Leaving projects unfinished is a very common issue and from what I’ve learned about the process of creating art, it is not because we are scatter-brained or lazy or lack commitment. Something deeper is more likely going on when this happens.
Anytime you are creating something, you will experience RESISTANCE—a wanting to stop/move onto something else/not finish. It is an absolute given. It happens to every single artist, no matter how talented or successful. Resistance comes from fear: fear that we won’t like the end result; fear that we will mess it up; fear that it won’t be “good enough;” fear that it might be criticized. And, if you have those thoughts for a long time, they become beliefs. Our beliefs are mostly subconscious. We don’t even realize they are there. So when we step out into some unknown or do something new, those beliefs of not-good-enough start simmering below the surface and they cause us to feel fear and anxiety.
The part of our brain that causes us to feel fear is very simple and primitive. It detects “danger” (which in this case is just thoughts we are believing) and sends out adrenaline so we can run or fight. In the absence of true danger, those adrenaline chemicals just circulate around causing us to feel anxious. Since our brain’s job is to keep us safe, it tells us we better stop. We better avoid that thing we are doing that is “dangerous.”
The problem is, we listen to our brains, even when there is no true danger! We stop doing what it is we truly want to be doing, just so we can make our brains think we are safe. We avoid. We procrastinate. We do anything but the thing that makes us feel anxious. And sometimes we do things to relieve anxiety that are harmful to us—abusing alcohol, drugs, food, etc. And the real problem with that is every time we feel anxious and we avoid, procrastinate, and distract ourselves, we are telling our brain, “You were right. This is something to avoid and I should do X instead.” The bad habits get rewarded (anxiety relief), so we turn to them any time things get uncomfortable. Then we’re left with unfinished projects and the sense that we aren’t doing the things that we really want to do.
So, how do you overcome resistance and actually finish what you started? Well, having a plan for your project won’t, in and of itself, guarantee that you will finish it. What having a plan *will* do, is give you something concrete and useful TO DO when the anxiety and resistance inevitably show up. It will keep you moving forward THROUGH the anxiety. It interrupts the negative thinking and temptation to avoid and distract, by giving you a new behavior to put in their place. That behavior is simply the next step on your plan. You keep going, step by step, ignoring the fear that will creep in, until you finish.
A plan can be as simple or detailed as you wish. You could just jot down the steps you are going to take from start to finish. The point isn’t to figure out every aspect of your project before you begin. The point is to acknowledge that you will probably feel like stopping at some point and are going to need a plan for what to do when that happens. Having a physical list in front of you allows you to just MOVE and not THINK. Thinking is the enemy. LOL. Just move onto the next step, despite how you *feel.*
Anxiety and self-doubt are normal feelings that every maker experiences. They never go away. I still experience it every single time I make a journal or work on anything that I want to put out there. The key is to not let those feelings *stop* you. I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” It is the only way to live a life of no regret!!
I could go talk for hours about this topic! I am so passionate about helping people push past fear and anxiety to create what’s in their hearts!!! You will never regret the things you create! You may not LIKE all of them, but you won’t ever regret having done it! You WILL regret the things you leave undone, however!! I am hoping this is something we can continue talking about! SO many of you have shared with me that fear holds you back from creating and I want to help you overcome that and make some things!!!
A really EXCELLENT book on this topic that is very quick to read and I think is ESSENTIAL reading for any creative (or anyone who has trouble finishing things!) is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. One of the best books I’ve ever read and one I revisit frequently.
If you are willing to share, I’d love to hear what your experience of resistance is like in terms of creating and how you handle it (or don’t!).