“Life is too important to be taken seriously.”
My favorite notebook as a teenager contained this quote, which is (somewhat inaccurately) attributed to Oscar Wilde.
Of course, being human, over the years I did anything but follow that counterintuitive advice.
It was only when I was dealing with a thankfully short bout of writer’s block that I realized that I had to approach my writing with less seriousness if I wanted to move forward. Not only had I been pressuring myself to be creative by an entirely self-imposed deadline, but I had also expected myself to get it (meaning my draft) “right” the first time.
And of course, our creativity is greatly enhanced by intense pressure and perfectionism, right? The more I pushed myself to be creative, the less creative I felt. In other words, the more importance I gave to what I wanted to do, the more challenging it became to actually follow through.
This dynamic doesn’t only apply to creativity. At times, it can apply to everything in life.
For instance, has it ever happened to you that—after a long wait period—you finally got something that you desperately wanted (like a partner or a new job) just after you gave up on it? It’s almost as if the über-importance given to the wish acted as a repellent, isn’t it?
The challenge with giving something “excess importance” is that it often creates a cycle of negative feedback, like it did with my writing. And negative feedback cycles are notoriously hard to break.
That said, here are some tips for moving beyond them:
Strengthening our awareness muscle.
The first step to changing anything is awareness. If we don’t know that something is happening, how could we even dream of changing it? Let’s assume you were walking down a road, fell down a huge manhole and found yourself alive and well in a dark hole. Most likely, you would immediately start looking for a way out of the situation.
However, in real life, people sometimes find themselves in a metaphorical “dark hole” that is a lot sneakier. Because their descent into this place doesn’t involve obvious falls or accidents, it can be difficult for them to realize what is happening. This lack of realization then prolongs the time spent in an uncomfortable situation.
The key to moving beyond stuckness quickly is to become aware of when it is happening. In other words, we need to strengthen our “awareness muscle,” for instance through practicing mindfulness. As I mentioned above, my unintentional rendezvous with writer’s block only lasted a very short time—and that’s in large part thanks to awareness.
Because it’s always easier to see other people’s blind spots than our own, it can also be helpful to have a group of people that holds us accountable, such as a mastermind group.
Learn to manage the polarity between seriousness and playfulness.
It’s also helpful to learn how to manage polarities, as described in my article here. Polarities are mutually dependent and seem like exact opposites (for instance freedom and commitment, or ambition and relaxation).
With polarities, if we lean too far in one direction, we tend to run into challenges. For instance, taking something overly seriously can make us tense up, which can lead to more mistakes. On the other hand, being too playful and relaxed can also lead to errors because you might pay less attention to what you are doing.
The key is to find the right dosage at any given time. In my case, because I was taking my writing overly seriously, the solution was found in becoming more relaxed and playful. This included remembering what I had learned about the creative process through the years. For instance, about the benefits of giving oneself permission to write a “sh*tty first draft” and to withhold one’s own criticism until the editing stage of said draft.
However, a playful approach is not always the solution. If you’ve been overdoing the relaxation in an area of your life, maybe the way forward lies in taking things more seriously.
Befriend our fear to find our courage.
As Henri Matisse said, “Creativity takes courage.” The same is true for many other things in our lives that we care about. Often, the more we care about something, the more courage we need to go for it.
The problem is that we can’t will ourselves to have courage through pressure.
You may have noticed that trying to suppress fear doesn’t work very well. In fact, attempting to squash fear often increases it. This increase can then cause one to try even harder to fight one’s fear, with dismal results. In short, an attempt to suppress fear can create a cycle of negativity.
The way out of that loop is to change our relationship to our fear. Our society typically sees fear as an enemy that needs to be fought (and, of course, fear fights back). The better choice is to see fear as an adviser and make an effort to befriend it. You can learn more about how to change your relationship to fear in my article here and my webinar here.
Strengthening our awareness muscle, managing polarities, and befriending our fear all help us to avoid affording excess importance to something in life.
After all, as Elbert Hubbard so helpfully pointed out: “Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.” ~
Author: Bere Blissenbach
Image: Unsplash/Michael Dam
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton