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Samurai Concepts For Creators

A New Language For Creative People

A newspaper reviewer of my book Fighting To Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Work and Life thought that a unique feature of the book is that it exposes the reader to an exciting new vocabulary–Asian terms for self-improvement for which there are no Western equivalents. The book begins with an example of what the book is about: the application of the psychological and spiritual insights of the samurai, the most remarkable warriors ever to walk the earth, to the everyday lives of ordinary working people—the most magnificent people of all.

samurai-161642_640It says: “The tramp of warriors sounded like a thousand convulsions of the earth. The shouts of warriors, the whistling of arrows, the thunder of the feet of foot soldiers and the hooves of chargers did not cease,” and tells the story of a sales woman who uses insights from the samurai Way to overcome her fear of an intimidating prospect and makes a sale.

I think it will be worthwhile to apply a select few of these terms to the lives of creative people–the Way of the artist, the Way of the writer, the Way of the composer, the architect, the performer–since so many creative people read my blog and the concepts will be so beneficial to them. As you read, think of the many applications there are to your creator’s life as so many people have.

Musha Shugyo: Samurai Training. Samurai were trained to fight in the service of a lord—with supreme self-confidence, courage, bravery, and superb samurai-67662_640skill with weapons.  Four things were especially important to samurai:

Duty—we must make good what we owe.

Self-Control—body, mind, spirit, emotions under control.

Commitment to Immediate Action—“The Way of the samurai is immediacy”—no delays.

Constant Self-Improvement—no resting on your laurels; always striving to do better; to develop your skills to the highest level you’re capable of. What creator is not trying to improve?

Ryuu: Dragons. For samurai warriors of feudal Japan all obstacles in a person’s mind, heart, and spirit were “dragons.”  A creator’s dragons are no longer of the fire-breathing variety that scared him or her as a child. They’re dragon-149393_150now a different species entirely, and to become all the creator you wish to become you will have to break completely free of them. When a samurai overcame a dragon he was “striking through the dragon’s mask.”

I arrived early at a conference room where I was to speak. Two men and a woman who’d come to hear me were early too and were at a table with their copies of Fighting To Win open. They seemed to be working hard and I asked “What are you working on?” The woman said, “We’re discussing our dragons.”  The main dragons the samurai faced and creative people face too are:

Fear: Creative women and men experience fear most every day. The samurai set out to master fear, to learn to be no more ruffled whatever he was facing—however terrible–than “someone sitting down for breakfast.”

Being Afraid to Take Risks: The desire for certainty, the sure thing, often makes us cowards. There’s no room for sure things in a creator’s world. Samurai were taught that the greatest rewards lie one inch from the foe’s blade—edge in close, take a chance. Why aren’t we more confident and bolder?

Thinking Too Much: To be creatively free creators have to learn to think much less about what might go wrong.

Doubting Yourself: The creator’s most powerful dragon is dwelling again and again and again on his shortcomings, on what he lacks.

Hesitating: Wanting to do something but stopping.

Cowardice: The Chinese language permeates the Japanese language. The Chinese character for “cowardice” is composed of two symbols, “meaning” and “mind.” Creators are often finding too much meaning in things—he or she thinks too much—often worrying and fretting and dissipating their creative energy, that fuel creators need so much of. If you believe you’re thinking too much and that it’s driving you away from instead of to your work, this could be a dragon you’ll want to get rid of.

Try to make it a point to remember the term tomaranu kokoro. No small thing in samurai fighting, it has been called “the secret essence” of the samurai martial-arts-291051_640Way. More important, it’s relevant to the Way of the Creator.  It means “a mind that knows no stopping.” If you have ever seen a master swordsman in action, you’ve witnessed tomaranu kokoro. Without once stopping he attacks, feints, cuts, slashes, turns, leaps, spins, and thrusts in a whirlwind of action.

The reason he is able to move so smoothly, effortlessly and quickly, his sword a blur, is that he is doing the same thing in his head. His body moves without stopping because his mind is tomaranu kokoro. His mind doesn’t stop to worry, to ask “what if”—“What if I lose?” “What if I die?”—or the creative person’s “What if I’m not good enough?” It doesn’t stop for anything. It keeps moving and facilitates the movement of his body.  You can see that tomaranu kokoro is an ideal state of mind for the creator–an uninhibited, free, fluent, effortless yet focused mind and body.

Toraware—its opposite–means “caught,” and tomaru means “stopping” or “abiding.” You might want to remember them too, because they help explain why so many exceptionally talented creators are not as successful as they have the potential to be. It’s when your thoughts get caught (toraware) or stopped (tomaru) that you have trouble executing a creative action. It’s when your mind doesn’t flow from one idea to another but gets hooked or snagged on self-doubt or worry or anger, etc.  that you are prevented from fully functioning  creatively. Recall the last time you had problems with a painting, sculptor, story, composition, or performance and you were upset or troubled. It was because your thoughts got caught or stopped; they didn’t flow.  You were all tied up—your mind, your body.

Whenever you find your thoughts getting caught or stopped, tell yourself to remember toraware, “caught,” and tomaru, “stopping.” More important, tell yourself to get back to tomaranu kokoro, the mind that knows no stopping, and return with confidence to your work. Let your mind be free to function according to its own natural free-flowing nature.

Fudoshin: The Skill of Making the Body Obey the Mind and Immovable Mind

Have you ever run in a marathon, felt pain, thought of stopping but refused to?  If so, you’ve tasted fudoshin, immovable mind. No matter what you were athletics-229808_6401going through your mind wouldn’t budge from the goal of finishing. The samurai spoke of iwoa no mi, “rock body” and wanted his commitments to be as immovable as a mountain. Why not yours?

The skill of making the body obey the mind is this: going into action—getting your work done, being creative, thriving, reaching success in spite of your dragons.  Not letting any dragon stop you. You needn’t go off to the top of a mountain to overcome a dragon.  You can say, “OK fear, come along if you want. “ Self-doubt, hesitation, thinking too much—you can’t stop me.” “Come on, tag along. But you cannot stop me. I’ve got a story to write, an etching to complete, a performance to give, a career to manage.”

Every day in studios, work rooms, and theatres some creators are thinking: “In order to do it (whatever it is) I’ve got to first overcome my problem—my fear (or shyness, lack of self-confidence, bad habits, indecisiveness, etc.). Once I get rid of that baby, I’ll be all right. Then I’ll be able to create my great work.” The real problem isn’t what they think it is. It is not the fear or lack of confidence. It’s their belief that the fear has the power to prevent them from doing what they should be doing.

If the creator forgets about himself and his dragons completely and focuses only on adapting to what his creative life path requires of him, no dragon will ever stop him. The dragon has no right to stop you. But your mind must be immovable. Keep your mind focused on the task. Put negative emotions out of the equation.

*******

In my next post, Part II of this topic, I’ll discuss more samurai concepts creative people can apply to improve their work and lives.

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

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6 Keys to High Performance

The other day I was talking to a novelist and she said, “In the next ten months I want to accomplish five things. First I will…Then…And also…” She was clear and confident about her goals and I was shocked because many writers, like many  artists, dancers, actors, composers, and other creative people—probably most, and probably most people, creative or not–don’t give their goals enough thought. (You’ve heard that from me before and no doubt you will again.) Only a minority of people do. And if they do, many aren’t willing to put out the effort necessary to reach their goals. Yet everyone knows–or should know—that reaching important goals takes lots of effort and there’s no way around that.

But if we cast a glance at people in general, standing still in life and doing nothing is the common condition, taking decisive action a rarity. The majority of people anywhere on earth are content to wait for things to happen to them. Only a small minority make things happen. The latter tend to excel and to be the people we hear about.

And many people haven’t the vaguest notion of the causes of success or failure or how to achieve their goals—the means that have to be involved. But successful people in every pursuit reflect on themselves, their performance, their careers, and their lives, and develop clear ideas of what will lead them to their high performance and a sense of fulfillment.

They follow these six crucial keys:

1. Be powerfully motivated to succeed. Drive, determination, and commitment are evident in the people who become successful. The passion and intensity archery-782503_640some people direct toward their goals is remarkable, bordering on the maximum possible for a human being. There’s probably never been a great writer or painter, athlete, social worker, or entrepreneur who didn’t have a strong sense of single-mindedness and an ability to face difficulties and concentrate on reaching his or her goals while resisting distractions and wandering off on unimportant tangents.

An interesting question is, “Why do some people but not others possess those qualities, and why do almost all creative people?”

2. Believe you’re doing well. Researchers studying motivation find that the prime factor is the self-perception among motivated people that they are in fact doing well. Whether they are or not by any objective measure doesn’t matter.

3. Have the ability to focus your attention for a long time. To reach high performance necessitates that the person possess many other skills in addition to technical knowledge. High-powered focused attention for days, months, and years is also needed, the ability to be absorbed, caught up in and wholly involved, body and mind.

Most people find it very hard to keep concentrating on one goal, one project, and one activity for a long time. But creative people in every occupation—almost miraculously—do possess it, as though high ability and focus have come out of the same womb. Not just some, but virtually all high performers are capable of sustained, focused, ferocious concentration, conscious only of the task in front of them. A surgeon performing a long, difficult surgery was so focused that he was completely unaware that during the surgery big chunks of the ceiling had broken off and crashed to the floor all around him.

4. Have unbreakable confidence that you’ll succeed, if not now, eventually. To succeed requires qualities that aren’t typical. One is supreme confidence. I was watching hockey’s Stanley Cup finals and was struck by how often during the series the commentators talked about the goalies’ confidence: “He looks confident tonight,” or “I think he’s going to have a tough time; he’s not confident.” “He wasn’t confident in the last game, but he’s very confident tonight.” The announcer, a former player, said, “When I was playing I lost my confidence for eleven years.” And then I was watching tennis’s Wimbledon championships and a track meet and a baseball game and realized how important confidence is in all sports. If athletes are confident you can tell that right away—you see it reflected in the way they stand, the way they move, a look in their eyes.

