Episode 50

Adam & Carlton

4 Ways to Overcome Creative Block

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In this Friday special, Adam and Carlton discuss how to overcome creative resistance. From insightful tips to best practices, let’s identify what’s hindering your creative process and how you can break through.

Highlights from the conversation:

  • Defining “resistance” (1:13)
  • #1 – Treat yourself like a professional (8:31)
  • #2 – Have an office (11:59)
  • #3 – Have a marathon mindset (15:29)
  • #4 – Don’t take criticism personally (21:27)
  • Tweet of the week (27:00)


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Transcription generated by Otter.ai

Adam Vazquez 0:06
On today’s episode, we’re going to talk about my biggest career regret and how you can avoid it. Hit the music!

Intro 0:15
Put that content down. Content. The close is over. What’s your name? Content. That’s my name. You know why, mister? Because you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight. I drove an $80,000 BMW. That’s my name. Content Is for Closers.

Carlton Riffel 0:38
I got the music queued up, ready to go.

Adam Vazquez 0:44
We’re going with teaser intros these days. Carlton says that we put whatever’s good from the entire episode into the first 10 seconds. We didn’t do it there. That was a true teaser.

Carlton Riffel 0:56
Are we rolling?

Adam Vazquez 0:58
Yeah, I was just gonna—

Carlton Riffel 0:59
Are we gonna have Nipsey Hussle at the beginning?

Adam Vazquez 1:03
No, no. We’re using our intro music. But today we are going to talk about a regret that I’ve had in my career probably you’ve had in your career. And before we get into that, though, we need to talk about this idea of resistance. So we stole this full disclosure stole this idea of 100% from Steven Pressfield and his book, The War of Art.

Carlton Riffel 1:24
Yeah, I thought you were gonna say The Art of War. We’re not talking about that today.

Adam Vazquez 1:29
No, no. Steven Pressfield’s War of Art. And, Carlton, maybe you could give your—as an artist, as our resident artist (which we established last week)—how do you think about or define resistance?

Carlton Riffel 1:41
I read this book in college, and was definitely one of those early on books that I read and totally changed the way that I thought, even if I had a hard time putting it into practice, and that really is the definition of the resistance, it’s that thing, that obstacle, that barrier that’s in the corner, that you have to get through that you have to push through to make creative work to make good creative work. So there are all sorts of things in the book that Steven Pressfield talks about. But really, it’s this idea that creating is an obstacle. And once you get through that obstacle, on the other side is an abundance of creativity. Is that good enough?

Adam Vazquez 2:21
And this really builds— Yeah, I think that’s great. I think it builds a lot on what we talked about last week. Last week, we talked about sort of maybe one of the symptoms that you might run into if you’re dealing with resistance, which is a dearth of ideas, or specifically when it comes to podcasts, not being sure of where to go to find new ideas to create against, and that can be against anything, not just podcasts. And the next logical step then is then why am I experiencing that? Why am I experienced? And a lot of times, it’s not actually because you don’t have ideas. It’s because there is something to your point, whether it’s a mental block, it’s a fear. I think fear is probably most common. It’s a hesitancy of some kind, or it’s laziness, right? Like, it’s like, yeah, this is what I do. This is my job. But I’m not trying to think about this all the time. And so some of that’s legitimate, but it’s whatever is blocking you from being able to execute and continue on your creative path because that’s what we all have in common that those of us that are creating content here.

