How To Deal With Catastrophic Thinking In Art Creation
Today I was sitting on a Zoom call and an email popped up and I could only read the first line of it and it said “Hi Luke”. Half distracted I realised it was from someone that I’ve been developing a project with. Something I’ve cared about deeply and put a lot of time into and put a lot of pressure on myself. My first thought when I saw the opening line was “they hated my work, they’re trying to sack me, and this is how it starts”. For disclosure the project is in a medium I’m not used to and have actively chosen partners to work on it who would understand that and have experience of doing that work before. I’ve had a great time with them and feel like they’re getting the best out of me but still… That was my first thought. When I read the email it was a standard set of thoughts about the script with an action plan moving forward but the thought didn’t go away. I still felt like I was treading a tightrope and that the next email I would surely be sacking me.
I took some time out and thought about other times I’ve had this and realised that it happens literally every single time I’ve ever worked on everything. I’ve found myself in a cycle of thinking that I’m lucky to be doing the job, that I’m lazy, that someone else would do it better, and that, inevitably, I will be sacked at some point.
I reached out to a few friends and they reported similar. That writers are disposable, that we all have imposter syndrome, and that we all feel “lucky” to be doing a job for money.
So how do we work useful through this? No matter what the project, or where you're in it, you only really have two options: to carry on or to give up. It's generally better to carry on. But how we turn this thought into something useful.
Well the first thing to do is acknowledge that the thought is real but that it's also not the whole picture. We have two voices in our head; the pragmatic and cautious one that says things like "you will be sacked at some point" and it's a valid voice. There's a chance you may be sacked if you don't do the work but what happens when we listen to this voice solely is that we shut out the other voice. The one that says "you're doing this because everyone thinks you'd be good at it and they're even PAYING you because they think you'd be good at it. They think this could be REALLY good for everyone and we could all make money, enhance our careers, and make something really useful." Sometimes this other voice gets carried away.. It could say things like "YOU COULD RETIRE IF THIS GOES WELL". And hey... Both thoughts are true. That's the truth of it.
Underneath both of these thoughts is the evidence. The actual facts we're presented with. In my case it is generally standard notes that trigger this pessimistic thinking. I think "but ZYX would have smashed it by now it's why they're doing QQQQ". But what's in front of me are, generally, helpful, calm, and thoughtful notes to help us make this project.
So when we're faced with this thought what we have to do is:
- Look at the evidence rationally
- Listen to our pesimistic voice and ask ourselves what's true about what it's saying
- Listen to our optimistic voice and ask ourselves what's true about what it's saying.
and now we have a clear picture of what the whole situation is we have to put together an action that satisfies all voices.
In my case it's as simple as: lets do the notes in the most me style in the hope that we can make something really good fully acknowledging what a joy and a privilege this is. The evidence is that they like me and the work. We all want to do it well. So lets give it a go and not even worry about being sacked because there is no evidence for it right now.
Then we can start to be objective, detached our feelings, and do the job and enjoy every stage of it.