It doesn’t have to be perfect but you do need to start

I started my business with a small amount of savings that had to be my actual pay (think coffee money) and cover all business costs until the business started providing for itself. My partner took on the heavy lifting of household finances and I was free to work on my business. That first year I needed every cent to pay for room hire, art materials, insurance, coaching and all the other bare basic start up costs for an art therapist.

At the start it felt like EVERYTHING cost money, money I didn’t have.

I wanted to start getting clients, but I didn’t have business cards or brochures, and I didn’t have fancy professional photos, or a logo or designer so how would I get started?

Bottom line – I just did.

A few hours with a graphics software and some photos I’d taken myself, a small black and white print I’d made a few months earlier and I had a logo and brochure designed. Less than $200 with a cheap online printer and a week later I had my first actual ‘collateral’* for my business.

(It wasn’t easy. Well tbh making it once I started was actually easy but GETTING STARTED was excruciating. I procrastinated like anything for months before I finally jumped right in.)

So then the brochures arrived.

I wish I could tell you I was highly systematic and confident in handing those bad boys out. But I wasn’t. I gave some to friends and asked if they could put them in their favourite cafes (because I was too shy). Within a few weeks had my first paying client (that was like magic – I couldn’t believe it actually worked! I almost fell off my chair when she called asking about an appointment).

“Winners take Imperfect Action while others are perfecting their plans.” – Kevin Nations

The moral of the story is that even if you are a cheapass, oh I mean frugal, oh I mean skint, first business owner or stepping out into a brand new creative project you need to START. NOW. With what you have. Without putting yourself into financial ruin.

You can work on the packaging as you go, you can rebrand later when you are making a profit. Sure your materials might not win any awards for prettiest graphics, but here is what I know for sure**: if you don’t put yourself out there and tell the world you are open for business you will not have a business.

  • Having 100 business cards out in the world, even if you think the graphics are less than superb, will build your business faster than a very good intention to one day have the perfect business card designed and made.
  • A business Facebook page that you use once a week and are still figuring out how to use has more chance of helping clients find you than the strongly held wish that someone else would come and save you from all things social media.
  • Five posters up in cafes will get more attention for your workshop than 100 in your bottom desk draw.
  • A simple web page even if it’s just ONE page with your name, one paragraph about what you do, photo and contact details is better than no online presence at all while you secretly hope you will one day wake up as a confident web designer and all your problems will be solved.

Now I’m not talking about skimping on the core stuff, the things that create your service and provide a reliable experience for customers. Your training. Your insurance. Your legals and professional memberships. Your supervision. Anything where there is a set quality expected by your customers or law. But there are certainly other areas of your business where ‘some’ is better than ‘none’. In my experience these include marketing, an online presence, getting the equipment you need to do your job, providing yourself with mentoring or coaching support, putting time aside for self care.

In these areas I encourage you to embrace the idea that it absolutely doesn’t have to be perfect, but you do need to get started. 

 

*Fancy marketing terms for branded things you use with clients like business cards, brochures, posters, ebooks, stuff like that

** Don’t you love this phrase?! My friend Karen Gunton uses this all the time. When you’re stuck or confused she suggests you ask “What do I know for sure?” and list those things.


Does this resonate? Have you started something with imperfect perfect action? What is one thing you might get started on NOW even if it’s not perfect?

 

 

 

 

Working around and with resistance

“Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” – Steven Pressfield, Do The Work

What do you think? Do you think you avoid the big stuff that is closest to your heart and dreams? I know I do! As I do more and more to bring my wishes into reality I get closer to the really big wishes, and the resistance is fierce!

So how to work over, under, alongside or around resistance (aka fear of failure aka fear of success aka procrastination)?

Two things: dial up the fun, dial down the fear.

Or as I like to think about it: dial up the love.

What might that look like for me?

Dial up the fun: switch to a material that is new and I can explore (using gouache? swap to inks),  create some parameters that limit my options and get my creative juices flowing (try using and designing a limited colour palette? Create a vintage feel where each face is from the 1930’s), connect the doing with something else I also like (paint while listening to audio books? a new album?).

Dial down the fear: give myself permission to make ‘bad art’ (release any thoughts of ‘good’, try making grotesque faces like gargoyles, do some very very quick pieces that are allowed to be awkward and ugly), pick my environment so that I feel safe and happy while working (painting while other people are around, sitting in the sunshine outside, sitting at the dining table with daily life scattered around me rather than at my drawing desk), do a series just for me and my journal and not intended to share with anyone (later I can change my mind about that if I want to, once they are done, but shhhhh don’t tell my resistance that).

