Finding Flow: Overcoming Creative Resistance & Block

By request, our next Go Creative! workshop, on the 8th of October, will be about Finding Your Flow: Overcoming Resistance and Block.

If one part of you is giving another part of you a hard time (beating yourself up for being lazy, procrastinating, or ineffective, for example) creative expansion becomes impossible.

What dissolves resistance and self-sabotage is not pushing yourself harder, or mindless affirmations, but integrating all the different aspects of your creative energy. When that happens, you’ll spontaneously find your flow, and effortlessly move forward, with no part of you holding you back.

In the workshop, we’ll explore where you are meeting resistance and its root causes for you. I’ll introduce you to the finding flow process, as it relates to writing, publishing and money, and we’ll bring three participants through the process so you can see it in action. You’ll leave with a blueprint for the process that will allow you to use it yourself, whenever resistance strikes.

Friday October 8th, 5pm UK time. (That’s 9am PDT, Vancouver, 12 noon EDT New York, 6pm SAST Johannesburg, 9.30 pm IT, New Dehli and–sorry, Australian friends–2am in Sydney) Check this world clock to find your time but don’t worry if you can’t make it live, replays are always available to patrons. Click here to register (places permitting).

As the painter, Henri Matisse, said, and every creative who has ever produced anything, has found: “creativity takes courage.” When you’re stretching yourself, aiming to do something new and different, something no one’s ever made before, something that comes out of the core of who you are, that feels risky. And so part of us resists.

Whenever one part of us (e.g. a creative part that wants to write a manuscript, publish a book or create a business) takes a step forward, another (e.g a conflicted part that says “Who do you think you are?” “This won’t work” or “It’s too hard”) will put a brake on progress.

Everyone who ever makes anything worthwhile feels this creative friction. The attraction towards expansion and the attendant movement away, towards contraction. It’s not a simple, dual motion though.

Human consciousness is multi-faceted, so we can have several parts reacting against each other at any one time. Resistance is wily and has many faces.

Finding Flow: abcdeFgs

Resistance and block rise from a matrix of attitudes, beliefs, concepts, denials, expectations, fears and guilts (abcdeFgs for short). We all bring these abcdeFgs to any project we’re involved in. They are part of the creative process.

Examination and exploration reveal that all contractive abcdeFgs are forms of fear. For indie authors, fears run the gamut from anticipatory excitement, through debilitating anxiety, to all-out terror. As we sit to do our writing or publishing tasks, we risk time and money, and reputation, and we imagine the worst.

Creative block happens when the contractive energy of our abcdeFgs exceeds the expansive energy of our creative intentions.

Finding Flow: The Negativity Bias

It’s well established in psychology that human beings have a tendency to over-emphasize the negative and underplay the positive. Evolutionary psychologists have a genetic explanation of this “negativity bias.” Ancestral humans who were careless of overhead shadows, a rustle in the bushes, or a nearby slither, were more easily killed. The ones that survived longer passed on a genetic response to be more alert to danger.

“In evolution, there are two kinds of mistakes,” says Rick Hanson, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Center at UC Berkeley and author of Hardwiring Happiness.

One: you think there is a tiger in the bushes but there isn’t one; and two: you think the coast is clear, no tiger in the bushes, but there really is one about to pounce. These mistakes have very different consequences. The first one will make you anxious, but the second one will kill you.

That’s why Mother Nature wants you to make the first mistake a thousand times over in order to avoid making the second mistake even once. [So] your brain is continually looking for bad news. As soon as it finds some, it fixates on it with tunnel vision, fast-tracks it into memory storage, and then reactivates it at the least hint of anything even vaguely similar. But good news gets a kind of neural shrug: ‘uh, whatever’.

In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.

Going creative asks us to recognize this inherent negative bias and balance it with consciously positive input.

When in creative mode, we are making the decision—in the words of Susan Jeffers’s bestselling self-help manual—to feel the fear and do it anyway. One of the challenges we face, is that creative fear—and the various forms of abcdegs—rarely announce themselves, straight up.

We might say “I’m fearful,” to ourselves, or “What if I fail?” or we might note our sweaty palms or anxious abdomen and know fear has triggered these physical responses. Far more often, though, our abcdeFgs arrive in disguise. Perhaps looking like laziness, or anger, or denial, or presenting thoughts that sound eminently reasonable.

TRY THIS: Indie Author abcdeFgs

a: What is my attitude to self-publishing?

b: What core beliefs do I hold about my book(s), about myself, and about my ability to see it through?

c: How do I conceptualize the challenges, in my mind? What does my writing mean to me? What abstract notions do I hold about it?

d: What might I be denying? What might be there that I don’t know I don’t know?

e: What outcome am I expecting? What can I accept? What would be awful?

