If life gives you the perfect situation, don’t do the dishes. 

Yesterday morning was not my best morning ever. I woke up with a headache, we had family car issues that made the day a little complicated, and the resident teenagers hadn’t unloaded the dishwasher the day before so the sink was overflowing with dirty dishes waiting their turn for washing. I know many women would not be able to go to bed knowing what a huge mess would meet them in the morning, but I am dedicated to teaching my girls to take their chores seriously and to be responsible. And I was just really really tired. So I woke up to that horrible sight first thing in the morning, which really didn’t help my headache. Then I realized the creamer I bought for my coffee was just plain and not the French vanilla I thought it was—that was a horrible surprise—and I discovered the dog pooped in the house. I had a meeting scheduled for 12:30, and I overslept (I’m usually up at 5 on an early day and 8 on a late day, but it was closer to 10 by the time I dragged myself out of bed this day.) so I didn’t have my normal work out/quiet journal time either. And I was just remarkably low. Sad, hopeless, defeated, weary. Yesterday morning sucked. 

The first thing I did that helped improve my morning (besides cleaning up the dog poop) was to tell the girls that since they neglected their job the day before, not only would they have to do it now, but they would also be responsible for doing all the dishes in the sink too. That let me walk away feeling like I got off easy  because I didn’t have to do the dishes, AND that it was ok for me to indulge in that avoidance since I was teaching my girls a “Valuable Lesson.” (Oh, how I LOVE Valuable Lessons!)

Then my meeting was cancelled. After a brief moment of disappointment, I realized I had just been gifted with a free hour. I had been admiring the artwork of some Facebook friends lately, and two of them had posted some awesome paintings that morning. I haven’t done any painting with actual shading or detail in a while; nothing that was a very big challenge, and I have a daughter who is really quite talented. Miss Artiste has been doing these amazing drawings lately, and my other daughter Miss Musician, has been making these “Mommy better watch out, she’s got competition” type comments. So I decided to see what I can still do. 

I started with a canvas panel and regular old #2 pencil. I said to myself, “Self, no pressure, let’s just see what happens.” I did a sketch from a selfie…that’s right, a selfie….and called in Miss Artiste to show her what’s up. She started with “constructive criticism” so I banished her. 

Then I started adding paint. I’ve done many paintings in my life, but I usually work in an odd way that combines flat layers of paint and shading done with colored pencil. This was one of the first times I’ve stuck with paint all the way. I’m not gonna lie, it was a little scary to see my nice sketch being gradually covered with blotchy paint. But once I started, I figured I can cover it up with fresh paint if I hate it, and I kept going- painting at a fairly quick pace. I had good music on, a free hour that was rapidly slipping away, and the knowledge that I could salvage the canvas for something else if I screwed up too badly, and somehow my energy level was rising to meet the occasion. 

It’s not often that the right combination of elements allows me to be in a perfect zone for creating, but time, interest, inspiration, and energy all met for a few hours yesterday in my art room. I ended up with a really funky self portrait. It’s not perfect, there’s something weird about it, but I love it! I think I love it because it was so unexpected and unplanned… and because it is a little weird. I think an honest self portrait should be a little weird.  

When I showed Miss Artiste, I said, “You know, I don’t usually get time to really experiment like this. I usually just stick with my normal style. But because I had some free time and I saw paintings that I liked online, I got to play around a bit, and I really surprised myself!”To which she replied “yeah, because we did all those dishes.” I chuckled, and said “You’re right actually; I probably would not have gotten into painting if I knew I still had dishes waiting for me to do.”

Turning to leave the art room, she casually replied, “You’re welcome. And you might want to try spacing your eyes with one eye measured in the middle next time.” 

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Row Row Row …your way out of the comfort zone! 

This morning I got up with my husband at 5 something a.m. to help him get out the door on time, get nourishment, that kinda thing. I was exhausted and planned on going back to sleep when he left. But once I was in bed again, I couldn’t sleep and figured it would be a good time to go to the gym. We have one in our neighborhood, so I walked there and decided to use the rowing machine. 

Here’s the thing about me and exercise: I need to not realize I’m working out in order for it to happen. This requires optimum mental conditions and the perfect level of distractions or I get bored and discouraged, throw a mental temper tantrum that includes the statements “this is stupid,” “it’s too hard,” “I suck at this,” and the old reliable,”I look good enough. Screw this, I’m going home.” (Which is in direct conflict with how my knees feel on the way up my stairs, how my pants fit, and my unceasing desire to wear crop tops again. Someday.) So I have an arsenal of tricks that I employ at the gym, depending on the exercise.

