Take the Brakes Off

‘Cheeky Cherry’

Last year I bought a bicycle. In Berlin this is a rite of passage. It changes your whole experience of the city. I bought the bike off a friend, it’s not a fancy bike but she’s comfortable, red and white. I have affectionately named her ‘Cheeky Cherry’.

Up until then, it had been a long time since I rode a bike.

Shortly after my bike purchase, a friend invited myself and Cheeky Cherry to attend ‘Critical Mass’. It’s an event where hundreds of bikes take to the streets of Berlin and other cities as a form of advocacy. The bikes move in a large mass to completely take over the streets for an evening, taking up hundreds of meters of road at a time.

One thing I noticed was how everyone had their own cycling speed that they were comfortable with. At one point we had the pleasure to ride through a tunnel with a bit of a downhill run (Berlin is very flat). The confident cyclists zipped past me hooting and yipping out loud, enjoying the amplified sounds in the tunnel, others simply let gravity take their bike down the hill.

I, however, had my brakes firmly on. It was ‘better to be safe than sorry,’ I’d always been taught. Yet a small, child-like part of me was disappointed. How great would it have been to take the brakes off and let myself roll with the wind in my face? It would have been exhilarating. But no, that’s not for me. Not possible. I’m not good enough at this. I miss out.

In fact, I had my brakes so firmly on that I felt the bike start to lose balance. My own caution was the thing that might cause me to crash the bike. A certain amount of speed is required to keep a bike balanced. A bike standing still falls over.

Fortunately, I was able to adjust my speed and no crash occurred but this made me think about how often we put unnecessary brakes on in our lives and how these unnecessary brakes may be the very things that are causing us to struggle.

The thoughts and beliefs we have about ourselves and what’s possible for us can create very effective brakes, often unknowingly.

If you are working towards a goal and it’s just not happening then it’s quite likely that you’ve got the brakes on somewhere. You’re holding yourself back and quite likely your ‘bike’ is wobbling a little bit. You may feel discontent, frustrated, self-criticism is kicking in. If nothing is working despite your efforts – you may have even left your metaphorical hand-brake on.

What fun and exhilaration could be waiting for you just around the corner if you risked taking the brakes off, going a little faster, being a little bolder?

Let this year be the year that you take the brakes off and give yourself what you need in order to live your dream creative life.


Ps. I’ll be sending out the sequel to this post firstly to the special people on my mailing list. I’ll share more about the ways we keep the brakes on without realising it and how to get rid of things that are creating drag in your life. If you want to be one of the first to read it, sign up below.

Book Recommendation: Mastering Creative Anxiety by Eric Maisel

There are several books that I recommend over and over again to my coaching clients. Mastering Creative Anxiety by Eric Maisel would have to be one of my top three most recommended books for artists.

This book serves up 24 helpful lessons on dealing with creative anxiety. I like to describe it as your personal menu for getting unstuck. Indeed, Maisel includes an ‘anxiety mastery menu’ throughout.

In this post, I also want to bring attention to how we have fears that are often hidden.

If you’re doing any of the following things, it’s quite likely you have some hidden fears or anxieties that are interfering with you doing your best work.

Symptoms include:

  • Procrastination
  • Avoiding the things you know you should be doing such as marketing or sitting down to do your creative work
  • Indecision
  • Not finishing projects (they suddenly don’t seem so important or ‘everything else’ gets in the way)
  • Saying ‘yes’ to other people’s agendas often at the expense of your own creative work
  • Diminishing the value of your creative work as ‘not so important’ or ‘not mattering’
  • Criticising yourself or your work (self-criticism is often a form of self-protection)

Maisel’s book is one of the best sourcebooks to have at hand for the day-to-day battle of facing your fears, taking risks and continuing to step out of your comfort zone as you create your work.

This book helps you get back on track fast. If you find yourself feeling stuck you can simply open up to the neatly organised contents page and choose the chapter that most closely fits with the challenge you’re currently facing.

Each chapter has an introduction to a particular fear, a ‘to-do’ checklist with practical steps on how to overcome the fear, a teaching tale, a useful anxiety management tool and a motto, affirmation or vow to help you commit to moving past the fear that is blocking you.

