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Drive and Motivation: The Creative’s Urge to Produce Works of Art

If it is your goal is to do creative work it is important to be able to understand your motivation, your drive–is it strong or weak–and to know what drives you personally through difficulties and setbacks to creative fulfillment and joy. Without drive to sustain you, your creative career will fizzle out before you reach your peak. That’s so because drive is not a luxury, but a creative’s necessity.

Drive is that ingredient igniting the human spirit and pushing creative people forward to explore the scope of their talents. It is an irresistible urge to produce-and continue producing–works of your imagination and skill. Strong drive is the reason many successful creatives work so intensely and never give up when so many of their fellow creatives have cried “Enough” and simply quit.

Many people reading this post have been writing, painting, acting, composing–creating–for twenty, thirty, or forty years. How different are they from Vincent van Gogh who said, “That which fills my head and my heart must be expressed in drawings or pictures…Drawing becomes more and more a passion with me, and it is a passion just like that of a sailor for the sea.”

Psychologist Teresa M. Amabile wondered what motivated creative people. Was creativity merely a means by which the creator could reach other goals, or was creativity for the creative an end in itself?  She staked her reputation on proving that creativity increases when you engage in the activity as an end in itself for the sheer pleasure it offers, and that if you do things to earn rewards other than the enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of performing the activity you become less creative. She tested subjects ranging from grade school children to undergraduate women, rewarding some of them for performing creative tasks. Their work was then graded by professional creatives–established painters grading the paintings, writers the writing, etc.

No matter what the reward was or when it was given, if the subjects thought they were working for external rewards they became less creative.  But when they were playing and having fun and no reward was involved, they were more creative. The conclusion was:  a playful approach to the task increases the likelihood of producing creative results and external rewards have the opposite effect on creativity.

Another experiment showed that even the hint that an external reward was riding on performance was enough to make the subject lose interest. The same happens to chimpanzees. Given paint and canvas chimpanzees become so absorbed in painting that they show little interest in sex or food. But if the chimps are tangibly rewarded for their painting, the quantity and quality of their painting declines. They do only well enough to get the reward. Chimps, like many humans, are more likely to be creative when no external rewards are contingent on their performance. Even thinking about extrinsic rewards reduces creativity among many people, possibly you. Playwright Oscar Wilde said, “Genius is born, not paid.”

Enjoying the work itself is reward enough for people who are strongly intrinsically motivated like those chimps. Virginia Woolf was writing about her intrinsic motivation when she referred to her “rapture”: “Perhaps this is the strongest pleasure known to me. It is the rapture I get when in writing I seem to be discovering what belongs to what, making a scene coming right, making a character come together.” Literary critic Alfred Kazin thought writers were intrinsically motivated. He said the writer writes in order to teach himself to understand himself, to satisfy himself. The publishing of his ideas, though it brings gratifications, is a “curious anticlimax.”

Intrinsically motivated creatives enjoying their work don’t have to wait for money or praise or any other kind of external reward to be satisfied. They don’t need anything else but their “rapture.” Intrinsically motivated writers are caught and captivated by the writing itself and compelled to be immersed in it and in making it into something they feel is worthwhile.  The intrinsically motivated creative will often say, “What I do isn’t work. It’s joy. You can say in a real sense I’ve never worked a day in my life.”

But some creatives are driven by a need for extrinsic, not intrinsic, rewards.

Blaise Pascal who wrote that “anything that is written to please the author is worthless” was obviously not intrinsically motivated. Samuel Johnson wrote that no one but a blockhead writes except for money. And Anthony Trollope wrote in his wonderful An Autobiography that all “material progress has come from man’s desire to do the best he can for himself and those about him.” He said that what motivated him was what motivates lawyers and bakers—“to make an income on which I and those belonging to me might live in comfort.” Stronger even than that after a troubled childhood was his drive to make something of himself, “to be more than a clerk in the Post Office…to be Anthony Trollope.”

Pablo Picasso loved being rich, and said he wanted to work without material worries “like a pauper,” “but with a lot of money.” George Orwell thought that a writer’s main motivation was also extrinsic: to seem clever and be talked about, and be remembered after death.

There are other kinds of extrinsic motivating factors than money alone—recognition, praise, encouragement, popularity, acclaim, fame, feedback, and other forms of positive reinforcement that can be far, far more powerful motivators than money. While writers often don’t consider themselves competitive, they are.  When you’re told you’re the best there is, your motivation rises. When a writer’s work isn’t intrinsically interesting, as during those times it’s boring and tedious, an extrinsic reward such as a sumptuous dinner or a compliment might supply the right motivation to continue working.

The best way to recognize extrinsic motivation is to ask if you’d continue doing the work if no reward was to follow. If you’d answer “No way” your motivation at that time is extrinsic. But if you would answer, “Of course I would” it is intrinsic.

The majority of creatives pursue both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

Working skillfully makes writers feel fulfilled intrinsically. But they usually also want to see the work published somewhere—an extrinsic goal. American poet Anne Sexton wrote to her agent: “I’m in love with money, so don’t be mistaken, but first I want to write good poems. After that I am anxious as hell to make money and fame and bring the stars all down.” I suppose it’s possible to imagine anything, but it stretches the imagination considerably to imagine a pure intrinsically motivated writer who cares nothing about receiving some kind of external reward, or to imagine s pure extrinsic motivated writer who works only for rewards.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation aren’t two different types of motivation. They are on a continuum from most intrinsic to most extrinsic.

Whatever else we can say, we know one thing for sure: most human beings don’t do anything without anticipating a payoff. The payoff needn’t of course be monetary. It may be to be paid off for your efforts in other ways: through recognition or acclaim; through feedback and praise.

James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity, said “I do think that the quality which makes men want to write and be read is essentially a desire for self-exposure.” Some people create to produce great art that aficionados will admire. Playwright/short story master Anton Chekhov wrote, “I take pleasure in anticipating that these same passages will be understood and appreciated by two or three literary connoisseurs and that is enough for me.” Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, “A man really writes for an audience of about ten persons. Of course if others like it, that is a clear gain. But if those ten are satisfied, he is content.”

I think most creatives are driven to express beauty, the beauty they perceive in the world–the trees, the grass, a human smile, kindness, and the beauty in their souls that cries out to be shared–even if the subject of the work is not beautiful. Some are driven because they’re obsessed and can’t help themselves.

For some creatives performing their art is therapy. D.H. Lawrence, who should know, wrote: “One sheds one’s sicknesses in books.” Some are driven to have revenge. Mary Higgins Clark said that rejection slips only produced a “wait and see” attitude. She’d show people who doubted her. Perennial best-seller John Grisham said, The good thing about writing is that you can get back at people.”

Other painters, writers, actors, composers, etc., are driven by the desire to have the self-respect they don’t get on their jobs or in social or family life. That desire sparks their creativity, drive, and hard work to succeed and gain respect they haven’t found in any other area of their lives.  Some are driven by the pleasure of doing creative work.

Others are driven by their need for praise, and many others for tangible rewards like wealth that motivates almost everyone to a lesser or greater degree. There are many other reasons why creatives are driven.  Many artists’ main drive is to improve their abilities so they might improve their workmanship to an exceptionally high level just to see how excellent they can become.

Ask yourself, “Where on the Intrinsic Motivation—Extrinsic Motivation continuum would I put myself?  Most of the time I’m:

Rate yourself on a scale from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation. Where do you fall on the scale?

 

 

What motivates you most?

“The particular thing that motivates me more than anything else is:”

1.

 

“Also important to me are:”

2.

3.

4.

5.