So let me just start it off by giving you my personal example. I talked about this in the intro, my personal regret. So we started The Startup Show, some of you oh, gee, shout out. Remember that, Carlton? I was listening, I heard The Startup Show back in. The Startup Show was a kind of haphazard, thrown-together thing, I had just left Vayner. And so the idea of content creation was obviously extremely forefront on my mind. Derek (my business partner) and I were trying to figure out what we could sell what we know what services we could develop and sell in order to bring in revenue. And as we were doing that, we had this idea, oh, we can work with startups. And so to work with startups, maybe we could have a podcast where we tell their stories. And the first one man was so bad. It actually doesn’t exist as an audio. There’s only a video of it or it was you would cringe Carlton, so we didn’t have real microphones at all. We had an onboard mic on a Canon camera that we like set up nearby, and then the guest and I shout out Matt Avery Hart, who was such a trooper but stood in front of this very small monitor that had The Startup Show logo on it. And we stood the entire episode. It was so uncomfortable. I was a terrible interviewer. We talked about like his college football XBLA it was just it was so so bad. But that was the start and the audio was awful. And we put that on Facebook and whatever it kind of grew from there, but it did grow. We had on a ton of great guys. I’ve told the story many times, but Gary Vee came on the show, which was extremely generous and kind because we had nothing to offer really in return. And it also, but it also gave us access to a bunch of other authors and speakers and content creators that we wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. So we got featured in a bunch of publications, we did a live event at a startup week in Chattanooga, which was really fun. And we had all this momentum, to the point where we began getting clients, which was the purpose, right, like that was the objective of our show was to get our name out there, so we could develop work for the two of us. And as we started getting clients, we started producing podcasts for some of those clients into— this is really pre-HEARD, but it was the beginning of what that service would become. And we just got busy. At the time, it was just Derek and I, he was doing all of the visuals, the websites, etc. I was doing whatever I could, and the idea of taking time away from servicing clients, which were giving us money, which at the time felt very crucial, and was to have these conversations with like, a loose connection to our bottom line was like, Oh, I can’t do this, I’ve got to, I’ve got to focus on the client work that we’ve developed. And so we really kind of lost, probably, in reality, over two years worth of momentum. Because I stopped recording new episodes, we would republish here. And there, we tried to restart a couple of times. Shout out Digitalism. Yeah, I forgot about that even. So, we had some like false starts, but not with the consistency and the energy that The Startup Show had. I was doing panels because of The Startup Show, so there was real energy there and we just kind of let that expire entirely. And that all happened, I didn’t realize it. But because I succumbed to resistance, I let all of these other things distract from continuing to create and continuing to publish. And they’re not bad things. I think that’s what’s so so difficult about resistance it’s not like I was like, “Oh, I’m gonna go play video games,” or go play a sport or something like that. I just let the realities of life become too real, versus continuing to have that long-term view. So that was, that was my experience with succumbing to resistance.

Carlton Riffel 4:10
Yeah, that’s a good example. I’d say the most common shape that resistance takes is procrastination, and putting it off. So in my life, especially, the times that I’m procrastinating the most are usually some of my most productive times where I’m getting little things done, and not not focusing on the big picture. And so I’ll be making sure this thing is clean, making sure that thing is my files are organized. You got all the different things that fall in that category of what you can do to make sure that you don’t have to do the scary thing that you had to tackle. So a lot of us we know this instinctively, we know when we’re pushing up against that, that wall of resistance. And then we know when we’re doing the easy thing that’s on our checklist doesn’t really have to be done. So hopefully, today, we can give you guys some good insightful tips and some practices that will get you through that creative resistance. And after this, you’ll be a pro at getting through that.

Adam Vazquez 7:26
Okay, so that’s great bridge. Carlton has been to Podcast Hosts 101 in school because when we talk about how to overcome resistance, the first concept is you need to treat yourself like a professional. What does that mean?

Carlton Riffel 8:40
Yeah, we got to show up every day. So a lot of people that are doing this for their job have kind of accepted that this is what I got to do nine to five. But let’s be honest: most people—I would say probably 98% of the people listening to our podcasts—are not professional podcasters. They’re not people showing up— on their job description is “make more content” or “record a podcast.” So you’ve got to put in the work. You’ve got to block out the space, the time that you have to create or practice or put in the work to make the episodes or—maybe you’re in a little bit different creative field—to make the painting or to record the music. Whatever it is, you got to make time for that.

Adam Vazquez 9:22
Yeah, I would say three things here. First of all, I think two examples. So Seth Godin, everyone knows ever most people know of him, I should say. And he’s a very visible example of what this can look like. So this doesn’t have to be a full production, a full masterpiece publication that you put out daily, daily, obviously, or even that you work on daily. Seth has his blog that he’s posted every single day for over a decade now. And some of the posts are great and super long and very well thought out and some of them are two sentences. They’re almost tweets, but he is consistent in making sure that he thought which is every day. So that’s one example.