Example topics include:

  • The Anxiety of Choosing
  • The Anxiety of Identity
  • The Anxiety of Day Jobs
  • The Anxiety of Promoting
  • The Anxiety of Ruining
  • The Anxiety of Failing
  • The Anxiety of Procrastinating
  • The Anxiety of Success

One of my favourite anxiety management techniques that he recommends is ‘Improved Appraising’ from the chapter on choosing the creative life. Here Eric Maisel guides you through how to better assess how dangerous the creative risks you are taking actually are:

“You examine situations, you analyze them, and you decide if your initial feelings of anxiety are really warranted. Nine times out of ten you will see that they are not, that they are about as threatening as having to decide whether to serve cookies or finger sandwiches.”

He follows this up with the helpful ‘To Do’:

“Change your mind about the threat level of things. If you are used to warning bells going off all the time, change their setting and rig them to go off only when the threat is real and significant.” (p. 58).

Consider this book as part of your creative life daily support team.

Find it on Amazon here (affiliate link):

Mastering Creative Anxiety: 24 Lessons for Writers, Painters, Musicians, and Actors from America’s Foremost Creativity Coach


Creative Life Design: 10 key areas to consider

It can be helpful to think of our lives as artworks. Life then becomes less about perfection or striving towards an ‘ideal’ and more about accepting, engaging with what’s present and being curious about what is possible. We are co-creating our individual lives with life itself. We can find the poetry and beauty in all moments when we take the approach of life as artwork.

Here is a list of ten key areas with some ideas for consideration when you are designing your artful, creative life.

You may like to use this list as a way to think about what areas of your life you might like to cultivate more artfully.

1.  A Creative Mind 

The foundation of a great creative life starts with the wellbeing of the individual and the first condition is to cultivate a healthy mind/body in which creativity can be fostered, encouraged and harnessed.

  1. Cultivate a mind free from the suffering that anxiety, self-doubt, inner conflict and other fears or negative emotional states cause. This is an ongoing journey and ‘free from suffering’ is an aspirational direction that helps us develop equanimity and resilience.
  2. Develop the ability to focus, develop decision making skills, the ability to be calm, reflective and energised by ideas.
  3. Foster imagination, resourcefulness, curiosity and inspired inner states of being so you can flourish and live life fully alive
  4. Cultivate an artistic sensibility: increase your appreciation of beauty, enhance your senses, open up a sense of wonder, develop an awareness of the sublime, perceive the poetic nature of life, engage in humour and absurdity.
  5. Develop the ability to access creative/alternative states of consciousness at will.
  6. If you regularly experience painful thoughts or memories, low moods or anxiety, seek therapy. It could be one of the best things you do for yourself.
  7. Start to see possibilities all around you: see how things can be done rather than how things can’t be done.
  8. For the already hyper-creative mind: harness your creativity by cultivating healthy discipline and conscientiousness so you can finish the things that you start.

2.   A Creative Heart 

  1. Connect to the power and wisdom of the heart, the internal compass pointing you towards your highest good.
  2. Connect to internal personal values and orient your life around those values.
  3. Free yourself from inherited values where they no longer serve you.
  4. Cultivate bravery, vulnerability, empathy and compassion for self and others.
  5. Heal the creative wounds from your past.
  6. Cultivate strength: the ability to be steadfast, strong and dignified in the face of challenges.
  7. Explore questions of meaning, existence and develop a personal spiritual* practice or non-practice.

*This may include reclaiming words that have been polluted by industries and dogmatic belief systems or finding other words to encapsulate your personal existential stance.

3. A Creative Body

  1. Draw on the wisdom of the body. It has a lot to tell you.
  2. Live sensuously, it is essential for deepening your creative work, is helpful for healing and for living a fully engaged life.
  3. Look after your body through making informed choices for food, exercise, rest. Consider the body as a soft living animal to be cared for and loved.
  4. Have fun with and enjoy your body rather than try to shape it to an ‘ideal’ because you feel like you ‘should’ look a certain way.
  5. Learn to work with and bring love to the limitations of the body, particularly as it ages or where chronic illness is present.
  6. Understand your biology, brain, hormones and energy and how they effect everything you do.
  7. Explore the link between creativity and sexual energy, it’s something to pay attention to and play with.

4. Creative Process

The making of the art. Your art. In whatever form that may be.

