Friday, June 28, 2013

Right Here. Right Now. It's Happening!

Remember #somethingawesome? Well, it's here -- starting July 1st, we begin our Friday vlog series Wreck This Journey, where we work our way through Keri Smith's Wreck This Journal, vlog about our favorite parts, and enjoy the hilarity - and hopefully creative inspiration - that ensues. 

But wait, there's more! We want to hear from you -- what exercises you're doing, what moves you, what makes you smile, if you want more book club vlog opportunities here on the Abyss. And here's the best part -- we'll be featuring all your responses right here :).

Here's how it's going to work: starting Monday, we're going to do one exercise per day. Every Friday, we'll feature a vlog from either Kadie or I, along with your awesome contributions. We'll keep it going until the journal ends -- and maybe longer, if we get into a good discussion -- but we can't do it without you.

Are you ready? Let's make this happen.


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

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

There and Back Again: A Creative's Journey

Hopefully, your metaphorical mountain
has less metaphorical dragons.
Yesterday, Kadie talked about NeilGaiman's method for finding your mountain. While this sounds fairly simple, much like identifying what you want to be when you grow up, it gets significantly harder to do once you've graduated.

We're here to tell you – it's okay to embrace the process.

In photography, sometimes you have to wait until the light is right. In painting, the canvas may need to dry before you can apply more color. In writing, you can go through drafts and drafts (and drafts) before you come up with something you want to share with anybody. Dance and theater and comedy and music all require hours of rehearsal and preparation.

Why should it be any different in life?

We have this narrative in our culture, that once you're an adult you need to have everything figured out – where you're going, who you are, why you're here. We've touched on it before in this blog, here and here. Artist after artist after artist has also challenged this assumption, from Jack Kerouac's On the Road to Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx's Avenue Q, to Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture, to every Adam Sandler movie ever. And that just covers a few of the works from American pop culture.

The reality is, finding your mountain takes time – sometimes a lot of time. I first tried my hand at Jackie Battenfield's exercise about four years ago – and my answers were dramatically different from what I'd say today. I was planning on going to grad school – NOPE – I was planning on becoming a professor (probably not), and I was planning on having all that stuff accomplished by the time I turned 28, so I could get to settling down and having one of those baby things my friends keep talking about, but still keep up with my thriving art career.

While none of those goals are on my horizon today, at least not in the form I originally anticipated (Would someone please tell my 22-year-old self that building a career takes more than a couple of years? Thanks), I'm still glad I travelled toward what I thought was my mountain – again, and again, and again. The reason? Each time I started working towards my then-goal, it brought me to a new perspective in my life – at which point I'd spot a goal that I wanted even more. At 16, I knew I wanted to be an artist, but I had no idea what that looked like. At 26, I still don't really know what that looks like, but I know that it involves having time for my family and friends and making enough money to support my foodie fine dining habits. This is the hill I'm on today, and I think I know what mountain I'm aiming for – but that might change at the next overlook.

And that's okay.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Challenge #12: Where The Hell Are We Going With This

Obligatory image of dude lost in the jungle just in case
 you don't know what a guy lost in the jungle looks like.
Being a creative person is sort of like being lost in the jungle at night surrounded by piranha-infested waters with a pretty bad case of amnesia to top it off.  It's dark, we're disoriented and have no idea how to get back or where back is, we only know that where we are right now feels wrong. If we start just aimlessly wandering around trying to get out, chances are good we're going to get eaten alive pretty damn fast or just head deeper into the jungle without knowing it, and then get eaten alive.  Besides from the fact that I've obviously been watching way to many survival shows on TV, we have three problems: 

1) We don't know who we are
2) We don't know where we are going 
and 3) We have no clue how to get there because we don't know where there is.

At this point some of you may be saying, "Kadie, I think you are exaggerating a bit, being a creative person is nothing like that." To that I say, nay nay, it is in fact very similar.

As creative people most of us have no idea where we are headed, or how in the hell we are going to get there, we just keep making work and hoping we'll get wherever "there" is someday.  We cross our fingers, pray to the gods of chance and discovery and just keeping wandering around.  That's what we've been told to do most of our creative careers right? Just keep working and eventually your big break will come.

Well I'm calling bullshit.

Not all mountains are the same.
What does your mountain look like?
I can't believe that simply biding my time, aimlessly wandering around my life making work is the best plan for my future happiness.  Even if I am "discovered" would that really make me happy? "Of course it would Kadie! Are you crazy!? That's what every artists dream is!"  But what does that mean exactly?  Because my idea of the dream life and another artist's idea of the dream life are most likely completely different, his dream might make me miserable.   Are you picking up what I'm throwing down yet?

There is an amazing quote I love by Jim Rohn that goes "If you don't design your own life plan, chances are you'll fall into someone else's plan."  But I think the person who really sums up what I'm talking about best is Neil Gaiman

"Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal. 
And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time."

So how do we know what our mountain looks like!?  It can be tempting to just follow our friends to their mountains or travel to the mountains of famous forefathers, but those aren't OUR mountains. 

Jackie Battenfield is an amazing artist and author of the book "The Artist's Guide." Her book is created to guide creative people on their professional journey and teach them how to make a living doing what they love. One of the very first exercises she has you do in her book is to simply dream. Why? Because dreams can only come true if you allow yourself to have them.  Or you can only head toward your mountain once you know what it looks like.  Whichever example floats your boat, this week we are encouraging you and challenging you to find your mountain and pick a destination for your life.

Grab a blank piece of paper, a nice cup of coffee, and find a quiet spot where you can just sit and dream.  Let your mind freely wander imagining the life you would love to live, the perfect life, your dream.  Your mountain will start off fuzzy so begin with general details like:
  • What would make you feel successful as an artist?
  • What would make you feel successful in your relationships with your partner/spouse/children/family/community?
  • What kind of life would make your truly happy?

Challenge Badge To Share!
As your mountain comes into focus begin to add specific details such as where you would live, what country you are in, how do you feel, what are you doing, who are you with.  Fill your dream in with as many vivid details as you can imagine to paint the picture as colorfully and as clearly as possible.  Above all make sure to be honest with yourself, writing down what you truly want, not what you've been told you should want.

Once you have your picture painted, and you mountain has come into focus clearly full of vivid detail, hang on to that image and we'll tell you what to do with it next week!  For now, just dream on my friends, dream on, dream until the dreams comes true.!