 

It’s worth assessing how intense your creative drive is by choosing one of the following statements to describe yourself:

  • “My drive to survive, improve, and find fulfillment in the arts is very strong.”
  • “My drive is so-so.”
  • “I need more drive because right now I don’t have much.”

 

Assessing your motivation on the Intrinsic/Extrinsic motivation continuum and the current intensity of your creative drive can help you make changes in your creative practices that will make your work more fulfilling.

 

© 2019 David J. Rogers

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

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Filed under Actors and Directors, Artists, Composers, Creativity, Creativity Self-Improvement, Creators' Work Life, Drive, Motivation, The Creative Process, The Nature of Artists, Work Production, Writers

Artists and Their Love of Work

To the Artist Work Is Not an Obstacle, but a Gift

Artists have about fifty qualities that fit perfectly together to make them best suited to be artists rather than engaging in other occupations. One of those qualities is their love of and attachment to work. The majority of people do not like to work, consider work a burden, and would rather not work, but seek leisure and rest.  But most writers, painters, actors, and ballet dancers who will become known vary from that norm.

Creative people do not avoid work, but absorb themselves in it, even though the work of a recognizably accomplished artist is difficult, extremely hard to master, and taxing.  What drives them to the easel or keyboard every possible day is the joy of working and a desire for creative fulfillment, a special state of being that lies at the far end of hard work that evades most people.

Painting of human figures in shades of brown

The Turning of Backs by Janet Weight Reed (Circa 1984)

In The Creative Process Brewster Ghiselin states that artists and thinkers create the structure of their mental lives by means of their works. C. G. Jung said, “The work in process becomes the poet’s fate.” The work–the painting, novel, or musical composition–must be finished [half-finished doesn’t count] if the artist is to be satisfied because “it is only as the creative work is done that the meaning of the creative effort can appear and the development of the artist brought about by it is attained.”

William Faulkner, author of thirteen novels and scores of short stories, said that “the only thing a man can do for eight hours a day is work. He can’t eat for eight hours; he can’t drink for eight hours; he can’t make love for eight hours. The only thing a man can do for eight hours is work. ” To the artist work isn’t an obstacle, but a gift, a challenge not to be avoided, but to be embraced happily.

Faulkner’s secret was to stop looking at the clock. He wrote, “Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.” Staring at the clock never gets the artist’s work done.

Vincent van Gogh talks about the agonies artists feel when they are unable to perform artists’ work, his feelings then of being imprisoned in “an …utterly horrible, horrible cage.” Work is so essential to artists’ sense of wholeness that not being able to work at an artist’s role in van Gogh’s judgment reduces artists to a state of “nothingness” and uselessness.

Oil on canvas with symbolic images

Symbolic Self Portrait by Janet Weight Reed (Circa 1990)

When men and women commit to a serious artist’s life they introduce into their existence the most demanding effort and emotional upheavals generally they will have ever known. They might have been stevedore longshoremen on the docks of New York, but will never know days of exhaustion like this: “Work every day till your [sic] so pooped about all the exercise you can face is reading the papers” (Ernest Hemingway). Poet Emily Dickinson said that if she felt physically as if the top of her head was taken off, she knew that was poetry

Artists begin each day with the goal of working hard. I have been laid up with bad colds for weeks, unable to work, and it has been frustrating and truly painful for me when all I want is to get back to writing my book.

Artists are almost always bent on working hard: “Work is the law. Like iron that lying idle degenerates into a mass of useless rust, like water that in an unruffled pool sickens stagnates into a stagnant and corrupt state, so without action the spirit of men turns to a dead thing, loses its force, ceases prompting us to leave some trace of ourselves on this earth” (Leonardo da Vinci).

Photograph of the installation of three 18ft hanging mobiles

Photographed during the installation of three 18ft hanging mobiles commissioned for an architects building in Pa. USA Janet Weight Reed

Even striving to sew together an artist’s life is daunting: “The sheer labor of preparing technically for creative work, consciously acquiring the requisite knowledge of medium and skill in its use is extensive and arduous enough to repel many from achievement” (Brewster Ghiselin).  “From the hard work of men are born…the fidelity to right practice which makes great craftsmen…[and] the devotion to a calling” (Joseph Conrad).

Every serious writer can identify with Flaubert’s “I have written no more than 25 pages in all in six weeks…I have gone over them so much, recopied them, changed them, handled them, that for the time being I can’t make head or tail of them.”

To persist like that takes drive and commitment that’s extraordinary. While you might be able to do that because you’re a writer and you know what’s needed, almost no one you know, from your brother-in-law to your auto mechanic, can imagine doing it voluntarily because they’re not artists–those individuals who think nothing of it.

 

The “Big Two” of Focus and Energy Lead to Artistic Success

Artists are exceptionally complex thinking and feeling beings who by the grace of nature possess the two main qualities leading to success whatever the field: intense focus and accompanying extraordinary quantities of physical and spiritual energy–Focus and Energy.

Many of the greatest artists and writers have an overpowering urge to produce specific works and have labored astronomically long hours for many years, frequently with no vacations to speak of because there was nothing they would rather do than their work—an unheard of 60 hours, 70 hours, 80 hours every week.

Watercolor of three water birds taking flight

Rapid watercolour capturing movement. Janet Weight Reed (recent work)

Twentieth century inventor and visionary Buckminster Fuller worked in a frenzy, concluding his work days only when overwhelmed by exhaustion. Honore de Balzac wrote fifteen hours a day for twenty years, and to fuel his energy was in the habit of drinking at least fifty cups of strong coffee every day—so much so that coffee poisoning was one of the causes of his death.  Focus and energy are why artists can produce tremendous amounts of work, often four, six, ten times what less focused and energetic people produce.

Poet John Milton said that some people “scorn delights for more laborious lives” and asked, “What hath night to do with sleep?” The tremendous number of hours high achieving writers, sculptors, and ballet dancers are able to work may account for their ability to produce work after work at breakneck speed.

Another reason for such speed is because after a certain number of years of constant practice, producing works becomes automatic for artists. All the skills they need are intact and functioning at extremely high levels, and inspiration comes to them spontaneously and involuntarily immediately and without strain, like wine flowing out of a cask, when they sit down to type at their computer or stand facing an easel with brush in hand,

The pace you work at is as individual as DNA.  John Irving says, “I write all my drafts by hand. It’s the right speed for me—slow.” Erle Stanley Gardner was different. He once worked on seven novels simultaneously, dictating 10,000 words in a day, and was the world’s fastest writer. And he was also a lawyer.

Artist painting a portrait while another artist paints her

Portrait demonstration in Paris. Janet Weight Reed

Why is it that producing a creative work is often so much more painful than the envious non-creator can imagine? French novelist Gustave Flaubert wrote a friend, “You have no notion what it is to sit out an entire day with your head between your hands beating your unfortunate brains for a word.”

At times the novelist, essayist, poet, or dramatist writes night and day, then executes revision upon revision. Kurt Vonnegut said that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent if only they write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little each time. Although writing is sometimes grueling, tedious, boring, and very difficult, few other things matter as much to writers.

The act of producing art–so liberating to the artist–may also involve emotional suffering.  Julian Green wrote, “if only people knew what lies at the heart of my novels. What a tumult of desires these carefully written pages conceal! I sometimes have a loathing for the furious cravings that give me no peace except when I am writing.”

If you are to succeed in a noteworthy way as an artist you must have the ability to focus intensely for extended periods of time.  Creative people often learn at an early age that they will achieve more if they focus their efforts on one area rather than dividing them among a variety of pursuits. They may not be good at math, may not care for games, may never go dancing.   As a child all Pablo Picasso wanted was to draw or paint and was such extremely poor student in every other subject that people thought him stupid.

