How creativity can benefit from uncertainty (and how to tame your Monkey Mind)

Monkey-mind-creativityAuthor: Stefan de Graaf
Published on: Host2Transform
Date: 27 January 2017

We live in an age of uncertainty. We’re more uncertain of our future and we’re less sure whether our children will have a better life than we do.

Sad, right? But it’s what I hear frequently.

Yet, another line of thought: we live in an age of increasing opportunities. Great! Shouldn’t this be hailed in the news? However, will this attract enough attention?

I’m afraid not.

Recently, I listened to an interview with psychiatrist Dirk de Wachter who argues that we have an obsession with happiness (almost the opposite of uncertainty?) and because of that, we’ve almost forgotten the meaning of life.

We tend to forget that life is a struggle and uncertainties are an inherent part of life. To embrace life and make it meaningful again, according to Dirk de Wachter, we first must accept that life is a struggle and has all tiny bits of misfortunes.

I think Dirk de Wachter is right, also from a creativity perspective. Because uncertainty can be a goldmine for creativity, for getting more creative and for experiencing more flow in the long term.

I like to phrase my favorite author Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi (author of Flow) here who says that flow and creativity are usually on the border of boredom and anxiety. Uncertainty and anxiety can be a high potential source to unlock your creative potential and to live a life that is more meaningful in the end.

Shouldn’t we, then, embrace these bits of unhappiness more by opening ourselves to these misfortunes? And shouldn’t we trim our habits of ‘happy’ escapes, e.g. by shopping less, working less or making less money? Do we really think we can buy happiness?

Embracing uncertainties can be helpful, but beware, as not all uncertainties are getting your creative self behind the steering wheel. Your most attention claiming co-driver is your Monkey Mind.

Monkey Mind

It’s a Buddhist way of thinking about fear, uncertainties, doubts and worries. The human mind is being filled with drunken monkeys, chattering and carrying on endlessly, and all clamoring for attention. In particular, fear is a very loud one.

Our Monkey Mind is basically obsessed with the ‘I’, with the past, the future and things which will never happen (unless we leave our Monkey Mind to sit behind the steering wheel). The Monkey Mind is concerned with basically everything except the moment; the here and now.

In one of my Creativity sessions, I included a Host2Transform inspired game where participants could choose a state of mind (by picking a sheet with a quote), and the Monkey Mind was one. I would ask them to pick one where they could identify the most with to use it as a personal focus during the session.

What happened? The popularity of the Monkey Mind was almost 100%!

I was one of them, too. However, from the outside, nobody would notice I could easily call myself a Monkey Mind too. Doing yoga and meditation helps, besides playing and listening to music, to silence these clamoring voices in my head.

Fighting this Monkey Mind is like trying to stop a wave. However, still, I’m trying it all the time.

I’m discovering that I’m fighting against this uncertainty and doubt triggering Monkey Mind by (unconsciously) trying to do things as good as possible (I’ll tell you Monkey Mind, you are not right!) and I’m trying to control things, e.g. by preparing a session to leave the least space for uncertainty as possible (I’ll tell you Monkey Mind, I would rather be guided by my own advice than yours!).

Oh, my dear! What a waste of energy!

I’d rather invest more in embracing uncertainty or spending more time on music, meditation and yoga to get this Monkey Mind in the back seat.

The Monkey Mind is typically getting you – and therefore the others as well – out of the moment, just like thinking too much gets you disconnected from the body.


The Monkey Mind can be an enduring block for creativity. I’ve spent almost 400 words on it now, and that’s because unlocking your creative potential is rather about knowing your blocks, opposed to trying to learn to be more creative.

But now the more constructive part.

Creative development is much about embracing uncertainty. Creativity can’t be learned in the manner we normally learn. You can’t learn to be creative by reading a book or by telling yourself: ‘From now on, I’ll be more creative! I’ll get in the flow now!’ That won’t work; it might even get you out of the zone.

However, you can ask yourself: ‘What keeps me from doing this?’

At Host2Transform, we call these power questions, since they can help you connect with your true self or the other. It’s also close to the true nature of creativity. Unlocking creative potential is rather about embracing fears and uncertainties, which can be a window for you to get to see new opportunities.

So, you can learn to be more creative by asking yourself this one simple question. And sometimes, it can be better if somebody you’re close with asks you this question.

Creativity is about unlearning, rather than traditional (accumulated) learning.

Maybe creativity is more about observing yourself. It’s not about the feeling itself, but the way we deal with it; it’s the way you judge your feeling. Rejection and indifference to doubt and uncertainty will block your creativity. However, embracing it for the good sake might take you a step further.

So it’s also about focus, knowing what you do it for, and knowing your compass in life. Then, happiness will come your way, at moments when you are not looking for it. I’m getting more curious about these doubts and uncertainties.

And knowing that life is also a lot about unhappiness and struggle is soothing in a way.


Published on Host2Transform