Creative Aspirations & How To Not Achieve Them

The Farm Theater’s College Collaboration:
Three universities commission an early-career playwright to write a play that each school will independently produce throughout the academic year. The faculty, students, and playwright collaborate throughout the year in the development of the text. The Farm Report will chronicle that process. In this blog, commissioned playwright Micheline Auger explores willpower.

successI was listening to a Google talk given by Stanford Lecturer and Health Psychologist Kelly McGonigal on willpower. She asked a room full of uber-bright Google employees which scenario was optimal in achieving a desired result: imagining your success or imaging your failure. The majority of Google hands went up on “imagining your success” to which she said, “you are such Americans.”

And yes, we unwittingly are. But let us embrace our more pessimistic sides. Studies show that when people are optimistic about achieving their desired outcomes, they are far more likely to quit when the going gets tough. They are also more likely to quit when the going gets just fine. Conversely, people who imagine their failure, or are primed for it, are more likely to persevere in the face of adversity, as well as in the face of success and just okokayness.

The study she sites is one in which two groups of women have stated exercise goals. One group has to imagine and write about the possible scenarios in which they would not show up for their goal. They include all the details in their description.  “I woke up and feel too tired to exercise.” Or “I don’t have enough time to exercise (or write) because I overslept because I went to bed later than I wanted, because I binge-watched Netflix, or Facebook or (insert here). Then I tell myself I can do it later, after work. After work comes, and I end up going out with a friend for a drink, or I have to stay late to work, or I’m too tired after work and I tell myself I’ll start fresh tomorrow.” Or, “I met my goal consistently for three weeks, I can take one day off.” By clearly imagining all the possible scenarios that you would not show up for your goal, you essentially immunize yourself to it. McGonigal calls it an intervention.

writing pencil

Another interesting finding is that if you do fail at your goal, the ability to practice self-compassion versus beating yourself up better insures that you will actually get back on that horse and ride it (or back in the chair and write it.) Most people feel that if they let themselves off the hook, they will just slack off over and over again, so they bring out the psychological whips and chains. This self-scolding actually increases the odds that you will fail again. So listen to the experts and imagine your failure in all its glorious and mundane detail, and then if and when you do fail, give yourself some compassion and “write on.”

FPP Edit-27-3Micheline Auger is a writer, playwright and occassional producer. She received the 2015 New York Innovative Theater Award for Outstanding Original Full-Length Script for her play Donkey Punch which was produced off-Broadway; she was voted one of Indie Theater’s 2014 People of the Year and was awarded with the National Theatre Conference’s Paul Green Award by veteran Broadway producer Liz McCann. She is also the creator of Theaterspeak and the event, WRITE OUT FRONT which has put over 200 award-winning and up-and-coming playwrights in the window of the Drama Book Shop writing new plays on view of the public in the Times Square Theater District. WRITE OUT FRONT and has been featured on the front page of the New York Times Saturday Arts Section, WNYC, Time Out NY, and on NY1. She has worked with and produced for the Lilly Awards Foundation and is a proud member of the Actors Studio Playwright/Directors Unit, New York Madness Theater Company and the Dramatist Guild.  @Michelineauger @WriteOutFront