People in every occupation need that kind of total confidence too—confidence in themselves and confidence in their work–and I’m convinced that in a writer’s texts or artist’s work and a salesman’s presentation you’ll find evidence of his confidence or the lack of it. Never for a minute lose the confidence that you have what it takes. If you have faith in yourself you’ll reach higher levels of success than other people of equal ability who lack it. Past success is the most powerful and direct basis for confidence. Since you’ve succeeded in the past, why shouldn’t you be able to succeed again?

5. Possess all the skills you need to reach your goals. Since time immemorial people have wanted badly to know how to acquire expertise and reach their pianist-1149172_640highest possible performance. Lengthy training to develop skills is nearly always the reason for superior performance.

Ask yourself if your skills as they stand right now are adequate and highly developed enough to carry you to noteworthy performance. It’s just silly to ask yourself to try reach goals you lack the skills to reach. If the demands of your goals are higher than your skills, you won’t achieve the goals. And you’ll feel frustrated, disappointed, and anxious. If your goals are considerably less than your skills and success is guaranteed, you’ll be bored.

So to reach high performance, your skills must perfectly match the goals you’re aiming to reach. The skills are exactly what’s needed to achieve the goals. No skill is missing. You begin with an understanding of the skills you need. If you lack a necessary skill, develop it, simple as that. If there’s one quality that all successful people have in common, whatever the field, it’s that they all work very hard developing their abilities. That along with confidence, is a foundation of their success.

Think now of the five most vital skills needed to succeed in your field:

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

Do you possess them now or should you develop them?

6. Persist. If you can learn to persist, everything else will fall into place. Potential combined with a focused and tenacious pursuit of important goals is weights-869225_640the hallmark of high achievement. People who have self-confidence and are sure of themselves intensify their efforts when they don’t reach their goal and persist until they do reach it. “The years of silence” refers to the period of hard work and skill development when there aren’t any tangible positive results. But your persistence will pay off. The years of silence are followed by a long period of productivity. American Novelist Philip Roth said, “I work all day, morning and afternoon just about every day. If I sit there like that two or three years, at the end I have a book.”

Are your motivations to succeed powerful?

Do you believe you’re doing well?

Are you able to focus for months and years?

Are you strongly confident you’ll succeed?

Do you have all the skills you’ll need, or if not are you developing them?

Are you persistent? Is the statement, “I’m willing to work hard for a long time to achieve important goals” very much like you? Or is it somewhat like you, not much like you, or not like you at all?

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

 

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Conquering Blocks to Achievement

My book Fighting To Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life shows you an intelligent program for overcoming your internal blocks to reaching your highest achievements. All people everywhere on earth have an Every living thingurge to bloom, to blossom, to reach their fullest potential, but most aren’t able to because their inner blocks stop them time and again. They give up. They settle for lesser lives, and there’s no need for that.

There are a thousand blocks, but the main inner blocks you face are these:

Fear

Being afraid to take risks

Thinking too much

Doubting yourself

Hesitating

Fear:  Fear is the internal block of blocks, the obstacle of obstacles. The whole raven-1002849_640secret of existence is to be free of fear. When fear is conquered  your life begins fresh.

Being afraid of taking risks: How mediocre our lives would be if they consisted solely of avoiding risks. A survey was done of 300 adults who were asked to reflect on their lives, their happiness and their regrets. Who were the most dissatisfied with their lives? Those people who regretted not taking more risks.

Thinking too much: The Chinese character for “cowardice” is composed of two symbols, “meaning” and “mind.” The coward is one who finds too much person-690231_640meaning in things. He or she thinks too much. You’re thinking too much and becoming a coward when you spend an inordinate amount of time anticipating what could go wrong. Thinking that way you won’t start that business and won’t change your career though you’re unhappy, and won’t write that novel, and the rest of your life wish you had.

Doubting yourself: All people but fools doubt themselves sometimes. For most people, self-doubt is a fleeting and not-so-serious thing. But it dominates the lives of others and is their most serious block. They experienced doubt when they were children, and they still experience it as adults, and if nothing is done about it they will experience it the rest of their lives. What differentiates people who are confident from those in the habit of doubting themselves is not necessarily ability. People who doubt themselves may have as much ability or more ability, or much more ability than their confident counterpart who’s far less gifted but much more successful.

girl-1031309_640Hesitating: If you often find yourself waiting (for your lover to call you up, for that “just right” feeling before you act or for the “right” moment to start your life’s big enterprise) you might be on your way to becoming a hesitator. What you need now is a life of decisive choices. Throw a stake in the ground and say, “No hesitations anymore.”

REMEDIES

Practice the Skill of Making Your Body Obey Your Mind

The samurai skill of making your body obey your mind is this: going into action and getting done what needs to be done in your life in spite of your blocks. Not letting them stop you. You needn’t go off to a sanctuary on the top of a mountain to conquer your fear of whatever. You can say, “OK fear, come along if you want but THOUGH I’M TERRIFIED I’ve got a speech to give. Self-doubt, hesitation, thinking too much—you can’t stop me.”

Every day in offices, streets, art studios, and living rooms people are thinking: “In order to do it (whatever it is) I’ve got to first overcome my problem—my fear (or shyness, lack of self-confidence, bad habits, indecisiveness, etc.). Once I get rid of that baby, I’ll be all right. Then I’ll be able to sell, or lead company staff, make a speech in the town hall, go on a diet, etc.

The real problem isn’t what they think it is. It’s not the fear or lack of confidence or doubt. It’s their belief that the fear and doubt have the power to prevent them from doing the “it.” If you forget about yourself and your blocks completely and focus only on adapting to what life requires of you, no block will ever stop you.  Say to yourself, “THIS BLOCK HAS NO RIGHT TO STOP ME.” Keep your mind focused only on the task; forget about your emotions. PUT EMOTIONS OUT OF THE EQUATION.

So the next time a block is threatening to stop you, just have your body obey your mind.

Be Bold

The argument can easily be made that boldness and daring in and of themselves are what bring success in life. Boldness is the power to let go of the familiar and the secure. It isn’t something you save for when your life, your work, is going well. It’s precisely when things are going badly that you should be boldest. When things look particularly grim and you’re most discouraged, increase your determination and go forward confidently.

People are curious and want to know more about boldness because they know how important it is. I was asked to write an article on the subject for Success magazine and the article received one of the magazine’s highest readership scores ever in their history.

I know a painter. The best teacher she ever had gave her the best advice she ever received. He looked at her as she painted and said, “You’re being too careful. Make bolder strokes.” He went away. She followed his advice. He came paint-33883_1280back and studied her work. He raised his voice and said, “Bolder.” Later he came back again and said, even louder, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?” ”

It’s worthwhile to ask yourself when you discover yourself being stopped by blocks: “Bolder! What am I afraid of?”

Be Committed To A Life With Purposes

The samurai was taught, “Focus on your purpose.” When you discover what you must accomplish with your life, and moments in it, there comes something new and remarkable into your existence. You become inspired and mighty. You’re electric with that rarest of qualities possessed by so few—INTENSITY. Then your every act takes on a power strong enough to bring down a wall of iron. All hesitations and all fears and doubts fall away. You feel a zest, a tingle. Your imagination is on fire. It’s strength to be of one mind, complete and undivided, fully committed to a life with purpose.

Purposes are far more powerful than blocks. In the face of a powerful purpose, blocks dissolve and disappear. They can no longer stop you.

It’s never justified to say you can’t find a purpose. Purposes lie all around you like glittering jewels. Make whatever you’re doing your purpose of the moment, from the smallest thing to the biggest. Give what you’re doing stature, however insignificant it may seem. Then you’ll have intensity.

For a shy woman to conquer her shyness and go to a party alone is a major purpose. She’ll need a strong will and great courage. To take a second job for your family is a purpose. To be an attentive parent is a purpose. To start out on a new career is a purpose. To save a rain forest is a purpose.

Feather-60552_640When you make a purpose out of what a moment before was merely a responsibility, or a chore, or a duty by thinking, “This, what I’m doing now is my purpose” extraordinary achievements become possible. Obligations, once a heavy burden, now become light as feathers. Your life becomes tinged with a kind of glory. You become tinged with glory, and there is hardly an obstacle you can’t overcome, no obstacle out in the world, and no obstacle in you.

So, begin every day and every act of every day with a powerful purpose in mind.

 

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Creative People Need Optimism

I’ve mentioned before that while most of my blog readers are extremely talented and impressive artists and writers of all sorts in 135 countries, I don’t usually write about technique. That information can be gotten in a thousand places, and usually what’s said you’ve heard 200 times before. No, the turf I’ve staked out for myself concerns what I call The Inner Skills of Creative People. For there, I think, inside you, in your spirit, will be found the magical difference between run of the mill, adequate creators and great ones. Technique is important but will take you only so far. There’s more to being a creator. There is just something about great painters, writers, dancers, and actors that makes them great, and it comes from within.

So I write freely and happily about such creators’ necessities as courage, persistence, tenacity, will power, commitment, empowerment, sense of purpose, and discipline.  And resilience, enthusiasm, guts, self-motivation, boldness, doggedness, adaptability, endurance, and other spiritual dimensions of you, the creator.

And today I’ll write about the creator’s Inner Skill of optimism. 

Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens

What separates winners from losers, Olympic athletes from other world class competitors? According to a group of researchers who studied America’s top wrestlers, the difference is not in physical ability, and it’s not in training methods–they’re pretty standard. Wrestlers eliminated in Olympic trials tended to be self-doubting, confused, and pessimistic before the match. The winners were optimistic, positive, and relaxed.  Those who made the team were also more poised and in control of their reactions than the losers, who were more likely to become emotionally upset. The researchers were able to predict 92% of the winners by using profiles of the wrestlers alone–without seeing a single wrestling match!

It’s not only in athletic performance that optimists fare better than pessimists, but in school and work performance too. In one experiment, students’ success on tests was more related to their optimism than to their intelligence. A positive, optimistic frame of mind increases power and effectiveness. A pessimistic frame of mind depletes them.

