I have 12 steps I use as an outline for living in the world that can be applicable to anyone – in all areas of life. And no, it’s not for people in the throws of addiction – though these may help with that. Fact of the matter is, we all have emotional hurdles we continually need to cross in order to get to where we want to be. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the day-to-day that we get stuck into the habits and old routines that keep us in a rut. It’s easy to lose sight of creative goals when dealing with the monotony of work, school, schedules, family – whatever it may be. It is well established for everyone’s mental health to take regular breaks. During these breaks, it’s even more important as a creative to let the mind wander so ideas can flow.

Too many laws, rules, schedules, opinions, and restrictions coming from others on all sides can stifle the creative process. In my practice, I found these 12 steps to be very beneficial when trying to break out of a cycle of overly structured thinking. It gives me guidance on what to do when I am afraid of trying something new or if I hit a wall on a project I’m working on. When I do hit a block because of an overly structured way of life, I follow the steps below as a primer to open my mind, so I can come up with new, fresh ideas and outlooks.

If you get down the the bones of it, the12 Steps are about letting go of control and letting nature take its course – this includes feeling emotions and reflecting on our work.

Creating anything takes an emotional toll, and if you’re in the business of product design, empathizing with users adds to this emotional complexity. Sometimes, the whole creative process can be a cycle of experimenting, failing, giving up, only to start on something else again a few days later. It’s exhausting and can quickly lead to burnout. However, after experiencing many burnouts, and with practice, I’ve learned to slow down, step back, and take emotional inventory about about a project and taking inventory of my own feelings. This technique has helped me tremendousIy in creating work that I genuinely like, am proud of, and is of the best quality to the viewer or user.

I utilize the 12 steps below, which I’ve revised from the original 12 steps, when I’m creating. Not everything I create is beautiful, but I am now able to move on from the emotional hurdles quicker in order put better work out on a more regular basis.

Step 1:
ADMIT that you’ve hit a wall

Continually checking in with what you’re working on and asking yourself “…is it good? How do I feel about this? Would I use this product? Would I be excited to show this to someone?” does wonders. If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these questions, promptly admit it and try to change course to see if the project can be recovered. Or, if you haven’t been creative in a while, admit to yourself that you’ve fallen short, and you need to get back to good habits.

Step 2:
BELIEVE that you or your creation can be restored, or at least move on to a more balanced state of mind

After the realization from Step 1, have belief that your project can be restored, and quickly change course. If you feel like there’s no turning back, at least believe that you can do better and give it another go, with lessons learned. Don’t get to hard on yourself. It’s all about practice and habits, that’s it.

Step 3:
CHOOSE to stop trying to control the outcomes, let it go

Sometimes a mistake is made because you have a preconceived notion about how the project is supposed to play out. Sometimes letting go of this control and doing what feels right in the moment is the best course of action. If something isn’t going to plan, sometimes you need to pivot and try something else. Best course of action is to take a break from the piece or situation. Come back with fresh eyes and allow yourself to gain a new perspective or try a new direction.

A real blocker to getting back into the habit of creating is the believe that everything you make has to be a masterpiece. It doesn’t. REALLY! You can scribble on a piece of paper and burn it so no one sees it if you want. The purpose is just to get the ball rolling again. It’s a practice, not a perfection. The perfection comes with practice, and just remember PERFECTION DOESN’T EXIST.

Step 4:
REFLECT and UNDERSTAND where you did a disservice, within your work, to yourself, or to someone else (if applicable)

After the letting go exercise from Step 3, take this time to reflect and understand what went wrong within your work, or yourself, or perhaps someone else (if applicable). For example, sometimes I try to work on a project when I haven’t slept for a while. Then I wonder why it turns out like crap. Make sure to be kind to yourself in this process. Nothing is permanent and can be changed. Just do something different next time, and make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep, eating, and drinking water!

Step 5:
DISCOVER the exact nature of what went wrong, get down to the root of that problem

In order to do something different, as stated in Step 4, it’s important to realize the nature of the mistake, or in other words, get to the root of the problem. This discovery is a very important step for it will allow you to make the necessary adjustments to move forward.