 If I’m on the treadmill, I have an energizing playlist going in my ears, and my iPad BLOCKING the miles/calories/time so I don’t have to see the reality of where I am and how much or little I’ve accomplished. Instead, I’m on Pinterest, looking at all the cute clothes I want to wear. There are many crop tops. 

If I’m on the elliptical machine, I’m usually reading a book, which blocks the same progress info as the treadmill. I have my headphones hooked up to a noise app on my iPad, set to “maximum blocking noise” in order to be able to completely not notice the TVs or anyone else in the gym, unless they come up and physically touch me. Which makes me jump. 

If I’m on weight machines, I’m usually listening to an audio book, and I’m not counting reps at all. I keep doing the same motion until whatever body part I’m working on feels like it hates me, at which point I move on to another machine. 

Now, when it comes to the rowing machine (my exercise of choice first thing this morning) I am in heaven because it has game settings. There’s a racing game, a fish game, and a darts game. I pair the games with my ever-present headphones, and I’m good to go.
The racing game is boring. Two boats are there, kinda moving, I can’t even tell which one is mine. I’m moving, I appear to be winning, but there’s no real challenge.

The fishing game was my initial “have fun while working out” choice for rowing. Your character is a medium-sized fish who has to eat the smaller fish while avoiding the bigger fish. Each row controls the motion of the fish. It can get a little crazy. I liked it for a while until I realized I was focusing way too much on trying to eat the little fish and kept getting eaten by the big fish and it stopped being fun. (Also, my movements were all over the place, so I doubt the exercise was as effective as it could have been.) Once I started losing that damn game, I started focusing on how long I’d been on the machine, and it started to suck. 

Then I discovered the dart game. It was a simple concept where every time I did the rowing motion, I would let a virtual dart fly; depending on the fluidity of my physical movements, I would be closer or farther away from center target. The challenge is just enough to hold my interest and keep me distracted while I get in a great workout. 

I know, you’re wondering “What the hell does your exercise avoidance have to do with creativity?” I’m getting there. Gimme a sec. 

There’s a certain comfort zone we all have for various areas in our lives. Keep us in our comfort zone, and we feel safe, but not much new and exciting happens. Take us far out of our comfort zone without knowing how to handle it, and we flounder and feel lost, and may even feel like failures. 

Creativity is no exception. Creative success happens somewhere in between the comfort zone and the unknown. If we stay in our comfort zone, we might be happy with what we’re making for a while, but eventually we’ll get bored, our ideas will dry up, and we run the risk of becoming unmotivated. (like the rowing race game) 

If we take on a challenge far removed from our comfort zone, put pressure on the outcome to be GREAT, and compare ourselves to others, (like all the chaos with the fish game) we run the risk not just of failure, but of damaging our idea of worth as artists, and saying “Screw this, I’m going home.” 

If we take small challenges with lower expectations for the outcome, we are letting our brains be intrigued by something new, building our confidence as artists, and opening our comfort zone a little more each time, so the bigger challenges become smaller as we gradually approach them. (kinda like the dart game.) 

And we want it to be fun so we keep showing up for the challenge!  (Headphones 😉)

*Note:  This is not to say you should never take the big leaps out of your comfort zone! You need a healthy self awareness regarding how much pressure you’re comfortable with, and how you handle possible failure. Remember, Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times before perfecting the first lightbulb, and FAIL can stand for First Attempt In Learning! If you’re about to go big, it may be a comfort to have a friend join you in the challenge, to increase the fun and lighten the situation up a bit, or lower expectations for the outcome and give yourself full credit for the chutzpah you demonstrated by going for it! (And treat yourself to a cupcake! Hmmm…maybe that’s why I don’t make fitness progress; I’m always rewarding my creative chutzpah. Ehh, I’ll row it off.) 

So the question is, how are you progressing out of your comfort zone, and how do you make it fun enough to keep showing up? 

Here are some ideas that have helped me and many other people.

