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Total Concentration: The Heart and Soul of Creative Work: Part Two

A heart surgeon was performing a delicate operation when large chunks of the ceiling came crashing down all around him. People in the operating room screamed, the noise was deafening. But the surgeon was so concentrated on

the surgery that he didn’t notice.  When your creator’s mind is as deeply on the act of creation as it should be when you are painting, writing, dancing, acting, like that surgeon you will be aware of nothing else. You will look up and see that your friend has been talking to you and you didn’t notice or that rain is coming in the window that has blown open while you worked. You won’t hear blaring music from the apartment next door.

Creative people often notice that if their ability to concentrate while they are working is poor, their work is also poor, but that if their concentration is good, their work is also good–cause and effect–that concentration is essential to their doing their best work.

An actor’s concentration must be total and never not total from curtain up to curtain down. The more total her concentration, the more engrossed in her performance the audience will be.  Also, the more concentrated a writer is while writing, the clearer the writing should be. And isn’t clarity the secret of supreme writing that not every writer has learned, but the best writers have? It’s obvious that to produce clear work you must be thinking clearly.

Part One of this two-part post began…

 … Concentration is the heart and soul of creative work. How to develop and sustain it is a concern of actors, painters, dancers, pianists, composers, writers, and all other creators. Unless you bring to bear all the mental and physical alertness and clear-mindedness that you have the potential for you will not be enjoying the best conditions for your creative work.

 … Creators who can concentrate their mind like brilliant beacons of light at will can focus anywhere and can work under any conditions, and whenever they wish.

 … Concentration is an ability most people have not developed. Their minds run wild.

 Creators must concentrate on what they are doing in the moment, in the “now.” Then they must be able, when that “now” is finished, to move onto the next “now.” They work very hard. They should strive to develop the ability to be as little affected by distractions as possible, to brush them off and to quickly resume their performance after an interruption. Some creators avoid distractions almost completely by eliminating TV, clocks, telephone calls, Face Book, Emails, and unnecessary conversations.

Select a place where you concentrate best—for most creators that’s the same place every day. Get started (the best way to get started is to get started), keep distractions and diversions to a minimum and don’t stop for any reason until the day’s goal is reached, except for brief rest periods. Look at the prescriptions for increasing concentration in Part One of this two-part post.

Persist working and growing in the face of obstacles and inevitable setbacks. Overcoming psychological obstacles such as discouragement, self-doubt, lack of confidence, and the ubiquitous creator’s fear of who knows what is another skill creators must master. You can still do great work if you don’t let the obstacle stop you from concentrating. You must also learn to pace yourself and maintain your energy and stamina over days, weeks, months, and years.

Konstantin Stanislavski was the most significant and most often quoted figure in the history of actor training. He was a pioneer attempting to define the actor’s mental, physical, intellectual, and emotional processes in a way that was comprehensive and had never been attempted before. He said, “The first step of creative art is concentration of attention…Through my system we try to achieve a state of concentrated attention.”

He said that concentration cannot be defined in a few words. But that “the thought must be fixed entirely and absolutely on one object or idea and only it, without breaking the circle of creative attention for anything else…You need all the power of your attention to dwell on each separate aspect of your task.”

How are you to know that your mind has become concentrated? What is the test? It is when the awareness of time has vanished. The more time passes unnoticed the more concentrated you are.

When I was so ill and in such pain I looked for relief. I observed that since the human mind can be on only one thing at a time, if I absorbed myself deeply in some thought or activity my mind could not be aware of my misery. Prize fighters, hockey players, football players, bullfighters, soldiers in combat, and others engaged in activities requiring intense concentration may be seriously injured but yet experience no pain whatsoever. I took seriously the Buddhist aphorism “Without mind there cannot be pain.”  When my mind was deeply engaged in working on my Growing Up Stories when I was ill the sensations of pain, so horrible usually, thankfully, didn’t trouble me.

It’s easy to be absorbed in the creative problem if it’s interesting–that’s not hard at all. But what if it’s not interesting? What if it’s boring? You know as well as I that creative work and the slow snail’s pace process of developing your skills to a level you’re satisfied with are often drudgery. Drudgery or not you still have problems to solve before you can go on with your creative performance. What can you do? When something is not interesting the first thing you do is what you shouldn’t do: you give it less attention. But give more of your attention to something and it will become more interesting.

The famous biologist Louis Agassiz was known for turning out students with highly developed powers of observation. Many of them went on to become eminent in the field. A new student appeared and asked Agassiz to teach him. Agassiz took a fish from the jar of preservative and said, “Observe this fish carefully and when I return be ready to report to me what you noticed.”

Left alone, the student sat down to look at the fish. It was a fish just like any other. The student finished looking and sat waiting, but no teacher. Hours passed and the student grew restless. He asked himself why he had hooked up with an old man who was obviously behind the times.

With nothing else to do, the student counted the scales, then the spines of the fins, then drew a picture of the fish. In doing so, he noticed the fish had no eyelids. He continued drawing and noticing other facts that had escaped him. And he learned that a fish is interesting if you really see it. (From Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life)

You may turn to something else and return to your work later when you’re more focused. At times concentration can be so intense that it actually interferes with work and is exhausting, and so then it’s better to decrease attention.