I would say the second example is closer to home. Our very own Tony Miller, host of A Quick Timeout podcast. Tony is listening right now as he cleans the church. And he is a great example of this because Tony has a has multiple full-time jobs, in addition to he’s a professor, he’s a basketball coach at a university. He’s a father, teacher, etc. And then he’s got this very successful media brand, A Quick Timeout that has he’s got 10,000 followers on Twitter, 1,000 followers on YouTube, 1,000s of people who listen to his podcast every day. And so for him, it’s not just publishing episodes, but it might be watching five minute YouTube clip of a new offensive set and then giving his idea or his take on that it might be just doing a little bit of research on a new defensive scheme, or a drill or something like that, that he makes sure he folds into what he’s doing throughout the day. So again, I just wanted to continue to reinforce it doesn’t have to be that you’re publishing every day, you just have to show up, and, and do some work, even if it’s just for five minutes.

So for us, we can’t publish every day. Even this twice a week, we’re seeing how our team is having to adjust and make processes. So it’s just not a reality. But the other thing I wanted to say was, to your point that it’s not in your job description. And I’m not joking, if you’re listening to this, you need to push for it to be in your job description. Like if that’s something that you are working on on a regular basis, go and make the business case or email us and we will help you make the business case as to why that should be I’m 100% serious because we’ve seen time after time, the creators who are dedicated and committed to this, their businesses get to the point where they wouldn’t let them quit creating, right, because it’s such a integral part of what they do at their role. So just showing up every day and acting is, is the first step I would say, of acting as a professional.

The second one, I’ll just dive into, is that you need to have your office. And this could be a mental place, this could be a physical place, this could be some setup that you have in your backpack that you can unfold anywhere, but you need to have something that tells your brain, “Okay, these are my five minutes or my five hours dedicated to my work as a professional content creator.” And I don’t know if you have an example of a way that you do this.

Carlton Riffel 12:28
There’s always routine around whatever we do, like you sit down at that normal place, or you go to a certain mindset. And even on your computer, there can be different spaces that you can go to. So for me, I love to have basically my workspace set up in a way that might, essentially inside my computer, I’ve got certain things up. And so I do this with the actual spaces on your computer. Some of you that use Mac not understand that, but I’m actually Adam, I’m working on a full new office right now I’m building with my bare hands are back in our in our yard, we’re basically going to be creating a garage, and it’s got a 10×12 Office and I’m going to be occupying.

Adam Vazquez 13:13
“Garage” is such a demeaning term for this thing. This thing looks like a piece of art, from what I’ve seen so far.

Carlton Riffel 13:22
Yeah, hopefully it looks good. And it will be like very curated the space in there, hopefully we’ll be able to, like make that our dedicated office that doesn’t have like random stuff in it, as you can see in the background or kids toys. And so we’ll see, maybe this will make my creative productivity just go through the roof.

Adam Vazquez 13:39
But I’d say even if you didn’t, or you haven’t had that your point about even creating a space on your computer, that steady like do you because then because you have your work with HEARD, the Content is For Closers of stuff, you have all of your design work and your no code development work. Let’s take no code, for example. How do you switch from Creative Director at HEARD Carlton to no code developer entrepreneur Carlton? Yeah, they’re like a space in your computer dedicated?

Carlton Riffel 14:11
Yeah, it really started opening a few different programs. And more and more stuff nowadays is just your browser, right? So I actually use a dedicated browser, I just use Safari for a lot of the new code stuff. And I use brave for my normal day-to-day things. And so by having that different browser open, there’s like certain save bookmarks, certain save tabs, and I can kind of like have that as a mental, completely different space that I can go to. And it’s got all those passwords saved. It’s got all those different, different tools in there. That doesn’t work for everyone. Some people are using the same thing, but it’s just that idea of creating a different space that you can go to and get gets you in that mindset and then committing to that time where you’re spending it and doing that.

