We often think of creativity as something that’s fixed—you either have it or you don’t, and that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. With that received wisdom making the rounds, it’s no wonder if you feel helpless and a bit lost when you fall into a creativity rut. You may even tell start telling yourself that you’re just not that creative. But if you’re seeking inspiration to produce new, engaging content for your audience, you first need to achieve self-actualization by taking a careful look at your media consumption. Examine your own personal content ecosystem, and re-engage your creativity by making a few intentional adjustments. I know this works because I recently did it myself.
If inspiration feels hard to come by these days, there are good reasons for that. Information overload, distressing current events, and a huge to-do list can overwhelm even the most imaginative free thinkers among us. But creativity, in a sense, is just a state of mind. In order to allow it free rein, you must first take an objective look at your mindset. Have you perhaps settled into a fixed way of thinking that permits only a limited range of possibility, as opposed to an expansive growth mindset that enables a universe of potential? If so, your media consumption likely plays a role in that.
As ART + marketing points out, “What you think is a function of the ideas you consume.” Just like the old adage goes, you are what you eat, and the same is true of the content you choose to ingest on a daily basis. As any marketer knows, not all content is equally nutritious or beneficial to your well-being. If you want to create content that truly inspires your audience and forges a meaningful relationship with them, you need to first look at the content you are consuming and how it engages or blocks your most unique and irreplaceable resource: your creativity.
If you’re an American of a certain age, you probably remember the USDA Food Guide Pyramid that was supposed to help us make better choices about the food we eat. With this example in mind, Faris Yakob of the creative agency Genius/Steals developed a similar chart called the Media Pyramid that aims to help us make informed decisions about healthy media consumption. You can use the Media Pyramid to determine whether the media you regularly consume has a sufficiently positive influence on your creativity.
Image attribution: Genius/Steals
For example, the media marked in red at the top of the pyramid is considered actively harmful because it distorts our understanding of the world and polarizes our discourse. It also tends to instill intense emotions in us, inducing a permanent sense of panic that can lead to anxiety and depression—not exactly ideal for cultivating creativity.
Inching down towards the blue level of the pyramid, media that we specifically choose or actively engage in (rather than scrolling through in a daze or passively consuming without much active thought, like digital Pringles) can support our creativity. Likewise, active content creation and interpersonal communication—even on social platforms—can elevate our mood. Creating our own art is more beneficial still, which is likely why user-generated content is so impactful today.
When I decided to re-evaluate my media diet, I had just come back to work from summer vacation. I’d taken a week off from social media and news consumption during the break, and I’d noticed that my outlook on my world and the possibilities within it immediately brightened. I felt much more positive about my agency and thus, confident in what I could achieve. So, the thinking went, I might benefit from making some long-term changes to the way I consume and engage with content.
In my case, I wanted to adjust two major sources of content input: social media and podcasts. Like The Media Pyramid says, heavy consumption of news on social media channels like Twitter can darken your outlook. Rather than plugging directly into the crisis stream, I now use Twitter to share my writing, keep in touch with friends and colleagues, and join the conversation around sporting events I care about, like Red Sox baseball games. Just as the pyramid predicted, I find that I am uplifted in nearly all of those cases (that is, unless the Red Sox are losing).
As a longtime Twitter user, I remember a time when it wasn’t so depressing to hang out there. In fact, it’s where I once made meaningful friendships and enjoyed intellectually engaging conversations that broadened my thinking. With that in mind, I’m seeking out alternative social spaces like Mastodon, where creatives and technology pros meet to form a healthy, more inspiring community. I’ve already had some lovely, thought-provoking exchanges there. I’ve found similarly positive and affirming exchanges on a Facebook group for content marketing writers.
Image attribution: William Recinos
Lastly, I reviewed my roster of podcasts and found that it was too lopsided in favor of news and current events. I removed a few of the news podcasts and replaced them with shows that focus on topics like happiness and gratitude: Happier with Gretchen Rubin and The Gratitude Podcast with Georgian Benta among them. Since opera and French culture are sources of creative inspiration for me, I added in podcasts on those topics as well. Now I’m still informed on what’s going on in the world, but also creatively engaged with a renewed sense of purpose.
With a more balanced media diet, I find that I’m more open to the creative possibilities around me. And, crucially, the content I’m consuming is better aligned with my future direction. That way, rather than stressing out about the latest Presidential tweet over breakfast, I start my day inspired and ready to take on the exciting projects that await me. I even feel more positive about my interactions with colleagues and clients.
If you’ve been experiencing a creative rut, it’s worth reviewing your content consumption habits as well. You may discover that even without meaning to, you’ve fallen out of balance and into a pattern that causes you to creatively disengage or feel a sense of resignation about your own creative potential. But as Lynda Barry reminded us at the Forward 2018 conference, everyone is innately creative. With a little intention, you can update your media diet so that it better serves your goals. The inspiration you gain will in turn elevate the content you create, benefiting both you and the audiences you seek to engage.
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Featured image attribution: Pete Bellis