don’t like dwelling on the past in general, but in putting a plan together it really is helpful to take note of what you have been achieving up till this point.
It’s going to be really helpful in working out what you can realistically achieved going forward, and where you’ll need to focus. Here are some preliminary questions I recommend asking yourself when you sit down to plan:
What did you want to have achieved by now?
How does life compare to life in January? What’s better? What’s worse?
How did you feel then? Back then, what were you hoping to feel by now?
What do you think has been getting in the way of achieving what you wanted?
If you struggled with answering any of these, and you don’t keep a journal… I highly recommend it. I know I say it a lot, and maybe you’ve tried journalling and didn’t dig it, a daily or weekly checkin in my journal is a super useful way to keep track of where I’m at in life. I’ve kept my entire journal in Evernote for the past 3 years and it’s immensely helpful (and hilarious) to look back at to see where I wanted to be in the future and how much has changed.
Oh and I should note that the point here is NOT to dwell on where you’ve missed the mark. A big part of this practice is to look at the gap between where you are and where you wanted to be with objective eyes, self compassion and a dash of optimism for the future. Which, again is a practice.
Next we’ll look to the here and now. It’s time to get SUPER honest.
It can also help to run through a typical day in your life, to get a sense of what’s currently affecting you. Maybe your situation has changed dramatically since January – I know that my situation has constantly been fluctuating since travelling and I can’t really deny that travel has affected my productivity and I’ve had to readjust my plans accordingly.
Here are some questions to get scribbling on:
What isn’t working? What do you dread? Grumble about? What exhausts you?
What is working? What energises you? What lights you up? What brings you joy?
What feelings do you experience on a typical day? Run through a typical day.
At the end of this process, you should have a pretty good reading for your current temperature… in terms of how you feel, what your values are and what your needs are.
Sidenote: In my book, The Creative Introvert, I do go through a more in-depth process of realising your values and needs and how you can best check in with those at any time of year.
My fave part!
Looking ahead to the future. This is something that can, understandably fill people with fear. After all, today was the future 6 months ago, and it’s quite possible this is NOT the future you had hoped for back then.
I understand that that can feel crappy. Just know that you’re not alone. In these times, there’s a lot of chat about feeling apprehensive about the future and it isn’t easy to slap on a happy face and pretend like we can be sure it’ll all turn out ok…
But. What choice do we have, other than to act as if we have the power to make it ok? Yes I’m talking at a global scale, but even on a very personal, mundane level: the one way to get through another day is to act as if there’s a chance tomorrow will be brighter.
OK enough deep shit and pep talking. Let’s get practical. Here are the questions that will guide your future:
What do you want most? How will that make you feel? What do you want to feel?
What’s the most important thing? What are your values? Do your future plans align with them?
Will what you work towards this year improve or benefit you next year? The year after?
What will life look like if you do what you intend to in 6 months? In a year? In five years?
What’s the best case scenario? Make it better.
What’s the cost of NOT doing these things?
Where would you be in 6 months if you change nothing after listening to this podcast? Where would you be in a year? 5 years?
What’s the worst case scenario? Make it worse.
Yes, the point of that last one is to scare you, sorry about that. It’s hard medicine I’ve been forcing down my own throat, and I can honestly say it’s powerful shit. As much as I love the happy clappy side of things, it’s THIS question that seems to kick my butt into action more than any other.
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Now it’s time to put this all together and create your plan.
What can you put into place to ensure you don’t get held back in the same way again?
What can you continue to do because it’s working so well?
What can you add or begin to make sure you end up where you want to be? What can you remove?
Limit to 5 things with one taking priority
If you feel stressed, remove more than you add
If you feel bored/apathetic, add more than you remove
Ideally, you’ll have some kind of calendar or diary to get this stuff written down with DEADLINES. I mean it. I don’t care how arbitrary or even unrealistic those deadlines feel right now; I know from past experience if something doesn’t have a deadline it has a tricksy way of NOT getting done.