Another thing like in the productivity world, everyone talks about taking the first step. That’s really what we’re saying. And here is take the first step. Make that an easy step, make that something that’s very attainable. If it’s as easy as opening a certain browser and a computer, you’re more likely to continue that maybe it’s as easy as like, like brewing a cup of coffee. And that’s how you start things. But it would make that trigger something easy and attainable, so that once you start, you’re just in the flow.

Adam Vazquez 15:19
Yeah, that’s great. So the first two, just to remember, just remember, what we’ve said so far, is show up every day and make sure you’re showing up every day. Number two, set up your office, physical or mental. And the third one is to have and we’ve talked about this extensively on other episodes, but have a marathon mindset. Have the idea that you’re showing up every day as a professional for the next two years, you’re showing up every day as a creator for the next 18 months, whatever. You have that very long mindset as to what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. I have an example of this, but do you have anything any stories?

Carlton Riffel 15:54
I think when you say, “I’m going to do this for two years,” it already puts in your head that you’re going to play the long game. You have to think about it as like you’re not just going to get through this week. This is something that I’m going to commit to as a lifestyle and continually do each week. What are your examples?

Adam Vazquez 16:14
So okay, my example, there’s gonna be just guessing a different personality for this audience. But others, there’s a rapper named Nipsey Hussle. He, he’s actually passed away now. And if you’re not familiar with his music, he was a rapper in Compton, California. And he came up and was pretty notable because his entire career— music, he became an entrepreneur, he did a lot for the community of Compton, his entire career was centered around one thing, which was trying to stem some of the violence in the neighborhood where he was from Compton, California. And if you know anything about Compton, that’s a huge challenge to just decide to overcome for one individual. And so what he decided at the very beginning of his career, as he was coming up as a producer was I think, most rappers are coming up just trying to do whatever they can to hit Get a single, or to get on with another bigger artists that their music can be listened to and heard. And he didn’t really care about any of that. In fact, while he was alive, he had a few hits right towards the end of his career. But his music, for the most part wasn’t like extremely well known. He wasn’t at the very top with some of the bigger artists that you’re probably familiar with. Although he was huge. And since he died, his name has gotten even bigger. But the reason for that wasn’t because he wasn’t skilled it was because he did everything in such a strategic way to ladder up to his actual objective of stemming some of this violence. And so he did this in a bunch of different ways. But like he would do things like he would only hire people from his neighborhood to help produce his music, he would provide jobs for people that he really, they didn’t really help him specifically, like he started a couple of clothing stores in a retail center, strip mall, and things like that, that had nothing to do with his music brand, and probably took away from his ability to create music, but they actually ladder up to his true objective of serving his community. And it wasn’t without criticism. It wasn’t without it wasn’t without problems. I mean, ultimately, he was shot and killed out front of his store. So it’s like the super ironic thing. He’s there to stop violence, he confronted a gang member in the community about some things, apparently, they had disagreement, and the guy shot him, right. So it’s like, he had definitely had people who were against him, but everything he did laddered back to this idea of something bigger than himself. And he was able to continue to even when his songs wouldn’t hit, even when there was a violent thing that took place or whatever. It was a reminder to him of his mission to end violence as opposed to like, for me, the first time somebody threatened me physically, I’d be like, cool, this show’s over. I’ll never see anybody on the internet again. You know what I mean? Like, but he had this bigger Northstar that allowed him to just continue creating. And for him, it was a career, a career-long and actually a lifelong pursuit. So it was more than just 18 months or two.

