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

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

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

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

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

Part One of this two-part post began…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

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

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Total Concentration: The Heart and Soul of Creative Work

Part One of Two Parts

In the lives of great creators past and present, we find many characteristics that equip them uniquely for their role, especially tremendous powers of concentration. Those same powers of concentration are readily available to you.

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

Creators who can concentrate their mind like brilliant beacons of light at will can focus anywhere and can work under any conditions, and whenever they wish. For example, even fledgling actors are able to routinely commit to memory many pages of complex dialogue in a short period because of the phenomenal ability to concentrate they’ve had to acquire if they wish to act.

Make a pact with yourself: when you do creative work let nothing interfere with the only life that exists at the moment, namely the life of an actor or dancer or sculptor, and so forth. Just kick everything else out of your mind. All your life now for this time is the role your whole being has equipped you for because you have a love of your craft. There is no separation between you and it. It is part of you as much as your arm.

Concentration is an ability most people have not developed. Their minds run wild. That people generally are so poor at concentrating is shown in the fact that patrons in an art museum look at a work on average for 1 1/2 seconds. But out of the necessity of producing a stream of tangible works of high quality, many creators have disciplined their mind to be clear and not to wander. Those creators remind me of this famous story about concentration from the samurai Way. Samurai are ideal examples of how with application a person can increase his or her mental powers substantially and turn them to practical results, how ordinary people can become extraordinary.

Centuries ago in Japan there lived a man who had devoted himself completely to kyudo, the Way of the bow. Early one evening he was walking in the mountains when suddenly he saw a flicker of movement in the shadows. It was a tiger, its back arched, ready to pounce. Without hesitation the archer nocked the arrow. Concentrating all his power in the shot, since it might be his last, he let the arrow fly. A direct hit, right in the head. Without stopping to examine the dead animal, the archer continued on his way.

The next day, though, he became curious and returned to the spot. But hard as he looked he could not find the dead animal. He was about to abandon his search when he saw his arrow, lodged in a huge boulder. It hadn’t been a tiger after all, but his concentration had been so intense and his shot so powerful that the arrow had been driven into solid rock.

From this incident came the famous maxim about concentration and power in any Way of life–business, athletics, the arts, everyday life, and more: “Ichinen iwa wo mo tosu:” “The focused mind can pierce through stone.” (From Fighting To Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Work and Life.)

One-pointed, stone-piercing concentration is the ability of you, the creator, to direct your attention exclusively on the challenges of the work at hand as they appear, and being able to prevent any stray, muddling, interfering thoughts that aren’t related to solving the creative problems confronting you.

Also from the samurai Way , applicable to the Way of the creator, is the story of a contest:

The greatest archers in the land were invited to the contest. A fish was put up on a pole a great distance away. Asked by the judge if they could see the fish, one by one the archers said they could. One last contestant stepped to the line.

“Can you see the fish?” asked the judge.

The archer replied, “I’m looking at its eye.”

This was the champion.

Learn to concentrate on the fish’s eye and you’ll often find success in creative work. You will produce more works, and the work’s quality will improve.

I proved to myself the benefits of concentration in another context when I was a bodybuilder. I said, “I’m going to devote myself to this and see what happens.” It is as much a craft with high standards of performance and traditions as acting, painting, and writing. For the body builder and the writer at work a single stray thought not belonging to the performance breaks concentration. A lift is wasted, an injury is possible. The writer loses that one thought that would have conveyed exactly what the text needed. I worked hard and concentrated totally on each separate lift and every repetition with remarkable results. I had put into practice the words of champion bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger: “One lift with concentration is worth ten lifts without concentration.”

The first quality of the creator’s concentration is an alert, undivided, focused, attentive mind that has nothing left over for anything unnecessary, irrelevant, and inessential while you are creating. As much as possible you want your concentration to be uninterrupted while you work and to not be diverted from the task involved in creating, or divided for any reason. How does a creator work on developing an alert mind?

