Fear and Stress
As a creative person, you create stories about yourself. These may involve capabilities, collaborators, style, or whatever. You set your heroes, idols, peers and competitors up and play your own work off against theirs. Out of this, you create a negative story about yourself. “I’m afraid I won’t live up to my potential.” “I’m not as good as ______.” And these comparisons to either real or imagined measurements seem to prove your fear right. (Anyway, that’s what I’ve done and have heard similar stories from some of my fellow musicians and artists.)
Some people can turn this fear into energy that is creative and motivating. But for many of us, this fear is at least part of what feeds a lack of creativity or limits creative output. What I mean by that is if you are afraid that you won’t do well, you are likely to create that poor performance. Performing poorly is likely to produce stress. And that stress feeds your belief that any feelings that come up around our art will be too much for you. “See? I told you I was too scared and look at me now!”
I ran into this kind of fear when I was preparing for a recent gig. In my case, I was intimidated by the venue where I was going to be performing. After all, some of my musical heroes like Keith Jarrett and Jim Ridl have performed and recorded there. How could I be worthy? Instead of facing my fear, I tried to find ways — addictive behaviors and procrastination — to avoid it. Eventually, I had to get help.
In my case, the help this time came in the form of a creativity coach. She was able to offer constructive ways to get me to be present to my feelings while staying focused on preparing for the gig. What was key in this process? The way into this was to breathe and move my body. When I felt stuck, I just repeated these simple steps: breathe deeply three times and let the exhale come as a sigh; then, shake the body and voice around. If that doesn’t sound like much to you, try it some time when you’re procrastinating. You may find that it can initiate a shift. (Of course, the creativity coach offered many other pointers, homework and so on. This was just the way we started each of our sessions.)
Not every one or every situation will call for hiring a coach, but it’s a great option when you’re really stuck. And a good coach will provide you with techniques and resources that you can use even when the coaching sessions are over.
For creatives, there has to be an alternative to stress and fear about what we want to create. My friend, Phil Porter, taught a class in which he asked the participants to list things that are stressful. Once we had a (lengthy) list, he asked us to list the opposites. Those, he labelled “grace”. Fear tells you that you’re stuck in the stress. Grace releases you from that and opens you to creativity. It’s your choice. Choose wisely.
When have you recently chosen breathing, creativity, and grace? Where do you need grace right now to break down a place of stress in your life?