Riding the Wave of Uncertainty

It dismays me every time I see that I’ve let so much time pass since my last post. No, it doesn’t bother me to admit that because just like everyone else, my forehead is emblazoned with the words “work in progress.” Here’s what has been on my mind (and plate) lately. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea of uncertainty and creativity for dual reasons – I’m giving my first seminar on creativity at the end of the month and I’ve been rereading Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields.

I do a lot of encouraging or coaching (as is might be termed by some) and I’ve noticed that handling uncertainty is an ability that a lot of artists do not possess. When faced with doubts or fears, I’ve seen artists push themselves forward to success, or self-sabotage, or choose a path that will ensure them the least amount of pain during the process of creation. In recovery, I’ve learned that this is training we should have had as children – to deal with the uncertainty of outcomes in a healthy manner. Not that I’m suggesting that all artists or writers are recovering from some ‘ism,’ but that’s always a healthy avenue to investigate if you find yourself constantly short-changing your creative process to stop the pain.

What’s this pain; this uncertainty about? Fields asserts (and I agree) that the double nature of uncertainty is the fear of what the outcome will be and how the outcome will be perceived (judged.) Like most artists, I realize the fear signals the foothold of what could be a fantastic idea – an idea worth exploring or an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up because the experience will be invaluable. It’s what we choose to do as the pain creeps into our psyche that will determine the depth of the creative process.

Fields details an experiment where subjects were asked to choose a ball from one of two urns. Urn #1 is filled with 100 balls – 50 black and 50 white. Urn #2 also contains 100 balls but the percentage of which is black or white is unknown. The subjects had to bet $100 on a color of their choice. Then they had to choose which urn to pick from. Can you guess which most people chose? Even though neither configuration had a mathematical or logical advantage, the majority of the subjects choose the first urn.

Because pain is uncomfortable and our fight or flight instinct usually prompts us to flight, most people will choose the path of ‘constraint.’ They stop exploring, close off options and create rules, look for systems and processes to justify their choices because of their aversion to the unknown and to being judged. At that point the adapting, testing, and experimenting and evolving is over. Continuing in the uncertainty, on the other hand, can lead to heightened creativity and a level of creative options that would otherwise not have been seen.

Sounds logical, right? But as I constantly ask my therapist – what do I do with all these feelings? (now that I’m not stuffing them, eating them, and denying them.) He says – just feel them. As crappy as uncertainty, fear, and anxiety feels – feel them and keep on creating. It’s okay not to know or be able to predict exactly how things will turn out. It’s very uncomfortable at first but it’s a worthwhile pursuit because what we live out in our creative processes, we also live out in our personal lives. What benefits one will benefit the other. Push through, work through the pain, and be amazed at what you produce.

How have you dealt with uncertainty in your life and your creative process lately?

©2012 Carolyn Moore

Food for thought: Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields
& Deciding to Push by Carolyn Moore.

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  1. #1 by alysewis on March 14, 2012 - 2:33 pm

    Feeling outright can be so incredibly difficult for a mind trained to find the comfort and deny the pain. Which is unfortunately how most of us were wired from a young age. The depth of that feeling is what makes you so unique and interesting. Keep writing through the pain, the fear, the emotions, and I’ll keep reading about the amazing-ness of you. I’ve already glimpsed that light inside of you, let it shine.