If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know a primary interest of mine is in the inner skills needed to achieve success, especially for those in the arts. Even the most superb techniques of craft will take you only so far without additional skills. I’m talking about inner skills of the heart and spirit, including persistence, confidence, durability, patience, courage, vitality, intensity, flexibility, and so on. What follows are some insights into those inner skills.
Run Through the Tape
Why what I’m going to say now is true, no one has been able to figure out, but almost all people relax their efforts when they get close to achieving even their most important goals. They struggle and struggle and then seem to get lazy and disinterested. They are like a sprinter who runs fast to the tape and slows down or stops. But good coaches advise runners to “run through the tape.” Whatever you do, don’t relax just when you’re getting close to success, but persist in applying your utmost energy
Talk to Yourself: Increase Your Drive
When you’re facing difficulties or your motivation is faltering and you’re losing interest, talk to yourself about your need to work on and reach the goal. Whether you are an amateur or professional, a novice or expert, tell yourself that it’s important that you complete the tasks and get to the goals: “I’m feeling a little tired and want to quit for the day, but it’s important to me that I finish writing this article, so I will just continue working.”
Value Failure: Don’t Be Afraid of It
Why are you and I so afraid of failure? Many people live in terror of it and feel they must never fail, but always succeed, trailing clouds of glory. Yet failure can be a blessed life-changing event. If you experience only successes, you come to expect quick and easy results, and your sense of confidence is easily undermined if you suffer a setback. Setbacks and failures serve two useful purposes: Not only do they show us that we need to make changes and adjustments in order to gain the success we are seeking, but also they teach us that success usually requires confident, persistent, skilled, focused effort sustained over time. Once you set failures aside and become convinced that you have what it takes to succeed, you quickly rebound from failures. By having courage and sticking it out through tough times, you come out on the far side of failures with even greater confidence and commitment.
Seek Feedback, Not Crticism
The effect of feedback depends both on its source and on the way the creative person interprets it. If an expert judges the value of a beginner’s work based on the expert’s standards or tells the beginner what he or she should be doing, the feedback may be seen as controlling. That kind of feedback negatively affects creative performance. Useful feedback is empowering rather than controlling and doesn’t have a negative effect because it is viewed as useful information–not criticism. Feedback designed to evaluate reduces creativity and motivation, but informative feedback increases them. Both the person giving the feedback and the person receiving and interpreting it play a role in making it informative, and thus useful.
Get Feedback Addressed to Your Needs
Tell the person whose feedback you are seeking what you’re trying to accomplish and what kind of help you need from them. For example, an artist might ask what she can do to make a figure look more three-dimensional; a writer might ask for advice on making a dialog more natural. Feedback should always focus on the work–never on the artist.
Persist, Persist, and Persist
Persist until you finish your novel, sculpture or symphony. The work that matters to creative people is finished work. Persistence is an extraordinary attribute that the majority of people do not possess. It separates writers, painters, actors, ballerinas, composers, and performers who have long, successful careers from those who disappear. Potential combined with a focused and tenacious pursuit of important goals is the hallmark of high achievement in the arts.
What it takes to persist is simply to persist, “staying with it longer than you might.” If you persist, most other success factors will automatically fall into place. Persistence is that important.
Confidence is needed if you are to be successful as an artist. Make it a point to never lose confidence. If you find yourself losing it, use affirming statements, such as “I can do this; I believe in myself.’
The higher your confidence, the higher you’ll set your goals, and the stronger your commitment to achieving them will be. And it is high, challenging goals–not easy ones–that lead to worthwhile creative achievements. You’ll feel serene, for now you can make full, free use of all your talents. You won’t be tentative because you’ll have faith in your problem-solving abilities. You’ll rework problems or you’ll be decisive in abandoning what isn’t working.
Confidence touches every aspect of your being—whether you think about your prospects positively or in a self-defeating way, how strongly you motivate yourself, and whether you persist in the face of adversity and setbacks. It also reduces your susceptibility to discouragement, and enables you to make positive changes in your life.
Gertrude Stein was a writer with supreme confidence. She said to cubist sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, “Jacques, of course you don’t know too much about English literature, but beside Shakespeare and me, who do you think there is?” She said to her friend Pablo Picasso, “There are two geniuses in art today, you in painting and I in literature.
You’ll be very reluctant to give up if you are confident. You’ll make better use of your time because confidence and energy go together: one feeds the other. You will be electric with that rarest of human qualities—INTENSITY. When you face difficult tasks, if you are confident, the challenges will excite you rather than intimidate you. You’ll be more likely to seek help and assistance to improve your performance than the less confident artists or writers who are afraid that asking for help will expose their limitations.
Make Effort a High Value
The most successful people have high career aspirations, are confident, and generally attribute their success to high effort and failure to lack of effort.
They believe that creative success comes mainly from ability combined with hard work, probably over a long period of time. If they fail, the goal becomes even more attractive to them. They get hungrier to succeed. If things don’t turn out well, they don’t believe it’s because they aren’t capable, intelligent, or gifted. It is because they didn’t work hard enough. That brings them hope. Optimism is kept high because effort is a virtually limitless resource. You can always work harder.
Work Harder, Not Less Hard
How expertise is developed in a field is a hot subject these days, including expertise in the various arts. A number of scientific studies comparing novices with experts in most fields support the common sense notion that because of their great knowledge and skill, experts are able to accomplish with almost no effort what non-experts can accomplish only with difficulty or can’t accomplish at all. But don’t be deceived: experts work harder, not less hard than non-experts.
Think the World of Yourself, but Don’t Be Above Asking for Help
Creative people who are the most likely to ask for help are those with a high opinion of themselves, while those with a low opinion of themselves are the least likely, although they may be the most in need of it and would profit from it. Asking for help shows that you’re serious about reaching your goals. Useful feedback can help you evolve and reach high levels of satisfaction and achievement.
The helper may encourage and inspire you, and that may be what you need to push you toward the goal, or they may provide material support. T.S Eliot’s friends subsidized him till he established himself. Vincent van Gogh’s brother Theo bankrolled him. So without reluctance say, “I would appreciate your help…” I have no problems asking for help, and all my life, I have almost always received the help I asked for and have tried never to deny it to someone who asked me for it.
Focus on Perfecting the Most Crucial Skills of Your Art
It is not possible to describe the complete, complex structure of knowledge and skills the experienced artist has acquired. It is a mistake to think that success in a creative field is attributable to one blessed aptitude such as awesome natural talent, or to three or four aptitudes. Success in the arts is attributable to a combination of many capabilities. The most prominent creatives focus harder on developing to a high level the most needed skills of their field. The best predictor of creative success isn’t just time spent working, but the kind of time–the amount of time devoted specifically to improving writing , painting, acting, etc. skills. And not just this skill or that skill, but the five or six specific skills which are the most essential if a person is to become excellent in that field.
For some artists the development time is short–almost immediate. Poets in particular, such as Dylan Thomas at nineteen, may reach high excellence with blinding speed. For others success occurs only after years of perfecting their craft. Like athletes, artists develop at different rates.
Make Sure Your Skills Match Your Goals
Of special importance to writing, painting, composing and performing success is the state in which your skills perfectly match the goals you’re aiming to achieve. The skills are exactly what’s needed to reach the goals. That’s what you should aim for—a perfect match. It’s foolish to ask yourself to try accomplish objectives you don’t have the skills to achieve, and there’s no thrill accomplishing goals that don’t challenge you. So you must focus on identifying and developing the specific skills you need to accomplish the ends and the fulfillment you aspire to.
© 2019 David J. Rogers
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