Today’s lesson tackles that old familiar feeling of fear. Whether it’s fear of failure, the pressure to produce, or criticism that’s getting you down, removing these obstacles to creativity can give your work a real positive boost.
There used to be a lot of talk about Positive Mental Attitude. I was one of those cynics who said that was all well and good, but it doesn’t get you very far in the real world to simply believe that things are going to work out well for you. It looks like the world has finally come around to my way of thinking! Having a Positive Mental Attitude is only the start of what you need to do to be successful in a profession as competitive and subjective as the creative arts: You have to act on your beliefs in order to bring success your way.
In today’s meditation, it’s important to think about both Goals and Obstacles. Find yourself a quiet space to sit and ruminate. You might want to make a list or just consider different things and see what comes to your mind most prominently. Either way, I’d like you to think about the Goals that you want to achieve (e.g. “Finish my short story for a magazine contest”) and the Obstacles that might be stopping you from achieving that Goal (e.g. “What if they send it back and say I’m no good?”). In the creative arts, it’s likely that your obstacles will be psychological ones, dominated by specific fears and “what ifs” that we all suffer from.
This activity works quite nicely after you’ve been practicing Worry Timefor a while. Rather than producing an answer to your “what if” questions, the idea is to plan a practical Goal and SMART target to achieve your objective. This is “feel the fear, and do it anyway” in practice. Let’s take an example and see how, even when your fears are realized, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.
If we take the Goal from the above section,“Finish my short story for a magazine contest,” we can turn it into a SMART target. This means that the Goal needs to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-oriented. So, we could reshape this goal to read something like: “Finish my short story for Writing Magazine. Deadline is January 25, which is 30 days from now. The story must be no more than 1,500 words. I have 400 words right now, so 1,100 more to go. That’s only 37 words a day.”
Even if the magazine later returns your story with negative feedback, you have still achieved a time-limited target with a daily writing goal. And in the case of this event, your story could also be re-shaped into a new Goal: “Improve my story in time for Writer’s Weekly Magazine submission. Deadline is March 8, which is 24 days from now. That’s 63 words to edit per day.”
It’s important to note that confidence comes from both planning and mental fortitude against negativity. We’ve already discussed dispelling worry from your creative life, and this exercise is no different in that respect. Instead of focusing on what might happen as a negative consequence of your actions, you focus on what you can do to achieve a positive result. Action over thought can be a powerful tool in breaking through the fear barrier.
If you find that a SMART target doesn’t work when you try it, please don’t give up right away. It’s worth analyzing your Goal very closely at the start of the process to make sure you’re not setting yourself up for failure, particularly in the “MAR” part of the acronym. If you say that you want to write a “successful” poem, how would you measure that success? Does it mean it has to be well-received at a reading or that it must make it into print somewhere? And if you set yourself the hefty goal of completing a 100,000 novel, are you realistically aware of your current writing speed when you set your timescale for completion? Sometimes the key is in re-shaping these things. There’s no need to be afraid of failure, because it’s simply another opportunity to learn and improve.
Tomorrow, we’ll tackle The Block: that dreadful moment when you sit in front of a blank screen and don’t know what to do. I’ll teach you a short exercise that you can do there and then to get your brain in working order again!
Until then, battle those demons!
For more information on how to apply each part of the SMART Goals acronym, try this great Management Tools explanation.
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