Have you ever noticed how we human beings are generally our most miserable when we’re focused on ourselves? My wants, my needs, my pains, my problems… For beings so dedicated to the pursuit of happiness, you’d think we might recognize the link between joy and self-forgetfulness…but no.
Plus: Easier said than done, right?
I recognize that my problems, when compared to others’, really aren’t so bad. Even so, whenever I dwell on my concerns, I can easily end up having a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”
Or maybe it’s that the bad days encourage me to focus on myself (and my problems). Regardless, whether life’s circumstances force the issue—drawing my focus to the negative—or whether my downward-spiraling thoughts suction my day down the proverbial drain, I’ve come to believe that Self is at the root of all my problems.
Don’t believe me? Take a moment to think about it.
Wouldn’t you be happier some days if you lived with emotional amnesia? If—instead of hashing and rehashing and worrying and wondering and fearing and desperately wishing for change—you could press the pause on all your stressful thinking?
What if (for example)—instead of wondering how you’re going to solve all those plot problems and become the successful author you one day hope to be—you simply forget yourself, your expectations, and relish in the enjoyment of writing… One day at a time…Knowing that no accomplishment worth pursuing is achieved in a single day anyway. Realizing that stress only serves to steal your creativity. What if?
At this point, you may be thinking,“But if I relax too much—if I don’t push myself onward—I’ll never make it to the end.”
Complacency is certainly a dangerous enemy. But consider the following quotes:
“When you’re cranky, so is your novel. When you shine, your novel does, too. So why not let yourself shine, both in life and on the page?” From The Emotional Craft of Fiction, by Donald Maass
While it’s true that negative emotions can be harnessed as a fuel for creativity, stress—more often than not—serves only to stifle our innovation. According to Dr. Shelley Carson, author of, Your Creative Brain:
“When mood is more negative, attention becomes more focused so that we can concentrate on addressing stressors that are impacting our well-being.” In contrast, “When mood is elevated, attention becomes somewhat defocused so that we can take in more information in search of novel opportunities.”
And those novel opportunities for writers are often novel ideas for our faltering plot!
As a case in point, I spent several hours yesterday trying to solve a single plot problem (without success). As I worked on brainstorming ideas, I began to feel—not energized, as I often am when I brainstorm—but as if I’d been banging my head against a wall. Repeatedly.
I was putting so much pressure on myself to solve THIS ONE PROBLEM, that I blocked out all other avenues of creativity… All because of the pressure I was putting on my SELF.
I need to solve this plot problem or *I* will never be published. If I can’t solve this plot problem, *I’m* a failure. It didn’t help that, a few days prior, I’d thought I’d found a plot solution—a solution I was now second guessing.
Why? I was judging myself, my work, my adequacy. My idea isn’t good enough. I‘m not good enough. Self, self, SELF!
So, what can we creative types do when our SELF is thwarting our creative progress?
Practical ideas for forgetting yourself
It’s all good and well to say don’t think about yourself, but it’s often better to change the “thou shalt nots” into more practical “to dos.” For example:
(1) Think Positive.
If you can’t NOT think about yourself, can you at least balance out the negative with a little positive thinking? For me, this approach would sound something like this: “I may not be published yet, but I’ve learned so much about writing since I began.” Or, “I may not have made the progress I’d hoped for today, but I have been making progress.”
When we choose to focus on how much we’ve accomplished rather than how far we have to go, we’re more likely to remain positive. And, as Dr. Shelley Carson says in Your Creative Brain:
There is “actual scientific evidence that indicates you’re more likely to generate a large number of ideas and to make unusual associations when you receive an unexpected reward or when you’re in a good mood.”
(2) Enjoy a little Nature.
Too much time at the screen can be bad. So why not take a break to bask in the beauty and magnitude of nature. To reconnect with the wonder of your inner child… Marvel at the texture of a rock, the colors of a feather, the sheer grandeur of the rugged mountains, and the play of glimmering light and shifting shadows.
After all, tuning in to nature (that is, to the sensory details our brains typically filter out) is yet another way to jumpstart our creativity. Don’t you feel your mood improving already?
Yeah, yeah, yeah—I know. You’re either already in the habit of being active or you don’t wanna hear about it. That was true for me as well (the latter, I’m sorry to say) until I learned about the link between exercise and creativity, again from Your Creative Brain:
“Research indicates that during the two-hour period following aerobic exercise, alpha and theta wave activity [which increase creative potential] are increased in the prefrontal cortex.”
(Note: Besides the few quotes I’ve already shared, there are loads more treasures to be unearthed from Dr. Shelley Carson’s book, including brain exercises to help improve your creativity. Read more about it here: http://www.shelleycarson.com/your-creative-brain).
(4) Worship God.
If you’re not a religious person, feel free to disregard this last point. However, personally, nothing helps me get my mind off myself like the wonder of God. After all, none of us are adequate in ourselves… But He is. None of us quite knows where our lives will lead… But He does.
So, from my point of view, God’s omnipotent omniscient sufficiency and love is the answer to all life’s uncertainties. More than that, true worship helps us forget ourselves by shifting the focus from our deficiencies to the perfect sufficiency of the One—and not only His sufficiency, but also His love.
Maybe, like me, you need an identity crisis to remind you who you really are, as the son or daughter of God. When I remember I’m not the only one who cares about my journey, it’s easier to let go and relax when I hit a roadblock.
How about you? Do you ever get lost in your problems and need a break from your SELF? What is your mind on really when you find yourself immersed in a creative project? Do you agree that the SELF is more often an obstacle than an aid in your creative journey? Share your thoughts below.