Creative Success Now: Overcome the Creativity Killers

It has been a busy summer for me! I finished up my book, Creative Success Now, which will be published in a few weeks.  I traveled, did some fun guest teaching and performed at my annual piano retreat in California,  pianoSonoma. It was here that I learned a valuable lesson in what to do when your creative pursuits butt heads with the creativity killers, those inner obstacles that threaten your creative success.

First, a word about pianoSonoma. PianoSonoma brings together adult amateur pianists like myself and young professional musicians for a week of collaboration and performance in beautiful Sonoma County, California. This was my ninth time attending the festival and my goal was to perform Brahms Trio Op. 8 for piano, cello and violin.   I will admit:  the piece was a bit of stretch for me and I could have used more practice time.  But I was determined to enjoy the experience and learn as much as I could.  All went well until the day before our final performance when the fear of performing swept over me and I was ready to quit.  And then it dawned on me:   I am in thrall to the 3 creativity killers:  fear, perfectionism and compare-and-despair.

Here’s the irony:  I teach creatives how to overcome the creativity killers!  In fact, my upcoming book devotes an entire chapter to that very subject.  So I went home and read chapter 8 for a refresher on how to adopt a better frame of mind and get ready for my performance.

What are the Creativity Killers?

Creativity killers are powerful thoughts that crop up to tell us that we simply do not have what it takes to succeed in our creative goal pursuits.  They tend to strike when the stakes are high and we want to do our best but worry that we can’t meet our expectations. Creativity killers sound like this:

“I am just not good enough to do this.”

“I will never do this perfectly and I am a failure.”

“Everyone else is better than I am.”

Sound familiar?

The important thing to remember is this:  creativity killers are just thoughts;  they are not the truth.   In other words, they are a perception of the truth and do not represent reality.  Moreover, if we succumb to believing that these thoughts are a reality, it affects our attitudes towards our ability to achieve.

So here is the good news: because the creativity killers are thoughts and not a reality, you have the power to change those thoughts.  Chapter 8 of Creative Success Now provides a host of strategies to help overcome those thoughts.  After reviewing the chapter, I was able to change my mindset and my attitude.   As a result, I Happily, my review of Chapter 8 helped to change my mindset and my attitude.   As a result, I was able to let go of my fears and my own perceptions of failure. and enjoy my performance.

6 Strategies to Overcome the Creativity Killers

Here are the 6 strategies that I used to probe my creativity killers and to overcome my fears.

1. Embrace the Growth Mindset

The creativity killers are manifestations of the fixed mindset, the belief that you have a limited amount of talent and intelligence. Thus, you perceive that if you make mistakes, it means you are not talented or smart and you feel like a failure.  This concept comes from the research of Dr. Carol Dweck, summarized in her book, Mindset.

The fixed mindset contrasts with the growth mindset, where you believe that your talent and intelligence are just the starting points of success and that success happens through hard work, experimentation, the willingness to learn from mistakes and persevering through your setbacks.  Dr. Dweck’s research shows that those with the growth mindset tend to succeed more than people who are in thrall to the fixed mindset.  You can learn to tame your creativity killer thoughts and adopt a growth mindset approach by following this 4-step process.

2. Aim to Get Better, Not Be Good

 A large part of my fear stemmed from my belief that I had to give a “perfect” performance and that if I made mistakes, I would be a failure. No wonder I was so scared!

What helped was to embrace the growth mindset by reframing my performance goal with a get better” goal:

Today, I want to get better at performing, as opposed to nailing my performance.

With get-better goals, you focus on developing your ability and learning new skills.  The other type of goal–“nailing” a performance– is a “be-good goal”, where you set out to prove that you have the ability to perform the task and that you already know what you are doing.  Researcher Heidi Grant Halvorson explains that get-better goals lead to better results.    According to her research, “be good” goals carry with them the need to be “perfect” from the outset.  The danger is that the pressure to “be good” often results in poor performance and mistakes. By contrast, “get better” goals enable you to focus on the experience itself, which takes the stress off of performing.  By giving yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from the experience, you are relieving yourself of anxiety, thereby increasing your motivation to succeed.  As a result, the chances of making mistakes are dramatically reduced.  And your yardstick is your prior performance, not someone else’s, so you are not competing with others and setting yourself up for more anxiety and failure.

I experienced a huge sigh of relief with my get-better goal and was ready to tackle the each individual creativity killer.

3. Narrow Down Your Fear

My fear thought was as follows:   I am terrified of making mistakes in my performance and of being a failure.

Two strategies helped me over this hump:  narrowing my fear and weighing the evidence as to whether I am a failure

Fear feels overwhelming!  But often, when you stop to zero in on what exactly you are afraid of, you realize that not everything is a disaster.  In my case, there were a few tricky passages that were stopping me dead in my tracks.  I examined each one and came up with practice strategies on how to deal with them. Thanks to all the great coaching and lessons that I had a pianoSonoma, I was well-equipped to make these changes.

           4. Weigh the evidence

Another helpful strategy is to weigh the evidence that says you are a failure.

First, I examined the evidence which showed that I am a failure:  I cannot play this piece perfectly.

Hmmm.  Isn’t the point was to play beautifully, as opposed to perfectly?

Next, I looked for evidence to show that I am not a failure:

  • I have learned so much this week from my fantastic teachers and chamber music partners.
  • We make beautiful music together even if I make some mistakes.
  • I work hard and I am determined to learn from my setbacks.

Phew!  That was a great reminder that I am capable of delivering a wonderful performance.

5. Address Perfectionism

It was now time to address the next big creativity killer:  perfectionism.

Like many creatives I know and have had the pleasure of teaching and coaching, I have a long history of perfectionism! In fact, my very first blog post is entitled:  Meet Astrid Baumgardner: My authentic self and perfectionism.

I had some work to do in order to overcome my belief that I needed to deliver a perfect performance. Weighing the evidence was a big help.

So was focusing on the big picture. My two amazing chamber music partners reminded me that we were here to show the beauty of Brahms’ music and that it was okay to skip notes!  So I embraced that attitude to allow myself the freedom to drop a few notes here and there and not worry about perfection.

Onto the last creativity killer:  compare-and-despair.

6. Overcome the Urge to Compare-And-Despair

Another thing I had to admit:  I was afraid of not being as good as my fellow pianoSonoma participants. I also worried that I would be letting down my teachers and fellow performers if I gave a “bad” performance.

But I realized that this was a ridiculous thought!

First of all, I was getting tripped up my own unrealistic, perfectionistic expectations. I reminded myself that the point was to share this exquisite music with my audience,.

Moreover, these people were my friends with whom I felt comfortable sharing my fears. And when I did, everyone with whom I spoke admitted to having similar thoughts!

Finally,  compare-and-despair is not helpful because we each have our unique strengths and talents.

Bottom Line:

These six strategies helped to turn around my mindset and approach the challenge of performing with a much better attitude.  It was a good reminder that when the creativity killers strike,  you have the power to overcome these thoughts with smart, strategies.

For more strategies, be sure to read Chapter 8 of Creative Success Now which will appear later this month!