One major job of writers and artists is to sell their work—to magazines and publishers, and galleries, show sponsors, and clients. It stands to reason that the more optimistic writer and artist will have more selling success than their museum-184947_640pessimistic counterparts because optimists make better sales people than pessimists. A study was done of two groups of people selling over the phone. One group was comprised of trained and experienced sales people who were pessimistic. The others were women who didn’t have a single day of experience or training in sales at all, but scored high on a test for optimism. The untrained and inexperienced women optimists easily out-performed the trained and experienced pessimists. So if you’re not a natural optimist, you may wish to see the strategies below.

Anyone who’s trying to be creative should aim for an optimistic mood. Pessimism decreases creative productivity. But a mood of optimism improves problem-finding and problem-solving abilities, and if there are two abilities every creator needs it is to be able to find the main problems to solve and to be able to solve them. Creators in an optimistic mood feel safe, which fosters bolder, more relaxed and creative approaches. Optimists are more willing to take risks.

Optimism entails:

  1. Feeling free and easy as you write, paint, dance, or act.
  2. Being collected, composed, and calm; not fretting and worrying or being grumpy, resentful, or irritable.
  3. Putting unsolvable problems aside, forgiving yourself for past  mistakes and letting them go.
  4. Being decisive and taking actions that will benefit you.
  5. Thinking hopefully.
  6. Being endlessly curious about life and confident that you can handle whatever it brings.
  7. Maintaining hope and faith in the rightness of things and the future, and that things will work out for the best; trusting your luck.
  8. Ridding yourself of bad habits.
  9. Having confidence and feeling in control of things and master of your destiny.
  10. Being open, trusting, genuine, sincere, kindly, and generous with others.
  11. Being brave and totally focused and clear-minded in action.
  12. Experiencing moments of bliss knowing that at that moment you and your life are at their best.
  13. Never letting setbacks penetrate your spirit; expecting to succeed and not to fail.
  14. Holding no illusions, but  knowing exactly where you are in life, where you want to be, and how you’re going to get there.
  15. Having implicit and unshakable confidence in your goals and not budging a single inch from them, being willing to work hard for them, knowing that fear is your most powerful enemy and that there’s nothing to fear and no reason to hold anything back.

This is the route to optimism and personal power.

Pessimistic writers and artists believe they’re not in control, that creative tasks are too much for them. If you believe you’re not in control, you set lower goals and have a weak commitment to them. But the more strongly you believe that you are in control the higher the goals you set, the stronger your determination to achieve them, and the longer you persevere, even in the face of adversity. Optimistic writers and artists take adversity as a challenge and aren’t discouraged. Trouble ignites them, it fires them up; they’re confident, and they come to life. Even as a young poet Anne Sexton sent out a poem as soon as it was rejected.  Sometimes she sent out the same poem fifteen times.

rose-1130037_640Optimists are able to persist just as strongly in the face of difficulties as when everything is rosy because they have absolute confidence in themselves and hold a favorable view of their future. Persisting rather than giving up, they’re more likely to succeed. Succeeding increases their self-confidence and optimism even more, and they apply themselves again. This cycle is true of people doing any kind of work, from workers on an assembly line to their supervisors, from students to their teachers, from children to their parents, from one writer or artist to another: wherever you find optimists and pessimists.

Optimism does not take the place of talent, focus, hard work, and the development of skills. But if there are two equally talented and hardworking artists or writers–an optimist and a pessimist–the optimist will go further and have more success. And pessimism can destroy creative talent.

Seven Strategies for Maintaining Your Optimism

  1. Think optimistic and hopeful thoughts–not just once in a while, but all the time, whatever the circumstances. When you find yourself thinking unpleasantly, pessimistically, change and think optimistic thoughts. The only way to drive out an undesirable thought is by substituting a powerful desirable thought. By thinking differently, you can replace writers’ and artists’ self-doubt and discouragement with self-confidence, fear with courage, boredom with interest, and pessimism with optimism. Don’t dwell on the negative, but jump over to the positive every time. Be like a fish in a stream and swish your tail and quickly change directions. Think thoughts that make you feel free and easy, composed and confident, free of worry, and brave. Just kick every other kind of thought out of your mind.
  2. Be addicted to goals and action. The path to living optimistically lies in action. Optimistic action immediately invigorates you.
  3. Always maintain high hopes no matter what. The question isn’t whether you’ll experience defeat, but how you’ll handle it when you do. Everyone without a single exception takes it on the chin sometime. When you’re beaten–by an event, a situation, a circumstance, a person–gather yourself up, be resolved, and come back again. Never let misfortune penetrate your depths. Setbacks can’t defeat an optimistic and determined person. That’s not possible. The optimism of a creative person needs to be indestructible.
  4. Don’t dwell on past failures. Why punish yourself with what didn’t work out? When you’re knocked down, get up right away. Get back on your feet. Regain your bearings. The next moment offers a reprieve, a new beginning. Seize it.
  5. Continually look to past successes. List them on a sheet of paper and you’ll see how long a list can be. Look at them when you doubt yourself and your optimism will return.
  6. Spend time with optimists as much as possible. Birds of a feather flock together, so choose your birds very carefully.
  7. Learn to play. The joke goes that a horse sits down at a bar and the bartender says, “Why the long face?” You run into long-faced people at work, the check-out stand, the post office, writers’ groups and artists’ groups–everywhere–all the time. But people with a sense of humor are happier, healthier, and more optimistic.

sun-314340_640You know very well that if your thoughts are pessimistic–if you’re “off”–your commitment to action is not 100% and your spirit and energy are weak. You don’t feel like working; you take the day off. But when you’re optimistic and know what you want and are confident you can get it, you’re able to devote yourself to it with a powerful singleness of purpose. When you’re like that there is almost no way of stopping you from any success you  dream of.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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Two Success Stories for Creative People

Why are so many writers and artists so scared? This morning I started reading the Weekly Digests of some of the blogs I subscribe to and decided this post I’m about to laptop-820274_640write needed to be written–and fast– because so many writers and artists seem to be living in fear and intimidation, and they needn’t. There is no reason that the processes that come after the exhilarating execution of the work—dealing with “gatekeepers”– agents and publishers, clients and galleries—need be dreadful.

The gist of many of the posts written by the more experienced writers in particular to less experienced writers is: “Here’s how to get your book published. I will be your wise guide.” I will not give you any advice like that today, but only tell you about my experiences and that of a friend in breaking into “big time” publishing. My experiences were quite different from what you find described in many intimidating blogs. I hope my experiences make you confident and sure of yourself, less fearful, and less intimidated. And bolder.

I’ll be talking about writing professionally in this post because writing professionally is what I’ve been doing—and thinking about– for the last few decades. But I’m sure there are painters, sculptors, actors, dancers—artists generally—who could tell the same story of how breaking into their field wasn’t as awful as they were told it would be, and in fact found it painless, exciting fun.

I had an idea for what I thought could be a really successful nonfiction book, just as you think your idea would make a successful book. Nothing like my book had ever been written before and it had potential, so I was confident that I had something. But I knew nothing about publishing. Oh, of course I’d heard the horror stories about the tremendous odds against getting any book published. Everybody on earth knows that—especially a first book, odds of five thousand to one and so forth.

But my exact thinking went like this: “Thousands of books are being published every year and I’m betting I’m more books-535352_640skilled than most authors of them (after all, in college a famous creative writing teacher had said teachers like her wait their “entire career for someone who can write like you.” And hadn’t I had a story published in a prestigious literary journal while just a student?) So why shouldn’t my book be published?”

Then I learned that you had to write a persuasive book proposal and get an agent who would contact editors on your behalf. I had written many, many proposals in business and so I wrote a six page double-spaced book proposal—a short proposal, not a long one, a plain, simple one, not a complex, elaborate, fancy one: short and I hoped, sweet.

I hadn’t written a sample of my writing other than the proposal itself and a cover letter that talked about my unique qualifications to write the book or a refined table of contents because I hadn’t completely fleshed out the book in my mind. (In fact, I wouldn’t know what I was really trying to write until I had been working on the book for 1300 hours. Then it hit me!) I just had this good idea for what I thought would be an exciting, profitable book someone would want to publish.

Now I needed an agent to send the proposal to. I looked at a directory of agents and sent the proposal to the first name on the agent’s list. Then if he didn’t pan out I would send the proposal to the second name on the list and work my way down. I wasn’t experienced enough to know then that some writers send their proposals out in batches to twenty or thirty agents at a time. I would send off my stuff to one agent at a time and wait to see what happened. I had no idea then that the agent I sent my little proposal to was one of the most highly regarded agents in the literary world—serendipity at work. (A reminder that a good amount of luck is involved in a writer’s life and you don’t want just any agent working for you, but a good one with a reputation above reproach whose tastes and judgment of talent editors respect very highly.)

Within three days he called me on the phone to tell me he would like to handle the book—he thought it was incredibly timely and he liked the way I wrote. And he liked short, sweet proposals. So now I had an agent. He pitched the book right away (a man of action; my kind of guy) to an editor he thought could very well be interested. And in a week and a half I had a publisher who was eager to put out the book—a top quality publisher. The advance I received was a good one, much better than I’d expected. I wrote the book in twelve grueling months as I was contracted for (be sure to establish a reputation for never exceeding a deadline) and then months passed while the book was being edited and published.

The pub date came and the book was given a promotional budget but not a big one—I was “unproven.” I appeared on a newspapers-33946_640few radio and TV shows, and then two important things happened: a freelance journalist fell in love with the book—Fighting to Win— and wrote a superb and flattering full page, multi-column piece on it in The Washington Post that drew a lot of attention, and the publisher’s sales rep in Chicago fell in love with it too and promoted it with book stores in Chicago’s large, good book-buying market and with the publisher’s other sales people working in other cities and marketing staff decision-makers. And the book became a best seller in Chicago and Washington. Then in San Francisco and Las Angeles and other cities.

