THE WEIGHT OF NOT FEELING GOOD ENOUGH

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Recently I bumped into an artist friend who I haven’t seen for some time. The last time we connected she was transitioning from working in ceramics to painting. This was an exciting change for her and she was ready to explore the possibilities of where that could take her. 

As we talked I asked about her painting. A look of pained discomfort came over her face and she disclosed that she had abandoned her painting in recent months. Then she said, “Just between you and me, I stopped because I know I’ll never be good enough – I’m just not very good.” With these words I could see the waves of emotion rising up through her like a toxic tide. Her eyes looked wet with the pain of it all, her resignation and hopelessness hurting the very core of her creative being. 

The coach in me wanted to ask her so many questions. I had seen her work and it was good. She had skill and vision and was painting subject matter that inspired her. So many questions flooded my brain. I was aware that it was not the place or time to go there – uninvited coaching is never a good idea – but my heart ached for her and I offered what I could, telling her I was sorry to hear that and letting her know that her feelings are common to artists and something I encounter often in my work. I know how utterly painful these feelings can be. 

If I had the opportunity I’d want to ask her to tell me more, to find out how long this feeling of not being good enough had been with her. Not good enough for who? Not good enough for what? By what measure and standard are you judging your work? What is your relationship to painting? Why did you begin to paint in the first place? What evidence do you have to support that as truth?

Each time I encounter these feelings of “not being good enough” in my coaching work I am reminded of just how hard artists are on themselves and the emotional labour that art-making requires. And, I’ve been there myself and still have to work with feelings of inadequacy and self-sabotage...so I do know this place intimately. 

Every internalized message we received in our early life – every time we were told or felt we were not good enough for someone or something – we began to form a deeply entrenched belief about ourselves. We accepted these statements as the truth about us, even when there was abundant evidence to the contrary. 

When we make our art, everything we believe about ourself shows up in the studio with us. The subconscious beliefs that we internalized come forward and begin to act on our consciousness. Our internal critic becomes noisy and destructive, inviting doubt, fear and apathy, sabotaging our every effort. Under the weight of it all, why do we even bother? 

So how do we work with these feelings of not being good enough and return to making our art? 

Here are some ideas and strategies to consider that you may find helpful:

First acknowledge the feelings. What are you actually saying to yourself? Perhaps writing out some of the internal dialogue in a journal will help you to see the destructive power of your thoughts. When the thoughts are only in your head you may not fully realize the potency of your negative self-talk. Putting these thoughts to paper sheds light on them, potentially giving them less energy and hold over you – and giving you the opportunity to reframe them and/or outright ignore them.

Watch your tendency to react to what you now know you’re saying to yourself. Watch out for that terrible feedback loop where you dump on yourself for having had the negative thoughts – piling on more self-criticism. What you want to do instead is remain curious and open. This is all about becoming self-aware and discovering your inner dialogue. If you can accept that this is simply a learned pattern – a habitual way of being – then you can learn how to change it.

Ask yourself what evidence you have to support these negative statements as truth. Often we believe it is simply supported by the fact that we are having feelings of not being good enough or less than. But, feelings are not facts. So while we may feel inadequate and as if our emotional state is the truth about us, there are likely tons of actual evidence that the feelings you’re having are not true. They may feel real, but they are not true.

Talk to yourself – after all, we all do it all the time. Our negative internal dialogue is a form of self-talk, and we can harness that power to change course and build our creative reliance. Try countering some of these negative talking points by offering yourself encouragement, support and kindness instead. Psychotherapists tell us that talking in the 2nd person when we do this is actually even more impactful. Our brains are wired for social connection and respond to that stimulus in a positive way. So if I’m thinking and saying to myself “I can’t do this. I suck” then I would respond “Cheryl, you’re being too hard on yourself. You’re working at strengthening your art, so it will be tough sometimes and maybe even a complete failure, but with perseverance and self-compassion you can get there.”

Watch out for social comparisons. We are bombarded with information about everyone else’s accomplishments and successes. We see it in our Facebook and Instagram feeds, as everyone presents their best. This is not reality, it’s curated reality. We are measuring ourselves against something that isn’t even real because we don’t see the back story, the struggle and the perseverance and emotional work that it took to get there. 