F: Am I afraid of failure? Of success? What about creativity itself, as a force? Any fear there?

g: Does wanting what I want make me feel guilty? Where does that come from? What is its effect in my life?

Finding Flow: Three Kinds of Creative Fear

The three particular fears that need to be understood by any indie author embarking on the business of succeeding as a publisher.

1. Fear of the creative process itself (aka fear of change)

2. Fear of failure

3. Fear of success

Finding Flow: Fear of Change

When I teach a Go Creative! Business Planning workshop, my first challenge is to get each member of the group comfortable enough—with me, with my teaching style, with the space we’re in, with the other people in the room—so that creative breakthrough can be facilitated. Sometimes there’s someone who just can’t go with the flow. They shuffle, squirm, and balk at, or refuse to do the tasks. They may verbally protest with statements like: “This is too stupid,” or “I really don’t have time for this kind of thing,” or “You need to grow up.” Often, they let their raised eyebrows or passive-aggressive slouching say what they think. On more than one occasion, I’ve had personal abuse hurled at me. And too at individuals in the class who’d been visibly enjoying the activities.

Of course, we all have different styles, and creativity is very personal but the anger is the giveaway. Where there’s anger, there’s fear.

What’s feared here is the change that creativity always requires. The person wants to change, otherwise they wouldn’t have signed up for the class. They also fear the change they long for.

CONSIDER THIS: Signs of Fear of Change

  • You find people who self-identify as creative (hipster types) irritating.
  • You don’t like talking about your creative work, you’re not that big-headed or entitled or delusional.
  • You keep busy-busy and don’t take time to go deep.
  • You’ve been working on books that haven’t gone anywhere for years.
  • Not everyone can do or be what they want, you say.

Going creative is about focusing on passion and process rather than wasting creative energy on doubt and distraction. It’s about honestly and openly wanting what you want, while actively enjoying the process of getting there.

Finding Flow: Fear of Failure

There’s no such thing as failure for the creative entrepreneur, but there is certainly the fear of failure. When we fear failure, we sabotage ourselves, in an attempt to mitigate how bad we might end up feeling should failure happen.

Fear of failure goes to the core of our egos, our identities, our self-esteem and our feelings of emotional wellbeing. It is protective, but its strategies don’t work. Giving in to it doesn’t have the desired effect, of helping us accept failure. It actually makes us feel worse about ourselves. And it makes us more fearful again, next time out.

CONSIDER THIS: Signs of Fear of Failure

  • You worry about what other people think about you if you don’t get it right: whether they’ll laugh, or be disappointed, or no longer be interested in you.
  • The thought of failing makes you over-analyze your skills, your ideas, your right to do what you want to do. How smart or capable are you, really?
  • You lower expectations in advance, telling people beforehand why you don’t expect to succeed.
  • When something goes wrong, you have trouble imagining what you could have done differently or how to correct course.
  • You get physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, or other ailments that prevent you from doing your work or preparing properly for an important event.
  • You get distracted by tasks that, in hindsight, were not urgent, though they seemed to be at the time.
  • You procrastinate until you “run out of time.”
  • You aim small.

Finding Flow: Fear of Success

If success isn’t coming to you then, subconsciously, there’s a part of you that is keeping success at bay. You may not fear failure, but success. A common concern is that success will separate you from others whom you love, friends or family or community who might be awed or alienated if you do what you’d like to do.

CONSIDER THIS: Signs of Fear of Success

  • You don’t complete your projects.
  • You talk about what you are going to do more than what you do or have done.
  • You aim too high; every goal’s a stretch goal.
  • You work hard on several projects at once, not focusing deeply enough on one.
  • Your work is never quite good enough for you.
  • You say you’ll get started on your real work once you’ve more qualifications/experience/contacts.
  • You have competing definitions of success.
  • You’re vague about goals and outcomes.
  • Whenever you’re on the verge of your definition of success, either you pull out, or things start to “go wrong.”

FINDING FLOW: Failure as Process

What happens when you start to turn a door knob that won’t budge? First, you turn it harder; then perhaps you pull up on the knob or push it down. Then maybe you wiggle it. Eventually, you shove the door with your shoulder, or kick it with your foot, or go a little crazy with an axe, like Jack in The Shining. What you try will be a combination of your history with doors and your creative inclinations.

