We creative types have this fun habit of pressuring ourselves far too hard to be creative, of letting the anxieties we feel about our work and our worth pile up like bricks to block us from our goals. There's a concept I like to call a Guilt-Rebellion cycle, which I first remember encountering described when my best friend's dad talked about how he felt too ashamed to return to his local church precisely because he'd not been for so long. Sometimes, showing up to the page is like that. We haven't shown up for days, weeks or months or years even, and the mere act of showing up forces us to face our failures to show up in the past.
I used to have this habit whenever I started going to the gym. I would go very consistently for a few weeks, and then I would miss a day. After I missed that day, I wouldn't beat myself up about it, because I'd been doing really well in general, and one day wouldn't be too bad. As long as I didn't miss another day, everything was fine. Of course, if I did happen to miss another day, the self-flagellation began and I returned to the gym with diminished spirit.
Sometimes that was enough to spark me back into consistency. Sometimes, though, the self-flagellation would spark a sort of inner rebellion or despair, sometimes both, and I would skip another few days. Of course, I would feel secretly guilty for skipping those days, and that guilt would drive me deeper into the hole, where either the rebellion or despair would see me reaching for the car keys because, dammit, I was too tired to cook and I felt sad and even though I secretly knew having a chicken club, fries, coke, and vanilla cone from MacDonald's would drive me deeper into the clutches of guilt, it also felt like a treat. Also, for whatever reason, it felt easier than microwaving a bowl of soup.
I'd let this guilt-rebellion cycle compound until, eventually, returning to the gym felt like a walk of shame. Walking through those glass doors became so much harder than just driving down the street, pulling on cross-trainers, and hitting the machines.
I'm still an inconsistent exerciser, but I am trying not to be an inconsistent creative. I'm trying to show up at the page, if not every day, than at least half the days of the week. I'm managing it, though it is sometimes hard to avoid distraction. The key is avoiding the guilt-rebellion cycle.
This is what one of my guilt-rebellion cycles looks like on any given day:
- I fail to write on a day when I'd meant to
- I feel that failure as disappointment or guilt
- Negativity activates the instinct to armor myself
- Defensiveness appears in the form of rebellion
- I play Candy Crush
- I feel ashamed of playing Candy Crush instead of writing
- I feel too tired from the shame to write
- I rebell
- I play more Candy Crush
- I am ashamed
- I am a worthless millennial
- I will never be prolific again
- I run out of lives in Candy Crush
- My life has no meaning and there's work tomorrow and I am in despair and have had too many cans of Vanilla Coke Zero to sleep.
- Bubble Witch looks interesting...
It is a vicious cycle. So how do we avoid that first step onto the spiral slide? I definitely don't always succeed, particularly on days when I've already had to work, but I've found it easier to at least show up to the page by keeping my goals clear and focusing on progress rather than perfection, and always making certain to observe my habits without judgement and adjust the time constraints on my goals accordingly.
Over the next few posts, whenever those might be, I hope to talk about some of the tools I've found useful in beating this Guilt-Rebellion Cycle, setting goals, and staying on track.
Note: Above all, this year has taught me that taking care of myself is paramount in keeping my creativity at its peak. Getting control over my anxiety and, more recently, identifying and taking steps to correct endocrinological imbalances that affected my energy level, have been instrumental steps toward giving me the extra energy I need to be creative.