Navigating the Peaks and Valleys of the Creative Process

Accepting the Emotional Roller Coaster

In the past month that I’ve been working on my book, which is launching today on Amazon, during the creative process I experienced many highs and lows, and I learned many lessons. But today I want to talk about controlling emotions.

This is perhaps the most important lesson I learned while writing this book because sanity is tied to our emotions. It’s as though emotions and sanity are running a three-legged race together. It’s our job to make sure we’re not dragged in the wrong direction.

Below I’ll discuss the 4 themes that will help you control the very thing that makes you you. Depending where I am in the creative process I’m either laughing or crying.

People often think the creative process looks like this:

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This though is not a process, this is a single, beautiful, moment on the journey that the creative process will take you down.
This, is what the creative process looks like. (Credit to Derek Halpern, socialtriggers.com)

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I haven’t yet met anyone who’s conquered this process. Every day Stephen King wakes up and faces a blank screen just as everyone else does.

The lows do not go away and neither do the highs. We cannot move the mountains, we just learn to traverse them better. These peaks and valleys happen over long periods of time as well as within an hour. They have their own macro and micro cycles.

As we go through these cycles it’s easy to fall back to wondering why we feel these intense emotions. “Why me?” we think, “No one is going to like my product. Why should I even keep going?”

Remember that these feelings are normal. It is hard to do in the moment but below are some tactics that will combat this situation and allow you to turn your mood around. All of these I learned first hand, and I learned the theory behind the emotional roller coaster through reading.

But to fully understand one must go through it and apply the practices.

Remember, in this situation we’re like mountain climbers. We start our journey, ascend the first mountain, embrace the feeling at the top, look at the next peak and perhaps get a little depressed, then we begin our descent.

The goal is to control the descent.

I always felt fantastic after finishing a chapter. Dopamine flooded over my brain and I felt proud that I had knocked out yet another chapter on my journey to a final product.

Then I would look at my outline and see the unwritten chapters and fall back to earth, remembering to put one foot in front of the other on my way to the next peak.

Rather than stumbling down the mountain uncontrollably and letting the fall keep us there we want to control our descent before moving to the next peak.

The first step is knowing this process exists.

By knowing we can anticipate the descents and accept the cyclical motion of the work. It may not feel good in the moment, but we know this is the nature of the work, and that the tides will change.

Throughout the writing of my book I made sure not to beat myself up if I didn’t hit a self-imposed deadline.

In the past I’ve had a bad habit of applying negative self talk if I didn’t complete something exactly as envisioned. Remember that you are your own ally during this process. I was doing myself no favors with this negative self-talk — but I thought it helped. By becoming our own ally we are more powerful than we could ever be while hosting a known enemy in our mind.

Once I hit my deadline 5 hours late — which sounds inconsequential to some of you — but to me it was a tangible failure. I had missed my deadline.

My goal was March 15th at 12am, but when midnight struck I still had a ways to go. I decided to finish during this session, staying up for another 5 hours to finishing the first draft.

I’d planned a reward for myself if I hit my deadline. A harsh Luke would have said “No, you didn’t make the deadline so no rewards.” I was tempted by that thought but remembered a wise friend who advised me to be easy on myself.

I finished my book and was happy to have completed it. I took Tuesday off, spent the day with my brothers and got lunch with a friend.

It felt great.

The second step is to put habits in place to control our day.

Implement a morning routine (Check out Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning) and set up timed breaks in your day where you go for walks. It’s really important to have structure and control during these times.

Without control and structure it can be easy to drift from task to task or distraction to distraction only to realize at the end of the day that we didn’t accomplish what we wanted to, which doesn’t help us navigate those valleys.

Here is what my schedule looked like during my creation process:

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Daily walks were integral to my productivity. I now do this regularly – take walks because how well they work for me.

The third step is to feel what you are feeling.

As Mark Epstein says in The Trauma of Everyday Life, “When we stop distancing ourselves from the pain in the world, our own or others, we create the possibility of a new experience, one that often surprises because of how much joy, connection, or relief it yields. Destruction may continue, but humanity shines through.”

Learning to embrace emotions is daunting. Most of us, men specifically, are taught to hide our emotions. Therefore many of us try to keep the emotions at bay for as long as possible until they eventually seep through the cracks.

Stop resisting.

This has been a lengthy process for me and it doesn’t happen overnight. I started by talking to a confidante to whom I could express my deep-seated fears and traumas. I urge you to do the same. For me I started with my mom and it has slowly progressed now to a couple of individuals whom I share more private feelings with.

