The five whys of holding back

“When you have nothing valuable to create, you would rather not create.”

The world at large reinforces this rule. However, it is the biggest enemy of the art that lies stifled within us and follows us to our death.

Why does this happen? Let’s delve a little deeper.

We are all in the grip of our fears – mostly without our conscious knowledge. Our fear loves safety – to not risk our reputation. It would much rather stay within the familiar confines of our silence than produce something new.

Why does our fear succeed?

Because our fear is clever and wily. Each time we move towards producing something new, our fear convinces us otherwise with excellent reasons. It has the same access to the mental resources we employ to produce art. The cleverer we are, the stronger and more convincing our justifications can become to not venture out.

But why is fear so clever? How does it effectively hijack the creative process?

Because fear is primeval. It sits in the the part of the brain stem that evolved hundred of millions of years before, and resembles the entire brain of reptiles. That is why it is called the reptilian brain or the lizard brain, and is more fundamental than the newer parts responsible for creativity, logic and storytelling. When we are driving on the road and our wheels skid on an oil slick, the lizard brain kicks into action, grabs the steering wheel and responds without thinking to preserve save our lives. Thank god for our reflexes and the lizard brain that have kept our species alive.

In that case, why does it hold us back from being our best versions?

Because the lizard brain is built for a world of tall grasses and scary jungles. It isn’t built for a life where public speaking and impressionist painting are appreciated. The lizard brain cannot distinguish between the eyes of a predator stalking us from the eyes of the audience when we are performing on stage. The lizard brain runs a powerful algorithm, but one that functions with bugs in the modern world.

So why should we change that?

Because good art is a function of bad art. Good work is a function of bad work. The creative process rewards perseverance rather than perfection. The act of repeatedly putting something out is how we eventually learn how to put out something of value. The change we wish to see is the result of the sweat of many days of labour and is difficult. If it were easy, it would not be valuable. While luck plays an important role, it is merely a factor that is multiplied by how often we show up.

Each one of us is the biggest target of our own lizard brains. And the biggest trick that it pulls on us is to keep us from realizing our dreams by turning our best capabilities against us with a list of perfectly formulated reasons.

Inspiration: The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

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