  • Take a class
  • Join some artist groups on Facebook where you can show your work
  • Be open to inspiration from random sources like nature, Pinterest, or the grocery store
  • Make a playlist of music that gets you in the mood to make or write stuff
  • Dedicate a small challenge in honor of a friend, loved one, or a belief that’s important to you
  • Check out the artists behind some work you admire, and read about their personal struggles and failures
  • Take part in the Art Abandonment project by making small pieces of art and leaving them in a public place for people to find, with a small note attached
  • Have a special thinking cap or tiara to wear when it’s time to make stuff.
  • Remember failures are still steps in the right direction
  • Make a list of all the possible results of failure, make the list insanely over the top (“Could accidentally hot glue craft to mouth and starve to death”) and then take a small step out of the comfort zone knowing the likelihood of that happening is smaller than the regret you’d have by avoiding the possible fun of going for it.
  • Start your creative endeavors with some expectation-free doodle time to loosen up.
  • Model the rhythm of your writing after a well known poem to get ideas flowing
  • Set a reminder on your phone or computer for creative time. Sync it with a funny or inspiring picture and great music if possible
  • Go to the gym or take a walk in nature!  Seriously, great ideas love to be born from exercise 🙂 

These are just a few ideas. I would love to hear how you get yourself moving in a new direction! Please share your creative growth tricks in the comments. Have an awesome day!

Life is too crazy to focus on my creativity. …Insert Kaizen Muse here.

Hello reader, and welcome to my first blog post. Let me start by saying I’m not a fan of structure. For some reason it doesn’t mesh well with my brain, which likes to be all over the place and nowhere simultaneously. My lack of structure tends to bite me in my rather ample bottom when I “let shit go” till the last minute (again) or am faced with an “I have no idea what to do right now” moment. Luckily for me, when I hit those two examples simultaneously during this past week, I was scheduled to show up for a group creativity coaching circle. As you most likely know, I am a Kaizen Muse Creativity Coach, trained by none other than creativity expert Jill Badonsky herself, writer of many books about creativity and woman with letters following her name. I forget the letters right now but will add them at the end when I’m not on a writing roll. Suffice it to say, by now I know how creativity works.

Anyway. So here I am, smack in the middle of a crazy week where I, woman who generally dislikes children other than my own, am running my annual kid’s week-long art camp, when I realize that the plans I made aren’t going to jive well with this particular group of kids. I had some planning done, but not enough to just pick up a “plan B” and roll with it. So every day after a fun but exhausting day at camp, I was getting my own daughters lunch, taking them to the pool, making dinner, and trying to figure out what the heck I was going to do with these kids the next day. I was totally exhausted. And on this particular day, I also had my coaching “mastermind circle.” Now, I love everything creativity coaching, but with my stress level and obligations, I was not in the right frame of mind for this one. Especially because I know all this creativity stuff already; what I needed was more time to work, nothing else.

I showed upanyway, and got into it, telling everyone my woes and current challenge. The direction of the session was a little predictable at first, because yes, I knew I wasn’t rested enough to function optimally. But then -I have to say it- the magic of being in the presence of like-minded creative people came into play. First they gave me kudos for realizing my plans needed adjusting and not forcing the kids into a plan they wouldn’t enjoy. Then we talked about my waning energy levels. Clearly I couldn’t take time off right in the middle of camp week to refocus, but I could steal 10-15 minutes for some in-depth recharging, maybe via guided meditation videos on YouTube. Then one member of the group mentioned how fun and lively my art seems and couldn’t I just have fun with the kids, since it would lessen the stress and energize me naturally? That got me thinking about my art, and the techniques and supplies I had available for the kids. I knew we hadn’t touched on printmaking yet, and I had examples of my own work to show. Suddenly it was all clear. I thanked the group, and during “Parallel Universe Time” (email me if you’re curious) I googled some known artists who worked in woodblock prints, and had a new plan in place for an excellent day at art camp!

I literally showed up to that circle with an “ok, let me get through this so I can go back to hustling for ideas and make dinner” mindset, but left it completely altered. I was energized, enthused, amazed by the alchemy I’d just witnessed, and proud of myself- for what I had done for the kids, my own artwork, and especially because I get to be part of this kind of magical work! Sure, there’s a science involved in how the brain works and what tricks turn on our creativity, but it feels like friggin pixie dust. I just love it.

So there you go, first-hand experience of creativity unblocked by Kaizen Muse technology.  If you think it could help you or anyone you know, get in touch! Email me at: serendipitycoaching@mail.com

*The letters that follow Jill Badonsky’s name are M.Ed. …you can read all about her big bad brilliance at http://www.themuseisin.com

*The Mastermind Circle I took part in was The Purple Ink Cafe, http://www.thepurpleinkcafe.com and its run by Kaizen Muse Creativity Coaches Mary McDowall and Kathy Kane. Special thanks also to Eileen Caroscio and Tracy Wallace for adding fuel to the creative fires!

Small steps, big results. Awwwww yeah. (Cue Isaac Hayes “theme from Shaft,” picture me riding my awesome bike off into the sunset, wearing my handmade tiara  & fairy wings, carrying art supplies in my bike basket, and fade out.)

That was an epic first blog post.