Some people find that working when they’re tired and their mind is less sensitive to distractions is best for them. Then their work speeds up.

Your job to figure out how to focus on your work for a desired period of time. You have to learn to abandon what isn’t working and put aside problems that aren’t worth bothering with because they will lead to dead-ends.

Condition your mind. Practice concentrating on one thing at a time until you can concentrate at will. Focus on concentrating on things, on people, on ideas, on the text you’re reading. Look at your thumb. Turn it, study it and see it. Stare at your face in the mirror for ten minutes. See the blemishes; see the beauty you’d never noticed.

Fix your mind completely on one thing at a time and give it all your full attention–that one thought that it’s most important  to express in that one sentence,  that one right word that will capture exactly what the poem means, that one brushstroke, that one most-important emotion you, the actor, will communicate to the audience in Act Two. Practice keeping yourself in that state of alertness as long as you’re working.

The great Vivekananda said, “There is no limit to the powers of the human mind. The more concentrated it is, the more power is brought to bear on one point; that is the secret… In making money, or in worshiping God, or in doing anything, the stronger the power of concentration, the better will that thing be done.”

 

© 2017 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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Crucial Inner Skills for Writers and Artists 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but my blog posts are not like the blog posts of other people.  Obviously, though, some of you notice the difference. You send me blog comments and tweets indicating that you do. I want to thank you because it’s gratifying to know that one’s ideas are of value to the people you’re trying to reach.

For example, when it started getting out that I was talking about ideas that were different, I was happy to receive an email from novelist Josephine Rose letting me know she thought I was on the right track: “David, it’s great that you focus on the practical aspects of being a writer. If I had read you 10 years ago I think I would have said, ‘Nah, it’s all about talent. Either you can write or you can’t.’ Now I know this is an error…Thank you for these wonderful reminders.”

I write about creators’ need for confidence because confidence may be the most important factor of all to the creator. Confidence touches every aspect of the creator’s being—whether you think about your prospects positively or in a self-defeating way, how strongly you motivate yourself, whether you will persist in the face of adversity and setbacks, your susceptibility to discouragement, and the changes you will be able to make in your life.

Believe in yourself. The higher your faith in yourself, the higher you’ll set your creative goals and the stronger your commitment to achieving them will be. You’ll feel serene, for now you can make full, free use of all your talents.

Failure can actually increase your confidence. If you experience only easy successes, you come to expect quick and easy results, and your sense of confidence is easily undermined if you fail. Setbacks and failures serve a useful purpose by teaching that success usually requires confident effort sustained over time.

Once you become convinced that you have what it takes to succeed you quickly rebound from failures. By sticking it out through tough times, you come out on the far side of failures with even greater confidence. If you’re not failing some of the time one thing is true:  you’re not aiming high enough.

I write about human qualities that distinguish one creative person from another such as strength (suggesting that it’s worth a creator starting every work day by asking, “Am I strong today? Will I be strong?”) And I write about courage, persistence, tenacity, will power, commitment, empowerment, sense of purpose, discipline, good writing moods and bad writing moods, and ideal writing moods.

And the creator’s experience of ecstasy, and the need for stamina, which I call “the creative person’s inner power.” And self-resilience, enthusiasm, self-motivation, energy and your capacity for work, sacrificing for the sake of your craft, boldness, doggedness, adaptability, endurance, resilience, maintaining at all times the highest hope of succeeding, and other spiritual dimensions of your personality.

II

My interest in the inner dimensions of creative people springs from the work I did on my international best-selling print book (now an ebook), Fighting To Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life, which is now considered a classic. In that book I said that a frightening 70% of the blocks–obstacles–impediments to fulfillment that a person encounters are inside them. Something is wrong and needs mending in their minds and spirits.

All people need to be inspired to overcome obstacles and shown strategies for accomplishing that. That’s what I set myself to accomplishing in Fighting to Win.

The main inner blocks people anywhere on earth and especially people trying hard to do creative work are encountering right now as they set out to work today are these:

Fear

Being Afraid to Take Risks

Thinking Too Much of What Could Go Wrong

Doubting Yourself

Hesitating

You will see that you’re no stranger to blocks.

So a person’s inner territory has been my main concern for more than thirty years–in fact probably much longer than that.

III

Rarely will you find me writing anything about how to write or paint or act or dance because that’s not my main interest. I will not tell a painter how to paint because I don’t know enough about that. But even if I did I probably wouldn’t talk about good technique or good use of color, or composition, or perspective except to say I recognize them when I see them. I’m a great lover of art. And I’m grateful to many accomplished artists who have allowed me to include their work in my posts. I will talk about what makes great artists tick and why they’re so special. And I will say that creators who do great work are great in themselves.

I know enough about writing to apply careful technique to my own writing and to have taught serious writers and found great pleasure in that and discovered  I have a lot to say. I’ve written about extraordinary writers—the most extraordinary ever to write.

But you won’t hear from me these days anything about developing characters, scenes, conflicts, and episodes, or how to write dialogue, or generate a mood, or structure a plot, or anything dealing with technique and mechanics.

There are two reasons for that. First, technical skills aren’t my main interest. My main interest is the psychology of creative people and how to teach them and support and inspire them to reach tangible success and personal fulfillment.

