When you embark on a large-scale creative venture, you bring every aspect of your human nature with you. One influence you may not think about is your instincts. The Enneagram describes three basic instincts that influence people’s behavior: Self-Preservation, or the drive for conservation; Sexual, which involves the drive for stimulation; and Social, the drive for shared engagement. Some of these instincts are more active in your daily life than others, with one usually being unconsciously overdone, one moderately engaged, and one under-attended to. If you look at your creative process, you’ll find these patterns recurring. Each instinct brings vital elements to creativity.
I was introduced to the idea of using the Enneagram’s instincts in service of the creative process in Lindsay Robertson and TJ Dawe’s Develop Your Creativity workshop, and have gained additional insight through teaching The Enneagram Institute’s The Three Instincts (Subtypes) Workshop, which I’ll be holding in Edinburgh this 14-15 October. The instincts are powerful material because they shape your behavior so deeply yet so unconsciously, and bringing them into your awareness opens opportunities for change that we wouldn’t otherwise access. Below, you’ll find strategies that you can use to work constructively with each of the three instincts. Notice which come easily to you, and which could use a gentle nudge. How can you incorporate the strategies you underuse into your creative practice?
Foundation: In order to create, you need to have some form of structure and discipline in place. You could have the greatest ideas in the world, but without sitting down in that chair and making something, they will remain intangible possibilities rather than vibrant creative projects. Building a productive foundation is one way the Self-Preservation Instinct plays a key role in creativity. You can make this instinct work for you by scheduling time to devote to your project. Many find it helpful to create routines for themselves, such as writing every morning, setting timers, or using a program that blocks the Internet for a set amount of time. Tending to your basic needs and creature comforts is another way to use this instinct in service of your creativity. Is your workspace comfortable? Does the setting enhance or detract from your productivity? Some people find it most conducive to their creativity to work in a cafe with a comfortable hum of chatter, while others might need their workspace to be clean before they get started. Are you sufficiently fed and rested? Many creators have day jobs in addition to their creative work, which help with their foundation by ensuring that their financial and material needs are tended to.
Immersion: All creativity starts with a spark. You have a great idea that gets you excited. You’re drawn to make something new. Connecting with the Sexual Instinct in your creative work is similar to the rush of falling in love. If you can stay passionate about your project, that spark can mature into commitment. Let yourself love what you’re doing, and have a way of recording new ideas when they come to you (notebook, phone app, etc.). Give yourself to your inspirations when they strike: if you’re sizzling with enthusiasm about your novel one night, this might be a good time to get out the laptop. Let your impulses be woven in and see where they go. This won’t always look like foundations and patterns, but fits, starts, and lightning are part of productivity, too. When you aren’t feeling lit up, continue to energize your work by bringing in new ideas. Julia Cameron suggests making weekly artist’s dates, a practice that fuses the routine of the foundation stage with the excitement of immersion. Make it a practice to take yourself new places and experience new things.
Context: No one creates in a vacuum. Even if you complete a creative project on your own, you draw inspiration, consciously or unconsciously, from a broader context. This may include the works of other creators (which are often part of long lineages of influence), and ideas or feedback from other people. Everyone uses the Social Instinct to connect with influences, strengthen, and disseminate their work. If you look in the Acknowledgements section of any book, you’ll see that it wouldn’t exist without a long chain of people involved. You can draw on this instinct’s power by seeking community and context. Find writers’ groups, critique groups, or collaborators who you can bounce ideas off of, and receive valuable perspective. Feedback will shape your work into something more powerful and ensure it resonates with your intended audience. Forge accountability partnerships where you keep each other motivated. Look for work in your field that interests you, and study it to learn new forms of technique and craft that you can try out. You may want to seek professional help, or public response, to take your work to the next level. These strategies will strengthen your work and ensure your voice has an audience and influence.
Which instinct-based strategies would you like to use more of? How can you build them into your creative practice?