 

The Most Distinguishing Quality of Creatives

Persistent and enthusiastic absorption in their work is the most distinguishing quality of creatives in spite of Flaubert’s and Green’s kind of suffering, or your own very real suffering.  Creative talent is indistinguishable from passion and intensity. You can hardly call yourself creative if you lack them.

Landscape of trees, road and sky in blue, green and yellow

Landscape – Brecon Beacons Wales by Janet Weight Reed

One reason writers and painters who are experts are more accomplished than writers and painters who are very good but not experts is that experts are more passionate about their work and spend more hours at it. The only way you could keep some artists from writing or painting would be to dislocate their fingers. Even before their fingers were fully mended, the artists would be back at work.

What makes writers and painters, actors and composers so persistent? It is their thrilling, hard-to-contain joy in the act of creation itself: “It is worth mentioning, for future reference,  that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning [of a new work] quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything” (Virginia Woolf).

 

Flow

When they are creating, artists are capable of losing all sense of time and place, conscious only of the work before them. They will let nothing divert them from accomplishing their creative goals, working night and day if need be.  Flaubert said that only writing mattered to him, and that he kept all his other passions locked up in a cage, visiting them now and then for diversion.

Egrets taking flight purple and blue watercolor on white

Egrets in Flight by Janet Weight Reed ( recent)

The artist’s sometimes astonishing work production is aided by flow, a state described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In flow you’re fully absorbed in the act of writing, painting, acting, composing–more fully absorbed than you have been in anything else. Your concentration and positive emotions are strong and alert, and you know exactly what needs to be done. You put aside personal problems. You lose your sense of being in time and of having a body or a mind. Art comes out of you effortlessly.

You’re relaxed, “psyched,” focused, and yet detached at the same time—in a state of harmony with your surroundings. You’re as confident and feel as competent as you’ll ever be. When artists are in flow they are functioning at their most potent ability.

The main qualities of flow are the following ten:

  1. Your goals are clear and not muddled. (When you work at your craft, your goals must be so clear that you can state them in a single sentence.)
  2. There’s unambiguous, immediate feedback on performance so that adjustments can be made. It’s hard to become immersed in your art if you’re not certain about how well you’re doing, what’s feasible and what isn’t, and whether you’re wasting your time or are accomplishing something that’s worth accomplishing.
  3. Your skills are well-matched with the goal you’re trying to achieve: whatever the skill the art calls for, you possess. You’re very confident that you have every skill you’ll need to reach the goals of the project at hand. To attempt something you lack the skills for will only frustrate you.
  4. Your concentration is highly focused.
  5. You’re not worried about failing.
  6. There’s no sense of “self” separated from the work at hand. You do the work, but don’t think, “I am doing this work.” There is no “I” involved. You are non-attached.
  7. Your sense of time is distorted. An hour seems like a minute or a minute seems like an hour.
  8. The activity is so enjoyable in itself that you need no external reward. But pay and other external motivations can also lead to you being in the zone such as when after years of trying unsuccessfully, you have a great financial success and public recognition.
  9. You don’t feel tiredness.
  10. You lose your appetite or don’t notice it and you skip meals.

 

Being In the Groove

Very much like being in flow is being in the groove. In The Creative Habit dancer/choreographer Twyla Tharp talks about “finding your groove.” Grooves can last minutes, hours, or weeks or months, and are usually preceded by a breakthrough idea. What does it feel like when you’re in a groove?

“When you’re in a groove, you’re not spinning your wheels, you’re moving forward in a straight and narrow path without pauses or hitches. You’re unwavering, undeviating, unparalleled in your purpose. A GROOVE IS THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD. It’s where I strive to be, because when you’re in it you have the freedom to explore, where everything you question leads you to new avenues and new routes as everything you touch miraculously touches something else and transforms it for the better…And then it’s over…There’s no point in analyzing it. If you could figure out how you get into a groove you could figure out how to maintain it. That’s not going to happen. The best you can hope for is the wisdom and good fortune to occasionally fall into a groove.”

 

Hummingbird in green white and Aqua on yellow and pink background

Hummingbird by Janet Weight Reed

The beautiful paintings included in this post are by one of my favorite artists, Janet Weight Reed. The images shown here are a tiny example of some of the work she has completed during a career which has spanned 45 years.The hummingbird, symbolizing the “unseen magic” of the world is her signature image.

Janet says, “Waking each day filled with anticipation, excitement and sometimes trepidation is I believe one of the many reasons that keeps an artist/creative going.  To be in the flow and rhythm of creative work is a wonderful state of being.  No matter what else is going on in one’s life a deep sense of fulfilment takes over.”

 

I won’t ask if you have ever been in flow or in the groove or have known the bliss of creation because if you are an artist working every day with seriousness, living the life of a creator, I know you have, possibly many times.

Instead, I’ll ask, “Were you in the groove today? How did your work go?”

 

© 2019 David J. Rogers

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

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Filed under Artists, Becoming an Artist, Creativity Self-Improvement, Creators' Work Life, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Flow, In the Groove, Life of Creators, Persistence, The Nature of Artists, Twyla Tharp

Extraordinary Creative Outliers

I think all creative people are extraordinary. You’re extraordinary. I’m extraordinary too. We’ve been extraordinary all our lives and one day at the age of six or eleven or twenty-one or fifty-seven something remarkable happened and we discovered we were, and then a corner was turned.

But a separate breed of outlier creator is so extraordinary and so driven and capable of such incredible creative feats and leads such an extreme existence of sacrifice that we wonder what there is about them that inspires them so. What sustains them and equips them so perfectly to produce such exceptional work? Theirs isn’t the only path to creative achievements—most creators lead more moderate lives. But it’s a path extraordinary creative outliers often choose.

Creative outliers are so absorbed in facing challenges and solving creative problems that they have almost no interest in anything else. Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow—the premier American writer of the second half of the 20th century– said, “I have always put the requirements of what I was writing first—before jobs, before children, before any material or practical interest, and if I discover that anything interferes with what I’m doing, I chuck it. Perhaps this is foolish, but it has been the case with me.” He was married five times.

Novelist Jane Smiley wrote, “Even if my marriage is falling apart and my children are unhappy, there is still a part of me that says, ‘God! This is fascinating.’” Ernest Hemingway lived in poverty early in his career and sometimes stole food and said a writer’s perceptions are sharper when he’s “belly-empty, hollow hungry,” that “hunger is good discipline and you can ballerina-534356_640_copy2learn from it.” Before taking the literary world by storm late-blooming novelist/essayist Henry Miller lived in poverty too. He once said, “I have no money, no resources, no hope. I am the happiest man alive.” Emily Dickinson, the greatest American woman poet, author of 1,775 poems, said that if she felt physically as if the top of her head was taken off, she knew that was poetry. Ballerinas—artistes of artistes–may practice until their muscles scream and their feet bleed.

We look at these creative outliers and we marvel and are impressed or appalled or shocked, and often ask ourselves “Could I live an unusual life like sunflower-395026_640that? Am I willing to sacrifice so much for my art and suffer so much and risk so much?  Is that possible for me? How much of my normal life am I willing to give up? If I sacrificed more could I be great too?” And ordinarily decide it isn’t possible at all and we’re not willing to sacrifice in that way, nor suffer, nor risk all that. We couldn’t because a life like theirs asks too much. We draw a line and dare not cross it.

All creative people are obsessed to some extent or another, from mildly to ferociously, so much so that when we obsessed-but-less-obsessed creators hear about these outlier creators we have no problems understanding them since they’re only different from us in degree.

