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How to Resolve a Creative Block

The Anatomy of Self-Doubt

How to Resolve a Creative Block

Posted June 13, 2017, 3 p.m.
This article originally appeared on Backstage Magazine

“The actor has to develop his body. The actor has to work on his voice. But the most important thing the actor has to work on is his mind.” —Stella Adler

Whenever you experience self-doubt or negative looping thoughts that leave you mentally exhausted—the kind that make you wish you could shut your head off—you’re likely experiencing a “block.”

Blocks can be obvious, like when you show up to an audition and can’t speak. Or they can be not-so-obvious, like when you’re making little overall progress. Either way, the same thing is happening below the surface of your conscious mind: Different aspects of yourself are in open conflict with one another.

If anyone gets the fact that we all have many different aspects of ourselves inside, it’s actors. Exploring the many sides of your personality is crucial to your career and can be fun too, but it can also make you feel like you’re driving with the parking brake on.

Let’s say one part of you wants to land the lead in a feature film but another part is terrified you’ll show up on set and feel like an imposter, like you don’t belong with all these people who are amazing at what they do.

This kind of conflict almost always happens on a subconscious level, so you wouldn’t necessarily be aware that it was happening. But the part of you that’s terrified will do any number of strange things to sabotage and prevent you from getting that role.

The scared part might tell you what a terrible actor you are, that you’re never going to make it, or that you suck. It doesn’t necessarily believe those things, but it’s hoping you will so you’ll stay away from what it’s scared of. To resolve that block, you have to help both parts of you get what they need:

  • The afraid part needs to know you’ll show up on set and belong there. It needs encouragement and safety.
  • The dreamer part needs opportunities to express your talent, creativity, and purpose.

Essentially, you have to create a win-win for the parts of you that are in conflict. And that is always possible.

In this instance, both parts of you would need to understand that they can each get what they need at the same time: you can land the lead and feel safe and confident in your ability to do a great job.

But you first have to create the new win-win scenario in your mind (even if it feels impossible at first), so that both parts of you will want to get on board with it. Then, you’ll immediately start seeing ways in which the new win-win can actually happen, which begins to resolve the inner conflict. The next time you notice back-and-forth in your head, take these steps:

  1. Write down what you want (a role, admission to a film festival, a better agent, etc).
  2. Ask yourself, “What am I afraid might happen if I get what I want?”
  3. Write that fear down (your relationship will suffer, your friends will get jealous, etc).
  4. Write what you want instead of what you’re afraid of (your relationship to improve, your friends to be excited for you, etc).
  5. Write a win-win statement that combines your answer from #1 and your answer from #4. So: “Taking my career to the next level improves everything in my life–my relationships too.”
  6. Make that new win-win statement your mantra, that you can recite to yourself every day.

To hear a detailed example of how to locate the root cause of a block and resolve it, you can listen to this podcast episode of a session I had with one of my clients, who froze up during his audition for “Scandal.”


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