Also, there are already thousands of books, magazines, web sites, classes, and blogs for learning technique and mechanics. People have been writing books giving advice on how to write better for 2,000 years. The fact that information is so easily accessible is one reason why so many creators are autodidacts and have taught themselves their craft.

IV

In contrast, almost nothing has been written about what I write about and what the book I’m finishing up after 3½ years of researching and writing is about.  I’m convinced that inside, in your mind, in your gut, in your spirit, in your highest and dearest aspirations will be found the magical difference between adequate creators and great ones.

Creators who have technical skills, but lack these spiritual inner qualities and the ability to overcome internal obstacles will not go as far as they could. Or may not go far at all. Or they may give up and quit long before they would have reached their peak performance. Isn’t it sad to think of the thousands of gifted writers, painters, and performers who will quit this year, telling a spouse or a friend, “I’ve had enough”?

Who you are—what you are made of, what you know, what constitutes you, what you stand for and dream of—cannot be separated from your strange, puzzling creative self.

© 2017 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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15 Ways to Overcome Fear of Failure

When most creative people pursue their goals they imagine what it would be like to reach them (Hope of Success). And they also worry that the goal will not mountain -seabe reached (Fear of Failure). Those two emotions go together and are reverse sides of the same coin. That creators’ fear of failure is perfectly natural and is to be expected whenever you’re facing a difficult, challenging task, such as a writer crafting a play if she’s never written one before, or a lithographer preparing a work for an important contest.

But at times the fear of failing becomes a major psychological obstacle that keeps creators from reaching the success and satisfaction they’ve been hoping for. Creators who are dominated by the fear of not succeeding, but failing have developed—often without realizing it–characteristic tactics for protecting themselves from enduring what often is not just a fear of failing, but a much more dreadful terror of failing. Ironically, those tactics do more to contribute to failure than to prevent it.  It’s worthwhile looking at those tactics that you might recognize in yourself so that something might be done about them.

Rather than enduring the misery of experiencing that terror of failing the person harried by it may:

  • Avoid competing with others of comparable ability. They prefer being the big fish in the little pond.
  • Be perfectionists. They don’t attempt things in which they won’t be able to attain perfection or near perfection. The tactic here is to carve out a very narrow area of competence in which they excel and can approximate perfection.
  • Prefer very easy or very difficult tasks, nothing in the middle. In contrast, most high achievers generally pursue tasks and goals they have a one in three or two in three chance of succeeding at. Not a sure thing and not an impossible thing.
  • Avoid displaying their abilities in public. A pianist may be able to perform beautifully in private, but shy away from performing in front of people.
  • Avoid attempting anything important. The more important the activity, the more they avoid it. A writer may avoid trying to get his work published even though publication is the logical outcome of the writing process.
  • Avoid taking risks. Most creators who become eminent experience turning points at which they take a risk which their less eminent contemporaries are too timid to take. Fear of taking chances melts in the face of a strong and urgent purpose and self-confidence (If you’ve been reading my posts you can’t have helped but notice I’m enamored with self-confidence because it, along with skill, is the antidote to most creator’s main problems, including self-doubt and discouragement).
  • Have trouble performing under time pressure. They panic as they approach the deadline. Even the word “deadline’ scares them. They delay. They give up. They shut down. More confident creators are challenged by a race against time and are often the most excited and highly focused and at the height of their skills when the clock is ticking. The best tactic is to forget about the deadline completely and focus totally on the task.
  • Prefer practice and games rather than the real thing.
  • Seek social support. People who fail tend to have as friends others who fail.
  • Have unrealistic expectations–oddly enough, on the high side. Asked to estimate how well they’ll do at achieving a goal they will say they’ll do far better than they actually will. I had an egotistical friend in college who wrote a paper for English in which he said he was brilliant, a great lover women couldn’t resist, handsome, a wonderful athlete, and a conversationalist who could charm birds out of trees. The professor returned his paper with the comment scrawled on it: “It’s a shame you can’t add a command of the English language to the list of your other accomplishments.”
  • Misjudge past performance. They also exaggerate how well they did in the past.
  • Reject the measure of a skill. For example, the student who doesn’t do well and says, “Getting good grades doesn’t mean a thing.”
  • Avoid measurements of their performance. They don’t want to know how well or poorly they’re doing, for if they knew they might have to admit they failed. Without contrary information they can always say, “I’m doing pretty well.” At work, they are the employees who dread performance evaluations. They might even arrange to stay home on the day of the evaluation. The best writers, best painters and actors are just the opposite. They want to know if they’re doing well or poorly. They welcome feedback, and actively seek it, feedback that is rapid, specific, and helpful. They are always asking about their work, “Well, what d’ya think of it?” Studies of highly creative people show that they accept helpful guidance and have “an openness to advice.”
  • Not try. A fear that dominates many creators and makes them quit trying to succeed is the fear of failing to reach financial success, or just break even. Writer Francois Voltaire and painter Claude Monet won Money treefortunes in government lotteries and were able to devote themselves completely to their work. But Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner spent most of his writing life in virtual poverty. When his picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine he couldn’t  pay his electric bill of $35. He wrote: “People are afraid to find out how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are.” But financial risk is part of the creator’s life style and for many writers the fear of being broke can be exhilarating, a source of creative energy. Most creators perform better under some amount of financial pressure. Sherwood Anderson’s publisher thought financial security would help him produce more and sent him a weekly stipend. But that made him less productive, and Anderson asked them not to send it anymore: “It’s no use. I find it impossible to work with security staring me in the face.” In The Courage to Write Ralph Keyes says, “Knowing that there is a direct line between putting words on a page and food on the table keeps me focused.” Picasso said he was rich but tried to work as though he was poor.
  • Reject responsibility for their failures. If you wipe your hands of responsibility, all pressure is off and all fear of failing disappears. You might know creators who go to great lengths to avoid responsibility. They concoct elaborate excuses for their failures.