What humans in their craft can accomplish extraordinary outlier creators are willing to push themselves upward toward.  They have a genius.  They’re self-absorbed. They’re determined. They’re completely taken by a way that’s too demanding for the ordinary run of women and men. But for a select few like these outliers their craft becomes a way of life, a journey, a goal, an inevitable struggle of someone rare who’s capable of achieving the impossible.

Creative outliers pour themselves heart and soul and muscle and blood into their work. They work and they work and they work repetitively, and think bird-226700_640about their art or their writing, acting, or dancing continually, and have a monumental amount of confidence. Any time they’re not working they’re making plans for improvement because they know no matter how good you are and what you’ve accomplished you can always be better.

The fundamental role of all creators without exception is to create—to produce works–and they do with a vengeance. Pablo Picasso produced 50,000 works—1,885 paintings ,1,228 sculptures, 2,800 ceramics, 12,000 drawings, thousands of prints, and tapestries and rugs.

There wasn’t a moment of his waking day all his career that Nobel Prize dramatist Eugene O’Neill wasn’t thinking about writing.  He produced 35 full-length plays and 17 one act plays and revolutionized American theater. Writing  long hours, English novelist Charles Dickens—the most popular writer in the world at the time– would sometimes put his head into a bucket of cold water, dry his hair with a towel, and then go on writing.

Creative outliers learn—often at an early age–that they will achieve more if they concentrate their efforts in one area. They are aware only of the work before them, and let nothing divert them from it. French novelist Gustave Flaubert said that only writing mattered to him, and that he kept all his other passions locked up in a cage, visiting them now and then for diversion. He said too, “Sometimes I don’t understand why my arms don’t drop from my body with fatigue, why my brains don’t melt away. I am leading a stern existence, stripped of all external pleasure, and am sustained only by a kind of permanent rage, which sometimes makes me weep tears of impotence but which never abates.”

French novelist/poet/dramatist Victor Hugo started his day by handing his clothes to his servant with strict orders to return them only after Hugo had finished a day’s work of seven hours. Composer Igor Stravinsky and novelist Thomas Wolfe worked all their lives in a frenzy—Wolfe in a “wild ecstasy” at top speed, never hesitating for a word, as though he were taking dictation.

You can’t measure intensity and a person’s pure life force. But the energy pouring out of outliers like Vincent van Gogh would bowl you over. Van Gogh vincent-van-gogh-starry-night-1889worked  furiously at a fever pitch, gathering up the colors as though with a shovel, throwing them on canvas with rage, globs of paint covering the length of the paint brush, sticking to his fingers. Goethe called such super-charged outliers “demoniacs”–people with a super-abundance of vitality, “something that escapes analysis, reason, and comprehension.” Goethe was aware of this power in himself.

Russian Anton Chekhov wrote 10,000 pages of short stories, and also produced great plays like The Cherry Orchard, The Seagull, and Uncle Vanya, and was a practicing physician too. Noted architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller was often unable to stop working until he dropped from exhaustion. Isaac Asimov, author or editor of more than 500 books, said he wrote for the same reason he breathed—because if he didn’t, he would die.

Extraordinary creative outliers are guided by an ambition, a notion so bold that it’s almost outlandish:  that you’re born with a certain aptitude and with direction, discipline, and sacrifice you can transform yourself into something magnificent. Their focus is maniacal—all day long every day. When they’re away from their work they long for it.

Nobel novelist Toni Morrison said, “But the important thing is that I don’t do anything else. I avoid the social life normally associated with publishing. I Toni Morrisondon’t go to cocktail parties. I don’t give or go to dinner parties. I need that time in the evening because I can do a tremendous amount of work then. And I can concentrate.” Outlier novelist Philip Roth said, “My schedule is absolutely my own. Usually, I write all day but if I want to go back to the studio in the evening, after dinner, I don’t have to sit in the living room because someone else has been alone all day. I don’t have to sit there and be entertaining or amusing. I go back out and I work for two or three more hours.” American William Faulkner said jokingly, “If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate: the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.”

We live in a world where everyone is selling something. Everyone has an ulterior motive. They want to be a brand. But these outliers only want one goal: to reach the highest heights they can. That’s it. There’s nothing else.

You look at Picasso and Faulkner and say, “Oh, that’s why painting and writing were invented. As if the gods of the arts declared, ‘To show you others how it should be done we’re going to make a person to represent perfection’.”

They have bad days, difficulties, and setbacks, and still believe in themselves. Andre Gide said, “The great artist is one …for whom the obstacle is a springboard.”   They know that effort is more important than talent. And if you say to them, “You’re just so gifted” they’ll stop you and say, “No, I’m no more talented than anyone else, no more talented than you, but I work much harder” and tell you and me, “If you want to excel you’ll have to overcome the notion that it’s easy.”

They’re a psychologically phenomenal combination of purity of focus and energy-1101474_640purity of discipline and purity of energy. Their creative lives are both comfortable and disciplined.  Even when they’re miserable they’re happy. Age has little effect on their skills except to improve them. They’re never happier and more at ease than when under pressure. They have a sense of being destined for something that very few other people are fitted for. But they are and they know they are.

They have a supreme care about their craft, and they never forget their failures. Their craft is their sanctuary. They’re never better than when doing their craft.

Outlier playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “I am of the opinion that my life sparks-142486_640belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible…”

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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

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Why Do Creative People Write Blogs?

Until I started writing a blog I’d never read one. And one thing that surprised me right away was how so many talented, creative people writing them were woman-865111_640talking so freely, so honestly, and so candidly—so confidentially–about their work in progress. And knowing that hardly anyone does anything without expecting something in return, I wondered why they were doing that. What were they gaining? And were they losing something by doing it as I had been led to believe a creator who did that would? Now I can see that they are gaining something of immeasurable benefit.

I cannot imagine myself showing work in progress I’m serious about or discussing it with anyone until I think it’s finished and that I’ve done the best I can. To get that feeling about the work I’m serious about such as a book or a literary sketch, I might make major changes in it 70 or 75 times before anyone else knows about it. When I was writing what was to become my most popular book, an award-winning poet/professor of literature friend and I would get together every two or three weeks and talk  intensely for hours about writers and writing (and jazz, and the price of apples—that kind of thing–etc.).

And for two years I never once mentioned the book I was spending 18 or 20 hours a day writing. I told him about it when I gave him the date it would be typing-849807_640hitting the book stores.  He said “What the hell?” I didn’t show him. I didn’t show my wife. I didn’t show other friends. I didn’t show anyone because I didn’t want to hear anything that might affect my vision of the work, my plans for it, or my enthusiasm for it. And I believed that if you talked about your work in progress you’d dissipate the drive and energy you should be using to write it. I was very happy with my editor who didn’t give me a word of advice except to say, “An introduction would be a good idea,” and then as I turned chapters in said simply, “It’s really very good.”

But once the work in my mind is done I want to hear the frankest and most direct criticism, the kind a creator gains the most from—if it’s from someone who knows what they’re talking about.  A teacher in college said to me, “A good friend is one who’ll kick you in the teeth constructively” and that has always stayed with me. Without adequate feedback, effective learning is impossible and performance improvements only minimal, even for the most highly gifted artists or writers.

You need to have a good sense of your strengths and weaknesses as a creator. Often the best route to that kind of self-understanding is via constructive feedback and help from other people who won’t know about you unless you tell them the way bloggers tell you, “Here I am in England, Russia, Paraguay, Australia, Oman, etc., and I’m working hard.”

