Your outlook on life is the canvas you begin with when you create. A healthy point of view about what you have to contribute is invaluable to your work. If negative self-talk is so automatic you barely notice it, or fear of failure has taken the wheel completely, you probably know it’s time for a change. It takes inner work, but you’ll increase productivity and enjoy the creative process more, as you won’t be carrying around the mental equivalent of a bag of bricks any longer.
If the old way no longer serves you, it’s time to do a full scale attack on your mental habits. We’re going to look at the top five creativity killers and provide quick solutions that stop these mental blocks head on.
1. The Monster In Your Head
Experts say humans have about 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day, and the majority of them are negative. This voice extinguishes our great ideas and makes us feel like foolish dreamers. I call it the monster in your head. This strange creature is clever in its tactics, and it loves to predict the future. “Why bother interviewing for that role?” it reminds you. “You always freeze up anyway.” It gives us an easy out from putting in the bravery required to step up. If that’s not enough, constant negative thoughts take a toll on your physical health over time. Because of the mind-body connection, these thoughts can affect your blood pressure, immune system, and your heart health.
The key to slaying that beast in your brain isn’t to repress the voice. It’s to see it for what it is and take back your power. It’s time to stop buying into the thoughts and expose their inaccuracy. The first step is awareness. Reflect on the language you’re using when you have these thoughts. When you decide your first stab at a novel is pathetic, write down the words that keep coming up in your mind when you judge your work. Aim to recognize the phrases that keep surfacing.
This helps you become aware of their source. You may already recollect a traumatic moment that set things off. It could have been a passing comment, like showing a short story to a boyfriend who told you not to bother because the literary industry is “too competitive.” It’s important to challenge the negative beliefs we’ve developed as a result of these experiences. Ask yourself if there’s any truth to them. After locating the origin of this toxic thought, replace it with a realistic one that resonates with your heart. This new thought should have meaning to you so you can allow yourself to believe it. Write it down and keep it somewhere you’ll often see it, like above your desk or in your studio. Refer to it until it feels automatic.
2. Unfriendly Competition
I have a friend who’s a ridiculously gifted singer, but I’m not sure if she’s aware of it. She’s a theatrical soprano with a vocal range that’s out of this world. With a degree in music and teaching, she truly loves what she does, but something has stopped her from moving forward over the years. It’s her lack of belief in herself, and I sense that she doesn’t feel she deserves the creative fulfillment she longs for. This is something she needs to work past, but what’s also hurting her is her resentment of others who are putting themselves out there. “Oh my gosh, she’s so off key,” she quietly griped to me when we stopped at a trendy lounge to hear a jazz quartet led by a sultry singer. “I would sing it better!”
The thing is, most of the time, she’s absolutely right. She is the most talented singer in many scenarios. However, the tool these singers have that she lacks is the audacity to put themselves out there. They believe they’re good enough to be heard by the world, and sometimes that can trump the talent card. Believing in yourself and having the confidence to see your dreams through is a huge part of success. If you want to grow creatively, you have to embrace the vulnerability it takes to risk failure. You must get in the arena to let your voice be heard, as it’s hard to grow your talent from the sidelines. Don’t sell yourself short in life. The resentment you may feel towards other artists for varying reasons is a waste of energy, and it won’t serve you in reaching your own goals.
3. Impatience Is The Pitfall Of Ambition
I’ll be honest, patience is an ongoing lesson for me. I’ve always had a sense I was being chased through life in order to reach a finish line. I thought it meant I was driven, but the downside was that life felt harder when I stumbled on setbacks that were out of my control. I wound myself in knots when things didn’t move along. It’s only in recent years I’ve smartened up to the benefits of stillness and calm while waiting for life’s outcomes.
One of the simplest ways I discovered this was through some good old-fashioned gratitude. Taking stock of all the things in life we have to be thankful for shifts our perspective when we’re waiting to hear back about an opportunity. When I feel that familiar panic creep in, I take a full bodied breath and begin to focus on things like my family, my loving partner, and the creative successes I’ve already had, and it brings me back to the present. In fact, studies show that gratitude increases people’s self-control and their ability to wait for things. When you feel the death grip of impatience take hold, jot down a list of everything you’re truly thankful for. Read that list back and feel your outlook shift back into the present moment.
4. People Will Talk
Every self help book out there proclaims the importance of not worrying about what people think, and creatively, it may be the hardest one to put into practice. When you submit your work to the world, you’re putting yourself out there for others to appraise your creative effort. The way your work is marketed or whether you even get hired basically depends on their opinion. This is a common one that trips up many creative people. With the right strategy, though, it’s completely possible to be true to your vision but still cater to business parameters.
It’s about recognizing and holding onto what’s most important to you. Make a list of your creative core values. These virtues give your work its integrity and are the real reason you’re choosing what you love. It could be your discipline that drives you to practice at least two hours a day, or it could be your technique that inspires each piece of work to be its best quality. It could also be the vision of how your work will eventually be unveiled to the world or possibly your resilience in knowing it won’t happen overnight. These values should be close to your heart and provide inspiration when you refer to them. Whenever you feel uncertain about a creative choice, this list will give you the clarity or decisiveness you need. It will also help you see through uncertainty and remind you why you chose this path.
5. Fitting In Where You Don’t Belong
How many times has someone given you the generic advice, “Just be yourself!” As a youngster, I always scratched my head at this phrase, since I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant. Just doing whatever you want and not caring about anyone’s opinion? Seemed a bit simplistic. As I matured, I realized perhaps what it actually means is that you’ve got to know yourself and be honest about who you are.
Most of us have been raised to blend in, which is kind of sad. At a developmental age, that behavior doesn’t really nurture the goal of getting to know who we are at a core level. Secondly, as artists, it doesn’t help us recognize what makes our heart sing creatively. You may have grown up in a house that idealized stiff societal norms or hung around people with narrow ideas on life choices. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s important now that you honestly check in with what you love, what you can’t stand, what makes you unique, and what you actually value. Listen carefully to that inner voice and let go of the static noise around you. If you’ve always known exactly who you are and what you want, that’s an amazing gift. Hold onto it and preserve it throughout your creative journey.