by Leslie Zeigler
We often talk on this blog site about naysayers – you know who they are – the people in your life, either from your past or your present, who are are ever-so-skilled in delivering that critical message. The message that has the power to be worse than a bee sting in its lingering sting. It may not matter how confident you are about your creative endeavor – this message feels like just the opposite of an encouraging comment. It can make you doubt your own talents and abilities. The person may even think they are being helpful by saying: “Perhaps you are wasting your time trying to write. You must know you will never win a Pulitzer.”
Another form this naysaying might take can be silence about anything you do that is creative – a complete absence of comment, as if these people had selective amnesia when it comes to your creativity. Sometimes this type of naysayer style can hurt even more than the overtly negative comment.
But what about the naysayer inside of you? Are you aware that you might be your own worst naysayer – the one who has the greatest power to stop you from pursuing your creative dream? It can occur in a very subtle way – a brief occasional internal message that you may barely notice, like “Are you sure you write well enough to keep working on that short story?” Or perhaps you tell yourself you are wasting your money on those workshops you are taking to become a better writer or classes to become a better painter, photographer, actor, etc, etc., etc. Or maybe it is not subtle at all – maybe it a a loud, repetitive, internal voice that says you are really a fraud, you really should just stop whatever passion you are directing towards your creativity and give up and focus your energy on anything else but being creative.
So what can you do? First of all, understand that you cannot easily get rid of this kind of internal message. Just trying to order it to stop it does not usually work. It is rare to meet someone who does not struggle to some degree (the operative words) with self-doubt and harsh self-critical messages.
But there are things you can do. The first step is to become your own detective of your internal naysayer messages. As you do this, begin to raise your awareness that the message is negative and just that – an internal message – not a fact.
In the book The Mindful Way through Anxiety, by Susan M. Orsillo, PhD, Lizabeth Roemer, PhD, the authors say “The human mind is like a movie theater that never closes -always prepared to show films of what we fear.”
This is a beginning step to take in using mindfulness as a way to help cope better with these understandably upsetting messages. In my next blog post I will describe Step 2 in using mindfulness.
by Deborah Atherton
Most of us have them. They may not be full time; we might be able to do them from home. But relatively few of us are able to support ourselves purely on our creative projects. Some of us teach the art we practice, but although it’s wonderful to share what we’ve learned with others, we all know that this is not the same thing as doing your own work.
I am truly inspired by fellow writers and other artists who accept the lower income and lack of health insurance that often comes with pursuing your art full time. I wish we lived in a country where health insurance and housing was affordable for everyone, and more of us could work at what we love 40 or 60 hours a week without penalty.
But given that we don’t quite live in that world, how do we handle our day gigs?People striving to make time for creativity take widely different approaches. I work for a nonprofit whose work I believe in that offers me an opportunity to do some writing and research. Some people prefer to work jobs that have absolutely nothing to do with their art. I know a writer who is a locksmith and another who is an iron worker. The actor or filmmaker who is currently a waiter or barista has become an American cultural icon. We are postal workers and lawyers and bankers and taxi drivers. We teach grade school and work in giant box stores.
But whatever our day gig, balancing it with our creative life is a perpetual challenge. People often ask me the following question: “How do have the energy to work on so many different projects? I’m exhausted when I come home at night!”
Well, me too. Honestly, 50% of the time I come home from work, eat dinner, and flop in front of the TV. I know far more about criminal investigative techniques (as least as presented by CBS) than any honest person ought to.
Most of my creative work I do, not at night after work, but in what I think of as little pockets of time I extract from the rest of my life. I have developed the habit of keeping a notebook or netbook by the bed so I write for a little while last thing at night and first thing in the morning. Lunch time is sometimes social, but at least a few times a week I find a place and moment to myself to do some work. Weekends offer many little pockets of time, although perhaps not the luxurious stretches you might hope for—after all, there’s the rest of your life: laundry and grocery shopping and going to the drug store and hanging out with your family and friends and picking up the dry cleaning.
The biggest trick (and one that often eludes me) is keeping yourself open to creative ideas and opportunities while you are functioning in the rest of your life. Keeping the notebook or sketchbook or camera (or handy double duty i-Phone) at hand for random inspiration. And never letting go of the idea that your creative life is at least as real and important as the one that supplies health insurance and groceries and maybe even helps save the world. There’s more than one way to save the world, and, at least in my eyes, staying on course with your creative goals and projects is one of them.
A few months ago, one night while watching TV, I watched a story on President Obama sitting down every night and answering ten letters that he had received from the public. I became curious , and found a more detailed New York Times article (by Ashley Parker in the April 19, 2009 issue). The article described the tens of thousands of letters, e-mails, messages and faxes that arrive at the White House every day. Each weekday afternoon, a few hundred end up in the office of Mr. Kelleher, the Director of the White House Office of Correspondence . He then chooses ten letters, which he slips into a purple folder and puts in in the daily briefing book that is delivered to President Obama at the White House Residence.