I personally recommend an online tool and app called Asana, a very neat project managing tool with a calendar interface I love and that integrates with Google cal.
Of course you can also play with paper planners and all that jazz.
Here are some resources that might be helpful in your planning:
Journalling – Bullet Journalling, Morning Pages (Julia Cameron’s site is down at the time of posting, but do search for ‘morning pages, julia cameron’ and her original piece should come up at some point in the future!)
I wanted to share with you my ultimate list of books for creative introverts, the ones that have genuinely changed my life (for the better!) and the ones I point to over and over again, when anyone ever asks me for recommendations.
1) Quiet by Susan Cain
How could I not kick this list off with the Queen of Introverts herself, Susan Cain. I was recommended this book by the same friend who told me, I’m an introvert. After I denied his diagnosis, after all I didn’t consider myself shy and that’s what all introverts are, right, shy?… Or so I thought – he told me to just read this book by Susan Cain and check out her TED talk, which I did.
And I was stunned. I’m sure many, many of those listening have come across this book and found it just as enlightening as I did. It really is the starting point for introverts who are looking to understand themselves better. I’ve read lots of other books with ‘Introvert’ in the title, but honestly nothing compares to Quiet.
I also just really love Susan Cain herself – if you’ve ever heard an interview with her, you might understand why. I’ll link to some in the show notes at theCreativeIntrovert.com. She’s just so… down to earth, intelligent and sweet. She’s definitely my Queen.
“So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multi-tasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way.”
Cain’s overall take seems to be to embrace our introversion, and like me, encourages us to work with it as opposed to trying to fit ourselves into boxes made for extroverts.
Another super popular bible for many introverts, and some extroverts, is The Highly Sensitive Person. This was another epiphany for me, when I discovered what it was to also be a HSP. About 70% of introverts are likely to also be HSPs, and this was another book that shed light on why I was so uncomfortable and drained in the traditional office environment.
An HSP is basically someone who takes in more sensory information than average, and all this stimulation can get rather exhausting for the nervous system. Ultimately, this means HSPs aren’t at their best in hectic environments, loud places, bright places and can respond more strongly to all kinds of information, including things that create an emotional response. So if you’ve ever been told ‘you’re too sensitive’ (UGH) then you may be an HSP and I can promise you – it is not a bad thing at all.
Here’s a link to an episode of the podcast on HSPs and if you want to check out Elaine’s work, I highly recommend giving her a google.
“There is a common misunderstanding that emotions cause us to think illogically But recent scientific thinking, reviewed by psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues, has placed emotion at the center of wisdom. One reason is that most emotion is felt after an event, which apparently serves to help us remember what happened and learn from it. The more upset we are by a mistake, the more we think about it and will be able to avoid it the next time. The more delighted we are by a success, the more we think and talk about it and how we did it, causing us to be more likely to be able to repeat it.”
Like Cain, Aron emphasises the benefits of this quality and how we can work with it, not against it.
Yet another foundational text that I have had countless conversations about with fellow creatives. Not everyone jives with Julia Cameron’s talk of God and the emphasis on the spiritual nature of creativity, but I’ve read it twice and can honestly say if you can get past that stuff, there is a LOT of gold in this book.
What I like most are the exercises she gives you at the end of each chapter. In fact it’s really a 12-week course which I recommend going through in real time. Some weeks the exercises will seem virtually impossible – I’ll admit I’ve never done the break from reading she suggests – but Artists Dates are a game changer, as is the Morning Pages.
“Boredom is just “What’s the use?” in disguise. And “What’s the use?” is fear, and fear means you are secretly in despair. So put your fears on the page. Put anything on the page. Put three pages of it on the page.”
Quotes like this are peppered throughout the book, on nearly every page you’ll find little golden nuggets like this and that’s why it’s a must-have for any creative who wants to get serious about making art.
