I hate to bring up the subject of creative anxiety twice in one week and then not offer a coping exercise! In his self-help creativity manual Coaching the Artist Within, psychologist Eric Maisel suggests we learn to appreciate what he terms the “Tao of Anxiety” and thus coach ourselves through it.
It is, as are so many of Maisel’s suggestions, a process. This one has four steps.
1. Know Your Creative Process
First of all, try to isolate the different stages you go through in your creative process. For instance, as a writer I might have a getting started at the blank page stage (or getting started on my daily writing stage), then a completing the piece stage (could be completing a page, or a short story or an article or a chapter or the entire novel), and then finally a “showing it” stage, meaning submitting to an editor or publisher or writers group, for example.
2. Predict the Anxiety
Second, think about what usually makes you anxious about each of the above steps or stages of the process. How do you feel, or how do you know, you are anxious? I know this is hard to think about but it is important to recognize what triggers us and also to know how we recognize it when it is happening.
3. Prepare Yourself to Cope
Third, ask yourself:
“What can I do to effectively deal with these regular, predictable experiences of anxiety?”
There are many different potential answers to this. You might opt to feel the anxiety but keep at it anyway (my personal “Just keep your butt in the chair technique.” or you might have a favorite breathing technique or something like that to help yourself get through it. So figure out what you could do to help yourself when you feel anxious.
4. Use it!
Fourth, test your pre-identified coping technique next time you feel that predictable anxiety during the creative process. Tape a sticky note to your keyboard, easel or music stand so you remember this!
Good Threat, Bad Threat
Maisel also points out that it is always important to judge whether the perceived threats that make us anxious are real threats or the kind we manufacture and imagine so well for ourselves. (wink wink nudge nudge)
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