Another way to dial down the fear is to rethink the part that is actually scaring me – the idea of exhibiting them.

To do that I might:

  • Think creatively about my goal and what else might give me the same feeling of satisfaction with less stress – for example create a virtual, ‘online’ exhibition rather than a face to face one for example, approach a cafe as an exhibition space rather than a gallery
  • Phone a friend – this might be to work with a mentor or coach about it, or organise a group show with a friend, ask someone else to help me pick a venue, ask for help / ideas/ etc from friends and networks, connect with a purpose bigger than myself – raising awareness about an issue maybe, or donate sales to charity
  • Do the smallest step – some ideas here are forgetting the end point for now and just setting the goal of exploring 5 new galleries to see how they work and what the space is like, or just go and cost some frames and have fun looking at how I could mount them
  • Voice the fear – acknowledge and name the fear for myself, and comfort myself about it using kind language, journal about it, talk to loved ones about it. (Oh yeah also – blog about it!? lol)

What I will not be doing:

  • Shame myself –  I will honour my fear. I will not shame myself into feeling like a failure because I’m feeling scared.
  • Belittle myself – I wont buy into someone else’s story of what is ‘easy’ and therefore diminishes or downplays how I feel (I can do lots of other supposedly big brave clever things but it just so happens I’m terrified of going into a gallery and asking about hiring a wall).
  • Bully myself into action – It’s important to me that I don’t force or push or boss myself into doing it despite my feelings. I know that invalidates the part of me that needs reassurance and support, and creates a relationship of ignoring my feelings and treating myself harshly.

Basically the challenge for me is to NOT ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ because that response is actually very familiar to me. Rather my challenge is to feel the fear and love myself anyway. Feel the fear and ask myself ‘what would make this safer? Kinder? Easier? More fun?’ and then wait patiently until the right combination of supportive actions feels safe and I burst forward with energy again.

How about you? How do you work around, under, over and with your resistance when faced with something scary, new or close to your heart?

 

Resistance training

As soon as I made the commitment I mysteriously no longer wanted to do it. At all.

Huh?

As soon as I made the public commitment to keep painting faces ready to exhibit them, I suddenly stopped wanting to do it.

True story.

I forgot all about them.

Whatever urge I had to work on them had just dissipated, morning dew evaporating under the fierce light of the sun.

This is one way resistance shows up.

As forgetfulness. As sudden disinterest. As sudden more urgent priorities eclipsing the goal or project.

We bury the tender dream deep under protective layers of slumber.

And then we feel safe again.

No vulnerable going out on a limb.

No putting ourself in front of critics.

No deliberately stepping closer to danger.

The long term, deep and diffuse pain of not acheiving our goals seems preferable to the short term anxiety inducing fearful pain of actually moving towards them.

So how to work over, under, alongside or around resistance?

Next week’s post has some ideas.

 

Just keep saying yes

When I started my business, I did all the regular planning and strategising but at the start, feeling a wee bit terrified and overwhelmed, I developed a basic motto and benchmark for myself: ‘say yes to my business everyday’.

What that meant was no matter how daunted I was feeling, no matter how low in energy, or busy finishing up a task from yesterday, I would try to do something that demonstrated that I believed in my business, and was moving it forward.

Write a blog post. 

Email a potential new client. 

Get brochures made. 

Start a twitter account.

Write 5 ideas for that thing.

The very idea seemed like a far-out big dream. It seemed kind of unreal. The magnitude of everything that needed doing was overwhelming. There was the very real danger that I would freeze in fright, or run screaming to something easier. Resistance and disbelief were present and very busy having their say about the whole situation.

The intangible barriers – disbelief that I could really do it, shock at the freedom to choose the shape my work took, fear of the responsibilities that would come as I stepped out into the unknown, feeling a changing sense of who I was in the world of work as I established myself in a new field – these are what made doing things hard. Not the tasks themselves.

Taking something that doesn’t exist yet and bringing it into life is a very different prospect than working on something that is already there. It takes courage, it is a giant leap of faith.

So although I had a business plan and a big list of tasks, at the end of the day I considered myself successful if I had just shown up and said yes in a tangible way sometime during that day. I realised that taking any action at all was a huge act of faith and courage. And I didn’t even care which action I took – I let go of the sense that there was one defined way the tasks should unroll.

So when I hear people saying that they have a lingering dream that they can’t yet bring themselves to work on I suggest also that they just try saying yes everyday. No task has to be huge. People are often working and parenting and doing a million other things, and busy like we all are. No one task has to be huge, but if you are doing even a teensy small thing every  day you are subtly shaping your view of who you are. The dream feels more real, closer. You are shaping the view of you that people around you have. You are bringing the new identity close and into sharper definition.

Say yes with the little things, say yes with the opportunities that jump in front of you.

Want to start a new business? Want to publish a book? Want to be an exhibiting artist? Want to write a song and have it played by an orchestra?  Want to sell your hand made things at a market? Want to start a not for profit? Want to go live on an island? Want to try running your first workshop? 

If you have a dream that’s been hanging around making your heart heavy because you’ve started to wonder if it’s even remotely possible or whether you’ll ever take the first step, just find a way to do something that leads you closer to the dream, every single day.

Make a vision board.

Tell someone at your next BBQ or lunch date about your dream.

Find a book written by someone who has already done it.

Find a community group, MeetUp group our networking group that supports people who do this thing, and go to their next meeting.

Sign up for a short course.

Write in your journal about it.

Send that email.

Ask to help someone out.

Fill your house with the equipment you need, the visual reminders of your dream.

Find a mentor.

No single task has to ‘succeed’ or deliver your dream to you on a plate. The main goal is movement and repeated conviction: that you keep showing up and saying (through your words and actions) that you care about this thing, that you want it. And that you are willing to do things to get it.

Anything that helps show the world what you are passionate about, helps connect you with people who work in that field, anything that builds your skills, anything that builds your confidence that you can do one or more of the required tasks, anything that fills you with fun and energy and reconnecting with the dream. Just say yes to the dream, anyway you can, even though it’s terrifying, even though it feels so far away.

Know that if you turn up and keep saying yes soon you will win your own trust back, the small actions will begin to create ripples, and your dream will start saying yes to you.

 

Why are people scared of making art?

All of these are powerful reasons to not make art, and to fear the blank page (/keyboard/ stage/ singing lesson.. etc).

These messages become internalised, until people believe it as a ‘fact’: that they ‘can’t draw’, ‘don’t have a creative bone in my body’, or similar.

They may have been told they were ‘no good at art’ by an art teacher or they may have secretly dreamed of becoming an artist, but then received very strong cultural messages that told them there was no point trying unless they were a creative genius, unless they were Picasso, that there was no point.

Perhaps they were assigned a different role in the family, told that their sibling was ‘the creative one’ and instead they were the ‘smart’ or ‘sensible’ or ‘practical’ one. So being ‘creative’ then felt off-limits, like it belonged to someone else.

Perhaps they think that they must be an ‘expert’ and the experience of not knowing, being a learner, being a beginner is terrifying. Perhaps staring at the blank page they suddenly feel exposed to criticism, vulnerable to ridicule and shaming if they create something ‘childish’ or ‘bad’.

Perhaps they fear being our of control, or not in control, and the strange images and shapes that emerge unsettle them and threaten their sense of autonomy or self-hood.

Perhaps they have strong values of ‘being useful’ and ‘not wasting materials’, so the very thought of play seems indulgent and wasteful and like they may be punished for it.

All of these are powerful reasons to not make art, and to fear the blank page (/keyboard/ stage/ singing lesson.. etc).

These messages become internalised, until people believe it as a ‘fact’: that they ‘can’t draw’, ‘don’t have a creative bone in my body’, or similar.

And then as a result they don’t ever try – or when they do try they are stilted with fear and horrified at the marks they make, and swear never to do it again – thus creating a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Helping people become friends again with their creativity is a powerful part of art therapy. We do this by creating a safe space for making, by developing a different story about what art ‘is’ and what it is for, and encouraging a deeply personal and therapuetic relationship with art making.

What is your relationship with your creativity?

piggybackIs creativity a long lost friend you forget to ring until the day is over and you’re laying in bed and you think ‘tomorrow!’ with a pang of guilt?

Is creativity an acquaintance that you suspect doesn’t really like you much?

Is creativity an old lover you were once close to but now feel embarrassed to be around because you think they might not like you much anymore?

Is creativity like your best friend in childhood who you could play with every day and then cry and wheedle when the adults arrived to take them home because you weren’t done yet?

Is creativity a dirty little secret – someone you see briefly for a rush of passion but try not to remember when you’re back in ‘normal life’?

Is creativity the one you’ve seen in the distance across the room and feel a deep connection with but you’re too shy to go up and say hello?