I LOVE telling people about this book who haven’t come across it. At first some will try to correct me with: ‘don’t you mean the Art of War?’ but no, I don’t.
Pressfield is a great writer anyway, but for me it’s his non-fiction writing, his writing about writing and creativity in general. This is the ultimate book on creative resistance, and how to overcome it. Honestly, this is the number one book I turn to when I’m feeling like I’m avoiding doing something or that I can’t climb the daunting mountain of a creative project.
I think I actually cried at one point in this book – a part where he talks about the Muse and it gets a little bit spiritual… but in a way I think even the most hard-nosed skeptic can appreciate.
“Here’s another test. Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?”
Pressfield is constantly pressing you to be more in this book. He can be a bit of a hardass like that, but my god is it helpful, or at least I found it so. If I could hire anyone on earth to be my creative coach, it would be Steven Pressfield.
Here is a book from someone who I would give my little toe to have on the podcast, Derek Sivers. This is a super practical, sweet and funny book which is packed with advice for anyone trying to start making a living from doing what they love.
“Never forget that absolutely everything you do is for your customers. Make every decision—even decisions about whether to expand the business, raise money, or promote someone—according to what’s best for your customers.”
That seems to be Sivers in a nutshell – if you want to take advice with someone who is truly heart led, this is the book to read.
I think this is a book I’ve mentioned more than any other on the podcast, and for very good reason. It’s kind of a long read to get to the overall point, I’ll admit, which is basically to ask for what you need and trust people will support you – but I picked up a lot on the journey.
Amanda Palmer isn’t exactly an introvert, and I can’t see myself going to quite the lengths she does in the name of art, but I do admire a lot about her, and this book reminded me I’m more capable than I’m usually aware of – if I let some trust into the equation.
This is the book to read when you’re in need of some guts: or just a great story about a fascinating character.
“When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand. And you feel stupid doing it.”
What I take from quotes like this is that Amanda fully acknowledges the pain that comes with making art and sending it out into the world, yet she doesn’t back down or quit when it gets tough. She does it anyway, even if she feels stupid doing it.
This book makes my list not just as a great read for creative introverts, but one I could recommend to pretty much any soul on this planet. These four, simple (yet not always easy) agreements or rules for life that Miguel Ruiz lays out so beautifully really spoke to me when I read them, but I also like to remind myself of them again and again. Most of my suffering comes from not living by these agreements, and I’m willing to bet at least one of them will hit you in a profound way too.
“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.”
That was from the second agreement, ‘Don’t take anything personally.’ This chapter alone will do a lot for you, if you’re concerned about the opinions of morons on social media or anyone else for that matter.
Now this truly is a book for creative introverts – after all, the author totally is one. I don’t remember exactly how I came across Pete Mosley, but once I did I knew I had to have him on the podcast, and I was lucky enough to get a yes. It’s a pretty quick read and some of the lessons in it have stuck with me like glue. One of them, from the Cheeky Letters story actually made it into my own book – I just updated it by replacing letters with email – and made sure to credit Pete for sharing this with the world.
“It is important to understand that your values generate the energy that fuels you to work consistently towards meeting your goals. Do something that fits with your innate values and you will make progress. Do something that doesn’t fit and you will grind to a halt. It’s a no brainer.
One way to judge whether an activity fits with your innate values is the extent to which you are in flow whilst you are doing it – does time pass without you noticing it? Are you eager to get back to the task after taking a break? Do you consistently look forward to your next burst of activity?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then the chances are your chosen activity meshes with your core values. If the answer is no, then goals and values are in conflict.
It’s important to work from a baseline of strong personal values – and values that are your own – neither pushed upon you by others nor acquired by osmosis through the ever-present ‘collective unconscious’ of social media overwhelm.”
This is what you’ll find throughout the book: simply explained concepts, which, if followed will undoubtedly lead you to do what you love, in a way that suits you. There are also lots of questions to the reader throughout, which I found really helpful in getting me to face myself and acknowledge certain facts about myself and my way of operating – and change something if needed.