Getting help, support, and feedback is a major strategy for reaching creative excellence.  Without any doubt at all, performance feedback, support, high blogging-15968_640motivation, and writing success go hand in hand despite what anyone says to the contrary. Being deprived of support and positive feedback is a big reason why so many thousands of creators give up their craft altogether and   turn to other pursuits, hoping to find fulfillment there. And maybe finding it, maybe not.

I suppose I was thinking along the lines of William Faulkner who said, “The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity.”  Or Truman Capote who said, “I never show anybody a single thing I write…I write it and finish it and this is the way it’s going to be.” Or Hans Koning, author of 40 books who wrote, “You don’t worry about what editors or reviewers may like or not like. (That comes afterward.) You don’t write…in order to get an independent judgment. Your own judgment is independent. You don’t accept any suggested changes except where you made a factual or grammatical mistake. My motto has been through all these years: Not a comma.” (And I once had an editor who told me she was so depressed because she’d argued for an hour with a writer about a comma.)

Ernest Hemingway believed talking about your work was bad luck and that writers should work in disciplined isolation, and “should see each other only after their work is done, and not too often then.” Otherwise they become “like writers in New York.” He thought that giving a public reading of your work in progress was “the lowest thing a writer can do” and was “dangerous” for the writer. If people liked the writing and said, “It’s great Ernest,” he would think, “If these bastards like it what is wrong with it?” “It made me feel sick for people to talk about my writing to my face.”

When I ask myself why I’m so private about my work until in my mind it’s finished (at that point I’d like every person on earth to read it) my theory is it’s because growing up we did not talk openly about personal things that were important to us and were taught not to blow our own horn, not to be showy in any way, and that has had a lasting effect on me. Not showing off is a value I think of all born and bred bona fide American Middle Westerners. Even now when I find myself showing off in my writing I say to myself, “Cut it out.”

I’ve often thought about there being so many women artist and writer bloggers and so few men and such strong relationships between the women. It’s kind of woman-69531_640lonely for me. But I sit back and read what creative women say to each other and just as often have thought, “There’s something very special, very wonderful going on. Look how they understand each other, how they comprehend each other’s meanings, the nuances and subtleties. And how they raise each others’ confidence.”

When I look at the comments such forthright writer and artist bloggers receive about their experiences with their works in progress, what strikes me is that what they receive mainly is not technical information. There’s very little discussion of that at all, or it’s superficial—a few positive words. No, they talk about what they’re going through—their difficulties, successes, failures, setbacks, fears, and hopes, the balance they’re trying so hard to strike between their creative life and their family and work lives. And that’s exactly what readers want more than anything to hear about and what they respond to.

Before I’d thought of writing a blog and I don’t think knew what a blog was, my son Eli, a writer himself, told me I should write one.  “Me?” I said. And he said, “Yes.” He said I was writing every day for hours and producing volumes of work, and that I should share it with other people and receive feedback from them.

How I love now to wake in the morning and still drowsy-eyed go upstairs to my work room, and there on the screen see that I’d been visited overnight by viewers from the world’s capitals and desert villages, remote South Sea and map-221210_640Atlantic islands, and African mountain kingdoms accessible only by horseback–Lesotho, Sri Lanka, Somalia–and to hear from them that they like what I’m doing and look forward to it. What a joy to hear from bloggers from everywhere who’ve become my friends, whose work I admire, to hear the stories of the lives they’re leading and to care about them and about hard they’re trying and  to think about them.

What honest bloggers receive in return for their blogging is what every creative person hungers for—companionship, friendship, kindness, generosity, and words of blessed encouragement.  To “discourage” someone is to steal their courage away from them, but to “encourage” them is to give them courage. When we’re deeply discouraged –and that is so often in the arts–our courage abandons us and one way or another we must retrieve it or we will perish creatively. The main thing a writer or artist–or actor or dancer–has to overcome is getting discouraged.

Even the smallest encouragement during difficult times bolsters a person’s spirits. Someone, anyone, saying, “Just hang in there, my friend, a little longer.”

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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

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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

 

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

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Stamina: The Creative Person’s Hidden Power

Middle distance runners are deep and analytical, contemplative, aware of the slightest changes in their body and mind. I ran fastest at three in the afternoon when the temperature was 88 degrees and my mind was clear. Creative people are also deep and analytical, contemplative, aware of the slightest changes in their body and mind.

I was in training for my event, the 800 meters. That workout I decided I’d run as many laps around the quarter mile athletics-229808_640(1)track as I could at three-quarters speed. After a few laps the pain I was so familiar with began gradually to set in. And the difficulty breathing. Then with each lap the pain in my legs, my arms, my chest—my entire body–became more severe, breathing even more difficult. And I thought about quitting. How easy that would be. Just step off the track and the pain would cease and I wouldn’t have to go through this anymore. I thought, “No one is making me run but myself.” The thought of stopping was very powerful and I had to fight it.

But I didn’t stop, I didn’t slow down. I increased my speed (I would show this pain) and the pain was much worse. I thought, “How long can a person endure this?” Then I thought, “I am a middle distance runner. Middle distance runners can bear pain.”

But then, after I had pushed myself as hard as I could and suffered that pain longer than I thought possible but continued to run, I passed into a new and miraculous state of being. One moment I was in agony; the next I wasn’t. I had entered a place, a garden, where pain couldn’t exist. All pain and exhaustion were lifted out of my body and I could breathe easily again. The running suddenly was smooth, effortless, and strong, my form perfect.

runner-728219_640That afternoon, one of my teammates after another quit his training and left for home. But I ran lap after lap far into the night. I had the feeling I could run forever.

That experience has become a metaphor for me. I go back to it in my mind time and again. It inspires me and I am a hard worker and have stamina.

Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow said, “For the artist work is the main thing and always comes first.” Psychologist Howard Gardner writes about high-excelling creative people. He says, “Individuals whose stock in trade is to do things which are novel, are people who’ve got to have a pretty good command of how they work.” Some writers and artists produce 10, 15, 25 times more work than others and those most productive usually rise higher in their field and find a greater sense of accomplishment. The more work you produce the higher quality your work will tend to be because the more you do something, the better you get.

There’s a lot to be said for the benefits of prolonged, intense working spurts, for in a study of writers, writers who achieve the most are those who wrote:

…THE MOST INTENSELY

…FOR THE LONGEST AMOUNT OF TIME

…OVER THE LONGEST TIME SPAN

High achieving writers and artists, like athletes in training, exert more energy from the start of a project and work steadily without long interruptions for a much longer period than the majority of writers and artists–for days, months, lyrics-710329_640years if necessary, often producing staggering amounts of work. What enables them—what enables you– to operate continually at a higher level of stamina?

It’s excitement or necessity or both, excitement over the production of a work or the necessity of overcoming obstacles to produce it—and the habit they’ve developed of working through tiredness. Creative people will push themselves to an extreme day after day and overcome impediments when they are on fire with the excitement of creating.

But many artists and writers produce very little because they stop working at the first sign of fatigue. They’re in the habit of quitting when tired. Better to ratchet up and exert more effort then, not less. Then you acquire the ability to not tire easily, a creator’s and athlete’s major skill in itself, and your work production rises, and with it, its quality.

If you quit at the first sign of tiredness, you develop the habit you don’t want of tiring quickly and giving up. Every time you reach the point when you seem to have no energy left, yet push yourself a little further, you train yourself to draw from deeper into your energy reserves at will. If you push yourself on then—painting another hour, finishing the chapter–the tiredness gets worse, but only up to a point. Then it reaches a peak and fades away as my running pain faded. You know that from our own experience. Then you’re fired up by a sense that you can go on creating much longer than you’ve realized. Fatigue is replaced by an explosive surge.

