Seeing is Believing by Liz Verna
This writing exercise was originally published on Creativity Coach Eric Maisel’s blog Fine Arts America on Aug 23, 2019:
Aug 23, 2019 | Fine Arts America
Seeing is Believing
By Liz Verna ATR, LCAT
Exercise Purpose: to tease out subconscious beliefs that block or sabotage creative energy.
Exercise Description: Creatives are encouraged to write freely, uncensored and in a stream of consciousness, about a particular challenge and their feelings about it for a finite period of time, not more than five or ten minutes. All questions, accusations and fears are welcomed onto the page.
Then they are to read over their writing reflectively, isolating statements that appear as facts and circling them. These “facts” are indicators, undercover arrows pointing at beliefs created by past events and hidden away from the cool surface of conscious awareness. Each of these statements is to be written separately as the client asks himself or herself, “What must I believe for this to be true?” Answers may be written in list form beneath, leaving room for scrutiny and confrontation.
For example, the thought “I’m lazy” might be the frustrated sentiment of a procrastinator, but is that true? To challenge this belief, examples of UN-lazy behavior could be listed, for example a creative who loves to hike and does it often is not lazy, but perhaps feels lethargic in the face of a deadline. This makes fear the real culprit, not a proclivity for sitting on the couch.
Perhaps “I’m lazy” is illuminating spots where a creative person needs to reassess his or her intention or ignite passion, or maybe it indicates where practical help like bookkeeping, editing, advertising etc. might be needed. “I’m lazy” derails one’s plans and projects. But when it’s replaced with “I get tired when I’m stressed out, so I will allow for extra rest and structure my work time accordingly,” that rids the creative of judgement, offers a chance for needed support and replaces the dysfunctional belief with neutral reality plus actionable steps.
How this exercise could be used in a coaching session or as coaching homework: In session, this exercise could be used as a battering ram for a particularly stubborn block held in a place and so tangled with defense mechanisms that it can be nearly impossible to spot. In the moment, turning up the volume on a creative’s self-talk by writing it down in a bare-bones list of “facts” makes their beliefs conscious, beliefs that drive every thought, feeling and action the creative takes.
A coach can encourage the creative to question the validity of their self-talk and to literally cross out the negative talk and write truer statements in their place, capping it by creating positive affirmations from these new, positive spins off the dysfunctional relics. The client would write the affirmations a few times and copy them into future writing pages to be found in moments of need. Taking actionable steps towards combatting sabotaging thoughts that inhibit their creative output is energizing and invigorating, and from this new space the coach might suggest a revisit to their current challenge.
A coach might wonder aloud if even one small step could be attempted, another paint stroke or sentence written or plan created, if only to feel the lightness and shift of the dismantled block. As you move through your session, any other stumbling blocks or issues can be jotted down to be used as homework. Away from the moment of crisis, a calmer evaluation is possible. Outfitting the creative with this tool to capture and analyze unconscious thoughts helps them to create a new relationship with their creativity and the ability to see the birthplace of a block rather than feel victim to it.
How a creative might adapt this exercise for home use: This exercise is especially useful in the moment of block or frustration, but for home use I recommend the addition of a timer. Often writing about anxiety-producing topics can pull the writer down into greater feelings of rage and self-doubt, so imposing a finite amount of energy, between five and ten minutes, can prevent this.
The moment of reflection afterwards further grounds the creative into the present moment, where strengths and abilities are the focus, not the problems or hurdles. Adding this exercise to any daily practice helps train the creative to question their blocks and look for the cracks in the foundation rather than simply be crushed under the weight of forces that appear uncontrollable.
It brings attention to the quiet messages muttering under the surface, and writing these down when noticed in a running tab of prompts builds muscles of inner connection, especially when a creative person feels abandoned by or trampled by their creative drive and isolated by the solitary endeavors of creating. This exercise is a reminder that no one truly understands a creative’s internal struggle like they themselves do, and writing can help access this inner guru.
Results with clients or myself: As a therapist and coach setting up a practice I have confronted overwhelming doubts and fears every step of the process, and have found this exercise to be a powerfully grounding tool for reality testing. Am I really the worst writer who ever lived or do I merely need an editor? Am I really incompetent or have I fallen down a rabbit hole of frustration and self-pity?
I have used this exercise when I see I am dragging, or giving in to complacency, and it’s especially effective if I use it objectively, as data. A belief that might have traumatic memories attached to it (“I’m not smart enough to make money”) could be explored and healed in therapy, although it is not required to move past it. I have found this exercise helpful in developing my practical, business brain that looks only for solutions (list past successes, create positive affirmations about my abilities, take a business class, interview those I admire and ask advice, etc.) without my having to take it personally.
Judgement and fear are heavy bags to carry, and ambitious goals require lightness and aerodynamic fluidity if they are to be achieved. If I’m feeling lost writing a large project it is simply more practical and pragmatic to combat the voice in my head that says “I’m not good enough” with “I need another set of eyes to read this.” It keeps heavy self-judgement from crushing me and provides direction and tangible tools, but best of all it gives me the fuel to keep going, to not let ethereal insecurities win the day.
About Liz Verna
Liz Verna is a Licensed Creative Arts Therapist and Coach who uses writing as a way to channel creative energy and harness it to clear the path to artistic flow and productivity. She has written for over 40 years for a captive audience … herself. In that time, she has come to depend on her writing to clarify her own subconscious impulses and transform them into conscious intentions and goals. She has worked in broadcast media, education, customer service and mental health using creativity and communication as her foundation for connection, which she now helps clients to channel in their own lives. Contact Liz Verna at