Other syndicated journalists liked the book and started writing about it—articles appeared everywhere. It began popping up on college reading lists, and now there were foreign editions that were doing very well. There was a buzz about the book and I was sent off to other major cities for more interviews on bigger shows. I got to enjoying publicizing the book so much that I decided I would rather promote books than write them. In fact, the publisher asked me jokingly if I would go on shows and promote other of their books too.

I had a hit that went through ten printings. With each new printing the book’s cover price rose one dollar, so my royalties were climbing. Now I was no longer unproven and had a track record, and my proposal for my next book consisted of a total of four sentences spoken over coffee to the publisher. The advance for it was substantial. When that book was published the publisher said they would like another book from me. I asked what they wanted me to write about and they said, “Whatever you want.”

I know a man who wrote a book he thought had the potential to be published and be popular. His expectations high, he contacted a great number of agents and no one was interested in handling his book, telling him that in their judgment unfortunately it would be impossible for it to find a public. The agents’ tastes ran in other directions and based on their professional experiences over many years with many books they felt that this one just didn’t have that—that whatever it takes for people to want to buy a book.

He didn’t give up after he had exhausted his long list of agents, but contacted publisher after publisher himself, writing them, sending his manuscript, calling them up, making appointments, pitching the book on the phone and in their Being courageousoffices, expecting all the time that eventually he would succeed. He met nothing but failure—no one thought anything of the book—but he still believed in it and in himself. He still expected the book to be published and be successful. He had faith that one day he would see it in book store display windows.

Then an editor of a small specialty publisher he had contacted called him to come down and talk. When my friend entered the office his manuscript was spread out on the editor’s desk and the editor was bent over it, reading. The editor looked up and said, “Oh, good, you’re here” and with a smile on his face added, “I think your book will be the number one best seller in the country.”

That book became a publishing phenomenon—a cultural phenomenon–and sold an astonishing 25,000,000 copies in paperback alone. It became America’s—and the world’s–number one best seller. Within two months the author was famous and pretty soon he was rich. The book was When Bad Things Happen to Good People and the author was Harold Kushner.

Writers and artists who harbor deep and prolonged doubts about their capabilities are easily set back by obstacles and failures. But when confident self-directed  writers and artists encounter daunting obstacles, disappointments, and failures, they show courage, rally, and make a comeback, intensifying their efforts and persisting until they succeed.

So I’m saying what all my blogs say—be supremely confident, be non-attached and fearless. Don’t be scared. Persevere. Be indefatigable. Be committed to your work every moment of the day. Never let discouragement and negativity penetrate to your depths. No matter what happens, good fortune, bad fortune, keep your spirit light as a feather. Develop your skills to the highest possible level and become what I admire most—not just a writer, but a REAL writer; not just an artist, but a REAL artist.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Programming Success in Writing and Art

Theresa

I was in a Target store café where my wife had parked me so I wouldn’t get in her way while she shopped, and the pen-994464_640woman who waited on me said, “I see you come in here and write at one of our tables. Are you a writer?” I said I was and she said, “I thought so.” She then said, “I’ve got a book in me, but I just can’t find the time to write it.” She said, “Do you ever have that problem?” And I said, “No I don’t because writing is second nature to me, but it wasn’t always.” She said, “Oh, what do you think I should do?”

Her name is Theresa, and she is an exuberant woman who bristles with energy and has dark curious eyes that are always moving. There is a sweetness about her, a kind of goodwill, innocence, openness, and charm. Her body is thin and strong, her gestures lively. She is one of those brave people who are not afraid of saying, “I need help. Will you help me?” I like her.

I want Theresa to be a writer who’s confident and strong and not to doubt herself. I want that because in writing, as in any other field, the constant, never-tiring, never-ending desire to succeed and the confidence that you will—if not now, eventually–along with skill, is the most important indicator of future success. If you have confidence and faith in yourself, you’ll reach higher levels of achievement than other writers, painters, dancers, and actors of equal ability who lack them. Confidence precedes success.

I said to her. “Do you like sentences?” and she said she did, so I knew she had something.

Programmed Activities Force Out Un-Programmed Activities

I ran into a man in a Costco dining area where my wife had parked me who also had a book in him and asked me the laptop-820274_640same thing. I’ve run into writers and artists who tell me they wish they could get themselves to work more regularly. I’ve run into so many people who tell me things like that that I can almost give my remedy in my sleep, my saying, “The main goal of all creative people is to be productive—to produce works–and if they want to produce a continuous flow of works what they need to know is that programmed activities force out un-programmed activities.” That’s the principle they need to repeat to themselves and take to heart: “Programmed activities force out un-programmed activities.” Something extremely good happens to you when that insight lodges itself in your brain. Some writers and artists are 10, 15, 25 times more productive than others. The entire existence of some creative people is organized completely around their work, and their ability to produce it is staggering.

Two and A Half Million Artists

It appears to me the “I have a book I really should write but somehow don’t seem able to get myself to write it” syndrome is a widespread major writers’ problem. Or, “One day I swear I’ll become a painter.” Your aunt is dying to write a novel and your butcher wants to paint landscapes. Ask people on a crowded city bus how many would like to be a writer or painter and 30 % will thrust their hand in the air.

Paul Pulszartti 3 (4)

Painting by Paul Pulszartti

There are 2,500, 000 people in the U.S who consider themselves some sort of artist. And probably another 3,000,000 who’d like to be one. I’d bet that not many of those who would like to be are doing a single thing to make that happen. And many of those doing nothing statistically have to be more talented and potentially more successful than many writers who write for hours every day and painters who paint every day. There may be two or three Jackson Pollocks or Ernest Hemingways in Idaho or Maine who can’t get started.

It isn’t enough to say you’ll go running to improve your health. If you’re really serious you’ll intelligently plan and program your running. You’ll decide how often you’ll run, when you will, where you will, with whom you will, and how far you will. Then you’ll run according to your plan, and your health will improve.

If you’re serious about achieving greater artistic success, you’ll program that too. You’ll say, “I am a person bursting with unrealized potential,” and then you will intelligently develop an improvement plan and plan step 1, then step 2, and then 3, and so on—the steps being rungs of a creative ladder leading you to high skill, success, and satisfaction. Then you’ll stick to your plan and work hard as all real creative people do, and if everything goes according to the plan—and there’s no reason it shouldn’t–you’ll become more skilled, more successful, and more content.

Learning How To Excel and Plateauing

Another problem is learning how to excel. How many writers or artists would ever say, “My goal is to be mediocre” but yet are satisfied to be mediocre. Your climb to excellence has to be attended to. After looking for a long time into what runner-942109_640brings creative success I’ve come to the conclusion that to excel as a writer or artist or to excel in any occupation of any kind and have a long and fulfilling career, you must be pursuing intelligently a small number of certain types of goals. And each goal must be ambitious and each must be concrete because most artists and writers aim much too low and their goals are vague, and vague goals are useless.

Another major problem you see everywhere is plateauing—never getting better but staying at the same skill level and not having increasingly greater success, which you would think would not happen if you’re really learning. So possibly you’re not learning and don’t know any more about how to write or paint and how to motivate yourself and have self-confidence than you did five years ago. You’re working extremely hard, but you’re not progressing. You might be making the same mistakes over and over. You’ve stopped growing.

Something must be done—you need new inputs, new information, new insights, and new work habits. So you must become an athlete of the arts, a champion of writing or painting, and train yourself to run faster and jump higher.

The way to master a creator’s skills is to learn how to do them supremely well and practice them ten times, a hundred times, a thousand, getting constructive feedback along the way, making corrections, and experiencing a series of successes as your performance improves. Most often the reason a writer or artist is not yet accomplished is not because she’s unintelligent or not talented but because she isn’t knowledgeable enough yet of her craft.

Not Screwing Around Anymore

Theresa and the Costco man tell me they want very badly to be as excellent writers as they can be, and I believe them. Chances are you and I have never met and haven’t had a chance to talk, and it would be nice if someday we do. But I’m assuming that you’ve reached a state of being when you can say, “I want very much to be the most highly skilled, successful, and satisfied writer or artist I can be. That’s what I think about and that’s why I’m reading this blog. I’m not screwing around anymore.”

Theresa’s Programmed Activity

But many writers and artists—even those who claim that work is tremendously important to them–are lucky if they slice out an hour a day, or thirty minutes, one-forty-eighth of a day, to work on their craft. Creating isn’t all you do. You goal-976853_640have other important roles and responsibilities you must find ways of incorporating into your work schedule as depicted in this comment from writer Lois Duncan:

“Now I keep a typewriter with a sheet of paper in it on the end of the kitchen table. When I have a five-minute lull and the children are playing quietly I sit down and knock out a paragraph. I have learned that I can write, if necessary, with a TV blaring on one side of me and a child banging a toy piano on the other. I have even typed out a story with a colicky baby draped across my lap. It is not ideal—but it is possible.”

Expert writers and artists almost always structure their work time and environment carefully. I told Theresa that she had to commit to me that she would write thirty minutes every day without exception except for real emergencies—could she do that? Yes, she said, she could. I asked her the time she would write: “First thing before I go to work. I’ll get up a half hour early, shower, get dressed, and then I’ll sit down and write for a half hour.”

I thought of author Hope Dahle Jordan who said, “My personal, elementary rule sounds ludicrous even to me. Nevertheless, I am deadly serious when I insist it is the only one I conscientiously adhere to: I don’t dress for the day until two pages (500 words) are written, and acceptable to me. That is the only way I get a book finished. For as long as I stay in my blue bathrobe I stay at my typewriter.” Harry Crews said, “ I get up in the morning, that’s one of the hard parts, drag myself over to the old typewriter and sit down—that’s even harder—and then tell the Lord, ‘I ain’t greedy Lord, give me the next 500 words.’”

I told her that like artists, writers must guard again a two-pronged problem: avoiding work and quitting too soon.

