Today you’ve decided to get an early start. You wake before the rest of the world, grab a cup of coffee, a quick bagel, and head to your studio/spare room to create.
You sit down in front of your easel, facing the stark emptiness of your blank canvas or paper. Your eyes unfocus for a moment, as you sip your coffee, waiting for the caffeine to kick in and inspiration to strike.
But nothing comes to mind.
You swivel over to your computer, noticing the flashing icon in the corner of your screen. You’ve got mail! Drawn like a magnet, you check your email. . . then, after sifting through streams of junk mail, you return to your blank slate, which is now rather intimidating.
The clock ticks a little louder as you notice an hour has already passed by.
After an unsatisfying attempt to sketch out a few compositions in your sketch pad, you justify getting up to throw a load of laundry in the wash. Multi-tasking, right?
Upon returning, you realize you can’t possibly continue without another cup of coffee and head back to the kitchen just one more time.
While filling your cup you are confronted with a stack of dishes, long overdue for a washing. Surely after the dishes are done, you will be more at ease and able to channel your creativity.
Only after the minutes turn into hours, and your “early start” has become a late one do you realize that you have succumbed to the easy seduction of distractions.
If this scenario sounds familiar, you are not alone. Many of us experience this form of procrastination daily. We rationalize that once these simple chores are completed, we will be free to create.
In reality, this is our own internal resistance to the act of producing something. Feelings of self-doubt, criticism, and negative beliefs produce an anxiety that cripples the creative process.
Such discomfort arises from our own demons. They emerge, snickering, to remind us how mediocre, how worthless our work is, Or worse, how “uncreative” we really are. It is for these reasons that we seek out diversions – to protect ourselves from these insecurities.
I often catch myself in this cycle when it comes time to paint.
I become anxious about final outcome before I even start, and have to force myself to let go and allow myself to create without expectation, without judgment, and without protection. I don’t always arrive at that place easily. Sometimes it takes hours before I am able to push through the discomfort and put brush to canvas.
I have learned that leaning into the flame, not away from it, is the best solution. If we allow ourselves to sit long enough with those uncomfortable feelings, and create anyway, we eventually discover that those feelings subside.
For anyone else out there faceing this same anxiety, or finding themselves searching for meaningless tasks to distract from their art, I propose using the 20-minute rule, commonly used in 12-step-programs.
When the craving to distract yourself appears, as you know it will, simply sit and wait for 20 minutes before taking any action.
The power of the craving, while initially intense, will become more tolerable to withstand. You will begin to gain conscious control of yourself, rather than instinctively seeking a diversion.
Learn to sit still, and work through that resistance to creativity. This means staying at the canvas, the drawing pad, or the computer, and creating nonetheless. Creativity will win over the feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt and criticism.
Before you know you it, you’ll have that productive day you were seeking.