This is a really underrated book, in my opinion. Partly because there’s another fairly similar book called The ONE Thing, which at the time I read both, seemed to get more press coverage, at least on the podcasts I listened to.
Anyway, where the ONE Thing is probably a slightly easier read, I felt like it lacks the depth and the practical advice I found in Essentialism. Maybe read both, because I’m sure every creative introvert who has ever felt overwhelmed because they’ve got too much on their plate or feel they can never finish anything because they’re always starting new things… could definitely find some utility in the concepts shared in them.
“The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years.”
This quote stuck with me, and since then I try not to let myself say something like ‘I have three top priorities.’ I took the plural out of my vocabulary, and try to state the ONE singular priority.
How do creative people come up with great ideas? Moreover, how do they put those ideas into action and actually make significant change in the world? That’s what Adam Grant seeks to do in this book.
I don’t normally love books that are just case studies about unicorns – well, actual unicorns would be cool but I mean the human kind – because I generally don’t find them informative or inspiring, just kind of depressing because they remind me of how I’m NOT these people.
But Grant has a way of writing, a humour and a practicality that actually makes these types of case studies really helpful and inspiring. I also link to his TED Talk here so you can check that out for a flavour of Grant’s style and his own original ideas.
“If originals aren’t reliable judges of the quality of their ideas, how do they maximize their odds of creating a masterpiece? They come up with a large number of ideas… They simply produced a greater volume of work, which gave them more variation and a higher chance of originality.”
So the author of this book is a super interesting character, who I got super interested in after I heard him interviewed on the Tim Ferriss podcast and read this incredible and mind-bending book he wrote, God’s Debris. That’s for another list, but the book I think is most helpful for creative introverts is this one, the crazily titled How to Fail at Almost Anything And Still Win Big.
As crazily titled as it is, it does point to one of my favourite lessons in the book: this idea that you can fail or have perceived failures in life, without being held back. You can overcome weakness, turn flaws into benefits and ultimately leverage your innate talents and personality to your benefit. It’s beautifully and simply written, with a healthy dose of humour – the author did create the Dilbert comic after all – and you will undoubtedly take something from it, even if it’s just a reminder that you aren’t a failure, no matter what you think.
If you’re someone who feels goal-setting just leaves you feeling frustrated and like you’re spinning your wheels, you might like Adams’ take on goal setting versus systems:
‘If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.
[O]ne should have a system instead of a goal. The system-versus-goals model can be applied to most human endeavours. In the world of dieting, losing twenty pounds is a goal, but eating right is a system. In the exercise realm, running a marathon in under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system. In business, making a million dollars is a goal, but being a serial entrepreneur is a system.
Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success..
Burnout is a topic I’ve been meaning to cover for some time on the Creative Introvert podcast, but I’ve been slightly cautious about it because I wanted to make sure I don’t in any way glamorise it. This is something I’ve seen hints of in the online business world, with the entrepreneurs, infopreneurs or whatever-preneurs they want to call themselves. People acting like it’s some sort of honour to work so hard you don’t sleep or take care of yourself. To then have to take some sort of glamorous retreat in Bali or something, just to get their shit back together.
Well, hopefully that’s NOT what this podcast will be about. I want to explain a bit about burnout (which is more tricksy than I had thought prior to researching this) and of course, some practical tips for avoiding burnout and how to un-burn yourself.
The different types of burnout
Like I mentioned, burnout is a little bit tricksy because I think for many of us, we expect the symptoms to be as extreme as fainting or falling asleep at the wheel or something. Of course, it can get to that point. If you get so exhausted you can’t hold yourself upright, I can see that happening.
But extreme exhaustion is just one of the symptoms of burnout. It can manifest in many different ways. Lack of focus is another way it can show up. Overwhelm. Indecision. Anxiety. Headaches. Sleeplessness (even if you feel sleepy.) Outbursts of anger over little things. Apathy, feeling uninspired or unmotivated.
