You may not be doing something you should be doing and because of that may not be feeling the creative zest that should fill you while you write, paint, compose, practice, or perform. Let’s begin by asking why some creatives work tirelessly while many of their fellow creatives’ time spent doing the work they should be doing is minimal.
A secret is the rewards the former give themselves. The operating principle is simple and clear–easy to understand: it is human nature to want to do things which you will be rewarded for doing.
Creatives who reward themselves for their efforts work harder and longer, accomplishing more than those who perform the same tasks, but don’t reward themselves. And self-rewarders are much more likely than non-rewarders to solve the problems they face while performing their craft. Rewards strengthen their problem-solving persistence, and persistence is the only way difficult problems of an art will be solved.
Don’t wait until the whole task is finished before rewarding yourself. Reward yourself for finishing components of the task. For example, a poet might reward herself after completing a stanza or a line. An actor, known for his spellbinding performances, might give himself the task of learning his lines to perfection (as he always does) before he rewards himself with a glass of wine. The reward needn’t be major. Just so it’s something that you find pleasurable.
It is probable that if you increase the rewards you give yourself, you will find yourself putting in more time at your craft (another principle is that the more time you spend developing your abilities, the more successful you will be.) By rewarding yourself you will probably become more adept at solving the creative problems facing you than you have been, and will accomplish more than you are accustomed to. Self-rewards also increase concentration.
Rewards are particularly effective when what you’re working on is tedious, as the crafts of art may sometimes be. The person who is under the misconception that the artist’s life is romantic and so exciting that it is free of boredom hasn’t known how dreary making creative things can sometimes be.
You may make the reward of breaking for dinner or going to a movie contingent on putting the finishing touches on the article. Or, as a reward, get away from your work place and do something pleasant and refreshing: go to the zoo, visit a museum, talk to your friends, walk to the store and buy a Reese’s Pieces.
Ernest Hemingway said, “Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times.” Rewards that are a result of your accomplishments increase your self-confidence and are an antidote to discouragement. Self-confidence is crucial to all artists. Achieving your goal may be all the reward you need, but if there aren’t any rewards along the way to the goal, you may feel little or no motivation to continue working and may be susceptible to the scourge of discouragement.
The greatest danger facing a creative is the possibility of quitting. When you quit, your career ends. The majority of creatives quit–hundreds of thousands every year– from the little boy or girl who, although gifted, doesn’t want to practice anymore, disappointing parents whose hopes were high, to the writer who for years has never had a work published and thinks, “What’s the use?” Quitting is more likely to occur if the creative receives no rewards from continuing to work and thinks it is hopeless to go on. A reward brightens your spirits and makes you want to go on.
If rewards you need do not come from the outside, they must come from yourself to sustain you until eventually they come from the outside too. The greatest predictor of future success is past success. If you’ve succeeded once, you can do it again. Have faith. In other words, all that may be necessary to supply the motivation to go on working for years may be a single success. But if you give up, even that single success, as important as it could be, will be unreachable.
Decide how you’ll reward yourself. Custom design your rewards to suit yourself. Some people devise complex systems of rewards involving charts where they record steps on the way to the goal. Parents sometimes use this rewards of this kind to encourage children to practice. For me, “making paragraphs” that I think are pretty good is a reward in itself. Good, clear, paragraphs bring a strong feeling of satisfaction—a glow of overall contentment that I’ve worked energetically and efficiently and it’s paid off. I look at paragraphs on the screen and they excite me.
Then as a further self-reward, after a substantial workday I get to read the wonderful books I collect that are waiting in stacks downstairs for me. To get that feeling that will last into the next working day, leaving a residue in my mind of language beautifully used–to read those books–l will work very hard for hours, even when the work is not enjoyable and seems to be going nowhere. But if I don’t persist, I give myself no reward.
Make self-rewards you’ve designed for yourself a key part of your work schedule and see positive changes in your creative behavior. Don’t forget to reward yourself every day. Begin now by listing the rewards that will motivate you most strongly: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on.
When you do a good job you might walk through a rose garden. Or if you prefer noise, walk down a busy street.
© 2019 David J. Rogers
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