symphony-hall-893342_640A not uncommon fear of failure among creators takes the form of “encore anxiety.” It is the fear after producing a successful first work that no matter what you do you won’t be able to produce a second work that’s as good or as successful.

 

To overcome fear of failure, go down the above list and develop counter-tactics. For example:

  1. Always try; don’t not try.
  2. Be interested in measurements of your performance; don’t avoid them.
  3. Consider your past achievements dispassionately; put your ego aside.
  4. Associate with other successful creators of comparable ability, not failures with less ability.
  5. Pursue goals that aren’t easy, goals that are a little out of reach.
  6. Open yourself up to areas in which you haven’t yet mastered perfection
  7. Take more chances; that shouldn’t he hard because creators are attracted by risks.
  8. Have realistic, not unrealistic, expectations.
  9. Judge your performance as accurately as you can.
  10. Actively seek feedback on your performance; don’t avoid it.
  11. Have no fear of financial pressures; let them motivate you.
  12. Be confident that you will succeed again.
  13. Don’t be intimidated by deadlines and time pressures; they help you perform better.
  14. Don’t fear competition. It may bring out the best in you and help you reach a level of success in your craft you’ve never dreamed of.
  15. Accept responsibility for failures.

success-620300_640All creators are capable of overcoming fears of failing, and when they aren’t extreme and debilitating, those fears can be positive—a push, an incentive– and have helped many creative people reach success.

 

© 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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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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Writers’ and Artists’ Deadline Problems and What To Do About Them

vincent-van-gogh-74018_640Writers and artists are almost always marvelously productive human beings able to generate huge quantities of work, amounts of work which put people in other walks of life to shame. They are concerned with their production and pay close attention to it—did you write your 500 words today; did you finish painting that corner of the canvas before quitting for dinner? If production falls off, they want to know why, and if good work pours out of them fluently, they want to know why that is happening too.

Hard as I try, I find it difficult to imagine any writer or artist—amateur or professional, novice or expert–who hasn’t had  production deadlines to meet, and it’s not unusual for them to have had problems meeting them at least once or twice, and possibly more frequently than that. You’ve heard it said, and maybe you’ve said it yourself when you’ve been under the pressure of a tight deadline and are having trouble meeting it: “This deadline is important. It’s in the contract, and it’s very clear.”  Think how ominous the word is. It’s not a “lifeline,” but a “dead” line, as though if you exceed it you’re a goner.

You have a task that you’re supposed to finish by 2:00. Or it may be by next Tuesday, or one year from Tuesday. There’s some kind of principle or another—Murphy’s Law–that goes, “If something can go wrong, it will go wrong.” Let’s say you start to work and encounter a setback. You begin thinking, “I’m falling behind.” You’re not worried and you continue on, but you run up against another snag or block that slows you down more. More work, another snag; the ideas just won’t come, or you can’t find a concept for the drawing, or your computer crashes, and it will be a long time before it’s fixed. (I had that problem once and was told there was a backlog and that I’d have to shut down for ten days while I waited for a repair person. But I had a deadline to meet, and I really couldn’t wait ten days. So I called the national president of my internet service provider at that time, calendar-148598_640 (1) AT&T, and had a nice conversation with his personal assistant. I explained to her that I was an author and had a book to get out to the publisher right away, so I needed my computer to work. She was an avid reader which I think helped. A repairman was ringing my doorbell at 8:00 the next morning. By 8:20 I was back at work, everything copacetic, things under control.) Or you move out of your old place into a new place or have a baby, and your work comes to a standstill.  A crack in your confidence then appears. You soon begin to conjure up a grim chain of possible events: “If I don’t finish this assignment-story-novel-report-painting-lithograph on time, this might happen and that and that, and that would be very bad.” And then there are other slowdowns and still more. Eventually you think, “Oh, God, no matter what, I can’t possibly finish on time. My butt’s in a sling. What a predicament.”

Strategies for Freeing Yourself from Deadline Difficulties

  1. Pay not the slightest attention to the deadline. You have only so much attention. It’s not divisible. If it’s on one thing, it can’t be on another. Resist any inclination to worry about the deadline. Fix it in your mind once, enter it on a calendar, then get to work immediately. Whatever attention you devote to fretting about it is that much less you can devote to the job at hand. Yet that’s where your mind should be totally focused. It will be helpful if you are able to be dispassionate and non-attached. Perfectly unworried.

archer-160389_640Archery contests are held at a temple in Japan and the best archers compete. The object of the contest is to see how many arrows the marksmen can shoot from one end of a 128 yard long veranda into a target on the other end in one day. The ceiling of the veranda is very low, and the archer has to shoot without much arch. That requires considerable strength and is exhausting. The record is 8,133, or about five arrows every minute for twenty-four consecutive grueling hours. Now how many arrows would the archer have shot if he stopped to fret about the deadline? Certainly not 8,133.