See how varied these symptoms are?
I’ll quickly note that Adrenal Fatigue is something more specific, and also something to watch out for. Currently, mainstream science doesn’t really accept it as a thing: it seems to be more commonly diagnosed by naturopaths and alternative health practitioners. Personally, I’m open to it being real, if anything because I’ve heard about so many people who’ve experienced these symptoms and they seem to go away with some proper rest, good food and self-care – which isn’t commonly recommended by a standard GP, at least not in my country.
The symptoms sound a lot like burnout (which is also not an official medical condition either): extreme fatigue, brain fog, unexplained weight gain, unexplained weight loss, hair loss, irritability, sleep disturbances, lack of sex drive and skin problems. Not fun.
Either way, it seems clear that the impact that prolonged stress (mental, emotional or physical stress), lack of sleep and a crappy diet leads to a host of symptoms, and whether you call it burnout, adrenal fatigue or if your doctor tells you you’re fine – I’d like to suggest that if you’re having these kind of miserable symptoms it’s worth staying tuned to see what can be done about it.
How do we get burnout?
Although us humans have an awful lot in common, especially creative introverts, it seems that we all have slightly different limits, different needs, different strengths and blindspots. What this means is that burnout is likely going to affect some of us more than others, and the solution will also vary. I’ll do my best to give you a range of options here.
First I’ll tell you a bit about my burnout story. Now many listeners will already know my story: how I worked at a lovely little digital design agency for 3 years, but despite it’s loveliness I was totally miserable and actually, in hindsight I can see that I was suffering from burnout.
I had all the symptoms. I couldn’t sleep, but I was exhausted. My face looked grey – I can see it in photos now. I was seriously moody, I’d snap at anyone and could burst into tears over spilled milk. I’m pretty sure I did. Nothing inspired me and at times, life felt like I was in some kind of fog of misery. It SUCKED.
Now I don’t want to confuse this for actual clinical depression, which I was never diagnosed with, and is not the focus of this episode. I actually think my symptoms were entirely situational and they could – and would – be solved with simple(ish) lifestyle changes.
DISCLAIMER: if you ARE suffering from these symptoms, or worse, I definitely recommend going to an actual doctor! I’m not one of those, not by a long shot. I also recommend reading Lost Connections by Johann Hari for a much deeper look into depression and it’s causes.
OK. Back to me. You likely know the rest of the story, ultimately I quit my job, spent a few weeks in Japan and even though freelancing has it’s ups and downs, I felt a whole lot better and can safely say that the years since then have been completely different.
Now, the cause and solution to my burnout was clearly something to do with my work environment, but it also had many other factors. I was working out a lot, I was going out and partying a lot (neither of these things suit me) and I also was in a bit of post-university malaise. I really feel for anyone going from school to work, because it can be a really tough transition. But naturally, some people will thrive when they’re out of academia and love their first job. You might even love your open plan office environment, even if you’re an introvert. We all have different needs and limits.
Why introverts are at risk of burnout
I do have a theory, a hair-brained theory at that, as to why creative introverts in particular may experience burnout.
For one, if you ARE like me and get overstimulated in busy environments, loud environments, lots of people and bright lights and looking at a screen 8-12 hours a day… then you might also be a highly sensitive introvert (google: highly sensitive person) and the problem really might be in your environment.
I know not everyone can change their job or go freelance, but it could be an option for you at least in the future. All I can say is that it suited me, and whilst it was a gamble, it worked out. I gave myself a 6 month trial period, after which I would try to get another job if it didn’t work out, and I didn’t have to do that, thankfully. Though I’ve come close MANY times.
I want to make that clear. It’s not that my life got easier after I left my 9-5, in some ways I work more and have a lifestyle that would stress others out.
But it works for me. This is the one message I want you to take from this: there IS something that will work for you, you just need to find it! It might mean kissing a lot of proverbial frogs, but I will bet my little finger that you will find it.