I told Theresa not to be jealous of writers who have the luxury of being able to write as often as they want and as many minutes or hours as they want. I told her that doesn’t mean they’re the most productive writers or artists or that they’re writing-828911_640productive at all. It just means that the amount of time most writers and artists would give an arm and a leg to have is available to them. But I assured her that she would find that a focused half-hour’s work with a concrete goal clearly in mind is the equivalent of three unfocused hours.

I told Theresa that later on we can talk about how in addition to spending time writing she can increase her writing skills in other ways. In the future we will set goals to increase her abilities. And I told her one day we will talk about the Inner Skills of writers and artists, such as the need for courage, and that she should be completely indifferent to everything but the quality of her work.

I told her, “If you want to be read widely, read widely. Reading good writing with the intention of learning specific lessons from it is the best way to learn to write well. Good artists learn by going to museums, taking out a sketch pad, and copying masterpieces. To be able to say, ‘I learned that from so-and-so and borrowed that from what’s-her-name.’” Theresa should also learn about the way of life of a writer, which is different from a social worker’s way of life or a businessman’s or even a painter’s.

Then I said I wanted Theresa to jot down in a log a few quick sentences about each day’s writing: how it went, what journal-155431_640problems she had and how she solved them, and most important, what she’s learning about writing and about herself. What comes easily for her; what is hard? Writers and artists who set ambitious goals and keep records of their performance are considerably more effective than writers and artists who don’t.

I asked Theresa to have a very specific goal in mind whenever she sits down to work: what is she aiming to accomplish in the next half hour, the way a painter says, “By the time I finish today I will have finished the upper right corner of the canvas.” I told her that now that she’ll be getting up a half hour early she should go to bed a half hour earlier because when you’re tired you’re not ambitious and your writing or art goals won’t be ambitious either.

Talent and Many Truths to Tell

I feel that Theresa has a talent for writing because it has been said by those who study the development of high expertise that if you have an intense interest in a creative field, that is almost always a sure sign that you have a talent for it. I have faith in Theresa. When I think about her, I think about writer Louise Nevelson’s theory that “when we come on this earth, many of us are ready-made. Some of us—most of us—have genes that are ready for certain performances. Nature gives you these gifts…There’s nobody that’s common. I think that in every human being there is greatness.”

I tell her not be afraid to be bold and that truth is everything in art, and that when readers open her books one day they will ask themselves, “Am I going to find the truth in here?”

I don’t think she will become a writer who doesn’t write or who will give up before she succeeds. I have a sense that she may have the makings of a REAL writer and that writing may become an essential part of her identity. I hope she soon sees that a writer’s life is wonderful and worth sacrificing for: “I did not choose this vocation, and if I had any say in the matter, I would not have chosen it…Yet for this vocation I was and am willing to live and die, and I consider very few other things of the slightest importance” (Katherine Anne Porter). I tell her that nothing can compare with, nothing can replace the joy during the act of creating. American poet Robert Frost said that once a man has known the pleasure of making a metaphor he is unfit for ordinary work.

sunrise-580379_640At the crack of dawn almost every day Theresa is writing. Writing is becoming second nature to her. Her book is taking shape day by day. My wife is shopping over there and I’m at a table in Theresa’s store now and I’m thinking that if I’m right about Theresa soon the creator’s hunger to produce will take over and she will start writing during her breaks and lunch hours too.

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Take Charge of Your Creative Life

What would you say is most significant about the writers and artists I’m going to describe?

How are you like them?

How are you different?

What might you do if you wished to be more self-directed?

“I could…”

For the last few days before starting work I’ve been inspiring myself looking at my write-ups of artists and writers I’m Cezanne-image(1)especially drawn to—Nobel Prize playwright Eugene O’Neill, novelists Henry Miller and Raymond Chandler, and painters Paul Cezanne, Mary Cassatt, and Jackson Pollock–and have decided that they have in common not only their accomplishments and prodigious skills and the uniqueness of their personalities, but that they were all self-directed—guided by themselves, no one else.  At one time or another you’ve observed first hand, heard about, or read about self-directed writers and artists too. Textbooks, anthologies, magazines, literary journals, galleries, museums, shows, and newspapers are filled with their names. They strike out on their own, taking full responsibility for themselves, their work, their careers, and their fate.

They all possess that rarest of qualities I admire so much and most people nowadays seem to have lost—intensity, single-mindedness, a “seriousness of intent” about their work. Their art means everything. There is not a minute of their waking day when their minds are not is some way or another on their work. They are vital: alive and electric. They give off sparks. They mean business. They go about their work undeterred, unknown or famous, poor or rich, unhappy or happy, in a bad mood or good mood. The commitment of their less memorable and less serious, less intense peers peters out, but that of a real writer and real artist goes on and on.

the-song-of-first-swallow-paul-pulszartti

The Song of First Swallow by Paul Pulszartti

Nothing can compete with, nothing can replace, their joy during the act of creating– the self-discovery, self-awareness, and self-expression that satisfies their deepest needs. They so saturate themselves with their work that to paint or write—or sculpt, act, or dance– becomes as much a need as sleep. A painter perceives the world in which she finds herself in lines and planes, a dramatist thinks in dialogues and scenes. A novelist divides his life into episodes.

Production is their never-ceasing main goal–to get the work out. Their existence is centered on, focused on, and organized around that work, and their ability to produce it is staggering. Shakespeare wrote an average of two plays a year–thirty six–many of the greatest examples of literature in the world’s history. And was also a poet, an actor, a family man, and a producer who had to attend to the practical concerns of mounting the plays’ performance. Due to bad health (a nerve problem that made it impossible to hold a pencil) and wandering the world in search of a place to work—France, Switzerland, America—Eugene O’Neill lost twelve years mid-career, but still wrote 49 plays. Belgian Georges Simenon who was capable of writing 60 to 80 pages per day, produced 200 novels, 150 novellas, autobiographical works, numerous articles and scores of pulp novels under two dozen pseudonyms—yet all of high quality.

Their standards lead to setting high goals and high goals lead to high success. Once unknown, they become known. It may take time. Raymond Chandler didn’t start writing until his forties and published his first novel at 53, becoming an “overnight” success. Success may not be easy: Henry Miller lived the life of a homeless beggar on the streets of Paris, penniless, yet considering himself the happiest man on earth, into his late forties before his genius was recognized. Early mary-cassatt-89730_640(1)in his career, before becoming rich and the talk of the art world, Jackson Pollock was poor and couldn’t afford brushes, so he’d steal them. Mary Cassatt, the greatest woman painter of the nineteenth century, didn’t become able to buy a chateau until two things happened in mid-career: she became an Impressionist and she found her subject: mothers with their children.

They produce continually better work and expand their abilities. Over an extended period writers and artists with a minimum of natural talent who apply themselves can acquire a great talent. Writing and art teachers are generally in agreement that it’s not the best, most talented students whose names they hear about in later years. The students with the most talent but the weakest work ethic who dazzled the class, disappear into oblivion, while the hard workers often go on to excel. Poet John Berryman thought that talent was no more than 20% of a successful poet’s personality, and the same is probably true of every creative field. Every minute spent painting or writing increases your talent. High performing self-directed people in all the arts and every other field wherever on the globe they’re to be found are universally alike: over and over again they are people who believe in trying to excel, in doing one’s best, in working very hard and not wasting time. Van Gogh in particular was an artist who couldn’t waste time, starting late but producing in just over a decade 2,100 works before his death at 38.

The word “easy” never enters their mind because what’s easy isn’t worth bothering with. If they don’t meet their high standard they are dissatisfied. Then what they do is not what everyone does. They work harder than before and don’t stop until they’re satisfied that they’ve done their best. If to be superb a poem must be revised 200 times, they revise it 200 times.

If they’re self-directed they set their own work schedules, work alone, and persist over a long period of time that the majority of people cannot match. They direct their achievements by setting challenging long-range and short-range aims to develop themselves and increase their knowledge and skills, and by applying a variety of five, six, ten, fifteen pragmatic strategies, techniques, and rituals to reach those goals.

Eugene O'NeillThey’re original; they invent and innovate. Cezanne and Pollock both revolutionized painting. O’Neill single-handedly created serious American theatre.

They believe in themselves and their capabilities, and are committed to meeting the challenges of the creator’s life, which is not an easy one. They are willing to take risks and sacrifice other goals and other activities. Psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung thought that the creator’s life cannot be otherwise than full of conflicts because two forces are at war in him—on the one hand the normal human longing for happiness, satisfaction, and security, and on the other hand “a ruthless passion for creation which may go so far as to override every personal desire.”

The confidence in their abilities of self-directed people can’t be broken, and more than anything else is the most powerful source of their drive. So much of achieving goals and realizing your long-held creative hopes is a result of knowing exactly what they are, wanting badly to achieve them, and believing that you can. The more self-assured a writer and artist is, the stronger his commitment to high achievements. All great writers, artists, actors, and dancers were and are self-assured where their work is concerned.

Writers and artists—actors and performers–who harbor deep and prolonged doubts about their capabilities are easily set back by obstacles and failures. But when confident self-directed writers and artists encounter daunting obstacles, disappointments, and failures, they find a way to show courage, rally, and make a comeback, intensifying their efforts and persisting until they succeed. Among the personal qualities that cause self-direction and motivation that is strong enough to sustain success through the inevitable trials, valleys, disappointments, setbacks, and self-doubts are not luxuries but necessities for any writer or artist who is in any way serious about his craft: passion, obsessiveness, will. new-york-115629_640Very little is known about why some artists and writers give up before reaching their peak while the steady commitment of others to their goals and their doggedness in achieving them borders on the super-human.

They are self-aware and monitor and continually evaluate their performance, keeping track of their productivity, their working time, and their career progress. They strive to keep regular working hours, and organize their life and their environment to accommodate their commitment to their creative existence. Their names and their works are often topics of conversation. They’re published. Their works are shown. They win prizes. When they die, they’re remembered.

