The Mind Key: An Excerpt from Making Your Creative Mark
by Eric Maisel
Your first task as a creative person is to “mind your mind” and think thoughts that serve you. Doesn’t it make sense to speak to yourself in ways that help you create more deeply and more regularly, that allow you to detach more effectively from the everyday chaos of ordinary life, that decrease your anxiety and negativity, and that remind you that you are in charge of showing up and making an effort?
Many of us do a poor job of minding our minds, of choosing to think in ways that serve us. We present ourselves with self-sabotaging thoughts and refuse to dispute those thoughts once they arise. If we all did a better job of noticing what we are thinking and making an effort to replace defensive and unproductive thoughts with more optimistic and more productive ones, we would live in less pain and give ourselves a much better chance of our dream life.
It is this simple: Notice what you are thinking, dispute those thoughts that bad-mouth you or that send you careening in the wrong direction, and replace them with thoughts that better serve you. This is tremendously important!
You can use many useful strategies, available from the cognitive-behavioral school of therapy, to get a better grip on your mind and help yourself think more productively and positively. Here’s one I’ve created.
Often you have a productive thought, but then you immediately follow it with an unproductive one that stops you in your tracks. This sounds like “I’d love to practice the piano” followed by “but I’m much too old to learn complicated piano music.” Or “I want to get my novel written” followed by “but I don’t really know what my novel is about.” Or “I love my photographic collages” followed by “but lots of people are doing them.”
People engage in this self-sabotage all the time, deciding that something matters to them and then talking themselves out of taking action. It is almost what we do best as a species. I would like you to notice how this dynamic works in your life. Look at your own defensiveness, self-unfriendliness, and self-sabotage when it comes to those things that matter most to you. Look at this pattern, and then change it.
Complete the following, filling in the x and y with your own responses: “I say that x matters to me. But I often follow that thought up with y thought, a thought that does not serve me. I no longer want to countenance that thought.” You may have more than one self-unfriendly y thought — you may have lots of them! By all means include as many y thoughts as you like in your response. The clearer you are on the things you say to yourself that don’t serve you, the better will be your chances of extinguishing them.
Here is how some of my creativity coaching clients completed this exercise:
“I say that making art and selling my artwork matter to me. But I often follow that thought up with the thought that my artwork is not good enough to be considered attractive to buyers, a thought that does not serve me. I no longer want to entertain that thought. I will be open to opportunities to create and market my art, and I will make an effort to gain the support of art patrons.”
“I say that being organized matters to me. But I often follow that thought up with the thought that I will take time to organize my work space some time in the future, a thought that does not serve me. I no longer want to entertain that thought. I am taking the time to organize every day so that my studio feels peaceful and spacious, with a good energy flow.”
“I say that writing my screenplay and revising my novel and sending out articles·are important to me. But I often follow up that thought with ‘What does any of it really matter?’ In the past few years, I’ve come up against so many roadblocks. It doesn’t feel like I matter to anyone. My husband is sick and needs my attention. Maybe concentrating on more basic needs is the most important thing to do — cleaning, gardening, exercising. But I realize that the only sure way I can fail at my writing is if I stop. The thought of quitting doesn’t serve me because it prevents any success from ever happening. I no longer want to entertain the thought of stopping.”
“I say that music matters to me. But I·often follow that up with the thought that I can’t afford to dedicate myself to it, that there are more important things in life, that I’m not good enough anyway, and that there are a lot of other things I’m interested in and almost anything pays better than music, which generally pays close to nothing. I no longer want to countenance those thoughts.”
I’m sure you can see how this process of telling off the thoughts that do not serve you will help you to create more often and more deeply and will improve your relationship to the art marketplace. Complete this x-y exercise, and then put the results into practice.
Creating depends on having a mind quiet enough to allow ideas to bubble up. Living a successful, healthy life as an artist requires that your self-talk align with your goals and your aspirations. Your job is to quiet your mind and extinguish negative self-talk. These are your two most important tasks if you want a shot at your best life in the arts.
Eric Maisel is the author of Making Your Creative Mark and twenty other creativity titles including Mastering Creative Anxiety, Brainstorm, Creativity for Life, and Coaching the Artist Within. America’s foremost creativity coach, he is widely known as a creativity expert who coaches individuals and trains creativity coaches through workshops and keynotes nationally and internationally. He has blogs on the Huffington Post and Psychology Today and writes a column for Professional Artist Magazine. Visit him online at www.ericmaisel.com.