Carlton Riffel 19:15
Yeah. And so let’s get like practical for a second because you’ve got people creating content. And I think the fear that everyone has within content creation is (A) does anyone care about this? Or, is anyone even listening? That’s something that’s like a big thing to overcome. And I think the second thing that’s just as big as and if they do, are they going to hate it? Are they going to criticize me? Are they going to basically think that I’m terrible. And that’s something that you have to get over from a mindset perspective. But I think if you’re if you’re taking that long-term mindset, you’re saying, I’m doing this, not just for today, this is just practice for we’re all right, eventually. If you think about it all rides on that first Episode like you were talking about how to where you’re, you’re you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re standing there, that is a barrier of entry to get to the 100th episode, every single episode, or every single podcast that has 100 episodes, had a first second third, fourth, fifth podcast that probably wasn’t that great or probably was terrible. And, and they had to get through that they had to press forward and get to that point where they were good at it, and had had enough practice to do it well. So I think people that are creating content, it’s putting yourself a little bit on a schedule. So we always recommend that people do it once a week, that’s, that’s a very attainable, something that is very cyclical, it’s published once a week. So you’re maybe working on it a few times throughout the week, but essentially, you’re committing to a date, a time where every single week, it’s going to come out and be pushed to the RSS feeds. And it’s amazing, Adam, the people who say, I’m not gonna miss that, who are committed to that they have an incredible run, as opposed to people who are like, let’s just do it, like, whenever we have an episode, we’re probably going to get like five a year, maybe six. So put yourself on that schedule, be committed to it, and at the end of the year, you’re gonna have almost 50, maybe a little more than 50 episodes, which is something that if you’ve done 50 episodes of something, you’re gonna have an incredible amount of experience that that’s very, like you’ve developed your craft enough after doing it 50 times.

Adam Vazquez 21:27
Yeah. You know what else you’re gonna have if you publish 50 episodes?

Carlton Riffel 21:30

Adam Vazquez 21:31
Haters. You’re gonna have some people— they’re either going to be in your company, they’re going to be in your audience, somebody is going to say something negative about what you create, if you create and put out something 50 times. And so the fourth step, the fourth part of overcoming resistance is being able to not take criticism personally. And you notice, I didn’t say “ignore criticism,” I didn’t say “silence the critics,” or any of those things. But being able to not take it personally. I’ll give you another example from The Startup Show days.

We got, like I said, some early momentum. And there would be videos that would have 10s of 1000s of views, or were or more or listens, because of especially depending on who the guest was that we had on. And so we started seeing lots of comments. And me, I started seeing lots of comments, because I’m paying attention to it because it’s on the thing. And to stuck out in particular just told this story on a podcast with Kyle Scott Laskowski from CrossingBroad. Two of them stuck on particular. The first was this guy, he put on multiple videos that I had been in, he put on them, “Why does this dude keep wearing medium black t-shirts?” For the record, I wear medium. I’ve always worn medium t-shirts and your boy does some curls. All right. I’m not trying to— I wasn’t wearing small. It just is what it is. My guy probably over there with noodle arms clearly was feeling attacked by just me being—

Carlton Riffel 23:08
Okay, I’ll admit: It was me. I was the one.

Adam Vazquez 23:14
You can tell all this time it still bothers me, but that was one. The second was and this came out in a few different ways was something like who’s this want to be Gary Vee or who’s this mini Gary Vee guy. And in fairness, I think I probably leaned too hard at the time into the style that he promoted. Because I didn’t have my own. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have any money. So that one was sort of valid. But I think being able to not take those things personally. And instead of flip them and say, Wait, I don’t know these two fools. And they’re taking the time to comment on this thing that I made. So there, they watched enough to know that like, I’m acting pseudo-Gary Vee-ish, or they watched long enough to take notice that no, the kid is doing some serious work in the weight room and so being able to just not take those things, personally is very, very difficult by the fact that I’m bringing them up five years later, but it is crucial to being able to overcome resistance. How have you had to deal with this?

Carlton Riffel 24:20
I would say that this idea of being criticized or just having people think it’s not good, that’s honestly what has kept me from being a like, like shying away from social media or even this podcast not wanting to get on screen but Adam has to like twist my arm and give me a massive bonus just to show up here. But I think it just shows up in this like, thing in the back of your mind that saying like, Oh, what you have to say is not that good or not that important? And just ignore that get over that point and say to yourself, if I do this, eventually good things will come because that’s so much of what creativity is, is putting in that work and so you get to the point where you have this body of work or you have this things, this body of things that you’ve created, and good things will come out of that if you do it enough. So yeah, I don’t have a specific example. Okay, I’ll go there. I actually do.

