It’s often the case that we’re reasonably confident somewhere inside of us—we have some real confidence to access—but when it comes to accessing it for some specific reason, liking getting on with our painting or contacting a particular gallery, we can’t seem to manifest that confidence. Either we proceed very weakly or we decide not to proceed at all and flee the encounter.
What has typically happened in that situation is the following. We really did want to work on our painting or contact that gallery, we knew that we should do that work because it served our meaning needs and matched our intentions, but as soon as we got ready something welled up in us … that old culprit, anxiety.
Anxiety is the great stopper and the great silencer. We get a little scared, a little doubtful, a little worried, we start to produce stress hormones in our body and all sorts of queasy, uncomfortable feelings, and suddenly our intention flies right out of the window.
Most people are not very smart about anxiety even though anxiety has repeatedly visited them. Instead of embracing that we are human, that we get anxious, and that we need to manage our anxiety and make our meaning despite our anxiety, we often act surprised that “something has happened”—namely, that our very inexact warning system against danger has leaped into operation. Why are we still surprised that we get anxious?
It is time to stop being surprised. It is time to become more of an anxiety expert and more of an anxiety master. If, being honest with yourself, you know that anxiety is a problem for you, robs you of confidence, and has gotten in the way of you manifesting your intentions more times that you care to remember, now is the time to take responsibility for learning how to deal with that anxiety.
Unaddressed anxiety robs us of our confidence. In order to regain your natural confidence, the confidence that is “this close” to being available to you, you need to realize that anxiety is the culprit and announce to yourself that you will either manage it using the anxiety management techniques that I hope you will learn or else that you will do what you need to do while still feeling anxious. We would not have wanted Eisenhower to stop planning D-Day because he was feeling too anxious. Do not allow yourself to stop painting or to stop selling because you are feeling anxious.
Of course, better than having to just white knuckle the situation is being able to actually reduce your experience of anxiety or even, for that moment at least and in that situation at least, eliminate it entirely. You want to manifest the courage necessary to get on with your art and on with your career even if you are feeling anxious; but even better is not to have to feel so anxious. That is possible!
What can be done to manage that anxiety? A lot! In my recent book Mastering Creative Anxiety I describe more than twenty categories of anxiety management strategies, everything from breathing techniques to cognitive techniques to relaxation techniques to discharge techniques. You can employ calming guided visualizations; you can use the technique called “disidentification” that’s employed in a branch of therapy known as psychosynthesis; you can create useful ceremonies and rituals; you can learn how to “reorient” away from anxiety-producing stimuli.
It isn’t enough to read a book like Mastering Creative Anxiety and nod your head in agreement as you recognize your situation. Rather, you want to choose one or two of the strategies offered and practice them and own them so that they are actually available to you when you get anxious. You may want to run through the whole menu first and try out each one, at least a little bit, to see which one or two seem most congenial to you. Then commit to really learning and practicing the one or two you find most congenial.
Practice your new favorite anxiety management strategy every single day. Create situations in your mind’s eye that you know are going to make you anxious and, again in your mind’s eye, see yourself using your anxiety management strategy and effectively reducing your experience of anxiety. This kind of “visual rehearsal” can prove very effective in helping you finally get a better grip on your anxiety.
Many productive, even brilliant artists are anxious people. They nevertheless manage to manifest the confidence and courage they need in order to be able to create and to sell—sometimes by quelling their anxiety in harmful ways, like by drinking alcoholically. If you work at really learning and owning a few useful anxiety management strategies and become a personal anxiety expert, you may discover that you have proven the exception: that you’ve become an artist who can deal with her anxiety in effective, non-harmful ways and who can manifest the confidence she needs whether or not she is feeling anxious.
Eric Maisel is the author of 50+ books. You can learn more about him at www.ericmaisel.com, subscribe to all of his blog posts at https://authory.com/ericmaisel, learn more about kirism here, and write him at firstname.lastname@example.org