Fear, resistance, self-doubt, judgment, perfectionism: These are just a handful of mindsets that habitually threaten our ability to move forward, test new waters or attempt challenges. When we do allow ourselves to push beyond them, great and interesting things can emerge. That`s not to say the process is always easy or pain-free, but it’s only in playing the game that we have the possibility of experiencing triumph.
At one point in time, these mechanisms intervened to protect us: To increase our likelihood of survival at times when we were not fully evolved, old or experienced enough to choose otherwise. But today, fear and its friends are rarely necessary to the degree they continue to make themselves felt within us. The sense of imminent danger or loss that so often accompanies making decisions; trying, or letting go is simply unrealistic when it comes to our daily lives.
Thus, as Elizabeth Gilbert puts it, we should thank these vocal characters for their services, and then invite them to take a back seat whilst we drive forward with courage. This is how we develop resilience. `Wrong` turns are inevitable along the way, and these passengers will insist we should have listened to their advice. Yet, it is in getting lost and finding routes back that the journey becomes interesting and worth examining.
Delving into writings that address the creative process and what promotes or halts its progress, I often find material that is profoundly relevant to recovery also. The metaphors that emerge are stark and endless.
Elizabeth Gilbert on fear:
“Let me list for you some of the many ways in which you might be afraid to live a more creative life:
You’re afraid you have no talent.
You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or—worst of all—ignored.
You’re afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it.
You’re afraid somebody else already did it better. You’re afraid everybody else already did it better.
You’re afraid somebody will steal your ideas, so it’s safer to keep them hidden forever in the dark.
You’re afraid you won’t be taken seriously. You’re afraid your work isn’t politically, emotionally, or artistically important enough to change anyone’s life.
You’re afraid your dreams are embarrassing. You’re afraid that someday you’ll look back on your creative endeavors as having been a giant waste of time, effort, and money.
You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of work space, or financial freedom, or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration.
You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of training or degree.
You’re afraid you’re too fat. (I don’t know what this has to do with creativity, exactly, but experience has taught me that most of us are afraid we’re too fat, so let’s just put that on the anxiety list, for good measure.)
You’re afraid of being exposed as a hack, or a fool, or a dilettante, or a narcissist.
You’re afraid of upsetting your family with what you may reveal. You’re afraid of what your peers and coworkers will say if you express your personal truth aloud.
You’re afraid of unleashing your innermost demons, and you really don’t want to encounter your innermost demons.
You’re afraid your best work is behind you. You’re afraid you never had any best work to begin with. You’re afraid you neglected your creativity for so long that now you can never get it back.
You’re afraid you’re too old to start. You’re afraid you’re too young to start.
You’re afraid because something went well in your life once, so obviously nothing can ever go well again. You’re afraid because nothing has ever gone well in your life, so why bother trying?
You’re afraid of being a one-hit wonder. You’re afraid of being a no-hit wonder”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, 2015
Steven Pressfield on Resistance:
Resistance is fueled by fear: Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our own fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer resistance.
He goes on:
Are you paralyzed by fear? That`s a good sign.
Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.
Remember our rule of thumb: the more afraid we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it. Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance.
Steven Pressfield: The War of Art, 2002
There are few things I have felt more resistance towards than:
a) Embracing recovery.
b) Changing in accordance.
c) Confronting my relationship to past events.
d) Allowing what I wanted to make to come out.
The hardest part is starting.
Brene Brown on Perfectionism:
Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.
The `perfectionist` label was one of my favorites. I pinned it to my lapel like a proverbial badge of honor, as though it were something to take pride in. I bought into the illusion -as many do- that being a perfectionist meant I had the potential to do things really, really well.
By insisting on identifying as perfectionists, we create a fantasy that we might one day attain an elusive, ideal state of being. A place from which we can operate with pure ease, and without risk of being criticized or judged.
For me, this meant was that I often preferred to see nothing through to completion, than do something which might require risking failure or receiving criticism. Blaming ones inability to try or finish on perfectionism is the same as saying you are too scared of making a mistake or a mess.
David Foster Wallace:
If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.
Perfectionism is our most compulsive way of keeping ourselves small, a kind of psychoemotional contortionism that gives the illusion of reaching for greatness while constricting us into increasingly suffocating smallness.
Popova quoting Anne Lamott:
Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.
That’s just it: We don’t want to make a mess. And yet, without getting dirty, nothing can really happen.
I have feared emotional discomfort like it was something that could physically climb on top of my shoulders and crush me (it can’t). And when it came to creating, compulsive use of fear and perfectionism throughout my early twenties eventually led me to feel convinced I was not capable. I was not sufficiently talented; I didn’t posses the skill; it wouldn’t be any good. The funny thing is, I thought that my insecurities and excuses were pretty special. I kept them in a nice little box that I could open up whenever I wanted to an excuse or sympathy from other. After a while, this became boring and repetitive.
I could not see a way of translating into material form the full scope of ideas and images at the forefront of my mind without feeling uncomfortable and making the occasional mess. And yet, my refusal to try in earnest resulted in a mess being made out of me.
From the Gospel of Thomas:
If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth with destroy you.
In reality, I didn’t know, or want to hear, that there is no one or perfect way of doing things –that my fears around matters of living and creativity were shared by most.
In the beginning, many of these fears became self-fulfilling prophesies. Like everyone, I made (and still make) a lot of things that do not resemble what I picture in my mind. But through persevering, time and skill collaborate to produces good things. Sometime better things. The need for work or life to look a certain way becomes secondary to the process of trying and experimenting. I have found fondness for even the `mistakes` as they contain within them previously obscured pieces of myself. Sometimes these look and feel odd, but they are also interesting.
Without allowing myself to experience the aliveness that ultimately results from making something for its own sake, I prevented myself from accessing the main ingredients for overcoming the laundry list of blocks that Gilbert, Pressfeild, and so many others point to: the elation and joy of true expression, and the sense of fulfillment these emotions bring forth.
Maria Popova writing about Anne Lamott: https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/11/22/bird-by-bird-anne-lamott/