“You have to find something that you love enough to be able to take risks, jump over the hurdles and break through the brick walls that are always going to be placed in front of you. If you don’t have that kind of feeling for what it is you’re doing, you’ll stop at the first giant hurdle.” – George Lucas
Pursuing what you love requires courage, especially when it is a career in the arts. As any artist will tell you, this type of work is unconventional, and challenging.
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For instance, since artists typically don’t have to clock in at 9 am, and may work during the midnight or early morning hours, he or she must be self-motivating. The artist must also learn to manage anxiety around sporadic income, and will constantly face evaluation and criticism of their work.
Artists must persevere, even when they are plagued by periods of creative block, self-doubt or fear of failure. Creative individuals may also lack support from friends and family who believe their work is more a hobby then a “real job.”
But perhaps the most common problem that I see among artists is simply an overabundance of negative perceptions. More properly classified as “Negative Self-talk” or “Cognitive Distortions” these negative perceptions lead to constant self criticizing and self-defeating thoughts.
Here are the most common types:
With all-or-nothing thinking, you’re interpreting things through a black and white lens. In other words, it’s either success or failure—nothing in between.
For instance, if your artwork falls short of being accepted, you might automatically think that you’re a failure and will never succeed in your career. Another all-or-nothing thought that plagues artists is the idea that their artwork has to be absolutely perfect or else it’s unworthy to show anyone.
Overgeneralization happens when you experience a single negative event and use that to assess your entire career. For example, you might experience a dry month of little or no creative inspiration and make the assumption that you have lost all your creativity and never be able to create again.
With that thought at the forefront of your mind, it makes no sense to pursue your dreams, and you’re likely to conclude it was a bad idea from the very beginning.
Discounting the Positive
When you ignore or overlook your successes, you’re discounting the very things that should give you encouragement in your life.
Here’s one example of discounting the positives: if after getting a great review on your exhibit, you say something like, “Yeah, but that really wasn’t my best work. And besides, the critic doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
Don’t beat yourself up by telling yourself what you “should” or “shouldn’t do” hoping that it will motivate you.
Instead, should statements tend to result in feeling guilty or self-defeating. For example, when you say, “I should have more completed artwork by now, I ought to spend more hours painting,” after having already spent 40 hours that week, you’re just beating yourself up for no reason.
Personalization is when you take a negative external event and believe you are some how the cause of it.
For instance, if a gallery decides to cancel an exhibit of various artists, you might believe it was solely because the pieces “you” submitted were so bad they decided to cancel it entirely.
All of these types of negative self-talk can be damaging to one’s motivation, self-esteem, and the ability to overcome obstacles. However, there are ways to counteract such cycles of negative thinking.
The first step is becoming aware of the negative dialog cycling over and over in your head. Once you’re aware, you can catch it when it’s happening so it is no longer operating on a habitual unconscious level.
Just knowing about it allows you the opportunity to choose an alternate statement to replace the negative thought. For example, instead of “No gallery will accept any of my artwork therefore, I will never succeed as an artist,” you can replace it with, “My art is good enough to be accepted, it’s just takes finding that right situation.”
A quick and easy exercise for overcoming negative thoughts is to create two columns on a piece of paper.
The first column should consist of all the negative statements you tell yourself on a regular basis. The second column is the alternative statement that replaces each negative one. List as many as you can. (It’s important to flush them out in order to catch even the ones you are entirely unconscious of.)
Once your list is complete, practice replacing old thoughts with healthier ones. Eventually this will become second nature, creating a much more positive outlook about yourself as an artist, and about your work.