Preparation: You begin preparing your mind for the task of writing well before you sit down at the computer, on sculpting before you enter your studio. Skilled actors don’t wait until they get to the theatre, but prepare themselves for their first entrance on the stage while they are still at home. On the days they are to perform they don’t clutter their minds with all sorts of unimportant things that have nothing to do with playing their role. When they arrive at the theatre they may not stop to engage in idle chatter that takes their mind from their performance. When they are putting on their makeup in front of the mirror they are solving problems and finding inspirataion.

In the morning start the day by thinking of the novel you’re writing, or the painting, or the role you’ll play when the curtain goes up tonight, of what you want to have accomplished creatively when your work days ends. And think of it in the afternoon and before you go to bed.  Think of it when you drink coffee and brush your teeth. Think about it whenever you can. Scribble notes about it on napkins when you’re having lunch. You must be a novelist, actor, painter, etc., the whole day, not just an hour or two.

Harmful emotions like anxiety, fear, envy, discouragement, and self-doubt are threats to your concentration. So you must learn to concentrate on the task and forget the emotion.  As much as possible, put how you’re feeling out of the equation. Tell yourself your emotions are irrelevant at the moment; you’ll take care of them after work.

Take your mind off what you’re feeling. You can feel afraid to write, as many writers do, and still write, and you can still do what you doubt you can do if you don’t let the fear and doubt stop you from concentrating. And too, once you’re engrossed in creative work, however poorly you were feeling before, your mood almost always improves and becomes more positive, optimistic, hopeful, confident, even blissful.

While you’re working develop your attention so that no extraneous thoughts interfere with the work. Don’t worry, for instance, whether you’re at your best today or you aren’t, or think about what might happen if you succeed and produce a great work–the glory, the applause– or if you fail–or if you have the sniffles or would rather be making love. Don’t fret about bills or personal problems or what you’ll make for dinner. Again and again bring your mind back to the work because right now it is the most important thing.

It’s hard to change your concentration from low to high if the environment you’re working in isn’t comfortable. It may not be comfortable for me, but it has to be for you.  For example, I am very comfortable with chaos–not in my personal life, not at all, I crave tranquility there. But in my work room chaos is welcome. To me in chaos there is order. But my wife tsk-tsks, and says, “It amazes me that you can possibly work under these conditions.” To placate her I say, “You’re right. I have to organize this mess.”  But between you and me I have no intention of ever organizing the mess.

You have to find an environment in which you can flourish, or create one. Many writers work in restaurants. I see them in the Starbuck’s down the street. Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway wrote in cafes and was extremely productive. But home is best for me. F. Scott Fitzgerald didn’t have a comfortable work setting because of his wife Zelda’s constant interference.  She would take Scott away from his work to have fun and play pranks. One night she collected all the women’s purses at a party and boiled them. Whatever the place you work you should be able to go to it, focus, and be productive.

A perfect work place and good production routines and rituals are to be treasured. Simply by being there ready to work repetitively the same time day after day after day the power of good habits goes into effect. Some creators’ work habits will strike you as strange.  The poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) splashed ink on her clothes to give her a feeling of freedom when she wrote, and poet A.E. Housman rarely wrote unless he was sick.

For high quality, uninterrupted work to happen, not all, but most creators need isolation and solitude. To get rid of distractions some creative people eliminate newspapers, TV, clocks, telephone calls, emails, face book, and unnecessary conversation. One study showed that following an interruption for an email or phone call people were so distracted that 40% of the time they didn’t get back to work, but moved on to something else. If you quit 40% of the time, how long will it take you to finish your novel?

All your mental powers should be aimed in only one direction–toward the work at hand. But your creator’s imagination is always boiling over with ideas and has a playful impulse to lead you astray. To keep out even the smallest distracting sounds, the wonderful and eccentric Marcel Proust who was so focused on writing that he never learned how to open a window or boil a kettle of water wrote in a cork-lined sound-proof bedroom. “If you’re silent for a long time, people just arrive in your mind” (novelist Alice Walker). But some creators concentrate best when it’s noisy:–a jack hammer under their window, a baby shrieking. Which do you prefer, silence or noise?

 

I’m planning to publish Part Two of “Total Concentration: The Heart and Soul of Creative Work” in a few weeks. I hope you’ll look at it. It answers an important question every creator asks: “It’s easy to be absorbed in the creative problem if it’s interesting–that’s not hard at all. But what if it’s not interesting? What if it’s boring? (Creative work is often tedious.) You still have to solve the problem.  What can you do?”