Focus on your goal of finishing this work on your easel, on your computer screen. Let your urge to reach high levels of excellence in your craft consume you. The result will be a new freedom, new stamina, and new creative power.

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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

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13 High Achievement Skills for Artists and Writers

Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My second most important goal is…

“Also very important is…

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

 

Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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

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Boredom and Burnout: What To Do When Artistic Work Stops Being Fun

barbed-wire-345760_640During World War II prisoners of war often contracted “barbed wire disease.” It was not the result of maltreatment, but of lack of stimulation. Ships’ crews, explorers, and people in monasteries contract it too. It is characterized by irritability, restlessness, pessimism, and boredom. Nothing excites them. They lack vitality, freshness, energy, and verve. Writers and artists—often those working on a project steadily for a long time, especially without feedback—may develop a form of barbed wire disease.

They go flat and their work becomes a burden and its quality suffers grievously. When work is drudgery creativity quickly declines. You’ve experienced that, sometimes for considerable periods of time, and sometimes to the extent that you don’t want to face the work and so you avoid it, entering a stage of total non-productivity about which you feel miserable. No two ways about it, you’ve now come eye to eye with a major obstacle.

I’m sure I am not the only serious writer who after working steadily and intensely for a long time writing, writing, writing, writing experiences a “word nausea” when you become sick of the sight of written words. For a time you cannot write; nor can you tolerate reading another word. When you’re experiencing a writer’s or painters barbed wire disease, keyboard-313373_640you can always imagine a more exciting place to be, a more exciting thing to be doing, and exciting people to be doing it with. Sometimes the disease spreads and everything turns gray and seems boring beyond belief. When you’ve burned out and bored you “kill time,” hoping the barbed wire disease will blessedly pass.

Here’s what you can do:

Strategies

If your interest starts to decline make the “boring” task a game. In my first writing job I wrote grant proposals for an organization. I wrote many, many of them. At the beginning, the proposals were quite long and the success rate quite high. Millions of dollars were raised. Writing grant proposals every day from 8:30 to 5:00 is a ritual that is not nearly as stimulating as writing a poem or novel, as you can imagine. They are dry, and after a number of them you burn out. I needed a more interesting, more challenging goal. So then my goal became to raise the level of funds the organization received as a result of my proposals relative to the length of the proposal—to write the shortest possible proposals for the most money. Eventually the proposals were extremely short, but just as successful.

How could you make your work a game, a contest? One way is to monitor your daily production and make the aim of the game to produce more every day compared to the previous days. Every hour I monitor the number of words I’m producing and look at yesterday’s tallies.

Focus continually on your overall goal. Success in life is often built on tedium. Tedium can be tolerated if it must be endured to achieve a larger purpose that matters a great deal to you–to write a good book, to have your work in galleries, to be satisfied and successful. The French Pointillist painter Georges Seurat was certainly bored some of the time–perhaps most of the time—when for two years he applied those almost three and a half million tiny dots of various hues to a ten foot wide canvas to paint Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, the painting that altered modern art and introduced Neo-impressionism. But that was his purpose, and his boredom was irrelevant to him.

Choose to do what you’re doing. Boredom is often caused by the sense that you’re being forced. But when you declare your right to make a decisive choice and say to yourself, “I’m choosing to do this of my own free will,” your outlook changes dramatically.

Focus on external rewards. When you’re bored, the work has lost its intrinsic value to you so think of other rewards: “I may not be happy with the work but I’m going to make a lot of money, and maybe I’ll win an award.”

Have the intention of doing just what you’re doing, nothing else—no distractions, no impediments, no worries, fears, or self-doubts. Just you and the work. Boredom is caused by the wish that there were something else you were doing: “I wish I were…” at a movie, or making love, or sitting in the bleachers. Make what you’re doing the single thing at that time you have every intention of doing. You don’t change the task. You change your attitude. You can mesmerize yourself with the thought, “This, now, right now, is the one thing in the world I want to do. Nothing could be better.”

Look for something of interest in the work and in the process of working–even if you have to look hard. There is always at least a tiny core worthy of your interest in everything, like the eye of a violet. What is boring for your friend may be the most exciting thing in the world for you. That’s because nothing is intrinsically boring. Physicists and formula-594149_640(1)mathematicians love spending their lives scribbling figures on chalkboards. Would you like to spend your best hours doing that? But people do. And then again many people would find what you love doing—producing artistic work as often as you can—about as unpleasant an activity as they can imagine.

If you tell yourself something is boring that’s just how you’ll find it, so never use that word or any such word. Eliminate them from your vocabulary starting now. Our emotions follow what we’re thinking, including boredom. Instead of, “Oh, man, I can’t stand this anymore,” think, “To say I can’t stand it is incorrect. It’s an exaggeration. I can stand it. I will stand it.” Instead of, “Damn, is this tedious” replace it with an interest-inducing statement: “There is something stimulating here. All I have to do is stay focused long enough to find it. Look—there’s something interesting!” By focusing and absorbing yourself in something, it becomes more interesting. And the more interesting it becomes the more you’ll be drawn to it, the more attention you’ll want to give to it, and the more engrossing it will become.

The famous naturalist Louis Agassiz was known for turning out students with incredible 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 a jar of preservative and said, “Observe this fish carefully and when I return be ready to report to me what you noticed.”

goldfish-537832_640Left alone, the student sat down to look at the fish. It was a fish like any other fish. There was nothing special about it. 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.

Bored and with nothing else to do, he counted the fish’s scales, then the spines of the fins, then drew a picture of it. In doing so he noticed it had no eyelids. He continued drawing and noticed other features that had escaped him. And he learned that a fish is interesting if you really see it.

Persevere longer with whatever bores you. The person who holds uninteresting ideas in mind until they gather interest will succeed. Many people give up too quickly.

Wait. The sense of boredom may go away on its own without you doing a thing.

Tackle the most interesting part of the job first. Most tasks have features that you find boring and others that you find more interesting. Bodybuilders often start their workouts with lifts they enjoy most. Once started, they go on to the lifts they enjoy less. Try to do the same whatever you’re lifting.

Aim for more difficult goals. If the goals you’re pursuing are too easy, you’ll be bored.

Alter your routines. Sometimes it’s not the tasks that are boring, but the routine of carrying them out. Change your schedule. People need change or they go as stale as old cookies. Much of the time our lives grow stagnant, unhappy, and mechanical for no other reason than that the same things are done in the same way, at the same time, with the same people with no variation, like a broken CD that plays the same phrase over and over. It’s torture. How many times can you follow the same never-changing routines without going nuts?

Stay physically active. Hit golf balls or get down on the floor and do pushups. Creative work requires intense, exhausting mental concentration and benefits from a “physical” break.

Take periodic breaks. Working hard in short, intense, concentrated spurts, with rest periods between spurts proves to be the best way to work.

sisters-74069_640Let your mind wander. Don’t resist. During boredom our minds wander and we daydream, and daydreaming and mind-wandering often lead to the solutions to our problems.

Get yourself temporarily to another project. Most artists have more than one project going on simultaneously—some have many. If one becomes boring, they work on another. Painters work on small paintings as a break from large paintings. Writers alternate research and writing and write short stories to break the monotony of long, uninterrupted work on a novel.

Eliminate what you find boring. Let’s say you’ve tried everything your inventive mind can conjure up and you’re so bored you can hardly breathe. If you’re that bored and that burned-out maybe you shouldn’t do it anymore. Maybe the boredom is a message telling you the book or the sculpture isn’t a good idea after all and you should go on to another. Identify the specific activities that bore you and are burning you out and slice them off like shavings off a stick.

