Creative Blocks from A to Z: Goals

frustrated songwriter on keyboardsEditor’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.

Some considerations:

  • 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.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Olga Gonithellis, MA, MEd, LMHC, therapist in New York City, New York

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.

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  • bbm

    bbm

    January 8th, 2014 at 12:41 PM

    Great timing w/ the new year on this article we’re all making our goals!

  • Angie

    Angie

    January 8th, 2014 at 2:07 PM

    The big thing that I have ALWAYS struggled with is not wanting to change the goal. I have set it and then always wanted to meet that one particular thing, not realizing that there are a million different ways to reach it if only I could tweak it just a little. Once you make those small changes you might be amazed at just how successful you can actually become, with very little extra effort at all. What once felt like it was such an obstacle, might now feel like a piece of cake!

  • Janna

    Janna

    January 9th, 2014 at 3:49 AM

    How do I do that? Figure out goals that will actually move me forward instead of always feel like they are holding me back?

  • anita c

    anita c

    January 9th, 2014 at 2:15 PM

    too many of us are always so busy looking at what our downfalls are that we rarely take the time to look at the things that we actually do well- if we took a little more time to celebrate those things instead of beating ourselves up constantly then perhaps we could see a little more success and good things coming our way

  • Glinda

    Glinda

    January 10th, 2014 at 4:03 AM

    Burnout is always a pretty risky business, but you have to take that chance if you want to ever acieve anything, right?
    I don’t think that if something is actually very important to you then you are going to feel all that burned out trying to accomplish it, you are just going to feel even more rewarded when you finish things up and move on to the next project!

  • Marcella

    Marcella

    January 11th, 2014 at 8:06 AM

    I am afraid if I walk away from the job then I will never go back to it, even if I feel kind of burned out! How do I ensure that this wouldn’t happen?

  • Olga

    Olga

    January 12th, 2014 at 9:12 PM

    Thank you to everyone for the comments. Your question Marcella is a great one. I would recommend thinking of it more like gaining a new perspective rather than walking away from the job. By bringing the focus down from 100% to, say, 70%, one can still be inactively working on an idea while allowing their mind and body to rest, get stimulated in different ways and even come up with new ways to approach the job.

  • katie w

    katie w

    January 13th, 2014 at 3:46 AM

    Maybe the more creative people in the world aren’t meant for lists and goals and should instead try to remain a little more fluid. The whole concept of setting goals etc all feels a little too rigid for the style of life that I choose to live.

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