Thursday, June 27, 2013

Get Your Hands Moving, Using Flow to Reach Your Goals

Guest Post Time!

Cheryl Congrove is a talented artist with a MA in Counseling Psychology and Art Therapy. She currently resides in Prescott Arizona and uses talking, writing and creative forms of expression to facilitate healing.

You can learn more about her and the work she does by clicking here.


The beginning of art was born out of resourcefulness.  There was no mega art supply store in town to get supplies.  Individuals had to come up with their own medium to make or communicate what was needed for their physical and historical survival.  Their creativity had a purpose.  They had a goal.

Kelly Lambert, in her book LiftingDepression: A Neuroscientist's Hands-On Approach to Activating Your Brain'sHealing Power, shares research that supports the premiss that doing things with our hands creates a sense of wellbeing.  Through her clinical studies she found a link between the symptoms of depression and key areas of the brain involved with motivation, pleasure, movement, and thought, which she connected to the movement of muscles in our hands.  Her research showed that this sense of wellbeing isn’t created by just anything done with the hands.  It can’t be something we do mindlessly.  It has to require mental engagement and creativity.  It also needs to have utilitarian value.  She expressed that “we are predisposed to hand movements that our ancestors needed for survival -- those necessary for nurturing, cleaning, cooking, grooming, building shelter, and farming,” and that our brains “crave the feelings generated by survival-based activities.”  She goes on to say that even when our hands create items less directly related to our survival, such as jewelry or art, that they “tap into the fascinating and unique characteristics of the human mind relating to hope, creativity, celebration, and aesthetic awareness.”  The key for creative people is to see that all of their art making meets their own mental, emotional, and physical survival needs.  It has a utilitarian purpose!

Kelly Lambert’s work parallels the findings of MihalyCsikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of OptimalExperience.  He states that “flow” comes from engagement with a sustained goal-oriented and self-contained activity that is performed with attention that is purposefully maintained on "doing.”  It also needs to be an activity that includes a gradual increase in difficulty or challenge, which then brings a great sense of fulfillment.  Overcome challenges give way to enjoyment and an increased sense of self-worth.  However, for flow to happen, the goal must be pre-established and appear manageable while still remaining challenging; concentration and immersion in the activity must be maintained; the task must provide immediate feedback; the venture must allow for deep, effortless involvement; the activity must provide a sense of control; and attention needs to be placed on the enjoyment of the here-and-now experience.  Along the way, flow yields a loss of self-consciousness and a loss of the preoccupation with self, as well as an altered sense of the passage of time.  The bottom line is that being in flow, or “the zone” as many call it, is a natural high.

So what can a creative person learn from this?  Nothing that we didn't already intuitively know.  What draws most toward creative tasks is childlike attraction to a pleasurable sensory filled experience, one that makes us feel so good that we want to do it again.  So why do we often find it so hard to get our creative self moving?  Why is our Muse so elusive?  Why is it so hard to set or achieve our goals?  One problem for me in the past was the tendency to turn a creative endeavor into a task rather than allowing it to remain an in-the-moment experience.  The European work ethic I was raised by took over, and it became all about getting done, about the product rather than the process.  I think it was my way of trying to give my creativity a worthy utilitarian purpose, justifiable value over seeing it as a self-indulgent activity.  The problem is that it already had value.  Even if my art is only for me, it has served a meaningful purpose.  I’m worth it!

People often refer to their “inner child.”  Books have been written about embracing, nurturing, or analyzing our inner child.  The fact that we have, or should have an “inner adult” is of no surprise.  But what about our “inner parent,” the one who swallowed all kinds of messages from authority figures in our life?  The inner part of ourselves that most often rattles off a list of shoulds, shouldn’ts, dos and don’ts.  All of these parts have desires, wants, needs, and concerns.  All become active when we attempt to be creative or achieve our goals.

Here is an interesting goal setting activity presented by the psychotherapist, Ian Stewart in Developing Transactional Analysis Counseling.  

What you need: 15 minutes, several sheets of paper, pencils, watch with timer, and to remember that there are no right or wrong answers.

1.     Write the title: What are my lifetime goals? on the top of your first page.  Use timer and take 2 minutes to list as many words as possible, without censoring or evaluation.  Then, take another 2 minutes  to review, alter or add to your list as needed. Star your top three goals in the list.
2.     On the top of a second sheet of paper, write the title: What do I want to achieve in the next 3 years? Repeat the procedure above. 
3.     Title the third page: If I knew I would die 6 months from today, how would I live until then?  Repeat the procedure followed for steps one and two.
4.     Spend a minimum of 2 minutes reviewing all 3 pages, change or add to lists in any manner that seems right.  Rewrite items, if necessary, as positive statements about what you will do or have rather than what you won't do or will not have. Adjust starred items if needed.
5.     Without judgment, notice any big differences between your lists or conflicts between items, what does it tell you about what you want from life?
6.     Make a final priorities list by taking your top three items from each list for a total of nine goals.

Where did your creative endeavors show up on your lists?  Did they show up at all? 

If desired, repeat the above exercise with the following questions:
1.  What are my lifetime creative goals?
2.  What do I want to achieve creatively during the next 3 years?
3.  If I knew I would die 6 months from today, how would I live creatively until then?

How do your two sets of lists compare?  Where do you see your responsible parent speaking through your lists?  Your logical adult?  How about your inner child?

To be successful with discerning, setting, and achieving goals, these three parts of ourselves need to feel as if they have had a voice, that they have been heard, and desire to feel satisfied.  Specifically, if you don’t plan in playfulness for your child, as well as “responsible” goals for your parent, those parts of yourself will sabotage all of your best efforts!  Review your final list of nine items.  Is there something there to satisfy all three parts of yourself?  Allow your child to be creative, your parent, and then your adult.  How do each of them express themselves?  Can they work on a piece together?  Can they collaborate on attaining your goals?

Goals are not static, but fluid concepts.  You need to revisit them regularly.  Once you have goals you can come up with a list of actions that will help them become reality.  Importantly, your list of proposed actions needs to be clear and specific.  They should answer questions, such as: Who?, What?, When?, Where?, How?, How much?, How often? With whom?  You would never climb a mountain without  being able to answer similar questions, would you?  Many of us make a list of goals, but no action plan. 

Goals provide a sense of direction, but the magic is in being specific about our actions, how we are going to get there. That is what simplifies things and allows creativity to flow.  With all of that said, I admit to being an art book and supplies junkie.  In my mind, if I am not finding the time to be creative (or making the time!), at least I am touching or collecting products that have creative potential!  Unfortunately, it is easy to then fall into the trap of thinking that having the right stuff or equipment will make my creativity flow.  It does nothing to move me toward my goals. Many people say they want to be creative, but what does that mean for me, what does it look like? What I find is that I begin drowning in a sea of possibilities.  I become frozen and directionless.

Recently I watched a TED Talk called: Phil Hansen: Embrace the shake . (Kadie and Kate featured this same video in their blog post HERE)  An amazing talk about how embracing limitations expanded his creativity.  He really made me rethink goal setting.  Rather than thinking big, maybe we need to think small.  Maybe thinking small will allow us to get our hands moving, reduce anxiety about the major artistic accomplishments that are “supposed” to happen, enter into a state of flow, and reconnect us with our love of how creating art makes us feel and think.  Having a finished product is great, but I promise, embracing what you are passionate about, and learning to enjoy the journey will miraculously take us toward our goals

No comments:

Post a Comment