  1. Find your flow, your own way of acting and being in the world that fits your personal rhythms so that you can be prolific, effective and maintain a sense of wellbeing, accomplishment and calm.
  2. Make self-expression a part of everyday life.
  3. Factor in your body, your vitality, cycles, emotions and energy.
  4. Make time for skills development, the ‘how’ of making your art (whatever ‘art’ means to you)
  5. Developing your creative process may require shifting from the default mode (how I’ve always done it or how I’ve always been told to do it) to something that serves you better. It may mean shifting to a more enlivened and vivacious way of creating (if you struggle to start) OR a more structured way of doing it (if you struggle to finish).

5. Creative Relationships

Connections with others are at the core of living a creative life. Creative and skilful communication leads to creative, open-hearted relationships.

  1. Decide on the kinds of relationships you would like in your life: romantic partnership/s, friendships, relationships with family and children, inspiring work colleagues, partners and collaborators.
  2. Foster skilful and art-full ways of communicating with others that lead to the co-creation of dynamic, heart-centred relationships with healthy boundaries.
  3. Learn the communication skills that increase understanding between individuals, family members and groups.
  4. Learn skills on how to generate innovative ideas and problem solve in group settings. Groups of humans creating together can have powerful results.
  5. Develop the use of metaphor, poetry, gesture and art-making as a way to communicate more deeply and effectively.

6. Creative Work

  1. Cultivate your Right Livelihood – find or create the work that is congruent with your values, strengths and heart’s calling.
  2. That said, don’t feel obligated to buy into the current trend that markets the idea that  “quitting your day job and starting your own business” is the pinnacle of success that everyone should aspire to. It’s not the only path. A day job can provide a lot of freedom.
  3. If you want to be self-employed, or want to sell your art/services on the side, get help in developing an economically sustainable business model and learn the business strategies that will enable you to create your best work and get paid for it. I offer a business coaching program just for this.
  4. Explore the psychology of money and break the cycle of financial stress that many people often get trapped in.
  5. Learn new money mindsets and money boundaries that help you have a healthy relationship with money.

7. Creative Community 

  1. Engage in and foster community. This can be both locally and globally, in-person and online.
  2. Consider what it means to be a good citizen, take sensible steps towards living a responsible and ethical life (if you don’t feel satisfied with where you are already). Perhaps join pre-existing communities that will help you do this.
  3. Overcome the fears that prevent people participating in community: eg. fear of making mistakes in public, fear of rejection, fear that what you have to offer won’t be valued, fear of overwhelm, fear of not knowing what to say, fear that you will be disliked or that you will dislike others, apathy.
  4. Say ‘hi’ to your neighbours.

8. Creative Change 

We are global citizens and, if you are reading this, you are privileged enough to have the power to affect change. What would you like to contribute?

  1. Use the skills of creativity to expand possibilities for individuals, communities and the environment.
  2. Creativity can be used as a tool for social action.
  3. Use art for making change.
  4. Cultivate your strengths, advocacy skills and knowledge so that you can act as a force for positive change.
  5. Consider social practice as an art medium you might like to try.
  6. Practice secret acts of kindness.

9. Creative Play 

  1. Spend time in purposeless creation and enjoy life in the present moment.
  2. Cultivate the ability to let go, play and just have fun!
  3. Regularly make time to step into ‘timeless time’.
  4. Spend time in nature, appreciate the earth, stare into space.
  5. Make art for art’s sake, for the joy of it.
  6. Dance, now. Even if it’s just your eyebrows. I dare you.
  7. Be naughty sometimes.
  8. Have a giggle.

10. Creative Living 

Putting it all together. Ultimately, in living the great creative life, we are exploring the ways we can live meaningful, connected, engaged and fulfilling lives while maintaining our personal wellbeing and zest for life.

  1. Find the balance between simplicity and complexity. How can you dance between these different life domains?
  2. Start simply, but do start. If you start simply everyday soon your life will be something more wonderful than you ever imagined.
  3. Pick one domain you would like to develop further and set yourself three tasks in order to develop it. Repeat this process.
  4. If your life is an artwork that you are collaborating in creating, how would you like to shape it?

The goal of The Great Creative life is: Life lived fully alive.

Your opinions on these life domains are valuable to me and others reading this, I would be glad to let this evolve through your feedback.

What ideas would you add or subtract to any of these domains?

Would you add any other domains?

Please comment below.