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

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

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

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

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Be a Quiet Hero

“When something rotten like this happens you have no choice. You start to be really alive, or you start to die. That’s all” (James Agee).

Miche Watkins 1

“Should I Stay or Should I Go” by Miche Watkins http://www.michewatkins.com/

Has there ever been a person in all of history who hasn’t suffered?  A thing always alternates with its opposite. On the one hand we fall in love. On the other hand at some time our hearts are broken. Maybe more than once. There’s a time to be born and a time to die, a time to be healthy and a time to be sick. A time to succeed, a time to fail. A time to win and a time to lose. Joy comes into your life, and then sorrow arrives, at times with what seems an unbearable weight.

Then we must remake ourselves as heroes. Most of us have neglected the necessity of heroism in our daily lives. We think of heroism as an attribute solely of soldiers, adventurers, mountaineers, first responders, and the like–people who perform great dramatic deeds. Heroes take dark and dangerous journeys. They transform themselves into something that matters and makes a difference by overcoming trials and ordeals.

We have our own journeys and trials, and our own deeds to perform, which, though small, still have a tinge of greatness about them. We can be heroes every day, even with regard to small things, and being heroic in small everyday things, we can prepare ourselves for being heroic when misfortunes and disappointments strike. We forget almost everyone else, but the quiet heroes we’ve known in our lives are the people we will never forget.

Recently I attended a wheelchair basketball game. The players in wheelchairs passed the ball, took shots, got back on defense, scored, and worked hard. And wheelchairs-79604_640they laughed and the spectators cheered for them. When they collided and their chair was knocked over they righted it and settled back into the game. They were disabled and would never walk again. But they loved playing basketball and refused to stop playing just because of their disability. They were heroes. They never gave in. Some limitations we will never be able to change. But we can still refuse to be stopped by them, can still overcome them. The path to our major life purposes and fulfillment almost never lies in a straight line.

Many experts and music lovers consider Beethoven the greatest composer. He became aware that he was losing what he called his “noblest faculty,” his hearing, at the age of twenty-eight. Eventually he was completely deaf. He wrote, “I have avoided almost all social gatherings because it is impossible for me to say to people: I am deaf.” His battle with himself in facing up to the loss of that sense that should have been more acute in a composer than in others, and conquering it by continuing to live and work in spite of it is to be heard in the power and grandeur of the music he wrote, but could not hear.

At times living in a world without sound he was driven to despair and thoughts of suicide. But his commitment to his music kept him alive: “I would have ended my life. It was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed to me beethoven-1296374_640impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was in me.” That was his greatest triumph. When with all his strength and courage he had been reduced to despair and his deafness had cut him off from other people and driven him to terrible loneliness, he reached a turning point. He accepted deafness as a necessary condition of his life, and continued working in a frenzy in spite of it. He didn’t surrender to his suffering, but found in it the power to endure. “I am resolved, “he wrote, “to rise superior to every obstacle…I will take fate by the throat; it shall not wholly overcome me. Oh, it is so beautiful to live.” And the music this hero of the arts produced while totally deaf and suffering was magnificent.

Often the difference between a person who overcomes great obstacles and one who doesn’t isn’t that one is more intelligent than the other, or more gifted, or physically stronger–those things don’t matter very much to the everyday hero. But the one who has a powerful inner strength that is like a burning flame that nothing will ever be able to extinguish.  Even the meek can become heroes. There are situations every day that the timid and downtrodden rise up to meet.

You pass heroes every day on the street without realizing it. You glance at them, but don’t really see them. Who knows what they’re going through right walking-69708_640then as you look at them or how brave they’re being? You’re in a meeting and someone stands up and firmly says what everyone present knows is true but lacks the gumption to say. There is a hero. Whenever you face up to what you would rather hide from or ignore, you’re a quiet, unheralded hero. Homemakers are heroes at times, and at times workers are heroes, and a little child who is afraid of going to school but goes anyway is a hero. To face the truth about ourselves, to own up to our imperfections, takes a quiet and unobtrusive heroism. To lead our lives in an ethical way we must be heroes.

