In this uncertain time, we have to do the best we can with the parts of our lives over which we do have control. I hope these tips will help you remain positive, creative, and live in accordance with your values.
1: Think of the alternatives
If you find that your spirits sink when you face rejection or a setback, you may be jumping to a negative conclusion too quickly. When psychologist Michael Yapko works with depressed people, he has them come up with six possible explanations for an upsetting event. When they realize that the reason behind the event isn’t necessarily personal, they often experiencing a lifting of their mood.
For a writer, for example, a rejection slip MIGHT mean the editor thinks the manuscript is terrible. However, it might also mean the publishers have a similar project already in the works, or they’re having budget problems, or they deferring are decisions because they are about to be taken over by another company, or…
TIP: The next time you experience a negative emotion in response to something that happens to you, first notice what belief about the situation is causing you to feel that way. Then generate half a dozen alternative explanations and notice the change in your mood.
2: Be a great storyteller
Futurist Watts Wacker says a good storyteller tells you a good story, but a great storyteller helps you find yourself in the story. When you have a presentation to make, or a pitch, or are trying to win hearts and minds, tell your story in a way that makes it easy for your listeners to imagine themselves in the action.
I’ve found this even works in letters of complaint. Instead of describing what happened to me, I write, for example, “Imagine that you arrive in a strange city late at night, go to your hotel, and the desk clerk says they have no record of your reservation, even though you have a booking number… How would you feel? What kind of help would you expect from the clerk? How would you feel if he said only, “You must have made a mistake and I don’t have time to help you”? This approach almost always gets a result.
TIP: When planning your message, think about the various ways you can get the reader or listener or viewer to imagine themselves as part of the story. Appeal to the senses and emotions as much as possible.
3: Make your ideas reality
A current advertising campaign says it’s not how many ideas you have that’s most important, it is how many you turn into reality. Here are three things that often stop people from turning their inspirations into reality, and ways to overcome them:
Fear that exposing the idea may lead someone to steal it.
True, sometimes ideas are stolen, but the risk is smaller than most people think. And by keeping your idea under wraps, you miss out on the chance to get useful input from a variety of people.
TIP: Make some kind of sample or prototype of the project and test it on various people. Observing their body language and what questions they ask often is more revealing than asking them for their opinion.
Fear of the size of the project.
The old Chinese maxim is that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That step is followed by another, and another, and another. Very few pioneers knew how they would overcome all the obstacles they would encounter, but they started and then dealt with each new development as it came up.
TIP: Try to stay one or two steps ahead of the process and accept that you may not be able to see all the way to your destination from the starting point.
Fear of ridicule.
This is often the real fear behind the fear of failure. If nobody knew we’d tried something and we failed, how would we feel? Most of us would chalk it up to experience and move on. But as soon as we imagine our families or colleagues seeing us fail, the emotions get stronger.
TIP: Be inwardly determined to succeed but outwardly modest. For example, tell friends, “I’ve decided I’m going to train to run a marathon. Even if I fail, at least I’ll be more fit than I am today.” If you build in the possibility of failure and frame it as a win anyway, there will be nothing to be humiliated about. Seemingly paradoxically, this may help you to be more likely to succeed, because the fear of failure will not be draining your energy.
4: Start anywhere
Here is how the advertising art director Larry Miller once described how he does good work: “I start with scribbles. In fact many scribbles are made while I’m on the phone or singing along with the radio. My mind is not directly involved with my work; it’s an odd from of discipline.” He said he then puts away the scribbles or thumbnail sketches and checks them again an hour or day later. Upon second look, “the good stuff jumps right out, and so does the bad.”
TIP: In what you do, what is the equivalent of a scribble? It might be seemingly random thoughts, questions, or ideas, and they may come to you at odd times. Try noting them without judging them at the time, and then later go over them to find the ones that may be worth further development.
ANOTHER TIP: Don’t forget that inspiration tends to appear when you’ve laid the groundwork. Miller said, “before you can give sway to your intuition and feeling, you have to gather lots of information, study it, think about it, digest it. Only then can your artistic side take over.”
5: And last but not least, a quote to think about:
Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, talking about his experience of being in space: “The peaks were the recognition that it is a harmonious, purposeful, creating universe. The valleys came in recognizing that humanity wasn’t behaving in accordance with that knowledge.”