Editor’s note: This article is the sixth in an A-Z series on issues related to creative blocks. This month we look at how fear of failure can affect creativity.
One of the most common factors associated with the disruption of creative flow is fear of failure. Many young entrepreneurs, artists, and creative professionals hesitate to move forward and to generate novel ideas due to the perception that the intended goal will not be met. This goal is sometimes clear and conscious, whereas other times it is subconscious and outside the level of immediate awareness. For example, an entrepreneur may know that the goal is to bring in 10 more clients every month, while a photographer may not be immediately aware of the underlying goal to prove her uniqueness by wanting to create something different every time she takes a picture.
Let us look at this topic more extensively by identifying different types of failures and by highlighting the importance of confronting underlying fears.
- Past failures: This section refers to dwelling on past failed attempts at the task at hand, and also to unrelated perceived failures which negatively affect the individual’s sense of resilience, of having “bounced back” and feeling motivated to move forward. For example, someone with a history of poor call-backs from acting auditions may be affected in their efforts to write a novel. In fact, personality traits associated with inability to move past adverse experiences and decreased ability to think creatively are often similar: ruminating, limited ability to make sense of life events, inflexible perception of the world. If a person has a direct experience with failure at the task at hand—for example, numerous attempts to find a solution to a problem—the person may begin to feel discouragement, hopelessness, and decreased motivation as he or she continues to attempt to solve the particular problem.
- Future failures: Believing that failure is inevitable can be detrimental to the creative process. This could be a result of setting unrealistic, or too many, goals, and feeling overwhelmed at the thought of attempting to reach them. Fear of future failures may be related to a generally anxious predisposition, where the individual is preoccupied with what could go wrong despite a lack of evidence supporting this assumption. A song composer asked to compose the score to an upcoming movie while also working on two other demanding projects will inevitably be flooded with doubts about the success of his work, hindering his creativity.
- Present failures: This has to do with observed limitations or difficulties at the time of creation. When a person is working toward a goal but realizes that he or she lacks training in a particular technique, the necessary time, financial resources, technical support, etc., he or she might “freeze” at the idea of anticipating failure. Similarly to future failures, this may have to do with setting unrealistic goals or, simply, with unexpected obstacles that arise in the moment of creation, such as equipment that fails to work. If handled improperly, present failures may hinder the creative individual’s motivation, creative flow, and ability to have innovative ideas.
If you believe that fear of failure or past failed attempts have negatively affected your motivation to create, it’s important to identify and express your emotions, work on setting realistic goals, and shift the focus from “success” to other goals (such as the intrinsic pleasure of creating, improving, etc.).
Next time, we will take a closer look at the concept of goals and their relationship to creative blocks.
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