And if you’re just starting to get back into the swing of things, knowing why you haven’t created in a long time is therapeutic. It’s really the same as working out – actually easier than working out because all you need is a pencil and paper. But many times stress takes over and I don’t feel like making anything. I have to be in the mood. If I know this is the case, i’ll jot down a small little doodle and call it a day. Small habits add up.

Step 6:
CLEAR any negative feelings associated with the mistake. Look at things objectively, as if you’re outside the situation.

Mistakes are natural, and can be good if we use them to learn from. Even some of the most hardened criminals have managed to turn their lives around. No person or piece is too far gone to be saved. But any guilt, shame, condemnation will not be helpful to getting ahead. These, and any of the negative emotions and thought patterns associated with the mistake need to be squashed. They will hold you back from being your work being true and authentic if you’re hanging onto these.

We all have to take breaks from things, When you’re ready to start up again, start with a fresh emotional perspective, otherwise it could lead to another work, break, shame, guild, forgiveness spiral. Don’t feel ashamed or guilty that you haven’t created anything in a while. You’re already forgiven. Start from here.

Step 7:
ASK for insight and inspiration so as to move forward

Some people get insight and inspiration from different areas. Pray, meditate, Google ‘how-to’, watch YouTube videos, or talk to other artist friends, travel to a new place, or grab a sketchbook and let it come to you. Which ever way you choose, gather feedback, advice, or guidance on how to move forward.

Step 8:
MAKE A LIST and/or A PLAN (ideally both) of ways for the mistake to not happen again.

After the information gathering exercise from Step 7, making a list of things to do and a plan on how to avoid the mistake that was made would be the next step. I personally had to sit down and list out why I was doing certain things – things that just felt like they weren’t working. Turns out, many of the things I was doing creatively was just to follow the crowd. This is not who I wanted to be. So I cam up with a plan for my work based off of who I genuinely am.

For example, I made the promise to myself to draw something every day. Doesn’t matter where, or how big. It can be a couple hour paint session before bed or a small doodle at work, as long as I do something.

Step 9:
Thank people and yourself wherever possible. Apologize to yourself or someone else if you’ve done something against your moral matrix.

Understand that self-expression and authenticity is a gift. There are many places in the world where self expression is not an option. We should not take any of it for granted. Be sure to give thanks to every area of your life that you’re grateful for – even the most minor things – like a cup of coffee, a hot shower, warm socks and shoes to wear on your feet. If you do happen to stumble and mess up, apologize to yourself or someone whom you’ve hurt. Thank the people who’ve helped you along the way. In my experience, it’s hard to find good mentors who get what you’re going for. Cherish them and thank them.

One again, you can’t be creative without taking some risks and making mistakes. Some bridges might be burned along the way. Apologize to anyone you may hurt along the way if you can. Having that vibe hanging over you can be burdensome.

Step 10:
CONTINUE THE WORK and check yourself – when you’ve messed up, promptly admit it. Repeat steps 1 – 9.

Check in with yourself and how you’re feeling on the regular. Fail fast, fail often, just catch yourself along the way. Don’t stay in failure for too longWhatever is hurting you could spill out unintentionally and hurt someone else. Write in a journal, pray, find solitude – whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. If you fall again, repeat these steps.

Step 11:
SEEK to improve connection with your yourself, in these steps, asking ONLY for knowledge of the GREATEST GOOD to be carried out.

Staying connected with yourself and in tune with our emotions is how we can unleash our creative expression. We have to do this regularly. Whether it’s a morning walk to get your head around things, or a daily sketching practice for no other reason than just to draw what you’re feeling, or to just read through these steps every day. For the 12 steps to work, they needs to be incorporated into a routine – a practice.

Step 12:
LEARN something about yourself, your art, and are on your path to being the best YOU.

Learning is the most important step. Incorporate what you’ve learned into yourself and into your routine. Know yourself and you will be creating the work that best represents YOU and your values.