I can clearly remember one night sitting with my mother a couple of years back looking out the window at a thunderstorm, crying.

I told her how I was scared of burning out in business. I was too wrapped up in everything around me to come to a proper conclusion — but the conclusion didn’t matter.

What mattered was that I was finally expressing these feelings. This cleared up some of the fog enveloping my brain. This eventually allowed me to come to my own conclusion on how to solve my burnout problem — learn to respect the ebb and flow.

This was one of the first times I can recall sharing something innately a part of me as a young adult and it’s been a beautiful journey ever since.

During your creative process ask a friend or a family member if you can call them occasionally just to vent. Express to them what you are going through and that it would be valuable and meaningful to talk openly.

Damming the emotions is unhealthy.

Remember that nature always wins. We build walls but nature laughs and knocks them down like Hurricane Sandy did to New York City. Just when we think we are comfortable in our nice NYC loft apartment nature rolls through and reminds us that clean water is not a guarantee.

The same applies to the dams we build. After a while the water will find a crack, break the infrastructure, and knock down our dam causing a giant mess in the process.

This doesn’t have to happen.

Are you in the middle of the creative process and feel like the work is beating you up? Thrash in your bed and scream into your pillow. Be 4 years old again when there was no judgement. No one has to know. And when you do tell people that you cried because you were feeling beaten you may be surprised to see their reactions. Typically people like when others lead first, they will most likely respect you for sharing.

Once you have navigated and felt the feelings that you should be feeling you may feel brighter. Every time I finish sobbing I emerge feeling refreshed. Embrace that feeling too and use it to ascend your next mountain.

The fourth step of this process is a way to pull yourself out of a hole by utilizing a breathing technique.

One day while writing the first draft I had a really hard time bringing myself to do anything. I was in one of the valleys and it was rather paralyzing. I started freaking out about everything. “What if no one cares about my book?” “I have so much to do and I can’t bring myself to do anything.” 

I started having an anxiety attack.

Thankfully I had the wherewithal to step outside and drop everything I was doing to just breathe and meditate. It completely turned me around and felt magical to have that type of control over my anatomy, it was empowering.

The breathing technique I used is called the Wim Hof method. To listen to instruction straight from Wim Hof go here.

After charging your body with oxygen you will not need to breathe immediately, you may be able to hold your breath longer than 2 minutes.

When your anatomy is reminding you that you need fresh oxygen take a big inhale and hold for 10 seconds and then let go.

The excess oxygen stimulates the brain stem including our pineal gland and our amygdala which control hormones that regulate our body.

The list of hormones and functions include but are not limited to:

1) Regulatory sex hormones

2) Melatonin production

3) Seratonin production

4) Adrenaline production

I repeated this technique 3 times and sat in the sun for about 30 minutes focusing on my breath.

It was like someone changed my inner circuitry. I was happy, smiling, and chatty. I had effectively pulled myself out of a bad hole just by focusing on my breath. 

Learning to navigate the mountains is fundamental but it is also important to have control over ourselves in times of chaos.

The first 3 steps focus on the long term and the process of controlling our emotions throughout the peaks and valleys of the creative process. But this 4th step can pull you out of a hole on demand. If you are really feeling down I highly recommend putting this into practice.

As a rule, emotions don’t go away. They are here for the long run and it’s important to learn to embrace that and understand how to control them.

To quote the Dalai Lama, “…it will become obvious that most disturbances are stimulated not by external causes but by such internal events as the arising of disturbing emotions. The best antidote to these sources of disruption will come about through enhancing our ability to handle these emotions ourselves.”

The mountains are here. The peaks are yours to ascend and the valleys are yours to cross. If we learn to do it in a controlled manner it can be a beautiful thing.

Read More By Luke Harris-Gallahue on the ManTalks Blog:

Why I Invite Micro-Dose Suffering Into My Life

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Luke Harris-Gallahue dropped out of college at 19 and traveled the country for 3 months doing research on secondary education.
 
During that time he interviewed over 100 people including professors from Harvard, MIT, Yale, CEO’s of 7 figure businesses and students across the nation.

Luke was the 7th employee at Hurdlr.com where he now does Marketing.

You can usually find him doing Jiu Jitsu or Crossfit, listening to Hip-Hop or Taylor Swift, and growing a company.

Connect with Luke on Facebook or LinkedIn

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