This morning when I sat down to write this blog post I had no idea what I was going to say.
As I stared at the blank digital page, the curser blinking and I started to feel tense. My body felt anxious and my mind was swarmed with thoughts like:
- I have nothing to say
- I have run out of things to say
- This blog isn’t very good
- Everyone else can think of good things to write but you can’t
- There is something wrong with me
When we show up at the gate of a creative act, our mind spins thoughts of self doubt, perfectionism, anxiety and hopelessness and releases them into our awareness. Why would your own brain do such a horrible thing to you, day after day? Isn’t being Creative Supposed to be fun?
Creativity and Uncertainty
When you sit down to make art, you are intentionally putting yourself into a situation steeped in uncertainty. You can’t guarantee that what you make will be perfect . You can’t know all the steps to get from the blank page to first draft. You can’t promise yourself that everyone will love what you make. More on perfectionism and creativity
The brain is a thinking machine, designed to make connections, assign labels, make judgements and above all else, avoid risk. Since the days of cavemen, the oldest parts of the brain have worked hard to keep us safe and uneaten by prehistoric beasties. Unfortunately, those parts of the brain are still active now. The uncertainty of the creative process is perceived as a threat by the brain. Here is how it works:
- You sit down to make art
- Your brain becomes aware of the uncertainty, ego vulnerability and risk of judgement when other people see what you’ve made
- The brain interprets this mix of uncertainty and risk as a threat to your safety, like a rabid sabertooth chasing you into a pit of snakes
- The brain, more specifically the amygdala, produces a fear response in the body (anxiety) and mind (negative thoughts) to get you to stop
So what can a brave artist like yourself do to deal with this problem?
1. Mindful Acceptance
As crappy as it sounds, the process of your brain interpreting creative action as a threat is a natural one. It’s built right into the structure of your brain. It will never go away. but…
You are not powerless. You are not stuck.
Before you sit down to work on your art, remind yourself that you will probably have some negative emotions, thoughts and body sensations come up while you’re trying to be creative. Think about how this is just your brain trying to protect you from risk and accept it as part of the deal.
I love being a therapist. I work with teenagers who have experienced trauma and are having a hard time as a result. When I show up for a session, I remind myself that sometimes I will be yelled at, called names and told that I’m stupid. It’s part of the deal of being a therapist…and I love being a therapist. It’s worth it.
You can bring the same acceptance to your creative process.
After you accept that negative emotions, body sensations and thoughts are a natural by-product of being creative, you can commit yourself to action in the face of fear. Or put more simply:
Do it anyway
I call this practice action oriented creativity. As you sit in front of the blank screen, notebook or garageband session, just start typing, writing, or playing. When you take creative action in the face of negative emotions three things will happen:
1. The negative feelings will eventually fade into the background, replaced by a sense of playful engagement with your art
2. You will start to develop the habit of working on your art no matter how you feel. You will say “so what?” and get to work.
3. You’re confidence in yourself and your ability as an artist will grow.
When we accept feelings of self doubt, confusion, anxiety, fear, hopelessness, anger, frustration and boredom as natural by-products of the creative process, we can look at them, say “So What?” and learn to work along-side these thoughts and feelings.
- You will make more art
- You will finish more projects
- You will make better, more interesting art
who doesn’t want that?
What sort of thoughts come up in your mind when you first sit down to be creative? Leave a comment below and tell us how your brain tries to keep you from your art?