The real question is: what did it mean to me? It was really quite simple. If he can take the time to do this task , why is it so hard for me and other people to find the time to be creative? He found the time to do something he clearly felt passionate about.
This daily action has become a source of Inspiration for me. Brian Tracy in his book, Eat That Frog 21 GREAT Ways To Stop Procrcrastinating And Get More Done in Less Time says “There is never enough time to do everything you have to do.” He adds, “you can get control of your tasks and activities only to the degree you stop doing some things and start spending more time on the few activities that can really make a difference in your life.”
So is writing that poem, novel, screenplay and/or signing up for that photography, pottery, dance, writing class a priority? If the President can make time for ten letters a day to people he never met, can you devote the same amount of time to launching (or sustaining) your own creative projects?
In a prior blog post I wrote about how Maslow was a humanistic psychologist and believed that in every person there is a strong desire to realize his or her full potential. He believed creativity was an aspect of personality. Another interesting idea he had was that there are “two sets of forces–one that clings to safety and defensiveness out of fear and one that urges us towards wholeness and full expression of our true selves. . . One part of us is afraid to take chances …afraid to bother the status quo… …Another part is driven by a nagging sense of feeling unfulfilled, that our lives will be incomplete unless we express ourselves in some important way.”
He adds that growth forward takes place in little steps. He believed that this slow process made it safer for us to change and grow.
Perhaps you may want to ask yourself: What do you need emotionally to help you take that first small step or the next step in your current creative project?
Posted by Deborah Atherton
A month ago, renowned positive psychologist Chris Petersen said in an interview with Ben Dean of Mentor Coach that in the early days of his interest in researching happiness, he had kept a daily catalog of his activities on happy and unhappy days, to see what actually contributed to his own happiness. Since I am always excited about a new list, I decided to keep my own spreadsheet for a month on my happy and less happy days, and what, by the end of a day, in my mind made it a happy one. Chris Petersen said, to his surprise, that his own happiness depended on the completion of a task—that even finishing a big load of laundry was enough to make him happy. Ben asked if working on his book didn’t make him happier than doing the laundry. Chris replied, “Not really. I just like finishing things.”
Well, here I am, thirty days later, and it was certainly an interesting way of looking at your life. Usually, I am focused on my writing, my job, my family and friends, what I’m making for dinner, what’s on TV, what I have to read, etc. Sitting down at the end of the day, assessing how you feel, and just listing what you’ve done, turns out to be a fascinating personal exercise.
But just finishing things didn’t do it for me. I had one highly virtuous day of housekeeping, finishing everything from the laundry to washing the kitchen floor, which left me completely cranky at the end.
What did do it for me was working on something I consider creative. Which might be this blog, or a short story, or song lyrics, or working on my novel. Every day I did something creative, I ended the day happy, even if it was a difficult day in other ways, and even if I couldn’t get too far with what I was doing.
The other thing that worked for me was doing absolutely nothing–throwing the To Do list and all my projects out the window for the day and just ordering Chinese for dinner and reading or watching TV—or playing my favorite new video word game, Word Mole.
Despite my love of solitude, days when I spoke to people I care about tended to be happier, a lesson for the creative introverts and hermits of the world.
Of course, understanding what makes you happy and acting on it are two different things, which is one reason why the field of positive psychology is so popular right now. But I now know that if I spend even fifteen minutes sitting down and writing a few words, my whole day is happier—it’s like a free painkiller with no bad side effects.
Whether your key to happiness turns out to be finishing the laundry or polishing your prose, it might be fun to take a few minutes at the end of the day for the next month (or even week) and find out. I’m guessing that for you, like me, it might be taking a photograph, or painting a landscape, or finding just the right chord to end a song. Of course, it’s important not to confuse personal happiness with external approval or success—but that is a blog for another day.
by Leslie Zeigler
This is a second blog entry about Sheri Heller, a colleague of mine who is an Interfaith Reverend and psychotherapist as well as a writer, playwright and actor. She is the founder of the Philanthropic Theater Group Sistah Tribe. Sistah Tribe is a collective of women and men who bring to the theater the culturally under-served and disenfranchised.
In my conversation with Sheri, I noticed a thread that ran through much of what she shared with me – which is her deeply held belief that “when we connect to our creative impulses we are deeply authentic. ” She goes on to say “creativity teaches us about ourselves.” In her own deeply authentic voice she says, “I always knew there was an artist in me, but I didn’t feel entitled to give her permission and in certain ways was afraid to give her expression for fear of my own power being allowed to shine and play.”
How about you? ARE YOU WILLING TO DARE TO ALLOW YOURSELF TO SHINE AND PLAY ?