“The most creative people have learned to tolerate that discomfort for much longer. And so, just because they put in more pondering time, their solutions are more creative.” John Cleese
For those of us that have birthed a child, we know that it can be a painful, intense, hyper focused, reality-bending experience. And for those who haven’t experienced childbirth, think of another intense time in your life. It could’ve been an illness you overcame, renovating a house, a near death experience. There are certain events in our lives that take us outside of what we know, and while they can be exhausting, they can result in something new and amazing (even if it’s the restoration of health – something you might no longer merely take for granted).
Well, it’s the same for all acts of creation.
It simply cannot be done in the comfort of our familiar environment. Because the familiar will only give us more of the same. To truly create we must be in discomfort. It doesn’t need to be physical, such as having a child, but it does require a different mindset, not to mention focus and intention.
As Tony Robbins says. “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”
For those of you who don’t know my personal story. I spent about nine years seriously trying to get published. I wrote book after book and sent them out to as many agents and editors as I could find. However, while the rejections got more personal and promising, I still couldn’t quite cross the line. It got to the point where I was about to give up. Then my father died and I flew from England back to Australia for the funeral. It was surreal and between the jetlag and the grief, I kept imagining that my father was also at the funeral, watching the whole event and commentating on it (and let’s just say that he wasn’t happy about how it was all going.) Two weeks later I had an idea of a dead girl watching her own funeral and she made such a noise that she ended up getting kicked out of heaven.
I wrote this story at lightening pace. It took about a month and about two months after that I had an agent and a sale followed not long enough.
My point is that creating a book just after my father died was never something I planned to do. But it turned out that the discomfort and unfamiliar feelings were just what I needed to fire up my creative juices. And, while I don’t recommend this as a great way to achieve your first sale, it’s important to remember the wonderful quote – our gold is in our pain
So why does discomfort or a feeling of unease work like this?
Lisa Nichols is fond of saying that she is there to disrupt the soil. And this is an apt metaphor because all gardeners know that if we don’t break the soil, we can’t plant the seed. And if we don’t tend that soil, along with your creation will be many weeds, making it harder to see what it that we have made.
Another reason we need discomfort to create is because like the seed in the soil, for our creations to come into being, we need to create space for them and creating space can also lead to discomfort.
If I want to write a book I need to make space and time for it. It will cut into my work time, my family life, my sleeping time. It will force me to shift and move things around, both physically and mentally, and these shifts can led to discomfort. But without the space, it’s impossible to get into flow, which is the gap between now and the future, where all creations exist.
The problem with discomfort is that our body doesn’t like it and will immediately try and return us to the familiar embrace of our comfort zone. It will decrease our breathing, which increases our stress and cuts down on our ability to make creative choices.
How to sit with Creative Discomfort
- Understand that discomfort that was originally designed to keep us safe and warn us of dangers. Jennifer Louden recommends that whenever someone is feeling fearful, they should literally check the room to see if anything there is going to eat you. After all, that’s what the body’s warning system was originally designed for. Barring any monsters or wild beasts in your immediate area, take a breath and remind yourself that there is no physical danger. This feeling will NOT cause you to be hurt.
- Make the uncomfortable comfortable. When we’re uncomfortable we tend to push something aside or move onto another task. Instead of pushing away from the discomfort, focus in it. Ground your body with a short meditation that follows your breath as it moves around the body. Let it move through every part and wherever the discomfort is sitting, just acknowledge it but don’t try and change it or move it away.
- Do something that makes you laugh. By allowing yourself to play and enjoy yourself while feeling this discomfort, your body will automatically start to relax. It is designed to move away from fear and worry and toward something that it thinks is safe. Laughing lets your mind know that you are safe.
So, next time you’re embarking on a creative project and you’re feeling stuck and frustrated, instead of moving away from that feeling. Use the above techniques to sink into and see what turns up for you.