Thursday, January 16, 2014

New Year's Resolutions

Oftentimes people who know I'm a full time stay-at-home-mom of 2 little ones and work as a teaching artist (sometimes working as many at 4 gigs simultaneously) compliment me on how productive I manage to be in the studio. These compliments really make me feel good because they are external affirmation that I'm making progress.

When it comes to my art (and really life in general) I often feel I'm climbing a great mountain. Typically from where I am, I can't see the summit. One tool I use for internally evaluating my progress is New Year's resolutions.

I make New Year's resolutions every year, and I'm serious about them. I mean that I make a huge list of goals with subheading and bullet points. I print this list (currently 2 pages long in 12 point font) out and stick it on the side of my fridge. I look at it at least once a week. I make notes and modifications. 

I use New Year's resolutions as a tool for not only motivation, but self-evaluation. If I totally blow off a goal, the next year I come up with a new strategy for achieving it. If I continue to blow it off after several strategy changes, I question whether I deep down really care that much about that goal. Over the years I've had to let a lot go, which is great because it leaves me free to concentrate more on my real priorities.

A while ago a book club I'm in read The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt, and the author used the metaphor of the elephant and the rider, and I've since found it tremendously useful. To explain the metaphor I'll use Haidt's own words:

The mind is divided in many ways, but the division that really matters is between conscious/reasoned processes and automatic/implicit processes. These two parts are like a rider on the back of an elephant. The rider’s inability to control the elephant by force explains many puzzles about our mental life, particularly why we have such trouble with weakness of will. Learning how to train the elephant is the secret of self-improvement. 

...The automatic emotional reactions of the elephant guide us throughout our lives. 

"Blind Monks Examining An Elephant" by Hanabusa Itcho
I've been learning to love, accept, and understand my inner elephant. So then when the elephant and I disagree, I'm better equipped to either trick the elephant into doing what I want, or just peacefully accept that I can't win this one.

You see, like most people, I fail to meet most of my resolutions. But that doesn't bother me or deter me from making them.

For one, I'm not disappointed because it means I'm still being optimistic about myself. There is something great about making the goals and the ten striving toward them.

I notice that for the goals I do actually reach, there is a lull, a period where I'm depressed and kind of useless that follows the surge of triumph. It's not like we're ever satisfied and done once we've achieved one goal. How must a gold medalist feel a week after the Olympics are over?

Also, even when I don't achieve my ultimate goal, I always get at least part of the way there. If I set a goal to blog an average of 12 times a month in this blog, and I reach 143, technically I "failed", but that's still a huge accomplishment! Most of my resolutions are designed to be goals I can continue to strive toward throughout the year and feel good about the percentage even if it wasn't 100%.

Hardly any of us can just suddenly make a major change in our behavior. Those who do manage to make such changes don't do it through sheer will. Dramatic change require a huge change in setting and/or circumstance. Even then that might not be enough.

Studio priority #1
But we can all change slowly, one small step at a time. Training an elephant takes time! That's how I do my work in the studio, despite all my other responsibilities and stress. Over time I'm learning how to do studio work in short spurts. I'm learning how to better manage my time. I'm learning how to take downtime in a healthy way.

New Years resolutions are a process through which I've learned to know and care for myself better. That has allowed the artist in me to thrive.

My biggest New Year's Resolution for 2014 is to pick up and finish work on my Owl and Cat In Love project. In fact, I'm halfway done with the next print for it, and will post the final image to this blog within the next few days.

Happy 2014! 

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