There come certain critical moments in your life when you’re at a crossroad: to be courageous or to be cowardly.  The moment of courage is the moment you plunge straight ahead with dignity and strength in spite of fears, ordeals, and adversities. At that point you transform your ordeal into a new power. Courage is what we do about our fears.

There’s no more important word in your language and mine than courage. You need courage even to love. The English word “courage” is from the Latin cor and the French word coeur“ heart.”  Courage is a thing of the heart.  It means never surrendering, never giving in, never giving up whether you’re in a hospital bed, or facing a devastating problem, or are discouraged. Whenever misfortune knocks you down, you get up. Your mind tells you that after failing three or four times you’d better give up. But your heart tells you that you must get up one more time. You know you will because your heart tells you that you will. You are knocked down seven times, so of course you get up eight.  It’s easy to keep going when nothing stands in your way. But when nothing stands in your way the prize at the end is usually nothing much to speak of.

We have to achieve our destiny whatever our circumstances. We all know at least one person who despite failed health or despite other misfortunes left his/her mark more decisively than others suffering under virtually no hardships and in perfect health.  The chief characteristic of Beethoven’s attitude toward life, and of courageous people today, is the learning that some suffering can’t be avoided. And in the realization of the heroism of continuing bravely on and reaching their purposes in spite of every obstacle.

We should let go of fear and self-pity and maintain the confidence that most things will turn out well after all. No matter what, we have to do the best we can, never losing faith in ourselves and the belief that life is more on our side than against us. In this life as it really is and not as we wish it were, something must always be left to chance.

But we have to go on go on living as well as we can, have to function in any case. If we can’t plow our way through hardships, limitations, and setbacks, we tree-240802_640can find ways to go around them and reach our purposes by other routes. We should save ourselves the unnecessary pain that comes from wishing unchangeable things to be any different than they are. There are at least a dozen things you regret and bemoan you did in your life, and many things that have happened to you that you wish hadn’t. But you can’t change them now and you have to go on living fruitfully with zest nevertheless.

When you’re brave you grow in stature. You’re a remarkable human being. You’re someone to take note of. Someone to admire. All people who stand up to misfortune unflinchingly are heroes. The misfortune has come uninvited and is unwanted. We would rather not confront it. But there it is, large as life or larger than life, and if we’re everyday heroes we face up to it. Everyday heroism requires an indestructible faith that if you stay psychologically and spiritually strong and have determination and persistence that can’t be exhausted, you will come out whole on the other side of this misfortune, stronger than you were before misfortune struck.

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

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

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Overcome Your Inner Blocks

“How easy it is to obliterate and wipe away every thought which is troublesome or unsuitable, and immediately to be in complete tranquility” (Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius).

I’m best known for my book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life. In it I point out that the majority of our problems are not caused by anything outside us out there in the world as most people seem to believe, but by our own inner psychological blocks that it’s our lifelong job to overcome.

When painters are painting and writers are writing and actors acting—inventors inventing, sprinters sprinting–their mood almost always improves painting-1380016_640however poorly they were feeling before they started and whatever inner blocks they were facing. Why is that?  Because whatever they were thinking before, however dismal, however anxious or troubled, now they’re thinking, “At this moment I am doing what I love. I’m at my best.” And their mood brightens and blocks disappear from their mind. This example illustrates what happens to you and me many times every day.

  1. Something happens to you–a situation.
  2. You feel something about it–an emotion.

But something is missing. Something happens between the situation and the emotion. What is it? YOU THINK. You form an opinion of the situation.

So it really works like this:

  1. There’s a situation.
  2. You think, forming an opinion of the situation.
  3. You feel an emotion.

Emotions don’t just happen willy-nilly and they aren’t caused by situations. They’re caused by your reactions to situations, by your opinion of situations. One person jumps at the opportunity to write an important essay, enjoys writing, is very good at writing, and is thrilled about it. Another dreads it and is afraid she won’t do a good job. Objectively the situation– writing an essay– is the same for both. But their opinions are very different. And because they are, the emotions they feel are very different. One is confident and happy. But the other is up against an inner psychological block.  For him the situation is fraught with danger:

The situation: writing an important essay.

