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Creative Blocks from A to Z: Beliefs

Frustrated Artist Mimics a Wooden FigureEditor’s note: This article is the second in an A-Z series on issues related to creative blocks. This month the topic is beliefs.

How do our beliefs hold us back from creating?
Our beliefs are intertwined with our thinking, our emotions, and our actions. Rational emotive behavioral therapists (REBT) developed a treatment methodology based on the important role our beliefs play in the way we think, feel, and behave. The conclusions we draw about the world around us and the meaning we assign to everyday events can have a powerful effect on our choices and our behaviors.

When it comes to creative work, beliefs have a powerful impact on one’s motivation, creative process and final outcome. Beliefs are the silent statements we accept to be valid. In accepting them, we are slowly building the internal and environmental conditions we face when creating, producing, promoting, and so on. Beliefs can be divided into the following larger categories: beliefs about ourselves, beliefs about our creative work, and beliefs about the world around us.

Beliefs about Oneself
We all develop “inner truths” about ourselves as individuals and consequently as creative individuals. These beliefs may be rooted in early experiences, messages we received growing up, feedback we encounter, etc. Consider the following assertions:

  • “I’m not talented enough.”
  • “I’m always supposed to have great ideas.”
  • “What I have to say is not important.”
  • “I’m too sad to create.”
  • “I am only good at this type of music/dancing/art.”

At times, creative individuals experience a disconnect between their desire to create and the action of doing so. This can result from thinking patterns about their artistic identity which can, contrary to their intentions, sabotage their confidence and motivation.

Beliefs about One’s Creative Work
Whether they are new at a craft or have had ample time to build a portfolio and an “artistic style,” creators may have developed an inner narrative about what it is they do and what their work represents. This may sound something like:

  • “This is not innovative enough.”
  • “I’m not sure about what the creative process should be like.”
  • “My work needs to be pleasing.”
  • “I am not trained in ___; therefore, I shouldn’t try it.”
  • “It is pointless; whether I create or not makes no difference.”

It is not uncommon for artists/creative individuals to develop a belief system about their work, without questioning whether or not it is true or helpful. It’s important to take a step back and remove ourselves from the creative work itself. By doing so, we can identify what built-in beliefs we have created about what the outcome is “supposed” to be.

Beliefs about the World around Me
Depending on one’s background, culture, access to resources, environmental conditions, etc., the creative individual will develop a set of beliefs about the outside world. These beliefs can trigger creativity and motivation (think of an artist making a sociopolitical statement, or an inventor addressing the needs she faced growing up). At the same time, such beliefs often impose limitations. Here are some examples:

  • “It’s not safe for me to show my emotions through my creative work.”
  • “Nobody will care about my work.”
  • “My work is provocative — the world is not ready for it.”
  • “There is no market for what I am doing.”
  • “My work is not provocative enough — the world needs to be challenged.”

When artists find themselves holding damaging and counterproductive assumptions about their external environment, it is important that they both identify what those are and what sustains them, and develop new, healthier beliefs.

Due to the quick, automatic nature of such beliefs, it is not always easy to have a grip of the inner statements we hold to be true. Do not get discouraged if nothing comes up when you first begin to identify them. It takes time and exploration, often through the help of a counselor or a therapist specializing in these topics.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Olga Gonithellis, MA, MEd, LMHC, Creative Blocks Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • richie

    May 31st, 2013 at 11:25 PM

    True that our beliefs can be a limiting factor.some people say don’t listen to what others say,its their job to criticize.but what if the criticism comes form within?it can be even more dangerous as I would imagine.and for creative works this limitation or limitation of any kind can be very dangerous.we should aim to set our mind free not only from others’ thoughts and limitations but also from those that come from within us.

  • Martin

    June 1st, 2013 at 4:45 AM

    Depending on the events in our lives it can be difficult for many of us to believe that our work is good enough to be lauded and validated. I am one of those people and I have had support all of my life from a good family and yet that still has never kept me from beating myself up and wondering if I could do better than I do. It is all such a cycle that I have never been able to fully embrace my own creative processes as a ersult. I know that I am holding my own self back but it is difficult to know just how much trust I should place in myself and my own abilities, or should I just give over to the criticisms that I carry with me in my head?

  • Olga Gonithellis

    June 7th, 2013 at 3:17 PM

    Martin, thank you for the comment. You are right; inner criticisms can have a tremendous impact on motivation. This is why being continuously aware of them and being willing to challenge them is an important part of self-care and growth. At the same time, accepting limitations and allowing ourselves to make mistakes is also an integral part of the process.

  • blake

    June 1st, 2013 at 10:42 PM

    always thought of beliefs as positives…the negative ones-the ones that pull you back from doing or achieving something-they are not beliefs,they’re your foes…!youve got to defeat them if anything is going to move ahead!

  • Margo

    June 4th, 2013 at 4:41 PM

    Olga this is a blessing for me to read. I so deeply wish that I would have been taught to examine my beliefs during art school. Art school entrenched in me negative perceptions about myself and my work. Years later I’m still trying to recover from these beliefs. They only held me back. Reading this post was affirmation that I am on the right path now as an artist.

  • Olga Gonithellis

    June 7th, 2013 at 3:10 PM

    Thank you for the comment Margo. It is true that artists are not often encouraged to examine their beliefs. Thus, they may develop harmful thinking patterns. I’m glad this article resonated and helped!

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