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Writer and Artist Warriors

sunset-190922_640My younger sister Sharon died of bone cancer at the age of thirty-seven in a hospital in Honolulu, where she lived. She was a small, delicate woman who had the will of a warrior. When a doctor came to see her as she lay in her bed, he jumped back as though he had been pushed. He said to her, “I feel your power coming out to me.” But she was dying. There was no hope. Once she had been beautiful. I prayed, “Dear God, give me her pain so she will be free of it.”

I told her that I’d had writing a book in mind for a long time, but that I was very busy running the business I had started and really had no time, and that even if I did write it, it would take years to research and more years to write, and I wasn’t sure it would ever be published—the odds were against that as they are against any book being published–and I had a wife and four children to support and couldn’t afford to take a chance. And I was afraid I wouldn’t succeed, that I didn’t have what it took. But I didn’t tell her that.

She was in such pain that even the slightest, even the lightest, touch of another person on her was agony. So when I left to fly back home, knowing I would never see her again, I couldn’t kiss her. The pressure of my lips would bring her pain. I leaned over her and rested my head next to hers on the pillow. She whispered in my ear, “Dave, you write that book. I have faith in you. Write it for me.”

I returned home and organized my work space and set to work, thinking of her “Write it for me.” I told my wife, “I’ll close the business and I’ll finish the book in one year, and during that year we will have no income.” My wife said, “I understand. Go ahead. It’s important.” Nothing could stop me. What before had been a vague dream now became a purpose to devote myself to, to write a book, a good book for my little sister. It became my wife’s purpose and my children’s too. Whenever I was discouraged that purpose made me return to the book and to work till dawn, to sleep a few hours and get back to work for a year until the book was done. While I was working on it I thought, “I’m making a book Sharon would be proud of.”

I dedicated it to her with the inscription: “In memory of my sister Sharon. Just one word—courage,” and that word meant a lot to me because in this life everyday courage is so important.

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My book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life came out and has been called “an underground bestseller” because with almost no advertising it swept the country and my life was changed in so many ways. The book became known in my family as FTW. It went through multiple printings, and appeared on bestseller lists; the cover price rose and rose. FTW discussion groups took shape in big cities and remote towns in America and Europe. Articles about this strange book with the Japanese symbol “spirit” on its cover appeared in scholarly journals and popular magazines alike. The book was read by generals, governors, and dancers, writers, artists, and riveters, heart surgeons, business executives, retirees, and sales clerks. It began being included on university required reading lists. It was not about Anthropology, Physics, or Botany, but about how to live. This little book is about musha-shugyo, “training in warriorship.” It teaches the skills and passes on the insights of samurai warriors adapted to everyday life.

It is an optimistic and encouraging book. That’s how I intended it. It is full of promise, full of hope. It teaches strength and makes you strong. It says we have but one life, but this one life can be changed in an instant. It can become two lives. The life before the changes and the richer, more fulfilled and stunning life after them. We can renew ourselves and start fresh at will on a new creative course, a more fruitful course, a better course any moment we wish, putting aside disappointments, discouragements, false starts, and failures and emerging as full-blown, skilled, exceptional artists or writers. Every living thing, every artist, every writer, has an urge to grow, to realize its full potential. My life tells me that. I believe it more every day.

Warrior symbol

“Warrior” by tiseb

The book teaches us to persevere, to be brave and not hide from difficulties, but to race forward to meet them so we may overcome them all the more quickly, maintaining high spirits and complete faith in ourselves. It teaches that we must never be stationary, but must be always moving at a good clip toward a better life, never slowing down because we’re too lazy, or afraid, or self-doubting, or discouraged, or have been set back by circumstances. “When you meet calamities and rough situations, it isn’t enough simply to say you’re not flustered. Whenever you meet difficult situations dash forward bravely and joyfully.”

Readers started contacting me, and I was happy to get to know them and listen to the stories they told me. In the revised E-book edition I mention a few of their stories.

A Hollywood movie director called me and said he felt that people in that aggressive film industry had been “eating him alive.” A successful opera singer wrote me and told me she had been overwhelmed by a sudden and inexplicable fear of performing. She felt helpless. She didn’t know what to do and stopped singing. They read FTW. He became more assertive, self-confident, and successful; she overcame her fear and went back on stage and resumed her career.

A newspaper was having serious financial problems. Its existence was in jeopardy. And so the publisher was going to launch a five-day intense telephone subscription sales campaign using 100 sales people. The publisher, who was also a playwright, was confident that exposure to FTW ideas would inspire them, and had me speak to them for an hour. Following the campaign, he called me and said that the campaign had been a huge success–the staff was fired up and the result was thousands of new subscriptions. He said, “You and FTW saved the paper.”

The book teaches us the samurai concept of mo chih ch’u, “going ahead without hesitation.” It’s not looking back once you have decided on your course of action. Once you can say to yourself “This is what I want to do”—“Write the novel I’ve been talking about so long;” “Rent a studio;” “Move”– then be on your way immediately, mo chih ch ’u. Why delay when life is so brief and the most important time of your entire life is this present moment?

I shouldn’t have to ask where you intend to go in your career. I should be able to tell by watching you and hearing and reading about you. Your undeviating aim should be to reach the fulfillment of the creator’s life you can envision, letting no impediments keep you from it. You know that in this life you’ve chosen rather than the other 5,000 easier lives you could have chosen, courage is a necessity, that there really is nothing to be afraid of and no reason to hold anything back in reserve, and that the whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Getting closer each day to a more fulfilled creator’s life, becoming extraordinary, your energy and strength will be boundless. Others will let go of their dreams, but you never will. You’ll draw from deeper inside and be willing to exhaust yourself for the sake of your happiness.

You must never lose the expectation that no matter what, you will succeed. Your art will work out. Your book will be published. Your skills will get better and better, equipping you for your craft in ways you haven’t dreamed of yet. Knocked down, maintain your confidence that all will go well as long as you get up. Knocked down seven times, get up eight. For that is how a better creator’s life is reached. Like a warrior, you must only “take care that your spirit is never broken.” Never let disappointment and discouragement “penetrate to the depths.” “Wear your existence light as a feather.”

The samurai warrior spoke of internal “dragons” and “striking through the dragon’s mask.” The samurai was taught what we should take to heart: “When all psychological blocks are removed the swordsman will move without conscious effort.” When your blocks are removed you will write, paint, sculpt, or perform without conscious effort. “Success will always come if your heart is without disturbance.”The meaning of all things is within, in your mind, not something that exists ‘out there.’” After reading the book people ask themselves, or ask their friends, “What is holding me back? What are my dragons? How can I overcome them?”

dragon-149393_150Ask any small child what a dragon is and you’ll get an earful of terror and horror. You and I both believed in fire-breathing dragons until we discovered that the only place they existed was in our minds, that they were merely products of our imagination. They only “lived” and had the power to frighten us because we granted them license to. They died and no longer troubled us when we revoked their license. All obstacles inside us—in our minds–are dragons. They are no longer of the fire-breathing variety. They are now a different species entirely. But the effect of scaring us and making us draw back in horror is precisely the same. The goal of the warrior writer and artist is to strike through dragon’s masks and free himself/herself of obstacles so the mind is “free to function according to its own true nature.”

The five most powerful dragons samurai—there were women samurai too–were trained to strike through, and artists, writers and performers must train themselves to strike through, are any kind of fear, the fear of taking risks, thinking too much of what might go wrong, doubting yourself, and hesitating, particularly when that golden but fleeting opportunity appears. If the samurai was afraid, didn’t take risks, thought too much, doubted himself, or hesitated, he would lose—possibly his life–because of fear most of all. A creative person must be bold; fear cripples her: “Fear is the true enemy, the only enemy. Overcome fear and nothing can stop you.”

The one constant factor in warfare as well as a writer’s and artist’s life is uncertainty. Half the things you try to accomplish are obscured by it. Risk and danger and fear and self-doubt are always partners. You do not go into the arts if you want a secure, uneventful life of ease. In samurai swordsmanship there is a move that requires you to take two leaping steps forward and to come within a hairsbreadth of your opponent’s sword. It is not a difficult move and can bring quick and total victory, but it is rarely used. Why? Because taking the risk of coming so close to the foes blade terrifies most swordsmen. In a creator’s life, as with that sword move, it is only by edging yourself in close to danger and living more dangerously that you approach great success. Who are those artists and writers who are least satisfied with their lives? Precisely those gloomy writers and artists—and actors and dancers– who regret, now when it’s too late, being timid and playing it safe all their lives.

bird-226700_640As an artist or writer, you must have an immovable mind—a mind totally committed to facing with calmness and composure any fate, circumstance, or challenge a creator’s life throws at you. An artist’s or writer’s life is often filled with troubles. But you must never let them disable you: “Forget about death, forget about the enemy, forget about yourself, keep your thoughts motionless.” Then you will “flow with whatever may happen.” Then your craft will blossom and you will reach your destiny.

Unless you have mastered your mind and body, you cannot beat your enemies on the battlefield.” Take up one idea. Make that idea your life, recalling,  “No matter what it is, there is no hardship you can’t overcome.” Like a warrior “When crossing marshes, your only concern should be to get over them quickly.”

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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13 High Achievement Skills for Artists and Writers

Part I

I’m writing a book that says high achievement for artists and writers is within reach. It describes eight qualities creators need if they are to excel. If even one quality is missing, they will not excel. Day after day for a week I made no progress on one section. I would sit down to work at the computer and find myself fiddling around mindlessly for a few hours, then going down to the kitchen for a snack or looking around for someone to talk to, or I’d do laundry or something and after a while would go back upstairs to the computer with every intention of working on that section only to find myself Laundrychecking the sports scores. Then I’d quit for the day and feel that nagging dissatisfaction with myself that writers and artists so often feel. Finally I sat down on my recliner to try to get to the bottom of this and asked myself, “What’s the problem?” and I immediately answered, “That section is too easy for me.”

Most people in the world can be divided psychologically into two broad groups. Probably you are in one group, just as I am. There is the minority who set and pursue challenges for themselves and are willing to work hard to achieve something, and then the majority who don’t care about challenges all that much and don’t work hard. Those two groups are to be found among artists and writers everywhere in the world, just as they can be found among students, accountants, businessmen and women, athletes, and people in any other field. Mozart was a tremendous worker who practiced, performed, and gripped a quill pen to compose so many hours that by the age of 26 his hands were deformed.