His opinion: “I’m afraid I’ll do a bad job.”

His opinion results in blocks: self-doubt and the fear of failing.

The transition from situation to emotion is a quick leap. It occurs instantaneously. There doesn’t seem to be any middle stage at all. But if you could replay your thoughts and slow them down, you’d find them interpreting the situation, resulting in an emotion. When Wally is cut off in traffic he gets very angry and pounds the steering wheel. But his wife sitting next to him doesn’t get mad at all. You look at her and it’s as if absolutely nothing has happened. They are both in the same car that has been cut off, but he thinks, “That bastard. Who does he think he is?” and she thinks, “He’s probably in a hurry to get home and see his family.” Wally’s mad and has lost his composure. His heart rate is soaring. His wife is settled and calm.

Almost invariably whenever the same thing happens again we think the same things about it. That’s how we create the same inner blocks again and again. We get stuck in emotional ruts because our thoughts are in a rut. We’re in the habit of interpreting the situation the same way, so much so that we think we have to feel that way when in reality we don’t.

The insight that emotions are not in what happens to us but in our opinions is the basis of cognitive psychology. But there’s nothing new about the idea. It appeared in the third century B.C. in the Buddhist Dhammapada: All you are is the result of what you’ve thought. And it was the cornerstone of Stoic philosophy of classical Greece of 2,500 years ago.

There were two great Stoic philosophers, Marcus Aurelius, an emperor, and Epictetus, a slave. Epictetus wrote, “Men are disturbed not by things that happen, but by their opinions of the things that happen.” In his Meditations Aurelius wrote, “It is in our power to refrain from any opinion about things and not to be disturbed in our souls; for things in themselves have no natural power to force our judgments;” and “Today I have got out of all trouble, or rather I have cast out all trouble, for it is not outside, but within, in my opinions,” and, “Consider that everything is opinion, and opinion is in your power.” Philosopher/ theologian Martin Buber wrote, “Whatever one thinks, therein one is, one’s soul is wholly and utterly in what one thinks.”

What you think is both a source of inner psychological blocks and a way of pensive-female-580611_640conquering them. We are sometimes victims and sometimes beneficiaries of our thoughts. They can be our jailers or our liberators. You have the ability to completely change the contents of your mind.

It’s one short step from “I feel what I think” to, “Since what I think determines how I feel, I can change how I feel by changing what I think.” When you consciously change what you think in order to change what you feel, you aren’t denying reality as it is–you’ve still been cut off in traffic, or you still have an essay to write. No, you simply reinterpret reality. You make the choice to evaluate it differently than you normally do so that you feel differently than you normally do.

The only way to drive out an undesirable thought is by substituting a powerful desirable thought. By thinking differently, you can replace self-doubt and discouragement with self-confidence, fear with courage, boredom with interest, pessimism with optimism. You’re able to rid yourself of the thoughts that are creating inner blocks and substitute opposite thoughts that conquer them.

You can manufacture emotions at will. If you want to see how easy it is to create an emotion like fear, some time when you’re not afraid repeat fear-producing thoughts–“What if something terrible happens to me,” “What if I die,” or “What if my book is rejected by the publisher” or “He seemed cold; maybe he’s stopped loving me,” or “What if I’m never able to solve this problem?” Now dispel them by thinking courage-producing thoughts: “There’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of. I can deal with this” and keep repeating such thoughts.

Create Your Happiness by What You Choose to Think

What is happiness but a state of mind?  It doesn’t lie in situations. Situations are evaluated differently by different people. Parties make some people happy, but other people hate them. Some people find happiness working hard at their goals. But others don’t. Surely happiness isn’t in things, not even in great achievements. We can be accomplished and famous, and rich, beautiful, and gifted—and very unhappy. Or we can go about our everyday lives not particularly famous, not rich, nor beautiful, nor especially gifted, and find happiness every day.

