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Developing creativity: Fear is not a disease

Posted Jan 07 2011 10:48pm

“Fear is good. We view fear as a disease. It’s not a disease.” Psychologist Robert Maurer

“I don’t do anything anymore that feels safe. If it doesn’t scare the crap out of you, then you’re not doing the right thing.” Sandra Bullock

Fear is a simple label for a variety of experiences from mild discomfort to real terror, sometimes helpful for personal growth and creative work, but at other times or in more intense forms like anxiety, limiting or destructive.

But fear does show up for all of us at times, even for those who are accomplished and talented.

Michelle Williams commented about working with Ryan Gosling in “Blue Valentine” that when director Derek Cianfrance wanted them to improvise and “surprise” him with their acting, rather than simply following a script, she felt a lot of fear.

Williams said, “I mean, it’s exciting when you catch yourself in the moment and realize you’re not thinking and words are coming out of your mouth and you’ve never done that before. And I feel like I grew so much. But it never stopped being terrifying.”

[From Michelle Williams, Ryan Gosling ad-lib on 'Blue Valentine', by Glenn Whipp, Los Angeles Times January 5, 2011.]

In our interview for her movie “Halloween H20″ (1998), I asked Williams whether she enjoys the experience of fear and seeks it in park rides or scary movies or anything else, and Williams joked, “I do it every day driving in Los Angeles.”

She noted that the fear element of the movie was part of its appeal: “I think that’s what is great about this film is that it’s a rush. And it’s pure, unadulterated, fabulous escapism. And we all need that.”

Part of being creative

Natalie Portman once commented, “Fear is intrinsic to everything you do as a creative person. You’re constantly putting yourself up there to be trashed. If I thought about it too much, I’d just be crippled. I’d rather create.”   [Los Angeles Times Oct 15, 2009]

From post: Developing creativity – some quotes on fear

Many years ago, she talked about experiencing stage fright – a variety of fear or anxiety that many people have at times, including actors and other performers, as well as public speakers.

“When I was little, I was so uninhibited I could do anything in front of people, but now I have terrible stage fright. I’d love to do a play, but I have nightmares about missing lines onstage…”

“The anxiety I now feel about acting has nothing to do with movies, though — it’s just a part of getting older. You become aware of your body changing and of the fact that people are judging you — and you’re really aware of that when you’re in the public eye.”  [LA Times, approx. 1997]

Embracing terror

Alan Alda wrote in an article of his, “When I’m faced with a kind of character I’ve never tried before, the fear can rise to the level of terror.

“But, it’s a terror I look forward to, and I don’t like to take on a part unless it scares me a little. I’ve found a tremendous value in this kind of fear… I don’t just scare myself with playacting. I scare myself in the rest of my life, too.”

From article How to Be a Nervous Wreck .

Psychology of fear and creativity

Robert Maurer, PhD, a UCLA clinical psychologist, has interviewed many successful actors, writers and other creative people, and researched social and neuropsychological aspects of achievement and creative expression for many years.

An article about him said, “Maurer tries to teach writers to accept fear as a natural part of the creative process. He tries to get writers to lose their fear of failure and of taking risks.”

Maurer notes, “If you find the right relationship, does fear go away? No. You publish your first novel, does that make fear go away? No. So your skill at being able to nourish yourself and give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them is your single greatest attribute as an artist and as a human being.”

From Writers can use fear to advantage , by Victor Inzunza

Dr. Maurer notes that even thinking creatively can induce fear:

“Innovation triggers the alarm mechanism in the amygdala section of the brain that’s known as the fight-or-flight response,” he writes.

“More simply put, the thought of change ignites fear… It effectively shuts down all nonessential brain functions, including creative thinking.

From post: Disarming the brain’s fear response

Fear may be indispensable for creative expression

“Fear is good,” Maurer has declared. “As children, fear is a natural part of our lives, but as adults we view fear as a disease. It’s not a disease. Children say they are afraid or scared, but adults use the clinical terms anxiety or depression.

“A writer should not view fear as something bad, but as essentially doing something right.”

Robert Maurer is author of a book that, in part, helps deal with the fear alarm system we have inside: One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way .

But fear may also silence us

But another psychologist and creativity coach, Eric Maisel, PhD warns, “Only a small percentage of creative people work as often or as deeply as, by all rights, they might be expected to work.

“What stops them? Anxiety or some face of anxiety like doubt, worry, or fear. Anxiety is the great silencer of the creative person.”

[Above quotes are from my article Fear and Creativity ]

More Self-Actualizing

In his article Creativity in Self-Actualizing People, personal growth leader Abraham Maslow wrote: “It seemed to me that much boiled down to the relative absence of fear.

“They seemed to be less afraid of what other people would say or demand or laugh at… Perhaps more important, was their lack of fear of their insides, of their impulses, emotions, thoughts.”


Photo of Robert Maurer, PhD from his site The Science of Excellence

Also see articles by Robert Maurer

Sandra Bullock quote from post: Artistic confidence – Embracing fear and discomfort as an actor

Related articles :

Facing the Enemies Within – Courage and Fear , by Jim Rohn

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