"If you deliberately plan to be less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you’ll be deeply unhappy for the rest of your life. You will be evading your own capacities, your own possibilities." - Abraham H. Maslow
Of course, people want to be the very best version of themselves. But they block. They get stuck in a job that makes them unhappy, a dead relationship, or a lifestyle that does not resemble who they really are. I think very often about what it is that blocks us and how we shift into self-actualisation.
As a coach and artist, I get to confront resistance very often.
I am trained to recognize my own excuses and I can also see through people's justifications. "Yes, I'd love to, but I have no discipline." "Yes, I want a change". "But no, actually I am very comfortable where I am". "Yes, I want a change but it can wait". "I want to do this". "Wait, no, I don't". "I have no time". "I have no money". "I am not good at ...(trying something I have never done before)". "It's too late". "It's selfish", "I won't be able to". "I will be rejected". Sometimes it all ends up in a yes/no spiral followed by well-thought excuses to avoid change.
Growth + fear = Resistance!
We are programmed to grow. As living creatures, our destiny is to constantly change. To "create" actually comes from Latin creātus "to bring into being, beget, give birth to, cause to grow." Our cells continuously die and reproduce themselves. We are bound to change whether we like it or not. At the same time, we are programmed for survival. Seeking safety is also embedded in our nature. These two forces of growth and preservation create tension. We all go through periods of creative impulse and resistance.
"We grow forward when the delights of growth and anxieties of safety are greater than the anxieties of growth and the delights of safety." - Abraham H. Maslow
Masters in "excusology"
Artists experience strong, intense resistance in the form of self-sabotage, fear of other people's judgement, guilt and shame. With the years, I've learnt to recognise what resistance feels like for me. Thoughts like "I'm no good enough", "I should do things the way people expect", "Nobody will like it", or "Who am I to do or say this?" can cross my mind when I am in a creative block mood.
When I work as a coach, I can also tell when someone is not ready to engage in a transformation process: people become "excuse producing machines".
We are great at arguing suitable stories that feel deeply untrue but
are very convenient to preserve the status quo.
The thing is, change involves some destruction. To create something new, certain things need to go, elements get combined in new ways, old structures have to make space for new ones. Habits have to change, new disciplines and practices have to be adopted. Change involves effort, it may feel like a cost or an investment, it may be hard or smooth. But at a minimum, it requires a shift, some form of alteration of what we usually do. And when we alter what we do we also alter who we are. This may feel scary.
Sometimes resistance to change comes with the fear of realising a loss. It is hard to admit that we have invested years into something that no longer serves us. This is called the "sunk costs bias". Because we do not want to acknowledge we are on a dead end, we keep investing in a losing proposition because of what it’s already cost us. Deep down we know it will not get better, but it's too difficult to let go, so we keep hoping things will improve and continue throwing energy down the black hole. Even if we feel we are in a dead end, we may go on digging or get stuck down there.
Often creative blocks, work paralysis or personal stagnation can also be traced back to traumatic experiences. Traumatic experiences can shape our beliefs about who we are, how we see others and the world. In turn, those beliefs shape our relationships, influence our families, spread to our communities, and stretch across societies.
We create strategies and styles based on our previous experiences. These experiences determine how we connect to ourselves and others. It would be easier to give a list of do's and don'ts and find the perfect recipe for motivation, but humans are not simple. We each come with hardwired temperaments and a variety of motivation systems and personal circumstances.
It helps perhaps to describe how we operate when we are functioning well, in harmony: we are more confident, able to connect to our desires and express our needs, and more discerning when it comes to relationships.
When we have suffered a traumatic experience - and by this I mean not only a serious or violent accident but those events that we have perceived as shocking or scary, we may become very anxious. Our initial response may be to fight or flight. Generally, we do not flight unless the threat is really imminent because flighting takes a lot of courage and an urgent use of energy. So we stay doing what we do, in the same jobs, relationships and patterns. If our relationship to the world becomes anxious, our initial response may be to become irritable and insecure. We fear abandonment. This may make us cling to a job or a relationship we don't like, and even stick to bad habits (drinking, smoking, etc.), especially when we associate these behaviours with feeling more relaxed or secure.
And this is when "freeze" becomes the default. We are unable to fight or flight. We tend to hide in order to minimize attention and potential judgment, and we may be less active in the pursuit of our goals. Precisely because of fear of rejection, we may avoid asking for help. We stop growing.
Trapped in the "freeze" mindset
This "freeze" state often plays out in hesitation, lack of engagement or enthusiasm, low motivation. We avoid what may put us in a situation of confrontation with our own fears. When I am in this state, I find excuses not to paint or to avoid doing what I know is necessary to change what's bothering me the most.
For example, when people who feel trapped in their jobs get into this state they get hyper-discerning and may spend years "looking" for the perfect job without making a single phone call or sending an application.
We may tend to become isolated, even lie to cover up our need to be alone. In fact, the need is something else, but exposing it is too painful or dangerous. It is easier to retrieve. Or to blame others: the boss, the market, the partner, an unsupportive friend, the parents... Asking for real help seems weak.
If babies can...
It takes a lot of courage to acknowledge our needs. Yet, it is something we are naturally wired to do. Babies don't ruminate a lot about their needs, they feel and express them. What a relief to simply be able to say: "I am feeling resistance". It's normal. It's painful. But it is not mortal. In fact, it's human and natural to have ups and downs.
Once we acknowledge Resistance and take
a decision to Move On, it starts to lose its spell.
And so we can start to shift the inner dialogue towards a more friendly and caring tone. "You are experiencing a creative block. Is it necessary to criticise yourself so nastily? How could you learn or do something useful to recover a sense of power?".
The simplest way to get unstuck is to take a tiny baby step. Do something. As Goethe said: "Whether you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.".
Anxiety transforms into action when we can find a way to express it. Start safe: write your wishes down. Then create a system for doing small things every day: draw a simple sketch, dare to make a phone call, revive your CV, call a friend, enrol in a class, join a group. Paint something on your empty canvas!
“For the great doesn’t happen through impulse alone, and is a succession of little things that are brought together.” – Vincent van Gogh
Gradually you can learn to trust the self and others.
You can recover your creative spirit and start to feel a sense of possibility.
If it feels too overwhelming, you do not have to do it alone. Surround yourself by supportive people. Hire a coach, a teacher or a professional that can accompany and encourage you at whatever it is that you secretly crave but fear to do. This first step takes a lot of courage because you have to make yourself vulnerable and expose your limitations. Once you have passed this barrier you are on the other side. You have already decided to "Move On". You no longer want to stay in the Resistance Zone. You are painting your life. You are growing.
Creativity is not something you use only on the drawing table. It's what you make of your life. I can help you reinvent your personal story in a way that reflects your true identity. Imagine your best self, and then act upon your imagination to live a brilliant life! If you need a supportive coach on this journey, http://mirnahidalgo.strikingly.com/#connect-with-me
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