The Creative Process and Goal Setting

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

When it comes to goal setting in the creative process, 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 deeply involved with the creative process, discipline can be akin to taking a dose of caster oil. Pushing ourselves into action, we “force it down” in the attempt to fuel our creativity and reach our goals. But this approach is problematic.

Discipline is born of resistance. In itself, resistance is normal and certainly not a character flaw. In fact, it’s is an inherent link in the cyclical chain 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 special role in the creative process. It can lead us to re-evaluation, provide a test of resolve, and be a springboard to further study or clarification. Resistance is not supposed to feel good. The feelings that accompany it help to alert our conscious minds of a needed change or shift in direction or approach.

While working through resistance, we make discoveries that, if acted upon, will move us forward. Moving into and beyond the resistance may re-open the floodgates to the natural high often called “flow.” As all true professionals know, however, the flow sensation may elude us for long stretches. As I teach my clients, we have to keep going anyway, no matter how we feel. Eventually, when we hear the message of resistance accurately, we will benefit. The joy of creating will return. Trust the process, it will not let you down.

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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 is that discipline is often applied in opposition to resistance. When we oppose our resistance, we compound tension and perfectionism. We get mired in expectations and 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.

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 great indeed. 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 resistance is allowed to simply float off and dissolve on its own.

As we practice this shifting process, we notice resistance floating 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 takes 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 focus and take action more readily, engaging 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 - 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.*