Whilst I find it much easier nowadays to come up with creative ideas I feel I’ve still a lot of work to do on getting better at actually doing them. Many projects or experiments that I’ve found myself highly excited about have never materialised or have suffered chronic procrastination due to my habit of putting things off. (Here’s an example from the past.) However, I’ve now come to admit to myself that the reason I normally hold off from turning these ideas into action isn’t time, resources or logistics…..but fear!
When I was talking to some friends in early 2013 about my forthcoming book they asked me if I was having a launch party. I responded by saying that I really wanted to avoid a traditional launch party with pomp and ceremony, exclusive invites, champagne and me talking and selling copies. I wanted to do something very different, something that was the antithesis of a traditional book launch and in which I embodied the creative practices I write about. My imagination then kicked in and I found myself telling them that I would be doing a “reverse busking book launch experiment“, playing my guitar and singing improvised songs about the book, with people coming up and taking copies (possibly giving donations if they felt like it was worth it!). I told more and more people about the idea and everyone loved it. However, the more people I told, the less love I felt for it and I started to think of safer alternatives (i.e. excuses) that wouldn’t be as terrifying for me. I decided that, rather than procrastinate or modify my idea, the time had come to confront my fears!
Stoicism is a school of philosophy founded in Athens in 308BC that I first came across in Oliver Burkeman’s fabulous book “The Antidote – A Bracing detox for the self help junkie.” As I understand it, the Stoic philosophy stresses the fundamental importance of reason in making sense of our moment by moment experience, replacing our irrational judgments with rational ones. I wondered if this philosophy might help me make more rational judgments about my own fears that seemed to continually make me procrastinate. The central idea of the stoic philosophy (that was later adopted by American psychologist Albert Ellis) is that, by intentionally experiencing our fears, we can make more rational judgement as to whether they were as awful as we imagined or just a little awkward. (Or as the Stoic philosopher Seneca describes it “deliberately experiencing those evils so as to grasp that they might not be as bad as you’d irrationally feared.”)
I decided that I needed to see if the actual experience of my “reverse busking book launch experiment” idea was as bad as the anticipated one so, on Monday 31st March 2014 I boarded a train to London Waterloo armed with a case load of books, my guitar, my harmonica, a home made “Book Launch” sign and a stomach full of butterflies! The final hours leading up to the event were horrible as I anticipated how awful the whole experience would be and everything that could go wrong.
Here’s what happened:
What I learnt from this experiment:
- The actual experience was NOWHERE near as bad as I had anticipated. About 3 minutes into the experiment, it all became a lot less scary. By the time I was 30 minutes in I was enjoying it. At 60 minutes when I finished (because I got moved on by the authorities) I wanted to do it again!
- I needed to re-connect with the part of me that had come up with the idea in the first place in order to have the courage to do it. This mean trying to tune back into the gut feel I initially had, the rush of excitement and enthusiasm I’d felt and silence the ‘mad, bad and wrong’ voice in my head.
- Even after spending 2 years writing the book, it is still difficult to practice what I preach and be prepared to fail happy and say “yes” to adventure but, having done so, it feels a lot easier. I just need to regularly practice and stretch the boundaries of my experiments.
- I really had to resist the urge to rehearse and practice in advance! Every part of my logical brain was telling me this was a performance and that I had to prepare in order to make it good. I managed to avoid this which made the improvised experience even more exciting and creative.
- Interacting with the general public was nowhere near as scary as I’d imagined and I realised how often I project characteristics onto strangers. Occasionally I saw people whom I anticipated as being grumpy, angry or who I thought might attack me! I incorporated them into my song and every one of them smiled and my perception of them changed.
- People in London were very suspicious and were hesitant to interact or take a book, believing that there must be a catch!
- You need a permit to perform, a permit to advertise and a permit to film on London’s South Bank!
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