Battle Your Demons in 3 Simple Steps & Take Back Your Power

 

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An artist told me that one of the best things his chiropractor ever did for him was to tell him to ask one question whenever he felt stressed.

“Ask for something.”

What you ask for can be something you probably don’t think you have the right to ask for.  In his case, it was time.  He was at the beginning of his career and said yes to almost every project that came his way, even if it wasn’t the right thing for him.

His fear of missing out on an opportunity or not knowing how he was going to pay his bills was a relentless anxiety that drove him to the point of becoming so stressed with pains in his body  that he went to see this chiropractor on a steady basis.

Many people are paralyzed by options.  Rather than be completely present in the choices they have made, their eye is constantly on the horizon wondering if they made the wrong choice or worse, they say yes to everything because they don’t know how to say no.

This will inevitably result in overwhelm and a good measure of self doubt that can often trigger physical pain and discomfort.  

When we’re anxious and stressed, it’s easy to look at all of the tasks that lie ahead of us and become overwhelmed. At times, we’re stopped in our tracks and completely shut down. We have reached our breaking point. At this point, anxiety is very high, and our ability to cope seems very low. The good news is that we have the power to prevent ourselves from breaking.  Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Big stress

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When overload hits, it feels like the walls are caving in on you.  Despair and helplessness usually follow and if you are like me, the knot in your stomach can make you crumble.  Left alone to our already overworked imaginations, we picture a scenario that grows bigger and darker with no way out.

At this point, your fear can really do real harm to your mental and physical well being and the one person who is allowing it and who has the power to stop it is – you.

Which is why the question the chiropractor recommended is so important.

Ask
“It’s not the load that breaks you down; it’s the way you carry it.” -Lena Horne

This artist asked for more time.  He was drowning in deadlines.  He could not possibly deliver high quality work at the promised times and he needed more time.

When he did ask, it made a tremendous difference.  In fact, it changed his world.

He realized it is OK to ask for help.  It is not a sign of weakness or amateurism or anything bad he had imagined in his head to ask for what you need.  In his case, people were willing to give him the time to complete the project because they believed in him and they were invested in the success of it as much as he was.

Something else changes in your relationship with your fear when you raise your hand to ask for help.

You are no longer a powerless victim.  You have taken one step to overcoming your gremlin.  You have claimed your agency to changing the power dynamic.

Once you have done that, you can take another step.  And another, until you have taken back your castle and banished the gremlins.

Make a list

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You will need a lighthouse to guide you out of the storm.  This is something you can do by sitting quietly, taking a few good deep breaths and writing yourself a list of just 3 things you can do to make things better.  Not 5 or 10 things, just 3.  It is more important to give yourself momentum with a few small successes in the beginning.  Cross each thing off your list as you do them and really celebrate each one.  You can add more things once you have completed your first 3 if you need to.

Why this works

The combination of putting out a request for help to the world and building your lighthouse changes the energy of your situation.  

You are attracting people to rally around you, not as a helpless victim, but as someone who is pushing ahead with a goal.  People are good about being helpful and actually want to be part of a bigger goal if you ask.

Having your list of things is a powerful weapon in your hand you can wield against the gremlins beating you up and your path to success.

Do this

I recommend you follow these steps as soon as you start feeling stressed:

  • Acknowledge the gremlin

“Ah, there you are,”  you say to the demon pushing the walls down around you.  “I see you and I know what you are doing.”

Size up the gremlin in practical terms without allowing your fear and imagination to make it bigger than it is. Once you do that, you will know exactly what you are up against and what you need to do to overcome your challenge.

  • Ask for help

 

Remember, people are helpful by nature.  Let everyone around you know what you need and how they can help.

  • Make a list

Write yourself a short list of 3 things you can do right way to solve your problem.  Completing these things will get your momentum going and restore your confidence in your own power to change your world.

Life is full of gremlins.

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But they are no match for you, your people and your list.

 

Advice for MFA Students

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As you work towards getting your degree, chances are you are wondering about what happens next.

How will you get your career started?

What will your life be like?

Here are 5 things you can do right now that will help you get started, make you feel better and won’t cost you more tuition:

 

1. Get out more

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In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. John Muir

Get out of the classroom, get out on your feet and go somewhere.  See somebody else’s work, go to a museum, take a long walk in a new direction.  Physical activity is the body moving against gravity.  If you keep moving, you will be healthier, happier and run circles around gravity. Creative activity is your soul moving against a different kind of gravity.  If you keep practicing, you will build up your artistic muscle and rise above gravity.  Let your feet and your eyes open up new experiences, and unexpected opportunities, for you.

