On sitting with Creative Discomfort. Sitting with the Darkness.
It’s so hard for us to suspend judgement. We are harsh, judgement-centric critics. All of us. It is one of our most unfortunate, innate qualities. We are designed to be on the look out for things that can potentially hurt us. We become automatic critics in the same process. We unconsciously think, “That might hurt me!” Or, “Watch out for that person!” Or, “I don’t want to look the fool, so therefore there Ain’ no WAY I’m speaking in front of the room! “
Thing is, the inner critic is not always right. It is often wrong. It just operates at a fevered pitch. And it requires training to quiet it, to calm turn it down to a 2 or 3 vs. the 12+ volume scale it operates on by default wiring.
BOOM! Something blows up outside. We flare up. As in, adrenaline shoots through our veins, alerting us to great potential danger. We immediately default to thinking it was a shotgun blast and that gangs must be in the area. Then, we think — wait, it’s July 1st around 1300. Somebody’s getting an early start on thems fireworks! Duh! Then, we immediately calm down our nervous system with the new meaning tied to the event.
What’s your default setting?
As they say in SEAL Teams, when the shit goes down, you do not fall to your highest level of thinking, you default to your level of training. THIS is what you train for! For those who don’t know, SEAL Teams and Special Forces Teams are always training for the worst scenarios. That’s their charter. That’s why they’re here: to get people out of the worst case scenarios no matter what. The only way you stay skilled & sharpened enough for such deployments is to be training ALL THE TIME. That’s why one of Jocko’s mantras is “Today, I don’t stop.” Because he can’t. He’ll get soft. And that won’t work. Turns out that going soft is a choice. You working-out today or not working-out today? You creating today or are you not creating today? You practicing today or you not practicing today? What happens today is up to you.
# Re-Training the harsh inner critic.
One of the keys to great creativity is to learn to help silence that inner critic and the nervous system’s default responses to cues & events, not only of others but of ourselves, too! We can train it for how best we want it to respond to stimuli. We don’t want to flare up every time a firework blows up. If we ever do find ourselves in true fight-or-flight situations, as in, you better get the hell out of there as fast as you can situations, you want it trained for that, too.
Creating should not be fight-or-flight. At least, I don’t think it ought to be. If it is that crazy for you to create, it’s no wonder you’re exhausted — that sounds exhausting! I think great creativity, like awesome flow states, ought to exist somewhere between easy and hard. While the act shouldn’t be super easy to you, it also should not be super hard to you, either. It is just the right amount of easy coupled with just the right amount of hard challenge. (I prefer mine closer to hard. I think there’s more value there. It may well be different for you.)
Thus, full engagement in the activity. You look up from it and 2 hours have gone by that felt like 10 minutes. That ought to be what you seek. Especially in your creative work. Think of it like a great conversation with someone you’re in-sync with.
#Our very own, worst, creative critic.
We are so often our own worst critic, especially when it comes to things we create. Like a Pixar movie, our work is never really finished. It is simply released due to deadlines and release dates. So much of our stuff just sits on a SSD / hard drive / in the cloud somewhere, stuck forever in creative limbo. Like when your favorite band goes into the studio for six months and records 30 songs, but only 10 make the album. Well, what about the other 20? What happens to them? Typically, not much. They just sit there, “in the can” on a MacBook Pro somewhere in Pro Tools, for fans to never, ever hear. Sure seems weird to do that to me.
Will this creative work see the public light?
But what about you and me? What of our work sees the public light? Where are we going with it today? Who creates on public display like some of my friends do? Who publishes regularly / near daily like Seth Godin challenges us to do? Who has a word count goal / page goal for writing today? Who’s celebrating the small creative wins today? Who’s gonna write a book today? Who’s going to make something of permanence today?
Scary Performance Prompts
Most people are scared of these prompts. Most people do not have a word count goal today (hell, I don’t). Most people will never write the book. Most people will never have the six-pack abs. Most people are not up to the Creative Challenge.
Perhaps this is why Necessity is so vital to our high performance. These creative actions are with 100% necessary to us today or they’re not, and therefore will not get done. There’s some degree of Courage there, to being and acting true to oneself, to what one wants, and to what one desires to feel — not defaults to feel. And then decides to express it to people no matter what they say back. Creativity in its most simple form is courageous, honest self-expression.
#Discipline strikes like lightning.
If you’ll allow me to brag a bit, there is never a morning when I wake up and I don’t feel like writing. “Inspiration” and, WAY more importantly, Discipline strike me like lightning at 5 AM each morning to wake up and write. In fact, by now, I see letters in my mind’s eye while I lay there in bed. It’s like I can manipulate them in my mind, forming what I ‘ll write for the day. I’m not scared, even if I don’t know what to do. I just sit there, and sit with it. I sit through the discomfort of the unknown, of the not knowing, of the darkness. Isn’t that uncomfortable? Yes, it is, but it’s also not that bad, either, because I believe in my ability to figure things out creatively. I know there is a crafty way I’ll tunnel my way out of the darkness. If I embrace it, how can I be scared of it? If I embrace it, then I retain the power over it. Now that I’m learning new light tricks, I feel even more powerful. There are no limits. None. I Got This. I Got This in the best possible way.
#I Got This.
If there is one thing I can teach / coach upon for creatives, it is to learn to empower yourself to believe in your own abilities to figure things out. To put, “Hey, I Got This!” On repeat in your mind. Voice it often. Again and again and again and again. Tell it to your friends and family. You’ve been here before and conquered. You’ve faced creative difficulties in the past and you’ve overcome them. You’re still here. You still want to make your difference. While you might have gone away for awhile, you’re back for more. You just cannot help yourself. You cannot help yourself because you got this.
That’s a willingness to destroy, alright.
Today, I take scalps. Today, I make it happen. Today, it is up to me — not anybody else. Today, everything falls onto me. I don’t create today, then nothing gets done. I don’t get after it early, then everything else feels harder I don’t make it happen today, then I lost today. If I create today, then I win and my family wins. I get after it today, then my mind wins. The psychological victory is mine.