No matter what, we must refuse to let our mind waver from the job at hand, agonizing less about the deadline, absorbing ourselves in tasks, just shooting our arrows, just punching away at the keyboard, just drawing lines. The more we remain firm and focused, shifting our minds again and again persistently to what is in front of us that needs doing, the higher the quality of the work we produce will be and the sooner the work will be accomplished.

  1. Remember that some time pressure actually enhances performance. There are many things we would never have completed if we hadn’t had a deadline to prod us. In school you had papers to write or a drawing to do. You were forewarned: it was due in four weeks. If you were like most students, you put it off for three weeks, six days and 19 hours. You stayed up the night before and, bleary-eyed and rendered useless the rest of the day, turned it in on time. There you are; you obeyed another principle: work tends to expand to fill the time available for its completion. So had you just one week, you would have finished it in one week, and would have finished it on time had you had only five hours.
  2. Bear in mind, however,  that unrealistic deadlines create too much pressure, and too much pressure interferes with performance. You worry. You tighten up. You lose focus. After a while when you’ve fallen behind, you find yourself beginning to pay more attention to the deadline than to doing well what needs doing. The need to finish on time gets more urgent and you start taking shortcuts. You really don’t want to, but you’re lowering your usually high standards and getting sloppy and the work’s quality is falling off.
  3. If you have any say in the matter make the deadline reasonable. Realistic deadlines motivate performance. I’ll confess: I’m a naturally excitable person, and I used to get very stirred up and to be too optimistic about reaching any deadline that I set. At times my staff had to work ridiculously long hours and on weekends and holidays and even while they were sick to meet them. So I devised a simple precaution which I called “the kick.” When I was asked by a client to estimate how long a job would take, an associate would kick me under the table. That was the signal to increase my estimate by 30%. Never let your enthusiasm exceed your better judgment. Can you use some version of the kick?
  4. Choose deadline-beating thoughts, not worry-creators. You are inwardly free to replace one thought with another whenever you want. Instead of, “I’m losing ground,” replace it with, “I’m making progress. I’m whittling this baby down,” or “Every time I stop to look at the clock (or the calendar) I’m wasting time.” “I’m going to have the focus of those archers.”
  5. Accept the deadline as an exciting challenge. When I was working on a particular book, as I turned in one chapter after another, the editor thought, “This is pretty good stuff, and it’s getting better and better. This book is going to make money.” She told the publisher, “I think we have something.” The publisher then said to her, “The longer his book, the larger the cover price we can charge. Have him double the number of words we contracted for (from 60,000 to 120,000 words). And let him know since the book is so good, we’ll want an earlier pub date. Finish with it as soon as possible.” So the length was doubled and time pressure increased. Rather than the usual “cut, cut, cut” I had to think “add, add, add.” I could have renegotiated, but accepted the new terms as a challenge and didn’t ask for any more time. I just worked longer hours (an extra writing shift every night), and everything went well.
  6. In some cases, renegotiate the deadline. When you do not see the time constraint as challenging, but rather as completely unrealistic, renegotiation makes sense. No one wants you not to meet the deadline.
  7. Overcome the causes of the snags and slowdowns. For example, often a person’s failure to meet a deadline isn’t that person’s fault at all, but of someone else’s failure to meet their deadline. If you can help them overcome their snags it will help you overcome yours.

I don’t think American novelist Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938)—that master of language–ever met a single deadline his entire career. When you’re as talented as Wolfe, you can get away with murder. Until you can get away with murder too, you will have to find effective ways to handle your deadlines, striving never to be late.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Imagination and Creative Success

The mind imitates what it first imagines.

Writers and artists often reflect on their careers and wish they were doing better—were more skilled, had made more progress, and were experiencing important successes more often. All the while they are wishing, they are in possession of a highly refined ability that may hold the answer to their wishes. When we possess the potential to perform something, if we vividly and in detail imagine ourselves performing it successfully, our potential will be released and we will perform nearly the same way during the actual performance as we did in our imagined performance. This insight—this technique—can help a writer or artist achieve greater success.

Nadejda Sarbatova2

Painting by Nadejda Sarbatova

If there is one unique skill writers and artists possess in abundance, it is making vivid visual images. Images are the basis of the writer’s and artist’s work. They think in images, and the central problem is how to put the image of the thing—the poem, the book, the play, the painting, the sculpture, the building—into a tangible form that satisfies the creator and also appeals to an audience. Can you write a description of a character’s face or of the leaves on a tree or paint them without the ability to visualize images of them in your mind and then to make facsimiles of those images in words and pigments, words and pigments that will recreate for the reader and viewer the very images you had salvador-dali-32079_640imagined? Surrealist Salvador Dali liked to use in his work images that came to him when he fell asleep—you can understand why–so he would sit at a table while sleepy, prop his chin with a spoon, and then wait to be awakened when he fell asleep and the spoon fell.

