I came across this podcast, ‘Make Art Not Content‘ a couple weeks back, and it’s pretty great. The channel sports these short but dynamic and pithy clips that are hard hitting, provocative and fun. There was an episode that stuck with me so much, I knew I was going to eventually going to write about it. It was titled The 6 Modes of Creative Thinking.
As humans, and especially as creatives, the level of our creative output is tied to the level and quality of thought and insight that we have. The movies, music, art, and products that we revere the most are the ones that are inspired, that resonate, delight and surprise, that provoke. You can only access this level and quality of output or creation yourself if you are operating on the higher spectrum of creative thought.
In it, Father Bronques (I assume that is his name) talks about the 6 levels of creative thought, and I think they form a useful framework to determine and consider the level of creativity and focus we are operating at.
The first level is….
If you can even call it thinking. It is more akin to being dragged away by the runaway train that is your mind. In this stage, there is so much brain power being used but it is destructive, working against you.
I know this level of thinking very much, I know that my mind is prone to anxiety, prone to creating the worst case scenarios. It take conscious effort to reject and redirect my thoughts to more creative and optimistic places.
With the turmoil and chaos that overthinking brings, it is clear that no great art is ever made in this mode. You are just stuck jumping from thought to thought without doing anything real. This is negative imagination.
But you don’t have to be stuck here. You have to do the work though to get out. To find your oasis, a port in the storm. To quieten the mind. To put things in perspective. To do the practice. To take care of yourself. To heal. To move forward.
So you can pull past the negative, into neutral, into the second level of creative thought…
This is good old regular thinking. Nothing magical, totally basic. This is the status quo. This is the stuff we take for granted. These are the hum drum, clocking-in and clocking-out routine thoughts.
At least on this level, the thoughts are neutral, they are not harming you. They are keeping you mired in mediocrity sure. But at least you are not tortured.
Most people have the same thoughts everyday. Everything is a routine. One long rerun. A rut. But we are cool with them because we are invested in them, we are used to them. You know you are here if all you are doing is mimicking other people. There is very little if any original thought.
You might make stuff, but you will not create anything remarkable or interesting at this stage. You have to graduate to level 3 if you want to start making waves.
The third level of creative thought is you actually applying yourself. Your thoughts are focused on something definite, at least until something else comes along. It is all fine and well to be attentively focused, but you are not yet fully committed.
This is probably the level most people push at work. You are focused enough to get the job done. but your efforts get punctuated by social media, distraction, or a new shiny toy.
You will have some success, some results. But it would just be okay. If you want more, if you want any hope of breaking through to the next level, you need to get even more immersed. You must ascend to level 4…
At this level of creative thought, you are so laser focused that you can’t be distracted by anything else. You are completely invested. You are transfixed to one point. In this mode, things get done.
This is the flow state. You have bought into what you are doing, and it has started to possess you. This is where you push so hard and so long, you forget to eat. You turn down invitations to other activities. You shut Netflix off and put your phone on airplane mode. You are here, pushing until the work gets done, whatever it takes
This is where you begin to really get successful. You stay in this mode consistenty enough and the results start to stack up. You excel.
But to crack the ceiling, to break through to the space where the elite operate. You have to go even further, you have to go deeper into level 5…
On this level, the entire world around you serves as fodder, as material.
You are possessed by your craft. You live, eat, dream and breathe it. You see it everywhere and in everything. All the pieces around you serve to nurture and deepen the work. You never shut off. Even when you are not working, your mind is still racing, still solving problems.
You watch a movie, but beyond the plot and entertainment value, you are breaking it down, analysing it, taking lessons and ideas to apply to your own thing. You go into a store and beyond getting a new pair of shoes you are mentally undressing the establishment, assessing their customer service, modes of operations, pricing strategies.
This isn’t a level for everyone. This is for the champions, for the crazy ones.. This is where you make real tradeoffs to get what you want. The truly excellent, true genius is only created and touched in this space.
Stay in this long enough and you will transcend into the final stage…
Here, there is no more thinking, just pure being. This is the deepest level of immersion and connection. In this state, you become one with the medium, with the instrument. You connect and create at the speed of impulse. Here, you simply let it flow. Here, you are living with grace.
This is where you are so within, like Neo, you see the code in the matrix. This is where truly genius insight resides. This is where life altering breakthroughs happen.
And there you have it, the 6 levels of creative thought. I think you can chunk them up to 3 stages with two levels each. The first two – overthinking and layman’s thinking are the lower, unenlightened level. The next two – attentive and concentrated thinking is the stage of trials. You have to put in the work and build your focus and commitment to the craft. And finally the last two – the stage of enlightenment. This is where you truly start to excel and win.
With this, we can begin to check in with ourselves from time to time, to ask what level we are operating on, and how effective we are being in our various creative pursuits. Pushing ourselves to higher levels of creative thought, to higher levels of output.