Creativity coach Dr. Eric Maisel responds to my questions.
Alyson: What is your book, Ten Zen Seconds, all about?
Eric: It’s actually a very simple but powerful technique for reducing your stress, getting yourself centered, and reminding yourself about how you want to live your life. It can even serve as a complete cognitive, emotional, and existential self-help program built on the single idea of “dropping a useful thought into a deep breath.”
You use a deep breath, five seconds on the inhale and five seconds on the exhale, as a container for important thoughts that aim you in the right direction in life—I describe twelve of these thoughts in the book—and you begin to employ this breathing-and-thinking technique that I call incanting as the primary way to keep yourself on track.
Alyson: Where did this idea come from?
Eric: It comes from two primary sources, cognitive and positive psychology from the West and breath awareness and mindfulness techniques from the East. I’d been working with creative and performing artists for more than twenty years as a therapist and creativity coach and wanted to find a quick, simple technique that would help them deal with the challenges they regularly face—resistance to creating, performance anxiety, negative self-talk about a lack of talent or a lack of connections, stress over a boring day job or competing in the art marketplace, and so on.
Because I have a background in both Western and Eastern ideas, it began to dawn on me that deep breathing, which is one of the best ways to reduce stress and alter thinking, could be used as a cognitive tool if I found just the right phrases to accompany the deep breathing. This started me on a hunt for the most effective phrases that I could find and eventually I landed on twelve of them that I called incantations, each of which serves a different and important purpose.
Alyson: My work with artist-clients is all about taking action. My newsletter is even called the Art Marketing Action newsletter. And now you want me to tell my readers to completely stop?
Seriously, I can see how Ten Zen Seconds will be extremely valuable to artists. So many are caught between the worlds of being creative and having to make a business out of it. Can you address how your methods might work as artists are moving back and forth between those roles? Some of the complaints I hear most often concern overwhelm, time management, and marketing and business tasks they don’t enjoy.
Eric: Overwhelm is generally a function of not being happy and of having to do too much just to keep meaning afloat. One artist may be able to go on for hour after hour painting and selling, painting and selling, for two essential reasons: that her paintings satisfy her and that they are selling. That is the ideal and actually the antidote to overwhelm; the antidote to overwhelm isn’t doing less, because quiet time can be painful time, it is feeling (and being) successful.
The incantations help a person feel less overwhelmed, manage her time better, and get to her routine (and perhaps boring and unpleasant) business tasks by promoting “mindful success,” that is by promoting a way of life where action is valued over inaction, where challenges are articulated and met, where work is named and done, and where joy is permitted. There is actually more to be done in life, not less, including the boring things, but in a context of passionate meaning-making.