So in college, I was in ceramics. As art students do, they take ceramics, and I had created this set of bowls for my brother’s and sister’s wedding. I wasn’t very good. I was an average. I wasn’t a 3D major, I was a 2d major, so I was just doing this for fun. And somebody walks into the studio, and you’ve got everything drying there so it’s all kind of out. And I was just kind of in the corner. And there are these two girls that picked up my bowl, and they’re like, “I’m sorry for whoever has to—” basically they, in front of me, just criticize my work. And it was rough. But I went home a couple years ago, was visiting family, and my sister still has those bowls. So it was one of those things where it’s not the probably was terrible, it probably was bad, but I know that that like, was one of the things where it was struggled to hear that and, and even just thinking about like, oh, man, I can’t tell you how many times that idea of when I’m creating something. The idea that somebody’s gonna stand there criticize is just a big shut down factor.

Adam Vazquez 26:24
And then those two girls applied for jobs here years later and didn’t realize who you were.

Carlton Riffel 26:29
Shut down! No, I’m just kidding.

Adam Vazquez 26:31
Yeah, no. Yeah, great examples. Well, so just to recap the four steps to overcoming resistance, turning pro treating your job, like the job that it is your work, like the job that it is show up every day, have an office mentally or physically. Make sure you’re taking the long view the marathon mindset and don’t take criticism personally, before we wrap Carlton. Do we have a tweet of the week?

Carlton Riffel 26:53
Uh, yeah, yeah, I do. Do you have YouTube too? You want me to go?

Adam Vazquez 26:57
Yeah, I’m good. I’m ready to go. So a friend of the show, which is crazy to say, Ben Wilson this week, Ben Wilson of my first million fame who by the way got Did you see he got Mr. Beast? Yeah, like cold?

Carlton Riffel 27:11
Call it? Did you hear the? Were they pretty much quoted or podcast? No, I haven’t. I did. Basically this is small time right here. But Sam or I think Shawn was like, referenced that clip that we made. He’s okay, I saw this. Let’s go didn’t even see. Like in the clip you talk about and basically quotes Ben, but we made it up and we make that happen.

Adam Vazquez 27:33
Your boy’s made the plan. That’s we’re talking about my first million if you don’t know, top podcast in the world, so cool. Yeah, Ben did this little tweet and he said, I’m going to do so if you don’t know. Ben produces his own show. And in addition to producing my first million, it’s called How to take over the world. And it’s essentially he like talks about the lessons learned from like Napoleon, and people conquers Alexander the Great whoever. And he said, I’m going to do an episode where the only takeaway is, remember, be yourself and never stop dreaming. And then it turns out that the whole episode is about a bad guy, like a six-hour deep dive on the torture techniques of Vlad the Impaler and the takeaways. And in conclusion, remember, be yourself and never stop dreaming. That was pretty good. So much of the stuff that you hear, especially on social and stuff, it’s like that type of like, feel good takeaway, and we never think about like, Okay, but what if they’re terrible?

Carlton Riffel 28:29
Yeah. So this one is coming from another friend of the show, Steph Smith. So she’s a pretty prolific content creator, she just basically puts out some, it just has this tweet that she says rare jobs that are likely to become less rare. And it’s just interesting to think about this as like, a framework. Right? So this probably could have been a thread but she kept it in enough characters that it wasn’t. So VR designer, trend spotter digital stylist, solar installer, robot. ethicist, ethicist, there you go, okay. Robot ethicist, cyber actuary. Esports, coach, virtual surgeon, head of remote, satellite engineer, automation officer and genetics counselor. I just thought it was a creative. And then she asked what else? So there’s kind of a creative thing. If you think about all those careers, they’re all on the edge of a budding industry. And I think especially when you’re thinking about content and the way that you create content, and what niches you can create within just having random tidbits of thinking about new areas or new industries in the way that they’ll affect content is interesting to think about to.

Adam Vazquez 29:42
Hopefully step listens to this episode and to the force point about not taking criticism personally because I hate that tweet. I hate all of the ideas behind it. No, that’s not really her. She didn’t invent it, but that all terrifies. And with that, thank you for listening to Promotions Are for Closers. Carlton, anything to leave the people with?

Carlton Riffel 30:00
I think that’s it, man.

Adam Vazquez 30:01
All right, we’ll see you guys next week.