That happiness can be cultivated by deliberately controlling what we think strikes some people as incredible. But not only can it be done; it’s one of the girl-358770_640only ways it can be. When you think happily your senses sharpen. You see, smell, taste, and hear better. And your memory improves. When we think happily and optimistically we are happy. We’re at liberty to choose to think happily any time we want, and whatever is happening outside us, at times in spite of what’s happening outside us. That’s what happy people do

A Crucial Strategy

  1. List the three inner blocks that trouble you most.
  2. Write out your thoughts that create the blocks. People who are trying to create something original are often discouraged. For the discouragement block you might write down–“I’ve tried so many times, and every time I couldn’t make it and I feel miserable about it. I’d be better off if I just stopped trying. I’m giving up.”
  3. Choose how you would like to feel, such as happy instead of unhappy, bold rather than cowardly; absorbed instead of bored, confident and not shy, etc. Write it down in sentence form.
  4. Write out more useful thoughts you will choose to think to defeat the blocks and create emotions you want: “When I face a problem, instead of thinking, ‘I’ll never be able to solve this,’ I’ll think, ‘I’m not going to let it get the better of me. I’ll just find a way to solve the problem that I haven’t thought of before.” Discouraged? Think, “I’ve found that no matter what it is, there is hardly anything I cannot do if I apply myself.” Afraid of failing? Write, “There’s no way I can’t succeed.”
  5. Rehearse using the thoughts you’ve written until they’re second nature. Say to yourself, “Whenever I’m running up against X block I’ll think…” Then practice thinking it.
  6. When the block appears think what you’ve written and create the emotions you want. The block will appear. But you’ll be prepared. You’ll think what you’ve written out and rehearsed.
  7. Be consistent. Make certain you think in the way you want every time the inner block appears. Selecting what you will think in order to conquer your blocks is one of the easiest things in the world NOT to do.

runner-802912_640It takes discipline to train yourself to run a marathon. It takes discipline to paint expertly or write expertly or act expertly. It takes discipline to train yourself to think a new way. What you need if you are to conquer a deeply entrenched inner block is the repetition of new thoughts. Mastery of anything takes repetition upon repetition upon repetition. If you do something a hundred times you should be good at it. Do it a thousand times and you’ll be better.

Four Reminders

  1. Remember that you have to change your opinions if you are to overcome inner blocks. You can always change your mind; can always change your opinions. And doing that, can always change your life.
  2. Think differently. If you’re accustomed to thinking in a way that creates inner blocks, develop new opposite thought habits. Inner blocks originate in your mind. They’re caused by thinking incorrectly. To conquer a self-doubt block repeat the thought, “I can do this thing. I will do it. I can do this thing. I will do it, “and take action. There’s a stubborn block standing in your way. To defeat it think over and over, “The best way out is always through.” Adversity strikes. Instead of letting it stop you, change your opinion. Think, “It’s only a temporary setback. I can overcome it if I keep moving forward in spite of it. Be strong.”
  3. Clarify what you really mean. Instead of blaming yourself with, “I didn’t get the commission for the painting. I’m a failure,” think, “What I really mean is that I wish I’d gotten the commission. But in no way does that make me a failure.” You’re giving a speech. You stumble over your words. Instead of, “I’m a lousy speaker” and losing confidence, stop yourself and say, “No, I’m not saying I’m a bad speaker or that I could never be a great speaker. All I’m saying is I’m human and like any human might do, I made a mistake. Big deal.”
  4. Be a fish. When your mind drifts back to your old blocks-producing ways of thinking, be a fish. Swish your tail, flick your fins, and change directions.

fish-582695_640

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

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15 Ways to Overcome Fear of Failure

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

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

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Conquering Blocks to Achievement

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

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

Fear

Being afraid to take risks

Thinking too much

Doubting yourself

Hesitating

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

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

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

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

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

REMEDIES

Practice the Skill of Making Your Body Obey Your Mind

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

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

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

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

Be Bold

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

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

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

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

Be Committed To A Life With Purposes

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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Creative People Need Optimism

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

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

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

Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens

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

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

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

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

Optimism entails:

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

This is the route to optimism and personal power.