Are you catch-up-only-sometimes-but-over-hours-of-delicious-chat-and-a-bottle-of-wine friends?

Is creativity a bit like a mythical creature – you’ve heard it talked about but never seen it up close with your own eyes?

Is creativity a dear friend you chat with weekly or daily?

Tell us below what your relationship is with your creativity at the moment!


If you want to make better friends with your creativity come along to my monthly Mixed Media Masterclasses in 2017, or consider joining my Women’s Creative wellbeing Group (face to face or online) in January.

Know your gatekeeper

Who stands at the gate stopping us from embarking on our most important creative adventures?

You can be very proficient. Good at doing a hundred things. Confident at doing a hundred more. And yet… there can be one thing that feels off limits. Way too hard. Likely impossible.

You are equally attracted to it and repelled by it.

‘I. Must. Write.’ part of you says, with gritted Clint Eastwood teeth.

‘I. Must. Not. Write!!!’ a shrill Lauren Bacall yells with hands in the air.

Yes. No. Push. Pull. The urge to act. The urge to not act.

No wonder you stay stuck. It’s not laziness, it’s just physics – two equal and opposite forces butting heads against each other, and you, the meat* salad in the too-tight sandwich with your insides spilling out all lettucey and over the place.

Likely you have an inner visionary, who can see the project, feel the project, wants in on the project. And then you have also an inner gatekeeper, who stands at the threshold of the project, hands on hips, saying ‘What you? Coming in here, with those shoes? Nope, I don’t think so’.

Now these gatekeepers look different for different people, and the words they say to us are different:

  • Yours might say ‘people in this family don’t play music – life is hard and serious and needs proper attention, so just you get back to doing something useful thanks very much’. 
  • Mine might say ‘there’s no point trying to print fabric because it’s all been done before and you’re just going to be disappointed when people don’t like it and you realise you’ve made something not very good.’
  • That woman who works in the shop up the road might have one that says ‘only ball-breakers become businesswomen, you’re too nice, you’d be eaten alive, you’re better off working for someone else than going out on your own.’
  • Your friend on social media who loves art but never makes any might have one that says ‘aaaah if you paint beautifully people will notice you and you will be weird and different and life will feel uncomfortable so just don’t even think about that’.
  • The guy siting next to you on the bus might have one that says ‘look, I think just between you and me no one will like what you make so let’s just avoid all that laughter and derision and horrible reviews in the Times and not bother trying to make films’.

On and on and on. These gatekeepers talk to us in voices of ‘let’s not bother’, ‘who are you to try’, ‘it’s not ok for you to be doing this’, ‘you don’t have what it takes’, ‘life wont be safe anymore if you do this’, ‘people wont like you any more if you do this’….. on and on and on.

And beyond them, our gatekeepers and those giant double barred gates they keep locked, we sense glimmers of the gold of our projects – finally embarked upon, finally experienced.

—–

Reflection questions:

What is it that feels really charged and dangerous for you to embark on? Which creative endeavours feel full of dread and portent?

Are you aware of your inner gatekeeper? Have you listened carefully with curiosity to what it says, or written it down in your journal?

Have you ever imagined it as a character and wondered what it’s motivation is? Are you aware of what it is trying to protect you from? Have you listened to see whose voice it reminds you of?

 

*I don’t eat meat so I figure my metaphors should be brought along for the ride as well

Reader question: How to keep on keeping on

I was SUPER excited to hear from someone who sat down and read my entire blog from front to back last month, every last post, AND found it inspiring AND took the time to tell me. She also shared some ideas for future posts, in the form of questions that she has about the creative process and going after your dreams. I am very grateful special reader (you know who you are).

So, here is the first of a series of ‘reader question’ posts that I plan to scatter throughout this year’s programming. Let me know if you like the format, and if you also have questions of your own you’d like addressed in a blog post, PLEASE let me know.

I will now rest my excited caps lock button and proceed.

1) How to keep doing something. I love the idea of doing something a little bit every day, but not coming from a family of doers, and being the kind to completely blob out in front of the telly every night, I find it easy to be inspired and get started but impossible to continue. So, pointers/carrots/sticks would be lovely.

Thanks for the question, I think it’s one that many people experience – the initial wave of excitement that can come with a new idea and the fading and slightly stale or sad feeling that may follow. Many people also struggle with their habits, recognising that it can be hard to learn new skills that we didn’t pick up in childhood, or to step out and ‘go against the grain’ of what our families like and admire. Barabra Sher has great stuff to say about this in her books – see the bottom of this post for a mini reading list.  So yes, great question.