Images also affect the writer’s audience because the audience thinks in images too. Even the smallest image is like a photograph the audience mentally sees. In poetry the just right image can make a poem, but just one wrong image can ruin it—that’s how sensitive readers are to images. In her book, The Creative Habit, dancer/choreographer Twyla Tharp tells the story of the difficulty director Mike Nichols was having getting Annie ready for Broadway. A scene that was supposed to get laughs was failing, so Nichols asked famed choreographer Jerome Robbins to fix the scene. Robbins looked at the stage and pointed to a towel hanging at the back of the set. He said, “That towel should be yellow.” The change was made and thereafter the audience laughed at the scene.

Remembering is at the core of a writer’s repertoire of skills, the writer’s stock in trade. And it is composed of images—remembrance of things past. Artists who paint in studios paint from memory of the landscape, the sunset, the garden. Images, imagination, and intuition go hand in hand. Novelist Thomas Wolfe’s ambition was to turn even the most minor experience he had ever had in life and every image he remembered into words—“those thousands of things which all of us have seen for just a flash…which seem to be of no consequence…which live in our minds and hearts forever.”

table-92514_640So it should not be difficult for you to use your highly-developed image-creating and image-remembering powers to help you achieve your goals—to visualize yourself working diligently to achieve them, and then achieving them with great success. What first occurs in your imagination is a rehearsal for reality. Turn that to your advantage.

The research and practical experience showing that imaginative practice—mentally visualizing performing an action the way you wish to perform it—can actually improve performance—and substantially–is overwhelming. That your mental images can do that is a stunning insight. I can vividly imagine myself running a mile in 3:47, but I will never be able to do it, nor will I ever sing a Puccini aria on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera though I can picture that too. They are beyond my physical capabilities. But when something is within the range of our capabilities–and that range is much broader than we usually believe it to be–the images we hold can have a startling effect on actual performance such as becoming a better and more financially successful writer and artist.

There’s no arena in which the effects of inner images on performance is as widely recognized as athletics. In one landmark study that looked at the effects of imaginative practice on actual performance, basketball free throw shooting was looked at. Participants were divided into three groups. The performance of each participant was measured on the first and last days to see if the experiment led to any improvement. One group practiced shooting for twenty minutes each day for twenty days. A second group didn’t practice at all. The third group spent twenty minutes a day not actually shooting–not touching a basketball at all–but just imagining themselves shooting free throws successfully; standing at the free throw line, looking at the rim, bending their knees, etc. When they “saw” themselves missing, they imaginatively corrected their aim. The group that practiced actually shooting improved their performance by 24% over the twenty days. Not surprisingly, the second group that hadn’t practiced at all didn’t improve at all. But the group that hadn’t actually shot one ball, but practiced in their imagination alone, improved in scoring almost as much as those who actually shot the ball—23%.

golf-163637_640(1)Golfers were divided into three groups. Before putting, Group I imagined the ball rolling into the cup. Group II practiced every day, but made no use of imaginative practice. Group III imagined the ball missing the cup. The performance of the group using imaginative practice of the ball rolling into the cup improved 30% between day one and day six. The group that practiced every day, but made no use of imaginative practice also improved, but only 10%. The group that imagined the ball missing the cup showed a decrease of 21% over the six days. These experiments weren’t really “about” free throw shooting or sinking putts at all. They were about the impact of practicing in your mind on your actual performance.

Mental patients have improved their condition by imagining that they are perfectly normal and then behaving in exactly the way they imagine. Hospitalized patients took a personality test. Then they took the same test a second time. The second time they were instructed to answer the questions not as they normally would, but as they would were they a typical, well-adjusted person on the outside. To do that they had to form and hold in mind an image of how a well-adjusted person would act. Seventy-five percent showed improved test performance. Some of the improvements were dramatic. Imagining how a normal person would act, many began to act like, and feel like, a well-adjusted person functioning in the outside world. That affected their recovery.

The famous concert pianist Arthur Schnabel took lesson for only seven years compared to the twenty or twenty five years many pianists take. And while even the most successful concert pianists generally spend hours every day piano-302122_640practicing, Schnabel hated practice and spent little time on it. He was asked how he could practice so little and be so great. “I practice in my head,” he said. Mozart made very few corrections on his compositions. Before he began to put notes on paper he already had a complete mental picture of what they would be. He wrote:

…provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodized and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost complete and finished in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance.

  • Hold clearly and steadily in mind throughout the year, throughout the day, images of what you aspire to—the writer or artist you wish to be; to produce exceptional work, to write beautiful or persuasive or moving text, to draw or paint more skillfully than ever. It is first in your imagination that you launch yourself toward your highest aspirations. Decide what they are, and then vividly imagine what you want to have happen. Then pursue them with determination in the way you have vividly imagined them.
  • Regularly, for fifteen minutes every day (weekends included) imagine the actions you want to take:

Vividly

In specific detail

Step by step

Over and over.

Repetition fixes an image of the ideal performance in your mind.

