It’s not unusual for artists–painters, sculptors, writers, dancers, musicians–who are at work to be in a state of bliss, a state of ecstasy. Their enjoyment is deep, their focus uncommon, intense, and virtually super-human. Time means nothing at all and self-consciousness and self-awareness disappear. Every thought is solely of the task at hand. They have no attention left to think of anything else. There is only they and the work; all distractions, all worries, all fears, all self-doubts, and all impediments are gone—an extraordinary state of existence.
Fully absorbed, there is a rightness about everything they do; their every action is sure. The possibility of failure is of no concern. They need nothing more than the brush in their hand, their fingers on the keyboard, dancing slippers on their feet. There is nothing else—no other pleasure, no other enjoyment–that is more meaningful and brings such rewards. It is as though they are thinking:
This thing that I am doing is essential to my fulfillment and well-being. I will be tenacious; I will persist for long periods of time, not being diverted, and try to make this work I am doing exceptional, applying all the skills I’ve developed. I am finding that my skills are all that I’ve wished for and just right for this work. My mind will be sharp, my energy unstoppable. I will be relaxed and alert too—confident, in balance; in control of all my faculties. I am willing to sacrifice. At times I will forget to eat, forget to sleep. I will block out distractions as best I can. When I reach an impasse, I will ask for help. I will arrange a life-style and personal habits and routines to accommodate my work and will find the time.
Seeking a Perfect Match of Goals and Skills
Artists begin with a vision of what at last they could become. That is the basis of their goals–a guiding vision. The major factors in achieving creative ecstasy are: being powerfully motivated to succeed, (so powerfully that it is almost impossible to keep you from your work); having the confidence that you will succeed, (if not now, eventually); making decisive choices and pursuing goals that are personally extremely meaningful (few things in your life are as important, possibly nothing is as important); receiving immediate feedback on performance every step of the way (performance feedback and high motivation go hand in hand); and possessing all the skills required to perform the task (no skill is lacking).
Often feedback comes from an external source—a teacher, for example, or mentor, the audience the artist is aiming to please, or in the case of a writer, an editor. But experienced artists have internalized the “rules” of the art and know good work from bad work so well that their most useful feedback comes from themselves. They don’t have to wait for feedback from the outside.
Many writers, painters, and dancers—possibly most; possibly most people– don’t give their goals much thought and don’t care if they achieve them. Only a minority do. And if they do care, many aren’t willing to put out the effort to reach them. Research shows that 85% of Americans wait for things to happen. Only 15% are proactive and make things happen. Many people don’t have the first notion of the causes of success or failure or how to achieve their goals—the means that must be involved. But artists in ecstasy are clear and their motivation knows no bounds.
Of special importance to ecstasy and bliss, it seems to me, is the ideal state when the artists’ skills perfectly match the goals the artists aim to achieve. The skills are exactly what’s needed to reach the goals. That means that artists should pursue goals that are not too easy, but not too difficult, based on their assessment of their skills.
If your goals are higher than your skills, you won’t achieve the goals and will feel frustration, disappointment, stress, and anxiety.
If the goals are considerably less than your skills and success is guaranteed, you’ll be bored.
Anxiety and boredom alike interfere with work and are signals that your goals need to be changed.
But if you don’t care whether you reach the goal you’ll be indifferent and apathetic.
So if you’re meeting only frustration, disappointment, and worry, you may continually be aiming too high and should lower your sights, not permanently, but until you develop your skills further and are in a better position to reach the goals. Make developing your skills to the highest level your priority, principally through deliberate practice,
And if you’re often bored, set higher goals, you’re aiming too low.
If you’re apathetic, pursue only goals that mean something to you. (I realize this isn’t always possible, such as when you’ve been given an assignment that you dislike but have no choice. But in that case find ways of making the goal more interesting, such as making it a game, as how quickly you can finish the work while still doing a good job).
If you’re often in ecstasy—some artists are every day–the balance between the difficulty of the goal and your skills is perfect.
Things That Are a Little Out of Reach
The most challenging goals—and those leading to the best benefits–are those that you’re most interested in, are not completely certain you can reach, and will get the greatest satisfaction from when you achieve them. We work harder to get what is a little out of reach—but not too far. When the goals you set are difficult but achievable you’ll have no problem persisting until you achieve them. That happens automatically. If you come up short, all is not lost. Every failure is valuable feedback indicating what needs to be improved.
As your capabilities develop, as they will if you apply yourself, you will have a natural urge to seek increasingly greater challenges, higher performance, and higher achievements. As your skill level rises, so do your ambitions, and a goal that was once powerfully motivating becomes less powerful and needs to be replaced by a more difficult one. You wanted to have your artwork displayed in a gallery. Now it has been, so you want to see it in a more prestigious gallery. Your short story was published and was highly thought of; now you’re aiming for a novel. Your songs are popular, so now you will write a musical.
Setting difficult goals that require considerable work can significantly increase an artist’s motivation and at the same time, his/her performance. Difficult goals are motivating in and of themselves and build a strong sense of self-confidence. You’ll work harder to reach them. Attainable doesn’t in any sense mean easy. To write a good book may take an almost unbelievable amount of effort and persistence. Harder goals will take you to higher levels of performance than easy goals provided you’ve chosen the goals voluntarily and have or can develop the necessary skills.
People put out more effort if they consider the goals difficult, but not so difficult as to be unachievable. Yet, the creative person must also be willing to work hard and long on ambitious projects that verge on the impossible—an epic novel, an opera, a symphony.
The Definition of “Difficulty” All Depends
Now the definition of what is a difficult or easy goal depends totally on who you are. For example, a goal that may be impossible for me may be perfectly reasonable for you. Whenever I hear someone say, “The odds of succeeding are one in ten,” I think, What you’re saying is that you think they are one in ten for you. However, they may be one in five for me. I’m going ahead with it because I think one in five is very attainable.
A Little Quiz
A goal is more difficult—and possibly impossible– to reach if you aren’t a hard worker. It’s particularly difficult if you’re lazy. Ask yourself, “How hard a worker am I?” Rate yourself on a scale of one to ten, one being “Not a very hard worker” and ten being “An exceptionally hard worker. I’m inexhaustible.”
Are you a one, a seven, or a ten? It is hard to imagine artists who have reached high levels being anything but tens. They pour tremendous stores of energy into their work. If they are separated from their painting, their writing, their music for more than 24 hours they get nervous; any longer, they get depressed. Artists who are not hard workers are in trouble.
Do you know what the causes are of success or failure in reaching goals?
Do you set artistic goals?
If so, what are they?
Are they clear? Some artists are not any more talented or intelligent than others, but they are far more successful because they have not a single doubt about what specifically they are attempting to accomplish. They are single-minded, with only that supreme goal in mind.
Do your goals match your skills or are they too high or too low?
If they are too high, how will you change them to better match your skills?
Are they a little out of reach? (If yes, that’s good.)
If they are too low, what will you do to make them more ambitious?
How important are they to you?
Not very important
Kind of important
Couldn’t possibly be more important
How do you plan to attain them?
Often when their goals are not properly matched with skills and artists are enduring periods of anxiety, disappointment, or boredom, they try to force themselves, and the work product is usually not up to the artists’ standards. But when in ecstasy and everything is aligned, they are fully functioning and can do no better.
© 2015 David J. Rogers
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