My very short answer is eliminate the obvious, recognise resistance, sidestep the perfectionist, ride the waves, check for interest and build your support structures. More about these below.

Eliminate the obvious

So, to begin with, eliminate the obvious: exhaustion, depression, ill health can make it hard for us to muster energy and follow through with plans. It might sound obvious but I would always suggest checking in and making sure that at this particular point in time you are well rested, not overworked, not in a life transition that is extremely stressful, not suffering from depression, or struggling with an immune disorder or some other condition that might be sapping your energy. I think this is important because our culture so values activity over rest, and we can sometimes forget that pushing harder on the accelerator while our body has the brake on is a sure fire way to burn out our engines. So check in first and make sure there’s no underlying reason why activity might be hard for you right now. If there is a good reason to be tired, maybe respect that for the moment and focus on getting all the rest and help you need to be physically and emotionally well.

Recognise resistance

Next I think it’s important to recognise resistance. Instead of thinking ‘why am I so lazy and stupid?’ it is a lot kinder to think ‘wow, could I be scared of something here?’. Resistance is a natural digging in of the heels that you do when you feel fear. Fear is usually of some kind of change – and that can be linked to EITHER failure or success…even a change that might bring success can be deeply scary. Barbara Sher talks a lot about resistance, and how it is a perfectly normal biological response to change, and is designed to keep us safe.

Fear of writing a bad poem or embarrassing ourselves at that dance class we say we want to go to registers in our bodies as fear of something life threatening. Acceptance of ourselves, and by our ‘tribe’ is a key goal for most, so it is completely understandable that we should fear being rejected or judged. Recognising resistance is the first step to then finding ways around it. If we just keep something as a vague dream and then get angry at ourselves for never magically waking up and feeling like doing it, we wont get very far. It is like a horse rider getting angry at a horse that wont move, rather than recognising that something is probably scaring it, and figuring out what that is. So if you have a nervous ‘icky’ feeling attached to something that you also really want to do, and you notice you just can’t get started, chances are it’s resistance. It’s normal, it’s human, try not to waste valuable time and energy beating yourself up about it. You’ll need that energy to do something about it instead!

Sidestep your inner perfectionist

Perfectionism to me is the fear of just not doing a very good job at whatever task you are stepping out to do. Do you have an inner perfectionist? Goodness knows I do. There are times when it is paralysing for me to think about starting because I *know* I can’t do a wonderful job of a particular project (say its new to me, or I know I don’t have much time to do it in, or I know I’m a beginner and don’t have great skills yet, or worse yet I know that I have no benchmark or wont get any feedback and wont know if I’ve done a good job or not). In this case I suggest sidestepping the perfectionist. Acknowledge the inner perfectionist, listen politely for a while and then do whatever it take to politely step around them and keen on moving.*

Things I like for getting around this block are: giving myself permission to do a bad job (‘ok then perfectionist, I hear you, and I agree that it is unlikely I’ll do something great so stuff it, I wont make ‘proper’ art, I’ll just scribble a little bit on this page and let off steam.. oh look at these pretty colours.. oh now I’m adding layers.. oh what do you know I like it’). I also remind myself that in learning new skills we need time to not know, to try, to get things ‘wrong’ and to do an awkward and slow job of things before it starts to feel second nature. The phrase that reminds me of this is ‘a bit like the first pancake’ (you know, when the pan isn’t quite warm enough but you cook the first pancake anyway and it’s a bit bodgy, but that’s ok because the next one is better).

I try to remember that even masters of their craft were beginners once too. Be completely radical and give yourself permission to be just average – or even to do a shoddy and half-arsed job. Sometimes you can do this by building in time to your project for a ‘rough draft’ or ‘concept map’ or ‘first go’. Or build in early rounds of collaboration, input, reviews or checks by others’ who you think are pretty skilled at this thing (whatever it is you are trying to do). It lowers the pressure, lowers the stakes and tells your perfectionist to go take a nap. Once you’ve sidestepped the perfectionist you can wander about and find you inner cheerleader or the part of you that’s actually fascinated with what you’re doing instead.

Body surf on your inner waves

In riding the waves what I mean is to look for and make use of whatever patterns and rhythms your body and energy levels tend to have. Are you a morning person or or night owl? Do you find you have weekly or monthly cycles of greater energy and activity? Do you feel more energised after physical activity? After listening to inspiring podcasts? Do you notice an up welling of enthusiasm after you’ve cleared the kitchen and wiped the benches, or does some energetic music and a dance around the house get you moving? Does a morning coffee get your mojo rising?

