True success as an entrepreneur comes from the ability to listen closely to your inner knowing and express your unique voice. Even so, it can be tempting to latch onto the latest business trends in your industry and try to link your efforts to them. As a business owner and artist, I can say without hesitation that the surest path to a creative block is when I reference trends. It leaves me feeling stuck and confused.

For instance, one time I was trying to design a new birthday card and I wanted to create something that connected with people on a real level. I decided to search online for trending birthday images and I quickly became overwhelmed. I saw hundreds of images and messages that were nothing like my own designs, but because they were so popular and trending I got a sinking feeling that my designs were insignificant and irrelevant.

This is a perfect example of why seeking to fit your creative ideas into trends is not a good idea. Many trends will ultimately have nothing to do with your target market, and they are more likely to leave you feeling confused and defeated than creative and empowered.

I had to walk away and get all of those images out of my head in order to return to my own unique expression. I eventually created a funny card that, due to the exuberant energy I had when I created it, became one of my company’s most popular items. It wasn’t the latest trends that enabled that; it was my commitment to trusting my inner knowing and creating products from my own unique perspective.

If I had instead created a card from the headspace I was in after looking through what was trending, the final product would have lacked my signature energy. I believe that our “secret sauce” — the uniquely attractive way we do something with joy — gets suppressed when we refer to trends as a template rather than a mere hint on our periphery.

Connect with Your Secret Sauce

Acknowledge when you’re not feelin’ your sauce. When your secret sauce is flowing, you are energized; creativity and ideas come easily and quickly, and you lose track of time. When I am in this space, I feel other-worldly because, from that state, anything is imaginable.

When you’re not feelin’ your sauce, you feel heavier. Everything feels like more of an effort, and if you’re trying to create or write or brainstorm, you might even get a headache. You feel tired, procrastinate, feel stuck, or start to play negative thought loops in your mind.

Old, outdated insecurities echo inside my head whenever I create something without my secret sauce. I end up feeling doubt during the entire creative process, and the positive, energized consumer responses I work so hard to get simply don’t come.

The last thing any of us should do at such times is source trends that don’t align with our personal mission and principles. Doing so will only enforce self-doubt and stifle our inner voice.

Thinking deeper about how trends work, they are energized because of how they connect with their audience. They start as a spark of energy that aligns with a mass of people at a particular moment. Trends are all about energy alignment.

When I was 10, I collected rocks. Then the Pet Rock trend exploded onto the market, and I was inspired to carefully display my beloved rocks in egg cartons and take them door to door for sale. I was confused when no one bought them. I learned then that it wasn’t about the rock, but about the energy that was behind the Pet Rock brand specifically. People were buying joy and playful irony — the uplifting energy with which the product was created.

It launched in the 1970s amidst lots of political and social tension, and people enjoyed flipping reality on its head. The product addressed the pressure people felt taking care of a living pet. Pet rocks came “alive” — their cardboard packages included “breathing holes” — without any actual responsibility. Over one million were sold for $4 each (equivalent to $19 each today).

I felt putting smiley faces on my beautiful rocks would deface them, but even if I had they wouldn’t have sold because the original energy of the Pet Rock was not behind it. I was selling rocks for a vastly different reason, sourced by my own values.

You can imitate a trend exactly and not get an enthusiastic response if it is not energized with your secret sauce. So, put trends aside and get back to connecting with your personal mojo.

Your Secret Sauce Is Not In Your Head

Play is a challenging concept for some adults. Pure play — play without an agenda or expected outcome — is a powerful tool that connects you with your secret sauce, freeing you from the fog of the mind and social confusion. It is underrated and undervalued by adults but it is, in fact, potent soul work that requires courage and faith. Find activities that bypass your mind and connect with your heart. Playing emancipates the soul.

Start by doing what you love. It may be lighting a scented candle or enjoying a bite of chocolate. Spending time with your children or playing with your pet are also potent activities because you are immersed in their bubble of pure love and play.

Watching playful animal videos online can produce a similar effect. Animals are honest. They remind us of our own truth, which is one reason why they are so popular — and why waddling penguins or smiling dogs open our hearts!

Music is also a secret sauce funnel. It inspires and moves the body in ways similar to play — bypassing the mind. Use music to loosen the body and free the soul. Don’t worry about technique or rhythm or trending moves.

Laugh, Play, Trust Your Process

When I looked at trending products for new design ideas and became hopelessly blocked, I stepped away and took the rest of the day to reconnect with my secret sauce. I have a toy box in my office. In it is a coloring book, a tiara, sun glasses, a slide whistle, and a big clown tie. As silly as this may seem, it’s impossible to stay down and out while wearing a tiara or playing the slide whistle! Play really works.

I returned to my design process the following day, and I was in a rejuvenated state of play. I created a zany, wild image, mirroring my joy and using my signature secret sauce. The success of that product was proof enough for me that my secret sauce is a more valuable source of inspiration than any trend.

Large corporations are seeing more and more value in helping their employees tap into their secret sauce. They’re even beginning to invest in playrooms and inter-office activities that support joy. Your secret sauce is supposed to be expressed; that’s why, when you let it flow, it benefits you and inspires others. Pursuing your secret sauce makes you, by default, a social leader and trendsetter.