If I've learned one thing from my own creative endeavors, and from coaching others, it's this: Engaging in a major creative project, on your own, for months and even years, is not an easy task. And one of the hardest things about it is that in order to move forward, you must actually believe in yourself. Confidence, gusto, and—dare I say it—swagger are key ingredients that keep the creative cylinders firing. If you don't have a little swagger in your tank, it's hard to make the project GO.
So the essential question becomes: what gives us confidence, gusto, and swagger? How about ... a little love?
This week, I was in a meeting with one of my coaching clients—a brilliant writer in the midst of a major project. I wanted to help boost her confidence and belief in her work, and had an idea that I thought might be helpful, but I was a little nervous to suggest it. I gathered up my courage, and began.
"Have you ever heard of a Praise File?" I asked her.
"No. What's that?" she replied.
The Praise File is a concept I learned from The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron's seminal book on creative "unblocking." As she describes it, you create a file—whether digital, or hard-copy—of all the best, nice things people have ever said about you. You gather these bits of praise into a single place. And then, whenever you need a boost, you read it.
If you're cringing internally at the idea of doing this, you aren't alone. As psychologist Rick Hanson has demonstrated through his research, the human brain is like Velcro for criticism and Teflon for praise. Negativity cuts to our core, while positivity rolls off us as quickly as it arrived. We often dismiss our fan mail, or forget it altogether. The Praise File is a way to counteract this pesky evolutionary bug.
Ready to give it a try?
1. Sit down and make a list of (at least) ten important moments, in which you were praised, affirmed, or validated by someone you respect. If these are emails, texts, or Facebook messages, retrieve them. If they are memories that you haven't yet recorded, write down what each person said to you, as accurately as you can. Gather these memories into a single document. For each entry, include a brief note about the date and circumstance of the praise.
2. Review this Praise File each morning for the rest of the week. If more memories of affirmation come to you, jot them down as well.
3. Feelings of being egotistical, or a phony, or "coddling" yourself may come up. For now, set these reservations aside. See this as an experiment, noticing how positive affirmation affects your ability to work.
I'm going to do it, too. If I ever had a Praise File to begin with, it's been years since I looked at it. I'll update you on how this goes for me, and I look forward to hearing how it goes for you too!