Why is it that fear and doubt go hand in hand with creative activities?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could just get on and paint or write or act without being nervous about it, without worrying what people think, without self-sabotage?

In the War of Art, Steven Pressfield calls these doubts resistance:

Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic?  Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice?  Have you ever bailed out on a call to embark upon a spiritual practice, dedicate yourself to a humanitarian calling, commit your life to the service of others?  Have you ever wanted to be a mother, a doctor, an advocate for the weak and helpless; to run for office, crusade for the planet, campaign for world peace, or to preserve the environment?  Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be?  Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture?  Then you know what Resistance is.

Resistance seems to go hand in hand with any endeavour that is close to your heart. Creative teachers such as Steven Pressfield or Elizabeth Gilbert will tell you that fear is inherent in our lives. I have often whined to myself – but why? Why is there fear? Why is it assumed? Why do I have to go through this?

Yep – imagine a child having a tantrum, stamping their foot and saying “But whhhyyyyy?”

I wrote this blog as an answer to myself as to this question. I hope it answers the question for you too.

Self-improvement takes effort

If you have a goal to lose weight or get physically fitter then you have to overcome obstacles to do this. You have to go to the gym whether you feel like it or not and you have to resist the birthday cake that one of your colleagues brought into work.

It takes constant effort and discipline to resist the temptation to do something else, or do nothing.

But it takes no effort to get fat on your sofa watching too much television!

Creativity is the same. It takes effort to get out of bed earlier and write. It takes effort to practice the piano for an hour a day. You might have to resist a last minute decision by your colleagues to go to the pub after work because you have earmarked the evening for painting.

You feel better once you have done these things and you are proud of yourself.

From this we can deduce that doing something positive for yourself (and possibly for the world at large) requires you to overcome some negative forces.

The inner resistance is harder

In the examples above we talked about external temptations. However the most powerful resistance comes from inside you.

You have an ego that doesn’t like to be wounded. You start worrying long before the next painting is finished as to whether people will like it, whether you are good enough, whether you’ll ever make money as an artist, whether you are revealing too much about the weird things in your imagination, whether you will screw it up, what your boss will think, what your spouse will think, will your mother disapprove. Yada yada yada!

All of this is going on as you are trying to create. It might be the first thing you think about when you awake and decide whether or not to get up early and write. These thoughts will plague you when you stand in front of a canvas with a few sketch lines on it that haven’t turned out the way you wanted.

You can either give into those doubts, or you can coax yourself to continue.

The battle to overcome the distractions makes your art great

Embarking on your creative project requires action against a constant barrage of external and internal distractions. Some of these distractions are trivial, some are crippling and some will cause you to seriously doubt your sanity.

In a story the strength of the baddie is what makes the hero stronger. They usually have to be stronger than they ever imagined they could be. This makes a great story.

When you battle on through your negativity you reveal a greater side of yourself. You reveal strengths you didn’t know you had. You plumb into deep emotions, some of which are not easy to navigate.

All of this goes into your art. It gives you a feeling that you are really hitting something or tuning into something amazing. It affects you. It drives you. There is an urge that is bigger and stronger than the negativity. But you have to work to do this.

This new depth of emotion and strength that you reveal comes from the core of your humanity. It is infectious. It has the power to change your life and someone else’s. We all have a favourite song which really touches us, or we have read a book that stays in our mind long after we have read the last sentence or we watch a film and learn something life changing that we have never thought about before.

Without the fear, doubt, distractions and temptations you wouldn’t have to fight so hard to create. You wouldn’t reveal these hidden layers of strength and truth from within yourself. And your art wouldn’t be as good. It wouldn’t affect you or anybody else.

Negativity always exists

There are always negative forces around great positive forces. That’s why Jesus was crucified, Martin Luther King was assassinated and Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in jail.

There is always someone, or something, that wants to stop the good stuff happening because they are driven by other factors (usually greed, anger and ignorance.)

Fear and creativity are two sides of the same coin. One doesn’t exist without the other. But the fight to win through the fear results in great creativity.

Jon Acuff has published 6 best-selling personal development books and yet I read on one of his recent social media posts that as he writes the next one, he still battles anxiety and doubt as to whether it will be any good and whether he can pull it off.

Actors like Laurence Olivier and Benedict Cumberbatch still throw up before they walk on stage. It doesn’t go away even though they are successful, experienced actors.

Somewhere along the line they learn that it is part of their process and accept that it happens.

So must you.

Fear and doubt is part of the creative process

Embrace it but create anyway. Know that when you overcome all the factors that could stop you creating, you create life-changing work.

You need the negative force to make your positive force the very best it can be.

Now I’d like to hear from you

How does your fear manifest? How do you get past it and create anyway?

Next steps

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Every month I also share the ups and downs of my own creative journey – but only email subscribers get that insider view. Sign up now.