Living in a land of clocks and clockwork, we can feel sometimes like we MUST have a measured, even, consistent contribution to be productive or efficient. And maybe that works for some people, but quite frankly it doesn’t for me, not one little bit. My energy levels are like waves and tides – there are little cycles of more and less energy through a day or a week and then larger tides come in and out. I know that sleep, nutrition, time outside, natural hormone cycles, caffeine, contact with people (either inspiring or draining), noise levels, my fear about failure, whether my creative well is full, the amount of daylight, the weather, and sometimes which way the wind is blowing (joking. I think) can all effect how enthused I am about my projects and how much ‘energy’ I have to spend on them. For me, ‘energy’ is this intangible thing which is hard to measure or see externally but boy does it make a difference. I can get a week’s worth of work done in a day if I am feeling inspired, upbeat, and energised, and get it done without ‘pain’ and dragging of heels. Part of the trick then is to schedule the tasks to make use of the energy when you have it, and to feel OK with a more ‘organic’ pattern of creating, that might not be the same amount every day – and maybe that’s OK.

Check for interest… and ditch it or try to make it fun again

Do you really want to do this project? Or did last year you want to do it but today you are sick of it entirely? Sometimes our ego self gets very excited when we start making useful pretty things, and wants us to keep making them over and over to get whatever ‘goodies’ (material or emotional rewards) it sees these outputs can bring us. We can assume that this project will make us satisfied because it did the first time we did it. So our head says ‘make more! do your project!’ while actually our creative self says ‘I’m bored with this and want something new’. If you identify as a scanner this might be particular relevant.

If the project isn’t actually fascinating or exciting to you anymore (even when you imagine doing it with ease, not being able to get it wrong, and having nothing but acceptance and encouragement from everyone else) then chances are you’ve just lost interest and maybe you just need to erase it off your to do list. Try stepping away from it. If the idea of never doing it doesn’t cause a pang of loss you are probably ready to leave it behind. If it feels sad to never do it chances are you want to do it but are just suffering from some garden variety resistance and need to try some of the tips in the sections below.

If on the other hand you are a bit bored with the whole thing but committed to it and need to get it done anyway, do whatever it takes to make it fun and interesting again….

  • Connect with inspiration – read about someone who’s done it, look at great images of the work of other designers, go to a hardware shop and let your fingers trail along the pieces of wood
  • Mix up your materials – try a new colour, new combination of yarns, a new app, a new format, something to add learning into an already familiar task
  • Give yourself a limited structure or set of constraints that you’ve never worked to before – if you’re a novelist try haiku for a few days, if you’re an illustrator try only doing paper cut outs this week, if you’re a pianist try playing one handed today
  • Join a challenge – e.g.. to make and share something every day for 30 days. It often reduces the expectations and encourages you to try new formats. The time pressure alone can make things feel more exciting.
  • Shift your project just little a bit – I used to like taking photos of a new flower every day on my morning walk. At first I loved it. Then it felt a bit ‘expected’. I started to feel like I was looking for and seeing the same things. Recently I’ve started a new daily photographic project where I photograph small objects I find to use in art making while on my walk – arranging them on my kitchen bench when I get home. I still get the benefits of a daily photographic practice linked to walking, but it feels fresher and more authentic now it’s a new topic.

If you can’t make it interesting, and your safety or material wellbeing is not hanging on this project, then don’t do it. Find something else that is fascinating – even if it means icing a cake rather than writing a symphony, or learning to repair shoes rather than writing a short story.

Build your support structures

OK so you’re not sick, you are interested in the project, you’ve recognised resistance and perfectionism and found some ways to step around them, and you’re aware of the way your energy comes and goes and are OK to work with that. Great! Now comes the fun stuff – building your practical and tangible carroty – sticky support structures.

Here are some I use at different times:

* parallel task – do boring tasks like filing or tidying alongside a fun task like listening to music or a podcast to distract from the aversion I feel for it ( I *know* this is the opposite of being fully present and mindful in the task, but to be honest I just find it so hard to fold washing mindfully, I would much rather fold washing distractedly while learning about a topic I care about). This isn’t the same as multitasking where you flick backhand forth between tasks, and lose concentration and efficiency along the way, you just do the two side by side as a way to fill up your concentration and associate something fun with something less fun.