  • Imagine that writing or painting come easily to you—the ideas are clear, the words and brushstrokes come out of you without effort, fluently, as if on their own. Now there they are on the page and canvas exactly as you want them.
  • Imagine you’ve found the solutions to artistic problems that till now you haven’t been able to solve. Imagine that you have overcome obstacles that have been blocking you.
  • Delete from your mind every image of failure such as imagining yourself receiving a rejection from an editor or gallery and add only images of success. Do that continually and relentlessly. Get rid of images of yourself as a failure, not competent, not up to the writer’s or artist’s tasks—discouraged, disappointed, weak.
  • When an image of failure enters your mind—as it will (you are human)–replace it with a more optimistic image of success. If you visualize yourself failing, you sabotage yourself and increase your chances of doing that, just as putters who visualize themselves missing the hole are prone to missing the hole. You are actually practicing failure.
  • It isn’t necessary to be relaxed when you’re visualizing. In fact, some tension, some excitement, makes you more alert and focused.
  • Visualize yourself working as skillfully as you would like in the ideal work setting you would like, during the hours you would like, for the length of time you would like.
  • Then, focus your mind on the task ahead of you often. Think of it again and again. Then, immediately before you perform it, clearly visualize yourself performing the action perfectly—the right words, the right imagery, the right form and technique, right style, the meanings you intend.
  • Do it–whatever it is—precisely the way you have imagined doing it. Images, no matter how vivid, will come to nothing unless you translate them into actions that conform to the images, so let the images guide you.
  • Be enthusiastic and confident. Enthusiasm and confidence add zest to your images.
  • Combine your images with thinking aloud. For example saying aloud as you are visualizing, “I will work smoothly and efficiently. Everything will go well. I don’t anticipate problems, but if there are any, I’ll be able to solve them.”

Add Feelings

youth-570881_640The technique of adding feelings is adding emotions of successful achievement to what you have visualized as though you’ve already succeeded. This is a very effective motivational technique. You’re not interested now in the mental images of the way you will achieve the goal. Rather you’re letting yourself feel what you will feel when you have reached the goal—or solved writing or artistic problems or made progress. Having done those things you’ll feel satisfaction, pleasure, pride, a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence; you’ll feel relieved, and possibly excited, overjoyed, elated, and thrilled. Whatever you imagine you will feel then, feel it now in anticipation. Don’t wish and hope you’ll succeed, but treat success as an accomplished fact. It’s done, and you have already succeeded and are glowing with positive emotions. Feel the physical sensations of that glow, that sense of warmth, the excitement, the energy, the heightened perception, the sharpness. Imagining what you will feel when you succeed fuels your motivation to succeed because that is how you want to feel. Congratulate yourself: YOU DID IT and now you are enjoying the feelings.

Every day—once, twice, three times, four times — let yourself feel the strong emotions you’ll feel when you’ve succeeded.

© 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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Salesmanship for Artists and Writers: The Inner Skills

A goal always on an artist’s and writer’s mind is to generate consistently high-quality work, and a continuing question he/she wrestles with is “how can I do that?” Answering that question is bottom-line, and it’s a complicated question that creative people are trying to answer all their careers, and is one whose success in answering distinguishes one from another. Shakespeare produced better text than anyone else; Michelangelo better art; Mozart better music. But creating high quality work is just one of a writer’s or artist’s skills among many others. It’s naïve to think that the best artist is necessarily the most successful artist. To succeed, the writer, painter, actor, composer must accomplish much more than generate excellent work.

Professional artists and writers have careers to manage and responsibilities and expenses. Food must be put on the table. A life of financial risk and the threat of going broke can keep them on their toes and motivate them or it can be paralyzing. To many writers, artists, and performers, their work is not a hobby and is not just a craft and not just an art, but a hard-nosed, deadly serious, ferociously competitive war of survival requiring the skills of the showman and unabashed, unapologetic self-promoter. Those are roles that seem unnatural to many creative people and make them uneasy and unsure of themselves.

color-palette-207082_640Inhibitions are hard to hide, and research and everyday experience alike bear out that many writers—many artists; many creators of all types, many “inner-directed” people in general—are haunted by them, and know better than anyone that they are, and don’t want to be, and wish they weren’t. And everyone on the globe—the most powerful, the most famous, the most accomplished–is inhibited sometimes. It will be impossible to reach your creative goals if your inhibitions are powerful. They are impediments that can prevent even the most talented and gifted writers and artists from achieving the successes they are aiming for. And that can happen, and I’m sure it does, more than we realize or care to admit.

Working in solitude—the lifestyle of the creator–is a way of hiding from inhibitions because inhibitions involve interactions with other people. In fact, one of the main reasons creative people have chosen a creator’s life rather than a more typical life is to be able to work alone, secluded, sheltered, untouched, and away from other people; hidden from the world. But when writers and artists come out of hiding into the clear light of day, so to speak, some essential tasks require that they do something about their inhibitions—give in to them, or overcome them.

When my first major book was published, I was surprised to learn that not every author is sent by the publisher on a publicity tour to promote their book because they “don’t come across” to audiences, and that, it seems to me, is a direct result of inhibitions. One publisher jokingly asked if I would go on tour to promote other of their author’s books; so many writers didn’t come across. Also, every writer and every artist of every type eventually realizes that talent and skill are not enough to guarantee success, though that would be the artist’s ideal world, but that you’d better learn the skills of marketers and salesmen, skills that inhibited people do not perform well. But to survive, they must learn to. Or they may perish, giving up completely, or will go only so far, and will reach a plateau, and will not reach the career peak they otherwise could. All creative work involves showmanship and salesmanship.

hands-545394_640When I was a business consultant for many corporations, I trained hundreds of people to be high-excelling marketers and sales people, and time and again witnessed before my eyes the growth of awkward and inhibited, tongue-tied, self-doubting people into fluent, persuasive, uninhibited people confident and comfortable with themselves. Such a transformation is possible for anyone. Every artist’s and writer’s skill, including marketing and selling—foreign though they may seem–is learnable.

