The Creative Process and Goal Setting

As an art career consultant and an artist myself, I encounter goal setting issues daily.

Goal-setting in the creative process often includes resistance. In itself, resistance is normal and certainly not a character flaw. In fact, it’s is an inherent key in the cyclical rhythm of one’s creative process. In life, we all must move through varying degrees of resistance in order to take action.

Resistance is not trying to stop us, though it may at times feel that way. On the contrary, resistance plays a vital role in the creative process. It can lead us to re-evaluation, news tests of resolve, springboards to further study or clarification. Resistance is not supposed to feel exactly, good. The discomfort that accompanies resistance notifies our conscious minds that a needed change or shift in direction is due. Pushing ourselves against resistance causes us added stress.

The word “discipline” can present problems. Webster defines the word this way: a systematic method to obtain obedience; submission to authority; rules intended to train or correct. For artists and other creative professionals intimately involved with the creative process, discipline can be akin to taking a dose of caster oil.

Why does discipline so often fail us? Why does it bring on a tangle of inner conflict and stress and that hinders momentum and flow, or even stops our creativity in its tracks? I believe the answer involves fighting with, instead of listening to, resistance. In opposition to resistance, we compound tension and perfectionism. We get mired in expectations and all too focused on outcomes. When this happens, we miss the joy of creating in the moment. The discipline that was intended to bring mastery and success in our creative process, in fact, brings discontent and fatigue.

If we penetrate resistance more gently, we will discover the assistance it provides. If we act on those discoveries, it will move us forward. Moving into, and beyond, resistance re-opens the floodgates to the natural high often called “flow.” As all professionals know, however, the flow sensation may elude us for long stretches. As I remind my clients, it’s important to keep going, exercising the creative muscles, inch by inch, into, and beyond, temporary feelings. If we trust that our next discovery is stirring, we work through resistance more peacefully. Is we listen carefully to messages of resistance, we will benefit. The joy of creating will return. Trust the process, it will not let you down.

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Since the word “discipline” is highly charged in regards to the creative process, I prefer to use the word “willingness” to help describe a new approach. Willingness can be cultivated, with patience. It takes a little time, but the rewards are significant. In a state of willingness, our tensions loosen and our creative joy increases.

Here’s how it works:

We set a goal, and resistance sets in. When it does, we choose to call upon the “awareness mind.” This is the inner eye of the mind, the part that simply observes the resistance non-judgmentally, creating a soft “container” for it. Like a meditation in motion, the awareness mind accepts resistance with no struggle. Ironically, acceptance of the resistance will loosen and melt it. We push nothing away. We gently shift our focus back to the task at hand, while allowing the resistance to dissolve. We waste no time pushing it away, and we avoid a draining struggle. The tension is allowed to simply float off and dissolve on its own. We keep going, and we enter, gradually, a new phase of clarity.

As we practice this shifting process, we notice that discomfort floats off more often, and more easily. It no longer devolves into a pesky demon that gains control over our creative endeavors. Conflict, life stress and guilt begin to fade. Goal setting and completion take on a more natural rhythm in our creative process. Resistance is replaced by more calm, and more flow. We begin to recover lost glimmers of creative inspiration when we wake in the morning. We engage with our creativity moment by moment. We learn to define career “success” on our own terms. If we stay loyal to this practice, one day we will notice that the discipline associated with goal setting in our creative process has become…our willingness.

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*Essay by Barbara Bowen of GatewaysCoaching.com - the definitive source for artists and creative careers in transition. Contact Barbara to empower your creative process and for help with your career goals. She would love to hear from you.*