In this Creativity Exercises That Work series, which will run right through to the end of the year, creativity coaches share creativity exercises that they have used with clients to help clients effectively handle their creative process issues, creative personality issues, and creative career issues. This week’s exercise is provided by Clare Thorbes. Enjoy!
Creativity Exercise: Making a Space
Contributed by: Clare Thorbes
As creative people, we’re highly sensitive. The ability to feel deeply is one of our strengths, yet allowing ourselves to react with outrage to what people say about our work can damage our career. Letting hurtful comments penetrate can interrupt or even end our creativity.
Making a Space is a combined cognitive and visualization exercise that helps you delay your emotional response to such triggers.
Understand your reactions
When you’re faced with anger or barbed comments, it can feel like the words are invading your body and bowling you over. The first instinct is to lash out, fall apart, or run away. These are normal responses to perceived threats. You put everything you have into your creative work, so the trigger feels like a personal attack.
Making a Space works best if you practice it regularly, either by imagining someone’s hurtful words, role-playing with a friend, or using the exercise with milder triggers. Then when you’re unexpectedly provoked, you’ll be more likely to remember that you don’t have to react right away.
1: Remind yourself that you’re solidly planted right where you are and that you’re completely safe. Take slow, deep, calming breaths.
2: Take notes. This will distract your body from tensing up and give you a record that you can later compare with your initial perceptions. You might be surprised at the disparity between the two, as emotional arousal can distort what we hear.
3: Imagine that you’re creating a space between the other person’s words (the trigger) and your reaction. The space could be a lake, a canyon, or even the room you’re in.
4: Visualize the space slowly widening, increasing the separation between you and the trigger. You can still hear the words, but it’s as if the person is floating further away. You’re at an increasingly safe remove, so the comments can’t penetrate as readily. Imagine that the person’s words are arrows plopping harmlessly into the growing chasm between you.
Return to stasis
When the encounter is over, you may feel some lingering tension or a residual emotional sting. Use these last three steps to decompress.
Dance up a storm, yell and stamp your feet, punch the air, or let out a primal scream.
Look over your notes. Is there something you need to change in your work? Were the comments completely off the mark, or did they contain grains of truth that you need to pay attention to?
Congratulations! By not firing back a retort in the moment, you avoided alienating someone who might be important to your career or could become a friend you can count on to tell you the truth.
One client used this exercise in a writer’s group, in which she interpreted one person’s feedback as generally hostile and cutting. The client was reluctant to share her work in progress for fear of this person’s reaction. Picturing the critic moving away from her and then later reading her notes allowed to her see that the person’s comments were direct but not insulting, and were offered in the spirit of helping everyone to improve their writing.
Another client wanted to negotiate new hours for her day job to give her time to paint in the mornings. Her boss tended to be short-tempered and quick to dismiss an idea. Practising Making a Space switched her focus from anticipating a nerve-wracking encounter that ended with her in tears, to devising strong arguments in support of her new schedule. During the meeting, she visualized a widening space between her and her boss, and discovered that she wasn’t as startled by his loud voice and vehement gestures. She was able to see past his angry demeanour and address his real concerns. She convinced him to do a three-week trial of her new schedule. The client got the precious morning painting hours she needed and her boss gained an employee who was fully committed and present during her office hours.
Try this technique in other emotionally charged situations: the opening night of your art exhibition, pitching a story idea, or when you’re trying to resolve differences with band mates. Decide that you want to be an unflappable, open-minded person who maintains positive relationships with the important people in your creative life. Then practice Making a Space.
About Clare Thorbes
Clare Thorbes is a certified creativity coach based in Ottawa, Canada, who works with writers, visual artists and performers. Her goal is to be her clients’ ally as they build a life in the arts. She publishes Block-Buster, a creativity newsletter, on her website: www.clarethorbescreativitycoach.com. She is a visual artist (www.clarethorbes.com; www.facebook.com/clarethorbesportraits), a multilingual translator and an editor who has helped novelists and nonfiction writers across Canada bring their creations to life. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org