After reading my Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life, which lays out practical strategies for living a more vigorous assertive (and hopefully happier) life, a shy, soft-spoken, self-doubting artist/illustrator called me and said she wished she had a samurai like those she had seen in the book to help her market her work (which had won awards) to galleries, clients, magazines, and publishers, and I said, “You don’t need another person. Become a samurai yourself.” She took that to heart and acquired marketing and sales skills coupled with her new self-confidence, and now her lovely work seems to be everywhere.

The Basic Problem

People weighed down with inhibitions don’t express their genuine personalities. That’s the basic problem. Inhibitions such as shyness, self-consciousness, dreading new experiences, feelings of inferiority and inadequacy, guilt that’s out of proportion to the event that caused it, feeling ill at ease with strangers and in social situations, difficulty getting along with others, and excessive modesty are psychological obstacles that affect writers, and artists of all kinds time and again. These “maladies” are based on being too concerned with how you’re coming across, of what people are thinking of you, or trying too hard to impress others. Inhibitions result in excessive caution and carefulness.

Some people aren’t inhibited enough. You probably know some. They’re too impulsive, too rash, too inconsiderate, too outspoken, too hard-headed, too much of a boring windbag everyone wishes would shut up. But the more general and serious problem is being too inhibited.

Many specialists believe that some inhibitions are genetic. But it’s a myth that once your genetic blueprint is established at birth it is set forever. I know a sculptor who was shy all her life, but decided at the age of thirty she wasn’t going to be shy anymore, so she stopped being shy, just stopped. Many inherited traits can be changed by changing behavior.

Strategies for Conquering Inhibitions: Be Yourself; No One Else

  • Realize that inhibitions are not a fate. You can get rid of inhibitions.
  • Be indifferent to the reactions of others. There is such a thing as a healthy and liberating disregard for the opinions of others. Don’t stop to think of how they are judging you. Don’t worry what they’ll think of you if you do or say X. Just do and say X. Don’t give a damn what they think.
  • Don’t exaggerate your embarrassment. Why are we so ready to say that this embarrassed me or that embarrassed me, even over the silliest things. When you’re feeling embarrassed ask yourself if what is embarrassing is all that important in the grand scope of things. It isn’t.
  • Overcome self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is really other-consciousness. To believe that every eye is on you is an error. Most people could hardly care less what you look like, what you’re wearing, what you’re saying, and what you’re doing. They’re preoccupied with what they look like, and what they’re wearing, saying, and doing.
  • Never try for a contrived effect. You’ll rarely go wrong if you’re sincere. The people who make the best impression are the very people who aren’t trying to make a good impression. You can’t be fooled by a phony for very long. For example, job interviewers encounter legions of applicants who behave the same as everyone else. Then an applicant appears who lets his or her sincerity come through. She stands out and the interviewer is impressed, and she gets the job. If you’re sincere you’ll favorably impress people, even if you’re not trying to impress them.
  • Be like a baby; be authentic. A baby isn’t pretentious, artificial, or superficial, but just what he or she is. A baby expresses honest feelings and isn’t the least bit inhibited.
  • Be more spontaneous. When you’re anxious about a situation, your spontaneity flies out the window. When you’re spontaneous–with a friend over a beer for example, or your family around the table–you’re not on guard for fear of making a mistake. Your spontaneity gives you courage.
  • Be fast. Do what you’re thinking of doing or saying before an inhibition appears.
  • Speak with greater verve, and louder than you normally would. Inhibited people often speak softly and in a monotone. Raising your voice and speaking in a louder and more energetic voice can free you from social inhibitions.
  • Look people in the eye. Don’t avert your eyes.
  • Be “larger than life.” You might have noticed that people who are self-confident and persuasive literally seem larger. Stand up straight and expand your chest as an exercise. Develop the habit of physical expansiveness.
  • When talking with others stand closer than you think you should, be physically involved, and be friendly. Particularly persuasive and socially comfortable people tend to stand a little closer than most people do. Gesture, smile, move your hands and your eyes. If you expect the other person to like you and you behave accordingly—as though they already do– you will be proven right in almost every instance.
  • Recognize your right to be imperfect. If we were perfect our lives would be very dull– we would be very dull– and we would still find something in ourselves to complain about. And others would always find something in us to complain about too. We shouldn’t think we have to be perfect to be worthwhile.
  • Don’t second-guess yourself. Inhibited people wonder if they did the right thing: “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Maybe I hurt her feelings. I probably should have put it differently,” when more than likely the person spoken to has no memory of what was said or didn’t think it was all that significant.
  • Forgive yourself– for making a mistake, for being too timid, or for saying the wrong thing or making a stupid remark. Perhaps you felt awkward or were intimidated, or self-conscious, or were inauthentic and insincere, etc. Forgive yourself. Then get right back into action and be genuine, be yourself, no one else.

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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