We only want to compare ourselves to ourselves. Are we moving forward, even incrementally, in our work? When we look at our own path and trajectory there is progress to acknowledge – in our skills, in our commitment, our vision and our approach. Whatever we are focusing our attention on we will find evidence to support that. If we look for our failures, we’ll find them. If we look for our strengths and successes, we’ll find those. Knowing where to focus your attention is key...feed the energy that will help you progress in your work.

Focus on values rather than accomplishments. Our society is steeped in the idealization of achievement and financial success. It is how we have come to measure our worth – comparing ourselves and what we have, to others to see how we’re doing. But is this the best way to measure our success and move ourselves forward?

By focusing on what we value in our lives – what’s important to us and what we most want to create – we can let go of the feelings of having to measure up to some idea of what success should be. Instead we can build our life and work around a value system that supports our needs and helps us to feel good about what we’re creating and doing.


When our life and work is based on our core values, we create more meaning in our life and open ourselves up to feelings of connection and compassion – not only towards ourselves, but towards others. We can then rewrite our story and accept that we are good enough, deserving and worthy. This alone will transform your relationship to your art-making and have ripple effects throughout your life and relationships.

Let your art-making be a part of your healing work. What it has to offer you extends far beyond any conventional measure of success. It will awaken you to what needs clearing and make you whole again. 

PRACTISING RADICAL SELF-ACCEPTANCE

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I often use the phrase 'radical self-acceptance’ to remind myself, and my coaching clients, of this very necessary action that helps us make better art and enjoy the process even more. But what does this really mean and just how does it support the making of our art?

How easily we accept ourselves – flaws and all – has a direct relationship to the art we make. Our art is an extension of ourselves, our pure expression, our birthed creation, and when it comes from a place of stillness and truth it carries with it an indescribable quality – a quality that deeply resonates for us and with others. 

I believe that the quality of the relationship we have with ourselves affords us a much better opportunity to tap into the deep reservoir of self. When we are willing to look inside and accept all the various parts of ourselves, we can then show more of our truest expression in our art-making. We can stop censoring ourselves and truly trust the process of making our work. This is when our authenticity can't help but shine through.

In fact, when we focus on developing our self-compassion instead of our self-esteem we treat ourselves with more kindness and care, much like we extend towards a loved one or a good friend. When we extend this kindness towards ourselves we are more willing to accept our flaws and imperfections…which, of course, we all have.

By recognizing that all people are a work in process – imperfectly perfect – we can avoid the trap of expecting so much from ourselves. When we bump up against failure – which is an essential part of the creative process – we can shift away from reacting as if we have done something horribly wrong or that it shouldn’t be happening at all. We can give less energy to the idea that it means something about us and our abilities and instead we just notice and acknowledge what is occurring, recognizing that it’s normal and is part of being human.

A mindfulness practice helps us immensely to shift this tendency to be self-critical and allows for self-acceptance to grow in its place. In an interview with Olga Khazan for The Atlantic, psychology professor Kristen Neff spoke about how true self-compassion requires mindfulness and why it is a more effective process for change and growth than self-esteem building.

This section of the interview really stood out for me and supports the necessity of this practice not only for artists, but for everyone:

“Self-compassion also entails a mindfulness. In order to have self-compassion, we have to be willing to turn toward and acknowledge our suffering. Typically, we don't want to do that. We want to avoid it, we don't want to think about it, and want to go straight into problem-solving.

And in fact, I would argue that self-compassion also provides a sense of self-worth, but it's not linked to narcissism the way self-esteem is. It's not linked to social comparison the way self-esteem is, and it's not contingent, because you have self-compassion both when you fail and when you succeed. The sense of self-worth that comes from being kind to yourself is much more stable over time than the sense of self-worth that comes from judging yourself positively.”

As artists we need to strengthen our ability to self-support as we negotiate the emotional labour that art-making requires. When we consistently practise radical self-acceptance, by extending compassion towards ourselves, we are more present and able to embrace the challenges of making our work. When we accept ourselves, we accept our art. This allows for greater ease in the process of making it – even when we inevitably struggle or fail – helping us to stay engaged and connected to our authentic expression.

Perhaps today you can bring more awareness to your mindset while making your art and just notice the quality of your thoughts. Is there a way that you could reframe any of those thoughts and offer yourself some much needed self-acceptance? 