© 2015 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/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

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Artists and Writers in Ecstasy

It’s not unusual for artists–painters, sculptors, writers, dancers, musicians–who are at work to be in a state of bliss, a state of ecstasy. Their enjoyment is deep, their focus uncommon, intense, and virtually super-human. Time means nothing at all and self-consciousness and self-awareness disappear. Every thought is solely of the task at hand. They have no attention left to think of anything else. There is only they and the work; all distractions, all worries, all fears, all self-doubts, and all impediments are gone—an extraordinary state of existence.

sunset-100367_640Fully absorbed, there is a rightness about everything they do; their every action is sure. The possibility of failure is of no concern. They need nothing more than the brush in their hand, their fingers on the keyboard, dancing slippers on their feet. There is nothing else—no other pleasure, no other enjoyment–that is more meaningful and brings such rewards. It is as though they are thinking:

This thing that I am doing is essential to my fulfillment and well-being. I will be tenacious; I will persist for long periods of time, not being diverted, and try to make this work I am doing exceptional, applying all the skills I’ve developed. I am finding that my skills are all that I’ve wished for and just right for this work. My mind will be sharp, my energy unstoppable. I will be relaxed and alert too—confident, in balance; in control of all my faculties. I am willing to sacrifice. At times I will forget to eat, forget to sleep. I will block out distractions as best I can. When I reach an impasse, I will ask for help. I will arrange a life-style and personal habits and routines to accommodate my work and will find the time.

 Seeking a Perfect Match of Goals and Skills

Artists begin with a vision of what at last they could become. That is the basis of their goals–a guiding vision. The major factors in achieving creative ecstasy are: being powerfully motivated to succeed, (so powerfully that it is almost impossible to keep you from your work); having the confidence that you will succeed, (if not now, eventually); making decisive choices and pursuing goals that are personally extremely meaningful (few things in your life are as important, possibly nothing is as important); receiving immediate feedback on performance every step of the way (performance feedback and high motivation go hand in hand); and possessing all the skills required to perform the task (no skill is lacking).

Often feedback comes from an external source—a teacher, for example, or mentor, the audience the artist is aiming to please, or in the case of a writer, an editor. But experienced artists have internalized the “rules” of the art and know good work from bad work so well that their most useful feedback comes from themselves. They don’t have to wait for feedback from the outside.

sisters-74069_640Many writers, painters, and dancers—possibly most; possibly most people– don’t give their goals much thought and don’t care if they achieve them. Only a minority do. And if they do care, many aren’t willing to put out the effort to reach them. Research shows that 85% of Americans wait for things to happen. Only 15% are proactive and make things happen. Many people don’t have the first notion of the causes of success or failure or how to achieve their goals—the means that must be involved. But artists in ecstasy are clear and their motivation knows no bounds.

Of special importance to ecstasy and bliss, it seems to me, is the ideal state when the artists’ skills perfectly match the goals the artists aim to achieve. The skills are exactly what’s needed to reach the goals. That means that artists should pursue goals that are not too easy, but not too difficult, based on their assessment of their skills.

 The Alternatives

If your goals are higher than your skills, you won’t achieve the goals and will feel frustration, disappointment, stress, and anxiety.

If the goals are considerably less than your skills and success is guaranteed, you’ll be bored.

Anxiety and boredom alike interfere with work and are signals that your goals need to be changed.

But if you don’t care whether you reach the goal you’ll be indifferent and apathetic.

So if you’re meeting only frustration, disappointment, and worry, you may continually be aiming too high and should lower your sights, not permanently, but until you develop your skills further and are in a better position to reach the goals. Make developing your skills to the highest level your priority, principally through deliberate practice,

And if you’re often bored, set higher goals, you’re aiming too low.

If you’re apathetic, pursue only goals that mean something to you. (I realize this isn’t always possible, such as when you’ve been given an assignment that you dislike but have no choice. But in that case find ways of making the goal more interesting, such as making it a game, as how quickly you can finish the work while still doing a good job).

If you’re often in ecstasy—some artists are every day–the balance between the difficulty of the goal and your skills is perfect.

Things That Are a Little Out of Reach

piano-302122_640The most challenging goals—and those leading to the best benefits–are those that you’re most interested in, are not completely certain you can reach, and will get the greatest satisfaction from when you achieve them. We work harder to get what is a little out of reach—but not too far. When the goals you set are difficult but achievable you’ll have no problem persisting until you achieve them. That happens automatically. If you come up short, all is not lost. Every failure is valuable feedback indicating what needs to be improved.

As your capabilities develop, as they will if you apply yourself, you will have a natural urge to seek increasingly greater challenges, higher performance, and higher achievements. As your skill level rises, so do your ambitions, and a goal that was once powerfully motivating becomes less powerful and needs to be replaced by a more difficult one. You wanted to have your artwork displayed in a gallery. Now it has been, so you want to see it in a more prestigious gallery. Your short story was published and was highly thought of; now you’re aiming for a novel. Your songs are popular, so now you will write a musical.

Setting difficult goals that require considerable work can significantly increase an artist’s motivation and at the same time, his/her performance. Difficult goals are motivating in and of themselves and build a strong sense of self-confidence. You’ll work harder to reach them. Attainable doesn’t in any sense mean easy. To write a good book may take an almost unbelievable amount of effort and persistence. Harder goals will take you to higher levels of performance than easy goals provided you’ve chosen the goals voluntarily and have or can develop the necessary skills.

People put out more effort if they consider the goals difficult, but not so difficult as to be unachievable. Yet, the creative person must also be willing to work hard and long on ambitious projects that verge on the impossible—an epic novel, an opera, a symphony.

The Definition of “Difficulty” All Depends

vincent-van-gogh-85799_640(1)Now the definition of what is a difficult or easy goal depends totally on who you are. For example, a goal that may be impossible for me may be perfectly reasonable for you. Whenever I hear someone say, “The odds of succeeding are one in ten,” I think, What you’re saying is that you think they are one in ten for you. However, they may be one in five for me. I’m going ahead with it because I think one in five is very attainable.

A Little Quiz

A goal is more difficult—and possibly impossible– to reach if you aren’t a hard worker. It’s particularly difficult if you’re lazy. Ask yourself, “How hard a worker am I?” Rate yourself on a scale of one to ten, one being “Not a very hard worker” and ten being “An exceptionally hard worker. I’m inexhaustible.”

Are you a one, a seven, or a ten? It is hard to imagine artists who have reached high levels being anything but tens. They pour tremendous stores of energy into their work. If they are separated from their painting, their writing, their music for more than 24 hours they get nervous; any longer, they get depressed. Artists who are not hard workers are in trouble.

Do you know what the causes are of success or failure in reaching goals?

Do you set artistic goals?

If so, what are they?

Are they clear? Some artists are not any more talented or intelligent than others, but they are far more successful because they have not a single doubt about what specifically they are attempting to accomplish. They are single-minded, with only that supreme goal in mind.

Do your goals match your skills or are they too high or too low?

If they are too high, how will you change them to better match your skills?

Are they a little out of reach? (If yes, that’s good.)

If they are too low, what will you do to make them more ambitious?

How important are they to you?

Not very important

Kind of important

Couldn’t possibly be more important

How do you plan to attain them?

