To be more productive and creative, try a little tenderness

by Lisa Rothstein on 01/06/2011

and and being your own taskmaster are often the stick with which we creative people prod (or beat) ourselves. For DaVincis, the effect is exponential — after all it’s not just one but many projects that we “should” be getting done at any given time. And yes, discipline is important; that butt in that chair on a regular basis is necessary to accomplish any meaningful work.

However, it doesn’t follow that constant diet of drudgery and self-denial is conducive to creative productivity. In fact, I’m finding that the opposite is true.  Ironically, treating yourself with kindness and even taking time for some downright pamperingis a great way to recharge your creative batteries while you achieve some balance.

Right now I’m writing this having had a delicious facial and and equally delicious round of tapas and white wine at a cafe overlooking the sunset-drenched sea in Del Mar, California. And rather than turning me into a sybaritic blob, only fit for the couch, it made me really look forward to sitting down to do my work and this blog post. From this place of feeling good, and feeling like I matter (rather than like a martyr), that I’m worth taking care of, I’m reminded of what I love about my work — expressing myself with words, playing with ideas, communicating with like-minded thinkers, exploring the delights and the downers of the creative lives of multi-talented people.

After an afternoon of on purpose self-care, non-action and downright indulgence, suddenly, sitting down to do my work seems exciting and inspiring, a “want to” rather than a “have to”.  Could it be that being happy, taking time for me, and working less, is more motivating and effective than brute force?

Aesop writes a fable about the Sun and the Wind arguing about who was stronger. They looked down on a man walking down the road and decided that the one who could remove the man’s coat would be the winner.  The Wind went first, and tried to blow the coat off the man, who only wrapped it tighter around himself as flapped in the frigid gale. Then it was the Sun’s turn. He simply shone down gently upon the man until he was warm enough to remove the coat all by himself.  Even as a child when I first read that story, I could see that the Wind had worked much harder and got a worse result because he went about it the wrong way. He tried to force it. All the Sun did was be himself. And he got what he wanted with almost no effort at all.

Activity: If you’ve been using a stick and it’s not working, try the carrot for a change, even if — especially if — you feel like you don’t deserve it. What would be something you could do for yourself just because it makes you feel good, or more connected with yourself? Now schedule it into your calendar. Extra points if you do it even though you feel like you don’t have the time. 🙂

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Lenore January 6, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Great post, I have committed to regular massages this year (first one this week) and time out with friends near the ocean – makes me feel alive and less like a workaholic. I can certainly be way more creative when I am not exhausted or feeling over worked.

And give what I do – help other business owners keep the energy and enthusiasm for their business – I need to be bright eyed and busy tailed too:)


Lenore recently posted..Business Tips Get the Best Start to 2011 – with Rob Mason

Kerri Rodley January 6, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Hi Lisa, your blog couldn’t have come at a better time. I just received a nasty comment on my Facebook page and it almost made me cry – almost! Although it has left me in a dull “funk” which I can’t seem to shake. It is funny how one little comment can take such a chunk out of your self worth – if you let it. I think it is time to re-connect to myself and have a glass of wine and a bath. Ba humbug to nasty facebook people!

Janine January 7, 2011 at 2:14 am

Beautifully put. That’s after I had a nap this afternoon (which to my surprise ended up being a 3 1/2 hour sleep – eek!). At least that then allowed me to write : )
Janine recently posted..A New Year and New Beginnings

Leah January 7, 2011 at 4:38 am

This is so true. The worst a talented person can do is to berate herself for not getting everything done. We are only human and there is a limit to our abilities. Self-encouragement is much more productive than self-criticism.

Stacy Ryan January 7, 2011 at 6:08 am

What a great post, Lisa! Far too often I find myself out of balance — struggling with work when what I ***really*** need is a tapas lunch with wine! May I join you? Thanks for reminding me I need to shine like the sun more than huffing and puffing like the wind.

Bonnie January 7, 2011 at 7:21 am

This is something I have to really convince my clients is true. Being kind to your self truly is a gift to all those you love. I think your fable is simple perfect to show this too. I usually talk about your life energy being like a well, you can take and take but if you don’t allow the well to rest and replenish it will eventually dry up. Just as your energy and zest for life will burn out if you don’t allow yourself time to rest and replenish.

Keep on living fabulous!

Martha Giffen January 7, 2011 at 4:41 pm

What a nice and thought-provoking post! You are so right, of course! It’s always better to be ourselves than anything else. Love the reference to the children’s story!
Martha Giffen recently posted..TGIF – What Does It Really Mean

Lisa Rothstein January 8, 2011 at 11:22 am

@kerri I’d de-friend that person immediately if you have not already! One of the ways to be kind to yourself is to surround yourself people who say kind things. Not to say that someone who supports you can’t offer constructive criticism. But you’ll always know if it’s coming from a place of love or from hostility or jealousy. Try if possible (I know it isn’t always) to “break up” with those who are really not on your side.

Lisa Rothstein January 8, 2011 at 11:23 am

@Janine That sleep was probably just what you needed. 🙂

Lisa Rothstein January 8, 2011 at 11:26 am

@Leah I think I must have learned from my mother that if I stopped to smell the roses or “rest on my laurels” for a minute I’d lose my drive. The opposite is true…and now I find it difficult to reward myself for my wins or appreciate my successes before thinking “What have you done for me lately?” That’s why I’ve decided to give myself some rewards that are not even tied to accomplishments — just because I deserve them for being! From that place of valuing myself I also value what I have to offer the world that much more.

J. Smith December 23, 2012 at 7:29 pm

Are you the Lisa R that used to work at Dessange? If so are you taking clients again?

Lisa Rothstein July 6, 2013 at 5:40 pm

I did have client once called Dessange. Find me on Facebook at and we can connect there. 🙂

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