SAYING YES TO OURSELVES

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“When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you’re not saying ‘no’ to yourself.” -Paulo Coelho

I often recognize myself in the clients I work with...they are always great teachers for me. And when I can help them step forward more fully into their creative life, it's such a beautiful thing to witness and it gives me such joy.

It also empowers me to continue to do my own work and check in with myself about what I am saying ‘yes’ to and why.

Being a person who often put others’ needs before my own, I understand how challenging it can be to balance the conflict between what we desire for ourselves, and our art, and the feelings of obligation to say ‘yes’ to everything that is asking something of us.

Our energy for our art-making can get zapped quickly when we give too much of it away. We need to be in touch with our motivations for saying yes to others, so that when we do say yes it comes from a place of choice and not from a need to please.

And it can be tricky to sort out. We have obligations that we need to attend to, of course, and we want to be able to offer our support to those we love and care about. So often it is about finding balance in it all. And when we can’t say no, accepting what is and trusting that our choice is what is necessary at this time.

For me, finding ways - even the tiniest of ways - to stay connected to my creative energy really helps when I have to say yes to a commitment that may take me away from my studio time.

Through writing, quick sketchbook explorations, and looking at art that inspires me, I keep the threads of connection in place and I can more easily re-engage with my art-making when the time and space is available once again.

Our art will welcome us back no matter how long we may have been away from it...it patiently waits, like a secret lover who knows the value of delayed gratification.

One of the most important understandings that has really helped me, is that the energy I am holding around the choices I am making is crucial. When I say yes, it needs to come from that place of choice-fulness and I let go of any of the negative self talk that might be percolating up around it.

Feelings of overwhelm, resentment or loss and grief often come up when I’m saying yes when I needed to say no.

Taking time to really check in with myself about my truth before I respond to a request really helps me to be more clear. Can I make the choice with an energy that supports me, rather than depletes me?

As a reformed people-pleaser myself (still working on that one!) I thought this article from Tiny Buddha offered some great advice for how to align with your truth and support your needs, bringing you back to a place of choice.

You deserve to give yourself back to yourself, and your art. These tips might help you to find more solace in the process of saying no, when in your heart you know it is the right thing to do.


DRIFT TIME...REVISITED

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A few years ago I listened to a CBC interview with musician, artist and poet Patti Smith, where she described the importance of drift time in the creative process. She defined drift time as that vast and quiet space that we drop into when we allow ourselves to daydream. That space where our mind wanders and meanders from one free association to the next.

This is the place from which ideas are born and creativity thrives. It often comes when we’re doing mindless tasks like walking, cleaning the house or even showering. It’s a direct result of being bored and not having anything to focus our thoughts on. It doesn’t occur when we are going over our to do lists, checking our email or social media. It needs a vacuum, a space that isn’t filled up!

I wrote a blog post on this topic several years ago, as I noticed the challenge I was having around preserving my drift time. With the introduction of devices and the constant demand on our attention, my relationship to drift time has changed. It’s even more elusive and I now have to plan it into my day. And, I’m noticing, it’s getting tougher to do that.

What I observed then was that I had become less able to easily access that part of my brain that just floats and plays. I was often aware of this low grade feeling that I should be doing something, looking at something or checking something. Like a form of addiction, I felt a strong need to be checking in and then felt empty, like I had just wasted my precious time, as it really didn’t give me what I was truly needing - connection. 

I realize that we now have a relationship to technology that is firmly rooted in our lifestyles and business practices. But drift time and spacious quietude is such a necessity for our wellbeing and absolutely essential for artists and creative output of all kinds.

So how do we balance these needs and recognize when we should be giving ourselves some space to just be? Here are a few things I’ve noticed for myself and maybe they’ll be helpful for you as well…

  • When there is resistance to making my art, because I am about to re-engage with the vast unknown, I often use technology, and the perceived “need” to check in, as a way of avoiding the familiar discomfort of doing my creative work.

  • I tend to prioritize staying up to date with my devices, usually checking in with my business needs before anything else. Thinking that cleaning the slate, or my to do list, will free up my mind for my creative work, while the opposite is actually true. How many times have I sat down to quickly check my email before heading to the studio, only to lose hours of my time and drain my energy?