2. Find a few friends to cook for

 

Cooking for six people every day is like having a cafe. Linda McCartney
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Learning a simple dish or two is a great way to save money and eat well.  If you can gather some friends to cook for, it is a nice way to spend time together, show work, talk about your projects, and your ability to cook can help really help you couchsurf when you need to. Look up some Youtube videos (try Tasty Videos ) or check out some cookbooks for beginners in the library like these Five Best Beginning Cookbooks recommended by LifeHacker. Here’s tip: One pot dinners like one pot cajun shrimp and pasta are super easy!  You will be feeding your stomach and your soul.

3. Be part of something

 

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The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have.

Norman Vincent Peale

The secret about success is that it isn’t about how talented or artistic you are, but what you have to share with people – your ideas, your personal posse, your willingness to be helpful.  Forget about everything you have accomplished and think more about how you can contribute and help grow the group of people around you. A subtle but powerful psychological shift happens when you stop asking what other people can do for you and you ask what you can do for them.  You begin attracting the success you wanted in the first place.

4. Share something everyday

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“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” ~Vincent Van Gogh

How do some artists have these tremendous audiences for their work?  If you think success came overnight, you are wrong – and right.  Creating a substantial body of work happens over a lifetime.  If you are like me, that amount of years and months just overwhelms me.  Try working with 24 hours, one day at a time.  At some point during the day, stop whatever you are working on, where ever you are in your process and share a small piece of that with the world. Maybe that is a preliminary sketch of your finished piece, or an early color study, it could even be about the tools you choose to use and why.  These small daily pieces are like scenes from a dress rehearsal or the director’s commentary while the show is being created.  People love to “look over the artist’s shoulder” for a chance to see the creative process in action.  A little every day, and overnight, can become big.

5. Talk about yourself

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“So, what do you do?”

If you answer, “I’m an artist,” the next question will probably be, “Do you actually make a living from your art?”

Consider these questions as an opportunity to redirect people from focusing on what’s on your name tag and your income bracket to telling them what your passion is, who it is for and why – a much more interesting conversation.

Here’s a quick fill-in-the-blanks sentence to help you get started:

I do WHAT for WHO so WHY.

For example, the one I use is this:

I write & illustrate picture books

for children of diverse backgrounds

so they can see themselves reflected in American literature.

You never know, you may be talking to someone who may want to buy your work or introduce you to a friend who runs a gallery.

Keep it short and intriguing.

 

OK, now what?

  • Finish school
  • Have a dinner party with your friends and colleagues to share what you are working on, encourage each other and try out that awesome shrimp and pasta recipe
  • Post something you’re working on
  • Take a long walk
  • Talk about yourself

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HoongYee

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About the Author: HoongYee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

How To Make Time To Be An Artist

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Wendell Berry’s studio

This article first appeared on Huffington Post

Tell me if this happens to you.

There is a new book out by a break through author and you think to yourself, “That could be me.  I wonder how she did it.”

You stand on line at a book signing and as you move closer to the author, you feel more and more frustrated holding that book in your hands while your book, the one you have always wanted to write, is still an unwritten dream.  As she autographs your copy, you make the same promise to yourself that you always make when you find yourself face to face with someone who is actually doing what you are longing to do, “OK, today I am going to write my book!”

The problem is that promise will have to fight its way through a laundry list of Other Important Reasons Why You Can’t to get you to sit down and do your work.  Here are the most common ones:

  • I’m too busy
  • I have no time
  • I have a big job
  • I have other priorities
  • I can’t get started

At this point, you know that you are the only one who can champion that promise through.

Without your help, that dream will remain what it is – just a dream. And you will always be on the line with the rest of the dreamers, another fan seeking an autograph, not the writer who has written the book.

Writers and artists have lives that are not that different from ours.  They have to live somewhere, put food on the table, and take care of themselves or their families.  They also have a passion to be creative, to make art and to get it out into the world to share with others.  How do they do this?

Artists actually have two passions.

The passion for their art which is the one that fuels their dreams and imagination.  This is what many people experience when they read a book or see a painting that touches them.  You see yourself in that work of art and you feel their creative spirit igniting your inner artist.

The other passion is their practice.  This is the part that is not so glamorous or exciting.  It is the alarm clock set for 4:45 am, it is the daily struggle to put a few good words on paper, to fight distractions, the will to create something faithfully, to acknowledge and thank yourself for the effort without judgement.

To show up.  Every single day.

The power of combining these two passions is formidable.  It will strengthen your creativity with focus and from this will come your book, your painting, your opera.

You will also be experiencing the benefits of an artistic life: creating joy and living an intentional, purposeful life.

Three simple steps to set up your practice

“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen. “

Joseph Campbell on having a “bliss station,“ in The Power of Myth

Over time, you will find you are actually building a body of work.  You will also notice elevated levels of happiness in your life because you are doing something about that dream of yours and spending time working on what you are passionate about.

This practice requires commitment and perseverance.  By showing up every day, you will gain a strong sense of purpose. Sharing it with others will give you joy. This is the essence of a creative life.