Another cause for burnout is lack of stimulation. Weird eh? That the other cause would almost be the exact opposite to the first one? But we’re weird like that, us humans. Anyway, stimulation is also key to being a happy creative introvert, especially if you’re also a high sensation seeker.
I personally think we all need a balance between low sensation environments, places where we can be where we feel calm and peaceful like a walk by the sea or in a forest – but we also need to switch things up. Trying to work on the same thing every damn hour of every damn day, is naturally exhausting!
Multipassionate creatives – those of us who are always looking for the next shiny object (a blessing and a curse) genuinely have a need for change. I even found some internet science to back it up. This study showed that the dopamine pathways in the brain light up when we’re witness to something completely new and novel. Dopamine makes you feel good, so novelty makes us feel good, basically.
Actually, it’s a little more complex than that. Dopamine is really the thing that gives us motivation to seek reward – to seek the good feeling thing. So when we’re exposed to something new and novel, we’re actually motivated to act. How cool is that? Novelty motivates us.
What I take from this is that it’s important for us to mix it up. So let’s say you are stuck in your office job, and bloody hate that environment, what if you could make time to walk to a new part of the city or town on your lunch break? Take a different route to work? I remember feeling much happier when I started riding the bus to work, happier still when I cycled.
It might be as simple as cleaning your desk, removing the old stimuli and replacing it with something new and novel.
If you are working for yourself, then it’s even easier to shake it up. Work from a new coffee shop. Switch up your morning routine.
And something we can all dabble with: learn something new. I create new content each week, which isn’t just for your benefit – it’s for mine. As soon as I start feeling bored with a topic, I make damn sure to switch it up.
How to know if you’re burned out
Are you exhausted all the time?
Do you feel more anxious than you used to?
Do you feel overwhelmed and indecisive?
Are you struggling to focus?
Are you having headaches?
Are you having difficulty sleeping or staying asleep?
Are you getting angry about small stuff that used to not bother you?
Do you feel totally frustrated, stuck, or uncreative?
What to do if you’re already experiencing burnout
1) Admit it
Oh my goodness isn’t this always the first step to anything?
I still can’t believe how long it took me to realise that the way I felt every day was NOT OK!
To just accept that your life is miserable is not OK. Unless in accepting that you become less miserable.
Sure, maybe life is suffering, but could it be possible we could suffer a bit LESS?
Admit that the way you feel is not OK and from there, see if you’re up for changing that. You can’t change what you don’t admit to knowing.
2) Determine the stressors
This is where some detective work comes in. Stressors could be your lifestyle: so how much exercise you get, whether you’re over-doing it or under-doing it, what you’re eating, drinking, when you’re going to bed (or at least attempting to), who you’re spending time with, and so on. Then there’s your environment, which we touched on. Where do you spend most of your day? If you’re miserable there, what’s bugging you? What do you think you’d prefer?
You don’t have to know all the answers, but it is worth listing out all possible stressors, and seeing where you get. Of course some things, you simply can’t change. You have no control over some life events, and they just suck. That’s it.
But what can you change? There’s always something, even if it seems insignificant. In fact, just proving to myself what I could change gave me a greater sense of autonomy even before the bigger life circumstances could change. That really helps, and not in insignificant ways.
Brainstorm possible stressors, cross out the ones you literally cannot change, and think of ways to change the others. That’s my version of the serenity prayer.
3) Work out the absolute minimum you need to get by
This step mostly applies to monetary matters, because this is largely based on my experience – but it can apply elsewhere too.
Before quitting my job, I had to work out the minimum I would need financially to live on. I was lucky enough to have options like: moving back home with my parents IF I couldn’t make rent, but on the whole I was strongly averse to that option and had enough incentive to make sure that wasn’t the case. (Even though, I have stayed with them a couple of times since them for months at a time, and it really wasn’t bad at all, so don’t poo-poo that option IF you have it.)
