Declare Independence from Idea-Suppressing Habits

Shortly before his death on July 4, 1826, Thomas Jefferson wrote out the exact words he wanted on his gravestone.

In this short epitaph, Jefferson spotlighted his authorship of the Declaration of Independence—but didn’t bother mentioning he had also been President of the United States.

jefferson grave

Some historians speculate Jefferson didn’t call attention to his presidency because he saw himself as a creator more than as an elected official. Valuing creativity and freedom more than governance and bureaucracy, Jefferson pointed to the Declaration of Independence as his finest achievement.

For this July 4, announce your own Declaration of Independence, declaring freedom from five practices that can chain down creativity and stamp out ideas:


1. Declare independence from perfection.

Perfection often becomes the enemy of possibility. If we always insist on perfect results, we’ll abolish risk-taking and inhibit imagination.

“Just make stuff and don’t agonize over it,” film director Steven Soderbergh told New York magazine. “I see a lot of people getting paralyzed by the response to their work, the imagined result. Just make ‘em. That’s the way I approach films, the way I approach everything.”

Pure perfection is unachievable. As Yogi Berra said, “Even if the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be.” So set yourself free from the imprisonment of perfection and simply give your best to every project.

2. Declare independence from excuses.

Is there a creative project you’ve delayed for weeks, months or years? Maybe it’s a business idea. Or perhaps it’s for your personal creativity, such as starting an art project or taking a writing class.

Whatever the stalled project, write it down on a sheet of paper. Then list excuses that pop into you mind whenever you think about it—alibis that keep you from diving in. Now list steps you can take to overcome those excuses and surge ahead.

3. Declare independence from self-doubt.

Each of us has an internal broadcasting system I label the Negative News Network. This naysaying network likes to tell us we don’t have the talent or time, confidence or courage to explore creative opportunities or take on new challenges.

To weaken signals from your Negative News Network, write down exactly what you’re hearing and examine these messages in the light of day. See for yourself that feelings aren’t facts. Declare independence from self-doubt caused by this negative self-talk.

4. Declare independence from sameness.

Are you doing the same old things and getting the same old results? Are you stuck in velvet ruts that feel cozy but hinder finding inspiration and taking risks?

Review your daily activities and habits, asking yourself if each tires you or inspires you. Do blogs and websites you visit tire or inspire you? How about publications you read and TV shows you watch? What about restaurants you frequent and people you join for lunch? If these and other involvements inspire you, keep doing them. But if they tire you, shift to more inspiring activities.

5. Declare independence from total independence.

Even independence has limits, because little of consequence is ever achieved by one person. We all need help. The NFL’s greatest passer is useless unless he has a strong receiver; the best major league fastball pitcher is powerless unless he has a capable catcher.

And those tales of lone geniuses tucked away in corner offices are mostly mythology. The best business ideas come from the collaboration and support of people. Follow your path and value your thinking, but don’t be so independent that you shun collaboration and avoid help.

“For me, working with someone else—even a competitor—is about the opportunity to achieve something greater and learn something new,” star chef Adam Evans told Bearings Guide. “You recognize that there’s something much better than what you’re doing on your own—and you both hopefully grow from the experience.”

Learn more about freeing your creativity and developing your career in these online courses from HOW Design University: