A few days ago I provided a meeting for our graduate students. It was based upon the idea that graduation can be a special kind of obstacle for students. The challenge of graduation is often not graduation itself, but the story we tell ourselves about what graduation means. I had designed a meeting that involved visualizing ideas and writing exercises to help them understand obstructive thoughts, and provide support.
Start with Values
We began the meeting by visualizing a carefree moment of our past en describing our strongest values. I asked questions like; what is important to you, with whom do you feel related, how do you want to be perceived and who are you? My aim was that students could detach themselves for a moment from the anxieties of graduation and focus on how graduation is aligned with their larger goals in life.
Next, I introduced the concept of Resistance as described by Steven Pressfield in ‘The War of Art’ (2002). He describes that anyone who challenges themselves for something creative will encounter Resistance. Steven uses the metaphor of shadow: “Every sun casts a shadow and genius’s shadow is Resistance”. The more important our creation the more intense we can experience Resistance. And you can expect Resistance to be most powerful towards to completion of your project. Resistance is what defeats us when we give up in a creative project. In the words of Ryan Holiday: “When you challenge yourself for something that matters: expect fear and anxieties to come along for the ride”.
Famous choreographer Twyla Tharp states that creativity is not a gift from the gods. It requires s creatives to face their fears. In her book: The Creative Habit, she states fears that I believe many can recognize.
- I will have nothing to say
- People will laugh at me: I will be discovered as a fraud
- Someone has done this before
- I will upset/disappoint someone I love
- Once executed it will never be as good as it is in my mind
- I’m not ready yet for this level
Have a Strategy
Fears can be powerful emotions. Twyla Tharp says: “There is nothing wrong with fear; as long as it does not stop you”. We often encounter fear when we are faced with something unfamiliar. How we are able to cope with fear is based on culture, upbringing, and DNA. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on changing the automatic negative thoughts that can contribute to and worsen emotional difficulties, and anxiety. One of the strategies of CBT to overcome obstructive thoughts (distorted thinking) is to identify the thoughts and describe a more reasonable counter thought. For example:
- Obstructive Thought – I must graduate with the best work ever
- Flaw – I can never define how one of my works can be considered the best-ever
- Reasonable Counter thought – If I work, instead of worry: at least I can create something
Create Your Bubble
Graduation is for many students a ‘bubble-experience”. It has moments of solitude; where it’s just you and your work. Ryan Holiday writes: “You eliminate distraction and give up pleasure, place yourself in single-minded isolation for the idea of a future award”. Although you are alone in your bubble, you don’t have to be lonely. I urged students to reflect upon concepts of self-appreciation and self-motivation. As humans we only start challenging ordeals when we feel safe and confident enough. Holiday: “We are soft entitled, and scared of conflict-creatures”. Twyla Tharp recommends rituals, and daily routines. “Rituals erase the question of wether or not I like it. It’s also a friendly reminder that I am doing the right thing.”
Decide and Conquer
In your bubble and with your routines and rituals you will have to decide each day what your priorities are. Time and resources are limited and require you to make important choices. The Eisenhower Matrix can help an effective tool in your decision making proces:
- Urgent and Important – You have to do this: do this now
- Not Urgent and Important – It has meaning to you, but it can be postponed: do this later
- Urgent and not important – something is needed, but it does not serve you: why do it?
- Not Urgent and not important – your quilty pleasure; only do it to reward yourself
Be the Great Pretender
I concluded our meeting with some final tips. Whenever we encounter challenges that we cannot evade; pretend.
- Pretend: the deadline is tomorrow: what would you present?
- Pretend: it’s not your project, you’re doing it for someone else – what should they do?
- Try to explain your project to a 10-year old – make it understandable
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield (2002)
The Creative Habbit, Learn and Use it For life, Twyla Tharp (2003)
The Obstacle is The Way, Ryan Holiday (2014)