I did work out the minimum I needed to make rent, pay bills, buy food etc. And that was massively comforting because it meant I knew how long I could support myself even if I couldn’t get freelance clients or sell my pet portraits. Having this knowledge instantly took some of the stress off me, and freed my mind up to focus on more productive things.
Worrying is really taxing on the brain. I don’t recommend it! Another tool that might help is keeping a worry journal. I also recommend gratitude journals, writing down what you’re grateful for, but sometimes it takes a while to even get to a place where you can feel grateful for anything. been there too.
Writing your worries down, last thing at night (or during the night if you wake up) is so, so helpful for me and I highly recommend it. You don’t need to even try to solve them: just write them all down, get ’em out and shut the book. Then see how you sleep.
If you have other stressors, like taking care of kids, keeping a household running and still trying to work out – again, I recommend having a think about the minimum you need to get by. This doesn’t mean I’m suggesting neglecting your kids or whatever, but it can be a useful thought experiment to remember: the world won’t end because you sleep in or have to get a babysitter. Many of us introverts are especially hard on ourselves, and pile an awful lot onto our plates.
Of course it’s honourable and good to take responsibility, but we can only carry a burden for so long. Just have a play with what the minimum you need to get by is.
4) Ask for HELP!
This is the big one! Don’t end on the last step – I strongly recommend following up that last thought experiment very quickly with this one: ask for help.
If you can identify some ways others can support you whether it’s sending an email out to some old colleagues or friends and asking if they know anyone who needs the service you offer, or has a job opening, do it. Send that email, and leave your ego at the door.
Same with household matters. Is there someone in your life who can give you more support? Time to fess up and tell them what you’re going through, and how they can help, if they want to. Don’t just assume people are shit because they’re not giving you the help you need. We all have our own issues, and most of us just don’t realise how we can help someone else. If they say no, then you can be mad. But you can’t be mad unless you ask!
I’d also strongly recommend reaching out to others in your industry. I created the League of Creative Introverts for this very reason. Introverts get lonely too, and I didn’t bring this up yet but loneliness is a big factor in burnout. When you feel the weight of the world is on your shoulders and no one else is around you either to help or just to walk this miserable path with you – life is understandably tough.
But, just knowing you’ve got someone – maybe even an entire community – of folk who have been there, done that or even going through it too – well, that’s when things can shift, believe me.
How to avoid burnout
For those of you who haven’t experience the depths of burnout, or maybe like me, you’re past the worst of it but for the love of god do NOT want to experience it again, here are some tips that I’m following and hopefully they can help you avoid burnout too:
1) Make sure you’re connecting with others
Yes, dear introvert: even if you think you’re perfectly content on your lonesome, I strongly recommend making time for true connection with other people. It might be one person, your partner, your mum, dad, sister, best bud.
Or maybe it’s someone not that close to you: a friend at a creative meetup group or someone you met online in a forum, on Twitter or Instagram.
I recommend the face-to-face option, but take what you can get. Just talking about things that light you up with someone else, even if you’re struggling to make things happen in the way you want or have other challenges in life: that in itself can be hugely beneficial to our mood and relieve stress.
2) Practice saying ‘No’
For many of us, the road to burnout begins with saying yes to too many things. Hence, why we need to practice saying NO! If you’re the person who people just assume will say yes to every thing – it can be hard at first. Breaking people’s expectations is genuinely difficult, and no one wants to be a disappointment.
But the sooner you start shaking up their opinion of you the better. Over time, they’ll stop assuming you’ll do everything they say, and that you have boundaries around your time. This applies to loved ones, friends, family, employers, employees and everything in between.
Knowing why you’re doing something can be enough motivation to either power through a burnout but it can also help you realise whats worth your energy, and what AIN’T. I realised I was spending 80% of my day doing something I didn’t give a monkeys about, so it was a no brainer to switch that up.