The first group that sets out in pursuit of challenges possesses a distinct kind of motivation, a specific kind of measurable psychological need that the group that is indifferent to challenges lacks. That need is called Achievement Motivation, Success Motivation, or The Need to Achieve, and the people who have it are those who reach higher achievements than most other people, certainly higher than those who don’t care. (Much of the initial work on race-695303_640Achievement Motivation was done by psychologist David C. McClelland). The achievers are more successful artists and writers, just they are more successful students, physicians, athletes, salespeople and business executives. It is naïve of a creator to think talent alone will take a person to great heights. Most teachers of writers and artists will tell you that it is rarely the most talented pupil who dazzled the class that they hear and read about later. They hear about the one who was the most determined to succeed and the most dogged—a member of the first group.

So it seems to me extremely important if you want to enjoy more success, however you define success, to understand what high success people are like, so if you wish, you can become more like them and achieve more creatively and find more fulfillment. If they are in the business world, achievement motivated men and women have high career aspirations just as achievement motivated writers and artists are ambitious and have high career aspirations. Author Ernest Hemingway was as ambitious as anyone. An unbelievably hard worker, he wanted nothing less than to be the world’s greatest writer. And in 1954 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize, he was. Vincent van Gogh said that while he wasn’t successful during his life—he sold only one painting in his lifetime and traded another for brushes–one day he would take his place among the immortals. In the work world achievement motivated people get more raises and are promoted rapidly. If they are unemployed they get new jobs more quickly than less motivated people. Companies that employ a lot of them prosper.

If you are in the first group—achievers—I know you very well. I know how you think. I know how you act. I know your values. I know something about how your parents reared you. I know what color clothes you prefer to wear.

man-73318_150First of all, you are definitely goal-directed, and it’s no secret to you that achieving goals will require that you follow a linked series of steps over an often long period of months or years as you progress from beginner to expert, and sometimes amateur to professional. P.G. Wodehouse said, “Success comes to a writer, as a rule, so gradually that it is always something of a shock to him to look back and realize the heights to which he has climbed.”

From the start you exert yourself and mobilize more energy to reach your goals than other people. And you are able to persist steadily without interruption whereas poorly motivated writers and artists have low energy and will interrupt their work more often and not engage in it for long periods, even years. That can have a detrimental effect: if you neglect an activity for just 48 hours you function much less effectively when you resume the activity. While achievement people are hard persistent workers, they need not fill their entire day with work and are able to cut out and enjoy leisure time. At least in America most people work at least 7 hour days and must travel to and from work, but professional writers usually work at home about four hours, 16.7 % of the day, leaving 20 hours for other things (though some, like prolific novelist Philip Roth, work all the time).

paintings-316440_640A long gestation period is required before artists and writers are fully developed and performing at their peak, and during that period you spend your time actively thinking about how to do things better. You constantly talk about doing things better. You’re concerned with getting better all the time. You take classes, you study, you read, you learn. In other words, you are dominated by what is called An Urge to Improve. It’s not difficult to understand why people who constantly think about doing better:

  1. Are apt to do better at what they’re interesting in doing better
  2. Prefer working in situations where they can tell easily if they are improving or aren’t
  3. Keep track of their performance so they can tell if they’re in fact doing better

If you are an achiever, the goals you set are one or more of four types:

One, you compete with yourself, trying to achieve more in the future than you’ve achieved in the past. Is this true of you? If it is, you stay interested by aiming higher and higher. Once you’ve achieved a goal, the goal loses its luster and you now want something more. You had an essay published. That’s over and done; now you’ll write a book.

Two, you compete with others. You may not like it, but unless you do your creative work solely for the joy of it, you have to compete. Hundreds of writers, possibly thousands, are trying to get their stories in the same magazines as you and as many artists are trying to get their work shown in the same galleries. As novelist Doris Lessing said: “You have to remember that nobody ever wants a new writer. You have to create your own demand.” No one wants a new painter either. And so to draw attention to yourself in a cluttered field of one talented person among many talented people, you must develop the competitive survival skills of the showman and self-promoter.

The necessity of competing needn’t cause anxiety if you learn to be dispassionate and non-attach. Then you see competing as just another challenge and role, the role of the marketer of your work, a set of skills that can be learned, the logical conclusion of all your development and all your work.

Three, you engage in a long-term involvement over the long haul, and four, you pursue unique accomplishments–definitions of the work of writers and artists.

painting-316135_640You have sub-goals which will lead in an orderly way to the achievement of your major goals. For example, you know that to do as well as you hope, you’ll need to acquire more and more knowledge of your craft throughout your career. Knowledge is not quite everything, but almost. Writers and artists of all kinds draw from all the cumulative knowledge they’ve acquired. They do that sometimes consciously, sometimes spontaneously. What they know is reflected in their every word, every turn of phrase, every image, every idea, and every choice of color and perspective and every brush stroke. So it is incumbent on them if they are to excel to learn more and more about their craft, including how it’s done and how others have done it.

You take a futuristic view and are a long-range planner who keeps his/her goals in mind continually. They are never out of your mind very long. (In itself, this makes you exceptional because most people have very little idea of what their goals are and don’t think of them often.) The more important the goal is to a low-motivated person, the less interested in it he becomes. He loses focus on what’s important. But the more important it is to you, the achiever, the more challenging and therefore the more interesting to you it is. As it becomes ever more important it becomes ever more challenging and ever more interesting.

It’s worth remembering that to an achievement motivated person like yourself failure to achieve a goal makes the goal more attractive, not less. Failure doesn’t devastate you, but pushes you to greater effort because now it is even more of a challenge, and you thrive on challenges. You try again. And then again and again tenaciously until you succeed, whereas a less strongly motivated writer or artist may not try a second time and never reach success.

You are aware that reaching your goals depends on how difficult they are in relation to your capabilities. The ideal you’re trying for is to match your abilities perfectly with your goals, your abilities equipping you to achieve them all. If you lack the ability, you cannot reach the goal. Simple tasks and very difficult tasks are interesting to people with low motivation, but not to those with achievement motivation like yourself. You’re drawn to goals that are moderately difficult—not too easy; not too hard, but a little out of reach. Goals like that motivate you the most.

It’s been said that if writers were good businessmen, they’d have too much sense to be writers, and John Steinbeck said the profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business, and the same is true of painting, dancing, and acting. If you’re an achievement motivated writer or artist you won’t even try to reach goals that in your judgment of your own capabilities you don’t have at least a 30% chance of reaching. I submitted a manuscript to a publisher with the odds of publication statistically about 3,000 to 1 against. But I was confident and thought I had a 30% chance. I was right and the book was published.

joshua-tree-5104_640You will not pursue goals that aren’t challenging enough. Sure things hold no excitement for you. They’re not interesting, just as the section of the book I’m writing is too easy for me. So you spice things up to make the goals more challenging, sometimes making the sculpture or the novel you’re working on more complicated, more ambitious, something, you’ve never tried before, for example. If something is important to the achiever, she will sometimes work days or weeks non-stop. But if it isn’t, she’ll avoid work. She’ll go fishing.

Think about your three main writing/art goals at this time. Your crucial goals should always be held clearly in mind so that if I asked you could quickly say…

“No doubt about it, my major overriding goal now is…

“My second most important goal is…

“Also very important is…

Do you feel all in all you have a 30%-65% chance of reaching them? (I’m asking you if they are moderately difficult goals, the achiever’s aim.)

 

Part II

 You work in intense, concentrated spurts (which studies find now is the most effective way to work). Other people often marvel at your capacity for sustained effort. They ask, “What do you have going for you that you can stick to it and never seem to tire?” It’s because you are achievement motivated. But when the work is done, you put it completely out of mind and want nothing more to do with it. You want to go on right away to the next moderately difficult project, or you want to go to the beach and forget all about your work. The change from hard work to a total disinterest in work is so extreme at times that your significant other will say to you, “One minute you’re a ball of fire, the next I can’t get you to do a thing.” A research study found that professional writers couldn’t remember what they had just written, but amateurs could remember very clearly what they had written.

You consider your goals very carefully if you are achievement motivated. You “research the environment,” gathering information wherever you can and consider the probability of success of a variety of alternatives and try to find goals and tasks that will excite you. Should you continue working on the project you’ve started or stop and begin something else? One thing experienced creative people are good at is knowing when something is not going to work out, and if it isn’t, they don’t hesitate to junk it. Writers have been known to write an entire book, then decide they don’t like it and put it in a drawer and forget about it. Should you get help? Getting help is a sign in itself that you’re trying to reach the goal. Should you try something completely different such as a new style, a new technique, a new market for your work? You take time to reflect on your career, your strengths, your weaknesses, your ambitions, and your possible future continually.

When you set goals you spend more time thinking about what it would be like to succeed than what it would be like to fail. You don’t dwell on failure, only on success. And what is success to you? It is reaching excellence. Producing excellent work is far more important to you than prestige. But prestige is more important than excellence to those whose motivation is low, and they dwell on the possibility of failure.

When working in a group setting and asked to pick someone to help them solve a problem, low motivated people will tend to choose friends, but the most highly motivated will choose for a partner someone who’s more able than they are, friend or no friend.

You are task-oriented, a hard-worker no matter what the situation is—writing, painting, doing chores, planning a novel, assembling a dresser. The low-motivated writer or artist avoids working hard whenever he can. Also, highly motivated people, surprisingly, are better able to recall tasks they didn’t finish. And if they’re given a chance, they will return and compete those tasks. Even tasks that were interrupted many years before—the so-called Zeigarnik Effect. Achievers are not comfortable with unfinished business.