* sneak something useful* into down time – Barbara Sher talks about setting up your easel in the loungeroom and painting in the ad breaks right alongside your family. I do similar, working on multimedia art, cutting out pictures for collage or knitting while watching TV, or sketching at airports in the waiting lounge. A friend had a writing routine while commenting on a train. Even doing 15 minutes of something creative that you love will brighten up your day, and you’ll feel more connected to your dreams. You might just need to let go of any rigid rules you have like ‘I have to work on my project for 3 hour blocks when no one’s around, in a silent tower with only iced lemon tea to drink and a wet washcloth infused with the scent of jasmine on my forehead’. (* Yes I know, doing nothing and resting is also useful. I have an inherent and sometimes unhelpful bias towards activity.)

* lift my mood first – sometimes I lift my energy some other way first and then ride that wave through the hard or boring task – e.g. go for a brisk walk in the sunshine, have a coffee at my favourite cafe and then come back with a bounce in my step and tackle the hard task.

* do it with a friend – I have an art project I make that requires hours and hours of manual photocopying of my original artworks at a printshop – I find it smelly and confusing and hard – BUT I LOVE the final product and get such a strong sense of satisfaction when it’s done, so the best way I’ve found is to get a friend who likes arty stuff to come along with me – we finish up with wine and dinner and I get the whole thing done in a day. And I can’t then chicken out and avoid it on the day. You can even invite a friend over while you make the scary first steps of a new project, or get through the tricky bit. Sometimes just having someone to complain to (er, sit with) really helps. Whatever it takes.

* new environment – sometimes doing things in cafes feel more fun than doing them at your desk and you have less distractions and other tasks to procrastinate with.  Only you know whether you’d like a quiet haven or a hustly bustly busy hum in the background. Some tasks are nice done under a tree, or with the ocean as a backdrop. I even find some tasks are great done with a very short deadline (‘send that overdue email right now at this bust stop before the bus arrives’).

* do it with company – a craft or making project might be something you would enjoy doing with others around say in a share space like a Men’s Shed or Women’s Shed, or a local ‘drop in’ art space. If you are a writer and feel like a change of scenery and some company might help try Write Together or its offshoot Create Together. Going to a course or workshop on something you kind of know how to do but just want an excuse to do more of (e.g.. cooking, printmaking, drawing, web design, meditating) can be a great choice if you can. Participants in my weekly Women’s Creative Wellbeing group tell me they find it so much easier to make time for creative expression when they’ve signed up to a regular event and have a small group around them all working on the same thing.

* make deadlines – personal projects often don’t have deadlines. I work well with the finality of a deadline to push me through my resistance. Committing to another person or public forum to submit a draft / have something ready also helps. For example, I often finish designing my workshops and doing all the logistical prep work AFTER I have a date set and people booked in, because then it feels real and I don’t have a choice. Can you create an ‘exhibition’ or sharing of your work that will give you a deadline? Can you join an event that requires you to have worked towards the goal in advance? Could you work with a friend or coach to create a plan with mini milestones?

* bribery – some people finds this works. It doesn’t really work for me as a general rule but very occasionally very occasionally  I will make myself do something I don’t like if I get to do something I do like afterwards. Usually I’ll just skip straight to eating the carrot.

* pomodoro technique – do you know it? A way to hack time to get more done in short bursts. Works a treat, I work much better with a sense of urgency, this helps create one even when there’s not one. In my online groups and one on one coaching I also use Barbara Sher’s ‘blockbuster’ method to help people get things done in short bursts of time.

So there you have it. A quick romp through some different approaches to doing things you want to do more often. Most of them link to increasing the joy in the task and decreasing the feelings of isolation and fear of failure that keep many of us stuck.

Do any of these resonate? What have you found also works for you?

 

*Deeper work with a trained counsellor, psychotherapist or art therapist on uncovering the critical voices in your head and replacing those with more encouraging ones can also be very powerful, alongside using the tips above, especially if your attitudes to yourself are highly critical and unforgiving.  

Coping with the festive season…creatively!

Today I talk with Doret about surviving Christmas, getting things done, and how to weave your creative projects into busy daily life. Doret is a South African based writer, language teacher and coach and specialises in language coaching, daily-life-structuring and recommending story books.

So Doret, you specialise in helping people organise their daily lives – can you explain a bit more about what that means?