Often when their goals are not properly matched with skills and artists are enduring periods of anxiety, disappointment, or boredom, they try to force themselves, and the work product is usually not up to the artists’ standards. But when in ecstasy and everything is aligned, they are fully functioning and can do no better.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

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

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Filed under Artists, Becoming an Artist, Creativity Self-Improvement, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Goals and Purposes, Motivation, Writers

To Think, To Decide, To Act: Trust Only Movement

Living at White Heat

highway-393492_640“A motto for man: to do and through doing to ‘do’ himself
and be nothing but what he has made of himself.” Jean Paul Sartre

 

Katherine is such a good woman, a kind-hearted woman, obviously very bright, and likable, friendly, and generous to a fault. There is so much to her, so many gifts, so much to offer, so much promise, but she’s snagged, she’s caught, she’s trapped, and she is not looking for a way to escape. And the days pass.

Someone asked her if she’s happy and she said she is. But the next morning she thought about it and realized she isn’t. It’s no mystery to her why. She knows she’s not nearly as ambitious as she might be, and hasn’t found a heartfelt purpose to get up for in the morning. And she’s in a job she doesn’t like, but makes no attempt to find anything more suitable. Her partner abruptly ended their long relationship, and she’s lonely. But she’s made no effort to find someone else or to look for an activity she would enjoy and would divert her attention from her loneliness. She has friends, but none of them close.

Her life has settled into a tedious routine. From her building’s elevator over to the garage, the mile to the office, lunch at the Greek restaurant, the mile home, and the elevator. Laundry Wednesday night about seven and shopping on Saturday morning, the newspaper on Sunday, and on Monday at 8:30 her favorite TV show.

She looks in the mirror twice a day and sees she’s gaining weight around the middle, and doesn’t like that, but doesn’t do anything about it. No different from a billion other people, she never stops to ask herself, “Why am I living this life when I could always a live another.” She could be leading a better life, a life with meaning, if she made new decisions and followed through on them, no more apathy and no excuses.

To think, to decide, to act, to do something, to get things done, to attend to what needs attention, to reduce the distance between where you are now and where you want to be in life–that’s a human being’s inherent nature. You were not created to be stationary, to be limp and weak and unmoving, but were brought into this world with movement in mind. Action is your natural inclination, a fulfilling life your true destiny. It’s what you’re body and mind are designed for: to make choices and changes, take risks, accept responsibility, exert energy, and achieve purposes. You only reveal the person you truly are in decisive action. Only then do you reach your enormous possibilities. But you must trust only movement.

If we cast a glance at people in general we find the opposite of a continuous advance toward a better life. Standing still in life and doing nothing is plainly the common condition, resisting change even if one’s life is quietly unbearable. Letting opportunities to explore new ways of being and discover new strengths, new people, and new pleasures slip away, and slip away again.

 Recognize the Clues

No one has to tell you there’s a discrepancy between the life you’re leading and the better one you have the potentials to be leading. You know something is wrong before anyone else, and you know it better than anyone else. And if you are intelligent and aware, that knowledge never leaves you alone. Some people intend to change their life, and may swear to others they will. “Someday,” they say, “I’ll do this and then I’ll do that and things will get better.” But when they cast an honest eye on their life in progress they see certain indications that their life is going wrong, certain clues.

An Inappropriate life

There comes a moment when you realize that you could have just as well have lived a thousand different lives but have lived this one, that you could just as well have taken a thousand different paths but took this one; that perhaps they are the wrong life and the wrong path.

Running Out of Time

From time to time you have to ask yourself if you’ve have made the most of your limited time here on earth. Then in a moment of quiet panic some people realize they haven’t. Entering the Garden of Eden, God called to Adam, “Where art thou.” He was asking Adam to account for himself. We all have to account for ourselves. X days and years of the time allotted to you have passed. How far have you gotten?

Hideouts and Cover Stories

People often go to extreme lengths to fabricate a cover story to explain why they’re not making the most of their lives. They hide out. You know people who are hiding out. You can even recite their cover stories, you’ve heard them so often: “This didn’t work out and that didn’t work out. My luck was bad, and things were so dead set against me. I’m as smart as anyone else, but I didn’t get the breaks.” During moments of clarity they become aware that the best part of themselves has never come out of hiding. They cower behind the cover stories they invented and escape to hideouts. You want to say, “Wake up! Stop hiding. Don’t settle for a crummy life.”

Cancelled Dreams

At some point some people give up and abandon their dreams. They continue the rest of their days recalling how pleasant their dreams once had been. Dreams are frail things that disappear if they aren’t turned to reality.

Inaction

You may be a person of action. If you are, when there’s something to be done, you do it. Hard work is necessary if you are to have the life you deserve, so you work hard. You have purposes to attend to and you attend to them. There are obstacles to conquer, so you conquer them. But this man is paralyzed by inaction. He doubts himself and is afraid. He doesn’t do what’s necessary to improve his life. When he is set back he gives up trying and doesn’t bother anymore. His determination withers away. He can follow routines–up at six, home at six–because routines require no imagination or initiative; no risks, no commitments. But when it comes to stepping out of the familiar stream of daily routine and taking action to make more of his life–changing careers, starting a business, leaving a disappointing life behind, moving to a different place, for example– he’s in over his head, he’s helpless There’s procrastinating over the small things–failing to return a library book on time–and there is procrastinating over the big things–failing to make important life-changing decisions and take action, procrastinating your existence into oblivion.

Disillusionment

There’s supposed to be some vital meaning to our lives. But there comes a time when some people are forced to ask, “Is this all there is?” They realize that their lives have little meaning, and without meaning there isn’t much to life. They long to be breathless with desire for–something, anything.

 Unfulfilled Promise

In high school Kim was somebody. But now she realizes that something somehow happened, and she’s been left behind. She’s nowhere near the bright future that once seemed so clearly, like a beacon, to lie ahead. She can’t shake that off. She lives in the past, in her glory years. She’s snagged; she’s stuck. She makes no progress.

A Mechanical Existence

There’s a saying: “Be sure you’re riding the horse and the horse isn’t riding you.” Some people choose to be ridden by the horse. They’re living all right–their heart is beating and they breathe– but they’re not leading their life at all, but are being led. Their lives are too easy, too predictable, and too uneventful, and are headed nowhere. There’s nothing in store, no excitement, no surprises.

A Phony Life

Many people live one way while their true self urges them to live a truer, more authentic, more suitable way. They often stay busy in a whirlwind of activity that unbeknownst to them is designed to allow no time to stop and ask, “Am I doing the best I can, am I going right, or have I just gotten good at leading a phony existence?”

 Living with White Heat

When you put behind you an inappropriate life, hideouts and cover stories, cancelled dreams, inaction, unfulfilled promise, a mechanical existence, and a phony life and disillusionment and choose to live a decisive style of life, you become committed to your actions with your whole person. You live with white heat. When you decide with your whole being, all that you are and all that you can be and hope to be are right there with you. You throw yourself completely into the decision. You’re in this thing to the end and your commitment knows no bounds. You focus, you bear down. There’s something out of the ordinary about you that people recognize, a seriousness of intent, a rare intensity. You’re not fooling around, you’re deadly serious about your life and its goals, and you’re not run of the mill. You’re a different breed of man, a different breed of woman, and that’s obvious. Your determination is as hard as granite. You’re unbendable. You never deviate from your decisiveness.

We’re born and hurled into the future. What’s unique about you sets you apart and launches you in a direction. Always follow where your gifts, your talents, and your intelligence lead you. You were meant to let yourself be drawn in that direction. Why resist?

A man was curious and attended an art show to ask a famous sculptor if he had advice for his son John, a sculptor who was just beginning. The sculptor said, “Yes I do have advice. It’s very simple. You tell John to pick up his mallet and his chisel and make chips.”

We’d be better off, you and I, if like a sculptor sculpting our own lives, we too made a decision to make chips.

© 2014 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/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

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

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Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority

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