These three steps that lay between you as the fan and you as the artist.

Set your alarm

Find one hour a day.

Think about your typical day and find one hour of time.  Set an alarm, a calendar reminder, an alert or anything that will remind you it is your time for your practice.  

This should be a time that you can come to everyday and do your work. For me, this is that magical hour from 5:00 – 6:00 am. I set two alarms for myself.  One is to wake me up and one is my internal clock to be mentally prepared to fight my desire to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep.

Clean your desk

Keep your space clear.

This is your sacred space.

I believe the only things you need are your imagination and your tools.   For me, that means absolutely nothing on my desk, no sounds, no distractions.  No phones, Facebook, alerts.  No internal editor – myself.  I even turn all of my text white so I can just write without interruption.. Something I cannot do easily because I am so easily tempted to self edit as I write.

Sit in the chair.

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Show up.

I have a friend who has a hard time getting himself to practice the cello.  He will walk into the practice room and walk around circling the cello before sitting down to play. Once he is sitting in his chair and practicing, time will fly and he wonders why he wasn’t doing this earlier.  

Sometimes getting past “circling the cello” and just sitting your chair is the most difficult challenge.

Make something

What terrifies me is the blank page.  

For you it may the empty canvas, the silence in your head.

You may also have that other pesky fear: of not being perfect.

Your job is to put something down on paper.  Get the story, the dance, the symphony out of your head and into the world.  It will look like a mess.  

Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” Salvador Dali

If you are struggling with your work, here’s a piece of advice I find helpful:

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“Procrastinate.  If at first you don’t succeed, give up immediately, move on to some other task until that becomes unbearable. Then move on again circling back around to the first problem.  By now, your subconscious will have worked on it, sort of like sleep, only cheaper.”  from Ten Bullets by Tom Sachs

There are many dreamers in the world with a work of art one alarm clock away from becoming a wonderful reality.

Set yours now.

How Do You Respond to Fear – Fight or Flight…or Fright?

pencil instagram (1)“When we perceive a significant threat to us, then our bodies get ready either for a fight to the death or a desperate flight from certain defeat.”

You know the drill:

A threat is perceived

The autonomic nervous system automatically puts body on alert.

The adrenal cortex automatically releases stress hormones.

The heart automatically beats harder and more rapidly.

Breathing automatically becomes more rapid.

Thyroid gland automatically stimulates the metabolism.

Larger muscles automatically receive more oxygenated blood.

 

For me, it is not being able to breathe.  The walls falling and trapping me.  I skip fight and flight and plunge headfirst into fright.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I hear a voice whispering weakly, “Everything will be fine,” but my heart is beating so fast and so loud that I don’t hear anything.  And I don’t believe it.

That’s when it happens.  That awful black hole of despair in the pit of my soul begins to swallow every last bit of hope and I crumble.  Everything closes in.

I am so overcome with terror that I am paralyzed with fear.  People who know me are familiar with how I deal with bad, scary things.

Give me 24 hours and I will be fine.  Slowly, but surely, my mind clear, my back uncurls and I can stare back at whatever it was that terrified me.

This is the way my body has decided to react to threatening situations.

No matter how I try to fight or run away, this is how I process fear.

I often wish that deep breathing or some other stress reducing exercise would work to get me out of feeling so overwhelmed. But when I think about each time this has happened to me, I realize that my coping skills have become stronger and what knocked me for a loop doesn’t quite have the same punch the second time around.  It takes a bigger, scarier thing to get to me.

What really works for me is holding a pencil.  Something I can write my way out of my hell.

It feels like a lifeline and a weapon at the same time.  A way to plot my path back on my terms.  Truthfully, I never read what I have written afterwards. This kind of writing is more like shedding layers, not poetry.

So there you have it.

If you stumble across someone curled up in a ball, give her a pencil.  She will appreciate your understanding it is just her way of getting to the light.

Whatever your process is, honor it and become aware of what is going on in your mind and body.  Fight, flight or fright, the more you resist, the longer it will take you to get through it.  Accept it and let it take its course.

I am amazed that some people think I am fearless.  They admire my ability to stay calm under fire.  This makes me wonder if all of my heroes are actually going through the same internal roller coaster I am.

That is a comforting thought.  I feel better already.

 

 

The Most Important Question To Ask In An Interview

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A friend of mine auditioned as a back up singer for a Rolling Stones tour.

She had a great voice and when she got a call back, she was super excited.

“Mick Jagger walked into the room and said, ‘You’re all here because you have the chops.  But if you ain’t fun on the bus, you ain’t going.'”

And he walked out.

Think about it.

Going on tour means you will be living, performing, sleeping, traveling and being with a group of people in close quarters for a long time.  It is very important to get the right people and the right energy from the beginning.

You have to be just as focused on getting this right for your team.

Start by asking yourself, “Is this someone I can have dinner with?”