Editor’s note: This article is the seventh in an A-Z series on issues related to creative blocks. This month we look at how goal setting can affect creativity.
“I’m not where I should be in my career”: This statement is something I often hear in my work with artists, performers, and creative individuals. How can we set goals which propel us further yet are consistent with our current needs, abilities, and circumstances?
This is something with which many individuals struggle. Too many goals, or goals that are currently unattainable, can be overwhelming and lead to failed attempts. Such failed attempts, if internalized negatively, can be discouraging. On the other hand, many creative individuals face a feeling of being blocked when it comes to setting goals. They may avoid the process of goal setting, they may have conflicted feelings about what they are trying to achieve, or they may feel distracted by life events and demanding schedules. Yet, without goal setting, many artists, entrepreneurs, writers, etc., become stagnant, unproductive, and feel as if they are not where they “should be” in their careers.
- It’s OK to redefine the goal: It is important to keep in mind that just because a particular goal does not seem to work out, this does not mean it cannot be replaced with another one. In fact, I have often seen people begin to feel more motivated once they have readjusted and redefined their perception of what they are trying to achieve. The goal might shift from writing a book to writing a chapter, from “nailing the song” to trying new vocal technique, or from painting a beautiful picture to enjoying the creative process.
- Be aware of burnout signs: No matter how pressing the deadline is, you are not closer to achieving your goal if you are running on little sleep, mental and physical exhaustion, and poor diet. In fact, it may be more frustrating to feel like time is spent unproductively, with disappointing results and little energy to move toward the next goal.
- Balance between the big picture and little picture: Successful goal setting requires a constant back-and-forth between reflecting on the larger vision and dealing with day-to-day decision-making. People often spend too much time on the long term-goal—say, “I want to live off my art,” or, “I will finish this album in the next year.” This can be a highly motivating process, but the excitement of planning can quickly turn into discouragement if there is no clear process on how to get there. On the other hand, too much focus on day-to-day with no connection to a larger goal can lead to feelings of futility, a Sisyphean process leading nowhere. Checking in with both elements of goal setting is important.
- Acknowledge limitations and celebrate strengths: Someone with a full-time job, who recently picked up some extra hours on the weekends, is most likely going to face scheduling conflicts standing in the way of the timely completion of a new time-consuming project. Acknowledging and accepting limitations is a helpful step in anticipating their presence. At the same time, keeping track of the unique strengths one has—access to resources, supportive family, experience in marketing, etc.—can be an empowering process.
The absence of goals or the presence of high demands or too many goals can lead to a feeling of being blocked creatively. This is why paying attention to the goal-setting process and practicing a set of simple skills can make a big difference, taking us a step closer to achieving our vision.
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