Creative Blocks from A to Z: Failure

woman taking photoEditor’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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

© Copyright 2013 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 Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • kate w

    November 14th, 2013 at 12:24 PM

    I think that we have all been in this place before, where we are terrified of trying to move forward because ultimately we don’t know if that is going to lead us to success or failure again.

    But I have to look at things this way- if we are afraid to even take a chance isn’t that already failure by itself? I totally think that if you have this fear that nothing is going to work then you are always going to perpetually be stuck in the same old, same old.

    That’s not living life to the fullest, that’s not really being all that you can be. That’sbeing complacent, and to me, that could be seen as the ultimate definition of failing.

  • pat

    November 15th, 2013 at 3:51 AM

    I don’t know that for many creative folks if it is actually the fear of failing, but I think that for many it is this fear that their work isn’t going to touch someone in a meaningful way.
    Whether or not in essence this is a fear of failing, I am not sure. What I do know is that people like this want their work to be seen as meaningful and they want it to make a difference in someon’e life. If they don’t have this then I think that this is where many of them get bogged down and literally get down on themselves.
    I realize that to be a success you can’t think like this, you have to be willing to put it all out there and go with it, being certain that your creativity will touch someone. But I can also understand how this could make you feel so vulnerable, and how this can be harmful to your psyche and the entire creative process.

  • lulu

    November 16th, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    So I see that even failing at one thing and then trying something new isn’t always the answer because all of those past failures acn come back and haunt you in your new pursuits too. UGH!

  • JT

    November 23rd, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    It all boils down to just how much do you believe in your self and your own abilities. If there is doubt there then of course failure is going to stir that pot even more, amke it worse than it already was. However if you believe in yourself and your abilities then you are going to see that this is but one setback and will not hold you back for all time.

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