Boost Your Motivation – Balance Your Creative Constraints

I had some pushback from last week’s article on constraints and creativity and wanted to get my thoughts down. 

The worry I heard was that constraints may force creativity but are very de-motivating.

And my critic has a point. Some constraints are just too much, or too confining. So much that when you come up against them you don’t even want to continue with what you’re working on.

So yes, I do think you need to find balance between limits that spur your creative thoughts and limits that shut you down.

Helpful Constraints

Here’s a quick refresher from last week.

When you contain your problem, you actually help your brain think creatively. If you have too much unlimited freedom, there are just too many variables and it’s overwhelming.

For your own business, consider limiting or pre-selecting:

  • Problem inputs
  • Available resources
  • Processes used
  • Problem outputs

Or, go take a read right now of last week’s article, Constraints Breed Creativity.

Can Constraints Hurt Creativity Instead?

Yes, some constraints will hurt your creativity. 

But I don’t believe that a specific limit can be said to be helpful or hurtful, exactly.

It has a lot more to do with how you look at the constraint. If you see the limit with a positive frame, it will likely be helpful. But if you put a negative spin on it, it’s likely to shut down your creativity.

Example: Time

Time is a great example of a constraint that can be both helpful and hurtful, all depending on how you view it. If you see it as an exciting challenge, it’s helpful. If you see it as an impossible restriction, it will hurt your creative thinking.

Think of something your kids take  f  o  r  e  v  e  r  to do. Like, get dressed for school, maybe? Who here has resorted to the, “I’ll time you!” with a big smile? You’re likely to get clothes on that child in mere seconds, along with demands to be timed for weeks to come. It’s exciting, you made it a game, and the kids I know would happily rise to that challenge. (Okay, outfit selection might have suffered, but that’s another battle.)

But when the school bus is only 15 minutes away and you’re telling your kid, “Hurry, hurry! You’ve only got 10 minutes!” no one is happy. Your child is panicky, scattered. He fumbles his shoes, gets an arm stuck in the neck hole of his shirt and forgets his underpants. 

Constraints that Hinder Creativity

1 Threats

When managers yell or threaten employees, they think they’re pushing them to better work. I’m not sure why. I don’t know anyone who really could do their best work while being yelled at. They might get it done, and if that’s the goal, fine. But if thoughtful or creative work is required, threats will shut that down.

2 Fear

When you’re really afraid of something, it’s hard to be creative. So providing or setting up a sense of personal security is important if you want to be your most creative.

3 Negative Consequences

If you’re worried about negative consequences from your work or your creation, you’ll find it difficult to think of novel solutions.

Balance Creativity Constraints and Boost Your Motivation
Pin & save for later! Ideas to balance out creativity constraints!

Those three constraints above trigger an avoidance desire in your brain. All you want to do is get finished with the task with the least amount of fuss. And creativity often requires a lot of “fuss.” Even for simple solutions – maybe even especially!

Now, I didn’t find any sources for the following, but I believe they do hurt creativity. In a broad sense, they can fall under fears. But I want to call them out because these are constraints that we business-owning moms come up against all the time.

4 Judgement

Whether self-imposed or from others, anticipation (fear?) of judgement is lethal to creative thinking. Most of that however, is in our head. What I have found is that most other people are primarily worried about what YOU think of THEM. So as long as you’re not making them feel less than or smaller, they’ll think you’re fantastic. If they think of you at all.

5 Worry and Overthinking

My favorites! No really, it’s a problem. I love overthinking things, but it’s a symptom of fear too. Fear of anything and everything. But so much of what we fret and worry over is never likely to come to pass. If we can let it go, we can be much more uninhibited in our thinking.

6 Constraints Perceived as Well Beyond our Capabilities

I know we can argue that nothing’s impossible. And at some level, that’s true. But when you put a limit on a problem that approaches impossibility, it’s de-motivating for most of us. It doesn’t seem worth our effort to try. 

If you tell me that to win a contract, I have to make a presentation in Russian (a language in which I know about 20 words total) tomorrow, I’ll probably pass, no matter how good the contract. It’s like my brain constricts and doesn’t even want to try. But if a great opportunity came up and I had to make a presentation in Russian in two weeks… now that sounds like a challenge. That becomes, “Okay, how can I get that done???” And our brains start throwing out ideas and challenging assumptions.


If you’re in charge (and you always are) you get to decide the constraints of problems you have to solve. Be careful in selection to get the outcome you want.

Balance is determined by the individual, and how you frame the constraint.

When you start to feel that constricting feeling of a demotivating constraint, back up a bit and see if you can change the constraints or reframe them for yourself.

Featured photo by Gustavo Torres on Unsplash

Leave a Comment