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Overcome Fear and Anxiety So You Can Free Your Creativity

28 June 2016

Barbara read Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear and appreciated Elizabeth Gilbert’s warning and heeded her advice--don’t let your creativity hear you complaining. It will go away and leave you alone.

Tags: barbara read, barbara watched, mindfulness

Elizabeth Gilbert first came to fame through her book and the subsequent movie starring Julia Roberts, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. Her newest book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, is loaded with inspiration, personal stories, and helpful advice. I regularly open it and read all my under linings to give me courage, to get me back to writing, to be reminded that creating or making things is what human beings crave to do. It doesn’t matter if what we produce doesn’t get published, doesn’t get bought, doesn’t get implemented at work, doesn’t fix a relationship, we still want to make something. Why? Because it brings pleasure to our souls or whatever you call the inner voice that talks to you positively sometimes in the shower, on a walk, on a long car drive.

The desire is old and strong. We’ve all seen pictures of drawings on cave dwellings. My dad’s sister, who died young and was bed ridden most of her life, made hand sewn clothes for a china doll. She needed a creative outlet even in her weakened condition.

On a day when I just opened to any page in Big Magic, I landed on a chapter that begins…”Here’s a trick: Stop complaining….you’re scaring away inspiration.” Gilbert says “…as a young person: I started telling myself that I enjoyed my work. I proclaimed that I enjoyed every single aspect of my creative endeavors—the agony and ecstasy, the success and the failure, the joy and the embarrassment, the dry spells and the grind and the stumble and the confusion and the stupidity of it all….Inspiration will overhear your pleasure, and it will send ideas to your door as a reward for your enthusiasm and your loyalty. More ideas than you could ever use.”

Gilbert’s advice reminds me of when I went through a 15-week audio-tape program in 1984 to get over panic attacks. Our family had moved to Florida for my husband’s transition from full-time work as a pediatrician to being a medical director for a large HMO. I had to stop complaining about it. The first year that’s pretty much all I did, and it began to have a deleterious effect on my health.

A friend told me about a program that could stop panic attacks—CHAANGE. While my anxiety wasn’t keeping me from leaving the house, it was making me unhappy and physically ill. I was so desperate to feel better that I was willing to try anything even if it meant listening to audio-tapes many times a day and repeating positive affirmations to myself that felt ridiculous.

I had to learn to say these positive things to myself all day no matter what was going on in my life. After a while they would even roll through my head when I woke in the night to go to the bathroom which was so helpful because the middle of the night was one of my most anxious times before I started the program.

At first the statements were lies, but with enough repetition preceded by a relaxation exercise, they became true by the time I had said them for seven weeks. These are the words I spoke to myself out loud and in my head all the time: 

  • I enjoy being free of worry, fear and anxiety.
  • I enjoy every day.
  • I like knowing I have a choice about how I live and how I study.
  • I enjoy the challenge of practicing new behavior.
  • I like being in charge of my life.
  • Christ is with me. (I added one that fit my religious tradition. When I teach clients to use these affirmations, I encourage them to pick a final affirmation consistent with their religious, spiritual or some other positive belief. I’ve had clients use, “God is with me," "The universe is on my side," or "Everything will be okay.")

One of these statements would cancel out every grievance, fear, and worry I had.

Are there people, projects, or circumstances you have complained about or worried over for more than a year? Try not complaining for a month and see if anything changes. If you have trouble stopping the complaining and worrying to yourself and others, the affirmations above may help. I know it will involve telling yourself untruths, but it might be an interesting experiment that changes things—you and your health if nothing else.

If you’re curious about Gilbert’s work, try watching one of her TED Talks, Our elusive creative genius and Success, failure and the drive to keep creating. Her thoughts on these topics provide me with great inspiration when I need help making progress on the things that matter to me or if I’ve lost my way when it comes to managing my anxiety.

After I finished the CHAANGE program, I was brave enough to go parasailing. I went on to stay in hotel rooms alone to pursue my doctorate and fly two or more times a month for 22 years. Before the program I had been terrified of planes and uneasy alone in hotels. I had to do the CHAANGE program in its entirety to get to this point, but 15 years later my daughter used only the affirmations above to deal with a time of severe anxiety in her life—her first semester at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. But that’s her story to tell another time.



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