November 10th of 2010, 440 passengers boarded Qantus flight 32 in Singapore headed to Sydney. Twenty minutes into the flight, one of the plane’s four engines exploded. Immediately multiple alarms went off in the cockpit of the airbus 380, one of the largest and most sophisticated flying machines ever manufactured. Pilots would solve one problem, only to have five new ones; each with its own alarm, arise one after the other. Miraculously, the pilots were able to return and safely land. What saved flight 32 from disaster was the pilots’ willingness to reframe their thinking, remaining focused when overwhelmed with all the plane’s alarms distracting their attention …all while in a nose dive.
These highly trained pilots knew if they continued to focus on what alarm was going off next, they would become so distracted they would crash. The captain, with his hands covering his face, asked his copilot, “what if this was not a 380, but a Cessna? We would not have all these alarms. Let’s fly this plane as though it was a Cessna.” And they did. They focused their attention on landing the plane, rather than focusing their attention on not crashing.
So what does this story have to do with artists or creative people?
While we are not in the same dire consequences as a plane in a nose dive, our metaphorical nose dive is our creative resistance.
What is that you ask?
You might be familiar with creative resistance – that is the time we spend putting off working on our painting, sculpture, or writing because we might be overwhelmed in knowing how to complete a project. Or we are fearful our creation will be criticized by others. We are focused on the alarms going off… that is the fear that our painting will not looking as we want it to, or our sculpture not be as perfect as it could be. When we focus our attention on the alarms, we limit our creative potential. We do not finish what we start. We crash.
Resistance is the opposite of creativity. Creativity is energy - constantly moving. Resistance is suspended energy - stagnant, not moving. Resistance is a safety mechanism designed to ensure survival. Its purpose allows us to make sense of our issue and work through the details or obstacles before we spend the energy. When resistance blocks creativity, it is not ensuring survival, but like the airplane alarm, distracting us from what is really needed.
There are many forms of creative resistance – we will focus on three of the big ones: Procrastination, Criticism and Self-doubt. Each of these serves as an alarm, calling our attention away from the creative process.
The alarm of Procrastination is easy to spot. For example: when you set a time to create and find yourself cleaning out the cat box – you can be sure the alarm of procrastination is ringing.
The Criticism alarm has different tones – the tone of others’ criticism and the tone of you criticizing another. Often well meaning others will volunteer what they see as weaknesses, flaws, or errors in your creative project without a request for assistance. (Like a friend who reminds you that you might have over committed to your art project.) This alarm can make us want to abandon not only the project, but the entire creative endeavor. And how easy it is to focus on another person’s creative flaws rather than to do our own work!
The Self-doubt alarm is even more shrill, but is often so continuous we don’t even recognize it is blaring. “I’m not good enough.” “I’ll never be able to make realistic shadows.” “I shouldn’t even try” are common ones.
What are some of the alarms that go off for you? You may have to pay close attention because you have heard them so often.
The antidote to the alarms of creative resistance is focus. Focus on landing the project. Keep focusing on what you want to accomplish. The alarms will still go off. You do not have to pay attention to them.