When I’m feeling anxious or stressed I have a hard time focusing on much of anything. I know making art would likely be a good idea, but despite this knowledge, I can struggle.
I focus on a problem (like, what would be a quality new name for this amazing space?) and obsessively think about it. Even in my dreams I’m brainstorming. Of course, doing this nonstop without a break doesn’t give me any insight, it clouds my vision.
Despite knowing this and fully recognizing my need to stop and slow down I don’t always listen to that inner artist guiding me. I want to “power through” and magically will my problem solved. I can be pretty stubborn. And determined. I could be brainstorming names for a new product or my website, or working on a painting. Either way, the same thing happens if I don’t listen to my inner artist: I get seriously cranky and my inner critic rushes out to confirm, “I’m no good,” “I’ll never come up with a good idea again,” you name it.
Once my cranky reaches a certain level of discomfort, I don’t just take a break, I “give up” in a flurry of frustration. I want to stomp around like a little girl begging her mom for that sugary cereal in the grocery aisle. “Please,” I plead with myself, “can’t you just get this sorted out already?”
Of course everything after that also feels difficult. I run out of the one paint color I really wanted to use. Or, I go to the store to pick up supplies and they’ve run out. It begins to feel like the universe is conspiring against me and my determination to succeed. After trying so hard to battle through the obstacle and feeling like everything isn’t working, I usually revert to baking cookies, jammy-pants and a movie. It’s not rejuvenating; at this point it’s sulking.
I like to think of all the inner workings of our mind as allies in living a full, mindful, and happy life. I recently watched that cute Pixar film Inside Out and I really appreciate its message that all of our emotions are important. In most cultures around the world, women are not encouraged to feel anger or be too assertive while men are only encouraged to share their anger. What if the combination of all of our feelings actually make us the special, unique person we are? Maybe, by choosing to ignore those inner cues calling us to take a break we actually make ourselves unfulfilled and disconnected from feeling?
Thankfully I’ve read Tara Mohr’s amazing book Playing Big (affiliate link). In it she talks about these inner dialogues we have with ourselves and how some of them hold us back while others, if we cultivate, can truly help us grow. I’ve created two labels for the “voices” I find most important to us creatives. One is our inner critic and the other is our inner artist.
Our inner critic is the one most creatives can easily recognize. When you get a new idea or want to try a new technique, it’s the inner voice that tells you “no,” “you can’t,” or gives you a thousand reasons you should spend your time doing something else. There are so many more “priorities” we should be focusing on…
Our inner artist is a voice that can be just as powerful and strong. The problem is we often choose to ignore her. We’ve spent so little time acknowledging that voice and it’s importance in our lives that when she talks, she whispers. It’s like the quiet tickle you get in the back of your mind when a word you want is on the tip of your tongue. You know it’s there, but you can’t quite find it. Our inner artist is there, too, we just need to practice listening to her.
When I’m feeling angry or frustrated I have the hardest time slowing down and listening to my inner artist. It’s because I want to will my obstacles all away and be in a resolved situation. Unfortunately that never works. The only way to truly move through an obstacle is to fully own it. That means, making room for my sad, my angry and my optimism for what is next. Sometimes I hope to skip the middle to get immediately to my optimistic future. But without that middle, I could never really get there.
There are always obstacles in life. Some can trigger us more than others. Those are the situations to really watch. That’s when we need to tune in the most. What do we need? What do we feel lacking? What will help us feel most acknowledged?
What if the world around us isn’t conspiring against us but with us? What if our perceived difficulties are other cues that we need to slow down and take some time to listen to our inner artist?
Our inner critic is actually an ally. When she comes out it’s a cue to us, it’s a message that we need some extra TLC. We need to do something special to make us feel acknowledged, honored, loved, etc. Without our inner critic, we may never recognize moments that we feel hurt or vulnerable and thus, be able to connect, share and grow. We might never take that creative risk, or acknowledge our creative heart.
The next time you hear your inner critic stop what you are doing. Ask yourself: what do I need right now? What would make me feel loved/connected/creative right now instead? Sit quietly. Let your brain do it’s thing. Listen. After time your answers will come more quickly. It’s like exercise or learning a dance move: it gets easier with practice.
Once you hear your answer you know what to do. This includes telling your critic to go get some rest because your inner artist is now here and taking charge. And it means no matter how silly your idea was you should do it. For me, sometimes it means blowing bubbles. Or, it can mean taking a bath in the middle of the day after I’ve already showered. It can also mean gessoing my canvases or cleaning out my studio.
The next time I begin to bristle or feel the frustration of an obstacle where my stubborn determination wants to “power through,” I know that’s a sign. It’s a cue for me to stop what I’m doing. It’s time to take a break and acknowledge my feelings, my environment and really consider what it is that I want in that very moment. What do I really need? Somedays it’s to watch a film. Other days it’s to skype with a good friend. Or, ashtanga practice may do the trick. The hard part is listening and choosing to honor that inner artist, guiding us towards ease, grace and connection.
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: Ask yourself: what does my inner artist want to do today? Tell us in the comments below.