  • Much like meditation, I can access “drift time” much easier when I don’t fill myself up with stimulation first. Can I reverse these priorities by creating new habits and recognize the benefits of nurturing this internal space, noticing how everything in my life and work improves as a result?

  • As creative professionals we have a relationship to technology that supports our business, and it does that very well. But what about keeping “office hours” so we have more time for play, rest and creativity? We now work all the time and there is no off switch, unless we push it. We have to be disciplined about this or we lose ourselves completely, our art is neglected and we feel stalled, blocked and frustrated.


These are some of the questions I am asking myself right now as I am constantly challenged by the relationship I have to technology. How can I give back to myself what came so easily before? What renewed commitments do I need to make to keep things in better balance for myself? In what ways can I step up and design a life that puts creativity first, with the firm belief that everything else will be better as a result?

We are living in a time where finding the value in cultivating our creative mind-space is essential. It’s more important than ever to preserve and nurture our creative lives.

Finding ways to allow for more drift time in your life will not only deepen your connection to your art making, but will bring more purpose into your daily life as well…and support your ability to create and innovate.

This is what I’m committing to for 2019, even as I am becoming more and more involved with my online coaching business. I know it’s for my highest good….and will help me to help you!

I’d love to hear about your relationship to technology and in what ways are you nurturing drift time in your life. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

CREATIVE COURAGE

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Every act of creativity, whether making a painting, writing a book or launching a new business, requires us to show up and move through the tangle of doubt and fear that can naturally arrive. 

Even now, as I am launching my coaching business, Insight Creative, this familiar feeling is with me. To help move things along, I have been working with a business coach, George Kao, and something he recently shared reminded me of this process. He said, “Reinforce your ability as a creator and rebel against self doubt.” I loved that!

In my creative work, I have often let the feelings of doubt, that popped up along the way, to take hold and interfere with the process of making my art.

I took the arrival of doubt to mean that something was wrong - with my idea, with my execution and, ultimately, with me. I crafted a story that said “I am fearful and that must mean I don’t have what it takes to do this work.” I used fear as a gauge for my self worth and I then valued myself less when fear arrived.

All this did for me was feed the monster. Self judgement then piled on top of doubt....and things felt so heavy, making it impossible for me to feel inspired to continue. Stalled, I would give up and walk away...hoping that next time I’d be stronger, better, different than I was. I had completely abandoned myself….and my art.

It was when I finally came to realize that doubt and fear were a natural part of art making, that I could enter into a different relationship with it. First, I began to notice my doubts the moment they arrived, as they can run below the surface and feel like a quiet unsettledness or just a taste of frustration....subversive and murky.

Once I could more easily identify these feelings and thoughts, I could play with them a bit - bringing them forward for me to see them more clearly. I might write them down in my sketchbook journal, externalizing them. I noticed they became less powerful right away.

Then I could ask myself if they were actually true thoughts or just some imaginings about what might be or could happen. Was I concerning myself with other’s opinions? Was I worried about pleasing someone, other than myself? Was I placing too much importance on a successful outcome? Could I just be here, making my art and not place such weighty judgments on every brush stroke and any missteps along the way? 

When we can engage our art making, or any act of creation, from a place of courage - facing the fear and doubt, and doing the work anyways - we open ourselves up to possibility and discovery. 

If we can accept doubt as a natural outcome of creation, and allow ourselves to do the work from this place of awareness, we find that our doubts or fears get much quieter and we no longer react to them....we can simply be at choice in how we want to respond. 

Our response to our thoughts and feelings is where we most display our courage. Can we simply be with what shows up, not pushing it away or condemning ourselves? Can we craft a more truthful response that supports our efforts and engagement? 

This is creative mindfulness, the act of observing ourselves from a place of neutrality and curiosity, and it can bring so much peace to our process, allowing us to risk, play and fail....all qualities we need to embrace to make our most potent and authentic work. 

Next time you’re feeling a sense of doubt and struggle with your creative work, think about creative mindfulness and creative courage. Remember that any time we are diving into the vast unknown, that all creation is birthed from, we should expect to feel some trepidation....and some excitement too! 

Let the feelings arise and flow through you....like clouds moving through the sky. Notice them, but keep engaged with what you’re working on, trusting that you are deeply in your place of creating. Let your doubts and fears tell you that you’re creatively alive....being rebellious!