You prefer to take personal responsibility for outcomes rather than to leave the outcome to chance. You want outcomes to be the result of your own efforts and your own skills. You are not a gambler if no personal skills are involved and if winning and losing is a matter of luck and not of skill. Lotteries and slot-machines aren’t appealing because no skill is involved. If you were able to throw dice with a 1 in 3 chance of success or work on a problem with the same odds, you will choose to work on the problem because the result would be dependent on your abilities rather than chance.

Since achievement motivated people are always interested in improving their performance, they crave feedback on how well they are doing. The feedback must be (1) rapid and (2) specific. They want to know now and they want to know why. They are writers and artists who want constructive criticism.

So if you wish to be more of an achieving writer and artist:

  1. Pursue moderately difficult goals that require: a) doing better, b) competing for success, and c) engaging in projects that need long-term involvement and unique accomplishments.
  2. Get in the habit of researching your environment, looking for many sources of useful information you’ll need to set reasonable and attractive goals.
  3. Don’t dwell on failure; dwell on success. Think of what it will be like when you’ve succeeded.
  4. Be always expanding your knowledge. Set knowledge development learning goals.
  5. Take a long-term view of your writing, your painting, your sculpting.
  6. Be interested in excellence for its own sake.
  7. Work intensely in spurts and persist in the face of failure.
  8. Carefully consider the probability of success achieving each of your goals.
  9. Take personal responsibility for your work and your career.
  10. Get rapid and specific feedback on your efforts continually.
  11. Get help
  12. Be thinking all the time of how to do things better.
  13. Place your confidence in your own abilities and your own hard work.

I’ll have to find a way to make writing that section of the artist’s and writer’s book more interesting—more moderately difficult–so I can work harder and finish it. We’ll see what happens.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Luck: How Artists, Writers, and Other Creative People Can Get It

In the arts here in America and everywhere else, the causes of success are ability, confidence, persistence, resilience—and good luck. A guarantee: with high ability, high confidence, high persistence, high resilience, and enough good luck, you will achieve your artistic goals, whatever they may be. Let’s have a look at luck, the most difficult cause to account for.

painting-284546_640An artist’s and writer’s career may take shape over a long period of time—ten years, fifty years–and incidence of good or bad luck occurs many, many times. In 1921, in New York, a good friend introduced William Faulkner, 24, to Elizabeth Prall, manager of the Doubleday book store, and she hired Faulkner as a clerk—a stroke of good luck for Faulkner because Prall married Sherwood Anderson, one of the most popular authors in the country. Elizabeth invited Faulkner to dinner (good luck) and he and Anderson liked each other (good luck) from the start and spent many hours together, talking and drinking, and Anderson became Faulkner’s mentor (good luck). Mrs. Anderson asked her husband if he would recommend Faulkner’s book to his publisher, and Anderson said he would (good luck) as long as he didn’t have to read it. He did, and his publisher did put out the book (good luck), and Faulkner’s career was on its way, a Nobel Prize in store for him twenty-eight years later.

Chance shapes your life throughout your life, affecting the career you settle into, who your friends are, who your life partner is, where you live, the school you attend and education your receive, your genes and personality–the very fabric and quality of your existence. Some episodes in your career were extremely lucky, but other episodes couldn’t have been unluckier. The Academy award winning actor, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, went into theatre in high school because the girls happened to be so good looking. What if they hadn’t been? Would he have become an accountant?

alexander-the-great-35767_640Gamblers speak of people who are lucky and those who aren’t, and consider luck to be in the person: “She’s lucky but he isn’t.” And so do military people. Even the most scholarly and erudite studies of warfare usually discuss luck. The Macedonian Alexander the Great referred to his good luck as a “star” that guided him to great victories. I suppose it did. He conquered most of the known world before the age of thirty.

The book Creativity by psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi describes how much good luck figured in the career of a successful (and fortunate) artist “whose work sells well and hangs in the best museums and who can afford a large estate with horses and a swimming pool.” The artist “once admitted ruefully that there could be at least a thousand artists as good as he—yet they are unknown and their work is unappreciated. The one difference between him and the rest, he said, was that years back he met at a party a man with whom he had a few drinks. They hit it off and became friends. The man eventually became a successful art dealer who did his best to push his friend’s work. One thing led to another. A rich collector began to buy the artist’s work, critics started paying attention, a large museum added one of his works to its permanent collection.” His career was made.

When I wrote Fighting to Win about how people today could achieve fulfillment by applying the wisdom of ancient Japanese warriors, my timing could not have been luckier. At the precise time it came out Americans were infatuated with and trying hard to learn more about the Japanese culture, and the book took off.

In college I read Englisman Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “God’s Grandeur,” and was impressed with its beautiful language. For some reason years later (before Amazon.com and before the internet) I suddenly had the urge to read a book studying Hopkins’ imagery so that it might affect my imagery. Wherever I traveled across the world—and I did extensively–I visited new and used bookstores, and in every bookstore I browsed for such a book, but never found it. Once I was to give a speech in Rock Island, Illinois. It’s a small city in the western part of the state that I had never visited before. I discovered that the hotel I was to stay in had just been built and had opened its doors only a few days before. It had hosted a conference for fire fighters–its first guests. They had left just the day before. I arrived very late at night and was given the only available room. I entered the room, laid my bags on the bed, and then noticed something in the trash basket. Apparently it had been left by one of the firefighters and the maid had overlooked it when she cleaned the room. There it was: fifteen years after I’d read him: a full-length book on the imagery of Gerard Manley Hopkins—a lucky break, a book that helped me.

books-683901_640Another time, I’d been writing and researching fifteen or sixteen hours a day on fifteen or twenty cups of black coffee for many months to meet a book deadline, neglecting my wife, neglecting my children, concerned only with putting enough words on a page every day to satisfy me—words, words, words, words–an abstract existence. That night I’d had it; I couldn’t work another minute; couldn’t drag from my agonized brain another word. I quietly left my home at about 3:00 a.m. and walked the streets trying to decide if I wanted to continue leading a grueling, neglectful life like that or follow a more conventional life, committing myself to “a regular nine-to-five job.”

It was a cool pleasant night—very dark—with a filmy mist in the air. Should I continue a writer’s life, or shouldn’t I? Should I just finish this book and then give it all up? Then I noticed ahead of me something lying on the sidewalk precisely in the middle of a pool of bright white light cast by a street lamp as though that object lying there had been placed there very carefully for me and me alone to see. I went to it and bent down and picked it up. It was a book—of all things a book. You see: I could not get away from the written word. I took this as a sign that, like it or not, a writer’s life—imperfect, isolated, much too demanding–was my destiny and that it was futile for me to think it would ever not be at the center of my existence. That I could ever get away from it. That was another lucky break because writing and reading has brought me so much fulfillment.

lantern-451233_640I have what I call my “Research Angel” which I rely on. I am writing and researching for hours every day and have been for many years, but my research is totally unsystematic. I begin with no notion whatever of where I am going but go ahead anyway as though quite content to wander on and on in a deep forest without worrying about how—or if ever– I’ll get back home. I’m trusting my Research Angel—based completely on a confidence in good luck—to steer me to the information I’ll need. The Research Angel has never failed me, and has taken me to unexpected discoveries and new directions in my life, just as it led me to the Hopkin’s book and the book lying in that pool of white light at four that early misty morning.

In Chases, Chance and Creativity medical researcher James Austin identifies four kinds of chance that affect creative activity:

  • Blind luck that doesn’t depend on any personal characteristics of the creator
  • The good luck that follows “persistence, willingness to experiment and explore”
  • Chance that allows the creator because of his training to grasp the significance of something overlooked by everyone else.
  • Serendipity

Lucky people—lucky artists and writers, lucky actors and dancers—-follow certain principles. They:

  • Are good at creating and noticing chance opportunities. They are relaxed, not anxious, people who are aware of their surroundings. Anxiety makes you blind to opportunities. Lucky people’s perceptions are sharper than unlucky people’s. They see opportunities the unlucky person doesn’t notice.
  • Are intuitive and respect hunches. Artists are on intimate terms with intuition. Half the decisions artists and writers make are intuitive—to use that color rather than this; that word rather than another.
  • Are open-minded and flexible in their thinking. Another characteristic of creative people.
  • Have optimistic expectations. They don’t just hope to be lucky; they expect to be. They are confident they’ll be lucky again. Positive expectations create lucky events. Good things happen to people with optimistic expectations. People with optimistic expectations are happier and healthier.
  • Are extremely resilient and able to quickly recover from bad luck. They see the positive side of bad fortune: “I fell down the stairs and broke my foot. It could have been my neck.” “I failed that time and it was very painful for me, but I learned so much that helped me succeed the next time.”

Be ready to take advantage of good luck, and when your luck is bad don’t let it get the better of you, but be aware that bad luck can change to good luck, and may in the blink of an eye. Be alert, strong, and opportunistic whatever may happen. Think strategically. Be ready. Be able to say, “This now that is happening to me is good luck and it may change my life.”

fish-582695_640Create the conditions for good luck to occur—set the stage. Be like a swimming fish waving its tail and stirring up the sand at the bottom of the tank. Get out, be spontaneous, meet new people, make contacts and seek people out. Form friendships. Do things you’ve never done before. Break away from your routines. Take chances you wouldn’t usually take. Don’t resist, don’t be afraid. Be bold, not timid. Experiment, explore. Be intuitive and pro-active and look for opportunities. Let good luck happen to you. Then chase the opportunities where they lead.

On a scale of 1 to 100, how lucky a writer or artist would you say you are?

Not Lucky                                                 Pretty Lucky                                       Very Lucky

1                                                               50                                                      100

Ask yourself, “In what areas of my creative life would I like to be luckier?”

What will you do now to make yourself lucky?

I will:

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

Napoleon was looking for a subordinate to add to his staff. One after another his high-ranking officers described a particular candidate whom they talked glowingly about at length. Impatiently, Napoleon said, “Yes, yes, I know he is brilliant, but is he lucky?”

Yes, yes, I know you’re brilliant too, and prodigiously talented, but are you lucky? Do you behave like a lucky person? Do you foster good luck? Do you have the mind and expectations of a lucky person?

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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