That makes me sound really organised, doesn’t it? I hope no-one who’s seen my desk or “calendar” reads this! Often people who are going through a big change like retirement or relocation or a job change, feel a bit lost in their new life. So many things to try, so many things they miss, so many “shoulds” and often the day ahead has the same blank threatening glitter as the blank page in front of the writer. So when people are caught somewhere between the overwhelm of all the possibilities and the floating lack of structure in their day, I help them to try out some changes in habit. Now “routine” and “structure” sound very rigid, and it can be a pleasant surprise to find how fun and creative the right solution might be. For instance, keeping a sketch book next to the toilet to remind you to do a little drawing or taking your laptop to the local library instead of a café. A coach once told me to re-structure my research project as if it were an expedition and I finished a chapter I’d been struggling with for months! But of course, tossing out all sorts of ideas is only the beginning. I think the accountability that a coach provides, makes an even bigger difference. Something simple like a weekly deadline to send a coach an email to say “I’ve learnt two pick-up lines in French today”, can be more effective than saying to yourself “I’m going to be disciplined and try harder this week to spend an hour a day on French.”

What are your tips for surviving and thriving through the holiday season?

Think small. This works for both pleasant and unpleasant disruptive times. When your schedule at work is too hectic to allow any painting or when you have to spend two weeks travelling and you are too tired to write, I would give you the same advice. Try to write a haiku on the days you can’t get any other writing done. That way your creative gears stay oiled, you keep some sort of handle on your writing life during even the most chaotic times and afterwards I have something pretty to show for it – even the lamest little poem or sketch tells you something when you look back afterwards. So think “funny haiku contrasting snowy Christmas scene with the summer weather we have this side of the planet” instead of “I don’t have time for all this tinsel while my novel is rotting in a drawer”. The incessant commercialism, the frantic dashes to tired malls, the squabbles and explosions over endless days of trying to make the day perfect for too many different people… slouch into a corner and text a haiku to a frazzled friend. Apart from keeping creative endeavours rolling while you’re stuffing your face, this works well for other holiday problems too. That little sketch you scratch on a napkin becomes your little breathing space. The little note you make in your book about a funny spelling error you saw in the supermarket aisle becomes your crutch. The string of haikus on your phone becomes a glittering little present to yourself and your friends on the receiving end. Plan ahead… buy presents early… prepare dishes ahead and freeze… are you kidding me? But 5-7-5 syllables, that I can do.

How do you think learning a language can enrich your life?

Through my work as a language teacher, I’ve become increasingly interested in the side-benefits of learning languages. And especially learning little bits of languages, because I think people often become discouraged when they think about “fluency”. I think that learning even a few new words pay off. Not just for communicating but for the sheer entertainment value they add to your life. It can also be surprising what a translation of your personality and your wishes can teach you about yourself and what is important to you.

Why does Barbara Sher’s work appeal to you?

The first of her books I read I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What it Was (Isn’t that just the best title?) made me sit bolt upright. Not only was this woman different and entertaining, but it felt like she knew me. Her take on things is practical, funny, clearly set out and doable. As the originator of “Success Teams“ and the term “Scanner” for people with many interests, it’s no wonder some people call her “The Godmother of Coaching”. Since her first book shoved me in the right direction, I have read most of the others and I love her new channel on YouTube as well as her subscription service Hanging Out with Barbara Sher. I guess another reason why her work appeals to me, is because her straightforward practicality and humour fit well with my personality.

What’s one thing you’d recommend to someone who has a goal they want to get done in the new year?

Get company. Rustle up a support group or get a coach or join a Success Team.

 

Great advice! Thanks Doret. I think I’ll be doing some haiku myself – maybe in the queue at the post office, or in transit to my next Christmas get together.

To all readers of this blog this year, clients, collaborators, fellow art therapists, bloggers and beyond: I hope you have a wonderful, warm, restorative holiday season and a New Year filled with creative possibilities.

 

About the interviewee

Doret is a South African based writer, language teacher and coach and specialises in language coaching, daily-life-structuring and recommending story books. She helps people daunted by the task of brushing up a language, learning a new language or adapting to a new life phase. She writes about books, languages, her expeditions and life-long teaching on her blog The Dusty Shelf Academy.

About the interviewer 

Jade Herriman is a Sydney based transpersonal art therapist and coach. She draws on over 15 years experience working in government and higher education as a sustainability professional, researcher and facilitator. Jade integrates the principles of client centered counseling and group facilitation with art therapy processes and her own experience of creative practice. Jade runs a variety of creative workshops and offers individuals art therapy or coaching, both face to face and remotely.