It’s truly all about the meaning we give to these thoughts and feelings, and the courage we have to face the fear and do it anyways! 


Our Art Practice

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“An artist cannot fail, it’s a success just to be one” - Charles Horton Cooley

As artists we are finely tuned to notice and observe the world around us....we’re just wired differently, and, as a result, we can’t deny the relationship between our art and our lives. They are inextricably interwoven. Recently I read a passage in a book on yoga, ‘Light on Life’ by B.K.S. Iyengar, that really resonated for me. I’ve been a student of yoga for many years and have often noticed that what I am learning in my yoga practice also translates to my painting practice, particularly when it comes to the mental states that one has to hold while being present for one’s work. In yoga if you allow the mental chatter to permeate your mind, you are not doing the work of yoga....as it requires a certain type of mental training as well as the physical aspects of the Asanas - the poses.

I like to think of art making as a practice and attempt to bring as much awareness to my internal relationship to it as possible. One of the most challenging aspects for me is noticing when my ego is at play and how it may be sabotaging my efforts. It’s a slippery one, the ego...and it manifests in many forms in our mental-scape. Knowing when we are responding from it is very useful and can help us to take bigger risks in our art and our lives. When we can rein in our ego, this brings a refreshing "newness" into our world, that stimulates us and invites possibilities. If we can better understand our emotional landscape and practice discernment, we can then be gentler and kinder to ourselves as we work, getting results that are more in alignment with who we truly are.

Mr. Iyengar speaks of the ego in this way...he says that we are governed by mechanisms that resist change. The mind and the senses that inform it seek to repeat pleasure and avoid pain. And, we know that making our art can bring about much discomfort at times, especially when we are pushing at our growing edges. He also states that the ego defines itself as the totality of the experiences that have made up our past: my childhood, my university degree, my career, etc. It is the running total of all that has happened up until now...and our ego is in love with the past and these identities.

He says that what the ego fears most is its own death, and that lives in the future....in the unknown. The unknown, which we as artists engage with in nearly every moment of our work, activates the ego's primary fear of its own impermanence - the fear that one day its impersonation of the true self, the unknown soul, will be unmasked, at which point its very existence will be terminated.

As we open ourselves to being more truthful in our art and in our world, we risk touching on the unknown, on rejection, on the loss of our past. This is why it's so very challenging to be an artist... and so rewarding. We become trained observers of our internal responses and notice when fear, self doubt and even anger comes up for us. It is then that we dance with our ego, calling it out, and deciding if we want it to lead the way. If we surrender ourselves to the call of our soul instead, and reach further than we think we can, then we have a fighting chance at making the art that only we can make.

It is our attachment to the past, to what we know, our habitual ways of working, to needing and comparing, to avoiding the discomfort that inevitably comes with growth...that tells us that we are being informed by our ego. The simple act of recognizing this, and making a choice to be present again, allows us to open that door that brings risk and soul into our painting practice....and helps us to feel the expansiveness of that. What a wonderful gift to give to ourselves....and to our art.

Making Way for New Growth

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As a gardener, I find that nature can teach us much about the process of growth. When we observe the cycles of the seasons, we notice the journey a tree or plant must take each year, as it renews itself for another growing cycle. There are often fragments of last year’s growth still clinging to the branches, even as the new buds begin to form and swell, awaiting just the right conditions to burst forth.

The old, dried up leaves, from the seasons past, no longer feed the tree and have served their purpose....yet, they often cling on. As the air becomes warmer, the new growth now pushes through and casts off these old leaves, sending them to the ground where they begin serving another purpose, enriching the soil and making nutrients to support the tree in another way.

Our limiting beliefs are like these old leaves that now need to let go and make way for the new growth that is to come. With this in mind, we can ask ourselves, what old leaves are clinging to my branches? What do I need to let go of to allow for this new growth to emerge and replenish me? How can I recognize this cycle within myself and surrender these beliefs to the earth, where they can become fertile ground for the new opportunities that lie ahead?

As you travel along your path to new growth, consider what old stories you’re holding on to that no longer serve you. Perhaps you’re feeling the emergence of something new and potent for yourself. Can you release what needs to go, and make room for these tender new shoots to spring forth? Can you trust that all that you surrender, and allow to fall away, has served you well? Thank it, release it, and step into your season of change.