But it’s not like it’s been smooth sailing since. There have been dozens of times over the past 7 years I’ve had to reassess what the heck it is I want to do, switch gear and often it means stopping doing what doesn’t bring me joy or meaning. And at times, it’s been tough. It can rattle you to think: shit – have I been wasting my time with this? It’s like realising you’ve fallen out of love with someone, it isn’t exactly an easy thing to come to terms with.
But once you have, you can start putting together a plan that is meaningful and which actually energises you.
4) Make a plan
Which brings me to: planning. Oh how I love a plan. But I know you don’t all love the planning stage. Fair enough, it’s not for everyone to love. But it is for everyone to have: I do believe everyone needs a plan, even if it a very very vague one.
The best plan is a simple one: it’s one that can tell you the answer to this ONE question:
“What do I do next?”
That’s it. If your plan can tell you that answer, you’re golden. I recommend attempting to answer that question every day, ideally first thing in the morning. When you have your answer (which is ideally in line with your True North) then I suggest doing nothing but that thing, until it’s done.
It doesn’t mean you don’t do anything else. Pay the bills, shower, walk the dog etc. But when you sit down to get that thing done: that’s all you’re doing. This is how I recommend anyone who wants to quit their job and start a creative business to begin. Baby steps, taken every day. Deliberate steps: steps that you know will move the needle.
If you need help in figuring that out, The Creative Introvert Academy (which is freely available to members of the League of Creative Introverts) has a Masterclass to help with that. I also ask the Leaguers every Monday what their goal is for the week for this very reason. If they only achieve this one thing this week, what would that be? I know it helps with keeping me accountable too.
5) Stay in your own lane
So let’s say you’ve got your mojo going, you’ve got a plan, you’re getting it done… and then you go for a scroll on Instagram.
BAM. That’s you falling from your happy introvert zone, and landing with a thud in the land of… Comparisonitis. Ugh.
Comparing ourselves to someone else’s highlight reel, is of course, bad news. It doesn’t feel good to see someone who is clearly kind of like us but evidently doing so much better than us.
Of course the reality is usually that they’re living a life that has it’s own problems, and they’re much more similar to us in many ways. If you lived a day in their shoes, theirs a good chance you’d be gagging to get back to your own shoes by 5pm.
Feeling like I was once step behind all of these other creatives online only served to fuel my lack of self-belief, and made it harder to get shit done. It distracted me from my true beliefs, desires, needs and personality. Since spending less time consuming media, and more time creating, I’m measurably happier.
This doesn’t mean you don’t use social media: I still post, I reply to direct messages, I just don’t spend too long scrolling through or watching stories – unless I’m in a kind of bulletproof mood. Until you feel resilient enough to do that (and trust me I don’t all the time) then take a break from looking over your virtual neighbour’s fence.
6) Eat, Sleep, Move
There have been times, particularly when money is tight,..
Paula Mould is an author, artist, teacher and entrepreneur who’s life’s goal is to help creatives connect with themselves, their craft and earn a good living from their work. Her first book, Wake The F*ck Up!, was designed to light the creative fire in women who hit their early 40s, look around at their lives and wonder if this is all there is.
Paula has teamed up with UK artist and writer Leigh Shenton to found The Creative Visionary. Together they are teaching and inspiring hundreds of creatives, artists, writers and more, from around the world to live high energy, rewarding lives.
In this episode of the Creative Introvert podcast we have fellow Cat, fellow ginger and fellow INTJ: Cat Paterson. Business strategist extraordinaire, Cat has a super interesting background, which includes heading up intelligence analysis for a covert agency… and it makes total sense as to why she’s a personality profiling geek, like me.
Apologies for the airplane sound effects – that was 100% my fault, it’s just one of the side effects of recording this podcast while I’m travelling…
What we discussed:
How different types of introvert deal with conflict
How Cat turned a health condition into an opportunity
How to lay down boundaries and stick with them
How Cat started her online business with no pre-existing client base
The value of collaboration and referrals in the online business space
Why Pinterest is the most introvert-friendly platform