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

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

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

Seven Strategies for Maintaining Your Optimism

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

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

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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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

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The Moods of Artists and Writers

Moodiness is one of the characteristics of creative people. They prefer intuition and feeling; they experience high levels of excitability; they’re sensitive; they’re “inner directed,” and inside is where the moods are. They approach their work with an almost mystical intensity, and feel the pleasure and excitement that comes from meeting creative challenges. And the deep joy in producing a work that means a great deal to them. They have to learn to control and regulate their moods so they aren’t overwhelmed by them.

cloudy-211848_640Russian author Anton Chekhov observed that unhappy writers write happy stories and happy writers’ stories are unhappy. Was he right? He said, “The more fun I’m having, the more depressing my stories are.” A study of composers found that they did their most creative work when they were in the most pain and facing serious life difficulties like marital and legal problems. Gustave Flaubert told his girlfriend, “You should write more coldly. Everything should be done coldly, with poise.”

All his life, Gabriel Garcia Marquez experienced a mood that is so common among writers and artists—he was frightened at the moment he sat down to work. But fear or no fear, he won the Nobel Prize, so how debilitating could the fear have been? Writer Joan Didion speaks of dread: “I don’t want to go in there at all. It’s low dread every morning…I keep saying ‘in there’ as if it is some kind of chamber, a different atmosphere. It is, in a way. There’s almost a psychic wall. The air changes. I mean you don’t want to go through that door.” But exuberant Thomas Wolfe was fearless and found the act of writing a “wild ecstasy.”

A writer or artist in an optimistic mood with high positive expectations has the advantage of being able to generate rose-7634_640positive memories and large amounts of information. Good memories and that much information enable him/her to work creatively. A mood of boredom decreases artistic productivity. But a good mood improves a creator’ problem-finding and problem-solving abilities

It’s clear that regardless of the type of writing or painting you are doing, the act of doing it almost always improves your mood. Unless, that is, you’re working on a subject you feel no emotions about, neither positive nor negative. Then you don’t experience the uplifting emotional effects of working. The topic is bland; your mood is bland. But generally after writing or painting, sculpting, dancing, etc., creators’ moods are elevated. They may start their work in anger, for example, or depressed, but after finishing an hour’s work feel happier, more satisfied, more delighted, more joyful, and also calmer, less nervous, more relaxed and enthusiastic, serene, and peaceful. Positive mood or negative mood depends very much on how satisfied you feel with your performance. “Is the work going well or poorly?

Mood can have a profound and dangerous effect on creative people. They have a higher rate of mood disorders—a hall-212840_640fantastically higher rate—and poets, male or female, more than any other kind of creators. Poets—particularly female poets–have a high suicide rate. American poets Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath are prominent examples. Female poets are significantly more likely to sufferer from mental illness than other types of female writers. Poets have the highest rate of depression and greatest number of suicides of all occupations. Studies consistently find that 50%-80% of creative writers studied suffered from a mood disorder.  A very high percentage of the writers on the faculty of the famous Iowa Writer’s Workshop studied over a fifteen year period had bipolar or other serious mood disorders.

Another creator’s mood is envy. Envy has been called “the writer’s disease,” and I suppose it might just as well be called the painter’s, sculptor’s, actor’s, and ballerina’s disease too. Envy is based on a “scarcity mentality,” the anguish caused by the belief that there is not enough money, opportunities, fame, etc., to go around. Envy may create painful feelings of inadequacy as the writer or artist thinks so-and-so is better or more successful than they are. Although it can motivate window-407206_640you to do better than those you envy, it can also make you lose focus. But if you free yourself from comparison to others, or from any preoccupation with yourself—your fame, your wealth, your status–you’ll overcome envy and other impediments to your best work. Your focus will be on the work 100%, nothing left over for anything else. All your attention will be brought to bear on the thing to be written or painted.

Many would-be writers and artists wait for the “right” mood before they begin. My father was a machinist and often wasn’t in the mood to go in to work. But he never missed a day. I don’t see what’s so special about writers and artists that they can’t do the same. Whether you are a machinist or a creator of great works, there is no such thing as being perfectly ready to work; there is just work that should be done whether you feel in the mood or not. To Norman Mailer, that was the difference between professional writers and amateurs. He said, “By professionalism I mean the ability to work on a bad day.”

And remember that whatever mood you’re in when you begin working, when you quit for the day you’ll probably feel terrific.

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Writer and Artist Warriors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warrior symbol

“Warrior” by tiseb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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