When we are ‘unsuccessful’ in attempting to do something, it makes us frustrated but, most importantly for creativity, it generates a resurgence in us of any other behavior that ever worked in this situation before.

This is why “failure,” properly managed (from a place of safety), is our deepest wellspring of creative intelligence. And why a great way to accelerate your creative flow is to put yourself in difficult, even impossible, situations—real or imagined.

That’s what will give you the idea that blows the door wide open all by itself.

Nobody likes failure or being rejected, so they say. And at one level that is true. But in creative mode, failure and rejection can be accepted, even welcomed. We know failing is the only way to get from here (where we are now) to there (where we want to be).

For a creative publisher and a creative business starting from scratch, “no” is where you start, and “no” is what you’ll meet every day along the way. And that’s fine. By doing the work, you’ll find your way to deal with that.

That’s why the best way to accelerate your creative flow is to put yourself in difficult, even impossible, situations—real or imagined. Going through “no” is the way to “yes.” What’s in the way is the way.

What others view as failure or loss, the creative turns to gain. This is the old secret held by the Alchemists: how to turn dross into gold.

Finding Flow: Growth Mindset

Having observed thousands of self-publishing authors at work, I believe there is what psychologists now, after the work of Carol Dweck, refer to as a “growth mindset”  and that this mindset is core to success in our field. This mindset holds that we can all develop the abilities, skills, and resources we need to attain our goals. Emphasis on development.

In a recent update of her insightful and influential work, Dweck addresses the importance of working well, rather than working hard.

Effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve.

We also need to remember that effort is a means to an end to the goal of learning and improving. Too often nowadays, teachers praise students who are putting in the effort, but not learning, in order to make them feel good in the moment: “Great effort! You tried your best!” It’s good that the students tried, but it’s not good that they’re not learning…

Appreciate [the] work so far, but add: “Let’s talk about what you’ve tried, and what you can try next.”4

If you substitute the word “creative” or “author” for “student,” we get the exact mindset that we should bring to our work as indie authors. Opening to the possibility of growth and development is the most important skill we can develop as creative writers and publishers. Then we need to do the work that takes us there.

You don’t get a growth mindset “by proclamation,” says Dweck. “You move toward it by taking a journey.”

It’s natural to fear going public with our ideas. It makes us feel vulnerable, like walking down a city street stripped of our clothes and a layer of skin. But we do it. And once we do it often enough, what would be a momentous experience for somebody else—including younger you—becomes everyday.

What do we do then but push our boundaries further? Head off in a new direction that’s just as, or even more, scary. Take off another layer.

We fear exposure, yes, but we also desire it. We want to be naked to ourselves as well as to others. The urge to create is a move towards our own emotional and spiritual expansion, and the most courageous and expansive part of ourselves knows this and integrates the concerns and cares of our more fearful, conservative, emotional selves, so they become part of the growth.

Finding Flow: Integration Station

Integrating those concerns is the opposite to setting up an internal battle with yourself–being seen versus hiding away; revealing all versus revealing nothing. Neither is it about finding a middle ground. It’s about allowing your contractive impulses full voice (that’s one of the many functions of f-r-e-e-writing).

You don’t have strong thoughts and feelings–abcdeFs–for no reason. They are coming up for you because they need your attention. Overlaying them with positive thinking, or squashing them down, ignoring them, denying them creates internal pressure. This inner struggle leaches a huge amount of creative energy and eventually pressure builds to the point that whatever is being suppressed, ignored or denied rears up and out in a burst of emotion.

Overcoming resistance and block starts with understanding that different parts of you want the same outcome–for you to be creatively happy and fulfilled–but have opposing ideas about how to get there. Each abcdeFg you hold is working hard to protect you and keep you safe. If you are denying them, or if one part of you is giving another part of you a hard time (beating yourself up for being lazy, procrastinating, or ineffective, for example) expansion becomes impossible.

You cannot expand by suppressing a part of yourself, or cutting it away.

What dissolves resistance and self-sabotage is an internal conversation between different aspects of you, so they can understand each other, and integrate. Then you’ll spontaneously find flow and be able to move forward, with no part of you holding you back.

In our workshop Finding Flow: Overcoming Resistance & Block, we will tackle this topic from a variety of perspectives and take three participants through the Finding Flow Process. October 8th, 5pm UK time.

(That’s 9am PDT, Vancouver, 12 noon EDT New York, 6pm SAST Johannesburg, 9.30 pm IT, New Dehli and (sorry, Australian friends, 2am in Sydney) Check this world clock to find your time.)

Don’t worry if you can’t make it live; there will be a replay. Click here to register (places permitting).