Creative Focus Through Mental Rehearsal

By Nick Lazaris, Psy.D.

Creating a consistent and positive mindset, as you begin your creative work, is critical to your success as a visual artist. Your ability to stay focused, while quieting creative anxiety and fear of failure and rejection, is foundational if the world is going to have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of your amazing talents.

So many artists that I have coached over the years described being unable to silence their inner critical voice, leading to a loss of concentration and a picture in their mind of their work not going well or not being positively received.

I wonder if you struggle and are challenged with this kind of negative mental ‘picture’ while attempting to take the creative risks necessary to produce your best work? The good news is that this exercise directly and powerfully addresses this challenge.

Through the practice of this skill, and the application of it to your particular artistic situation, you CAN change your mental ‘picture’ and mindset from being an obstacle to becoming your artistic ally in order to create outrageous and valuable works of art.

Creative Focus Through Mental Rehearsal has to do with your expectations while learning the practice of “positive expectancy.”

If you become anxious as you approach working on a piece, you will expect things to go poorly and not expect yourself to create very well. The problem with this kind of thinking is that this mindset, and your negative expectations, will ultimately shape the reality of how the creation of your art actually goes!

You are either going to live up to or down to your expectations as an artist. In fact, Performance Psychologist Dr. Don Greene has said, “What you see in your mind’s eye prior to a performance (or as you create art) tends to become who you are.”

I have found that one of the most powerful techniques to use in preparing for optimal performance as a visual artist is mental rehearsal. If you cannot imagine performing well in your creative endeavors, if you cannot ‘see’ in your mind’s eye doing well, then you will have very little chance of actually creating amazing works of art. This becomes especially true because of the pressure under which most artists put themselves. The more pressure you feel, the more important it is to imagine yourself doing well as you create.
How, then, can you change what you ‘see’ in order to manage your anxiety?

Here are five steps for practicing mental rehearsal for focused creativity, for training yourself to ‘see’ things differently while creating a positive mindset.

1. Create a clear intention

Ask yourself what it is that you intend to achieve in your time creating art. For example, is your intention to let your creative self choose bold new colors to apply on the canvas, or use a medium for your altered art piece that others might never have envisioned working so well together? Is your intention to be in the moment, letting go of fear and anxiety, while being fully present in your studio as your inner, creative self takes charge?

2. Take a slow, deep Focused Breath

Center yourself physically and mentally in order to slow down any anxiety or stress during your mental rehearsal. Take a full, deep breath … then hold it … and then, as you slowly exhale, say “It’s time to go for it” while feeling more and more relaxed and present with your work.

3. Visualize in your mind what your intention would actually look like

Try to see, feel, and hear yourself creating powerful and moving pieces of art as you apply yourself to the creation in front of you. Break up your mental rehearsal and visualization into small little pieces, i.e. see yourself preparing to paint, then picture the next segment as you choose your colors, then as you apply the medium to your developing piece of art, etc. Picture each of these segments in your mind as clearly as possible as you are confidently creating.

4. Attempt to use all of your senses

Picture yourself being in a zone of creativity. Feel the brush in your hand. Hear yourself as you become excited with how the piece is coming together. Listen to the positive words that others will say about your work, as though you created it just for them. And feel how great it feels to walk away from your studio knowing you did a great job!

5. Allow yourself to correct your mistakes.

Even in your mental rehearsal, you will discover that while practicing you might visualize making a ‘mistake’ with your creation or becoming afraid and anxious about being seen as an ‘imposter.’ It is okay to ‘stop the tape’ and go back in your rehearsal to the spot where you pictured ‘messing up’ and continue from there with a mental picture of you creating well. It is kind of like the old VCR’s – you are going to rewind and go back, picturing yourself calmer, more relaxed and in the moment. Correct your pictured ‘mistake’ until you can clearly see yourself doing well!

Mental rehearsal is a very powerful technique that can be used in any performance situation. Use mental rehearsal to honestly say to yourself, “I am going to stay focused and grow as an artist as I develop a more positive mindset and mentally rehearse how I am going to create in my studio.”

Be creative, practice mental rehearsal every day, and have some fun with this exercise! Your real-life work as a visual artist will continue to improve the more that you can ‘experience’ (see, hear and feel) outrageous creativity in your mental rehearsal!

About Dr. Nick Lazaris

As a Performance Psychologist and Creativity Coach, Dr. Nick Lazaris has specialized for 38 years in helping creatives, performing artists, entrepreneurs and business professionals overcome anxiety in their art, writing, public speaking or while on stage. Dr. Nick coaches those who desire to increase their self-confidence, overcome fear and create at or near their personal best. He is available for a limited amount of performance coaching via phone, Skype, Zoom or in-person. You can contact Dr. Nick at or go to to receive your free Performance Anxiety Road Map.

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