- 8 rules to turn bad days into good habits
- 12 things you should start making time for again
- 10 things successful people never do
- 8 time management sins
- 6 things to figure out when you hit 6 figures
- 7 toxic habits that drain your energy
- 10 ugliest celebrity wedding dresses
- 12 bizarre things happening on Earth right now
- 25 things to remember when life gets tough
These are the first thoughts that invade my consciousness as the morning alarm jolts me from a dream state. I begin my Friday (week two of my watercolor class) doing the thing I keep telling myself I will never do again – reading emails, Facebook and any other passive activity that will delay emergence from the comfort and safety of my bed. Before I remove the covers and officially start the day, I am vaguely aware of feeling overwhelmed, yet I haven’t even opened the curtains to the outside world. Or have I? I’ve just exposed myself to a combined list of 98 rules, sins, toxic habits, things to remember, shoulds, nevers and ugly dresses that I’m expected to care about simply because they were worn by celebrities. Okay, I admit that the “12 bizarre things happening on Earth” are wildly intriguing but seriously, my brain is processing 98 things and I haven’t even rolled out of bed yet.
Those closest to me know that I am an obsessive list maker. I live by lists. Daily lists. Weekly lists. Career lists. Personal lists. Reading lists. Lists of long term goals. Lists of things I might want to try some day. Lists of things I never want to do again. I am a hoarder of lists. I need an intervention.
Here is the problem with lists – unless they are simple tasks like “pick up some eggs and milk” or long-term goals that can be broken down into simple tasks, lists typically involve either changing a habit (extremely difficult to do) or distracting you from what is truly important (a.k.a. procrastinating). Who the heck cares about celebrities’ ugly wedding dresses? And you know what? When life gets tough I can’t remember where I left my keys much less the list of “25 things to remember when life gets tough.”
Studies have shown that it takes seven repetitions for the human brain to learn anything. If you subscribe to the power of affirmations it takes at least 21 days to affect real change. Changing established habits is hard. It took me three serious attempts over a 10-year period to quit smoking. It took four years (with the help of a diet coach) to change the way I eat, despite the fact that those changes significantly improved my health. I struggle even now, having indulged in two margaritas and a piece of tres leches cake just last night. I feel terrible today. I could tell myself I will never do that again but I know I will, until the one day when I won’t. I don’t need a list to tell me that. It took 20 years to adopt a daily meditation practice and 25 years to achieve work/life balance so maybe one day, eventually, I will give up margaritas and tres leches cake for good. Maybe.
How does this have anything to do with making art? Years ago when I seriously studied art I tried a lot of different styles, media and techniques over a long period of time but I never focused on one thing long enough to master it. I am not alone in this regard and it is not limited to art. There are many things I’ve become good at but not great. In a society that talks the talk of long term growth but walks the walk of instant gratification, mastering anything makes you an oddball of sorts.
Multitasking is not only rewarded in our society but expected. The more you do the bigger and better the reward. The “to-do” list never ends. I have no problem with “doing.” I’m doing something now that I’ve wanted to do for years. But I’m doing it for one reason – I love the feeling I get when I’m doing it. It’s cathartic. It makes me happy. It makes me more balanced and less anxious. It makes me a better person. None of the lists that that invaded my morning included a line that said, “blow off work every Friday for four months and go make some art for no reason.” Only I could tell myself to do that.
In a typical day I complete more items on my lists than some people do in a week … and I am exhausted. I’m going to burn my lists. The problem with lists is that most of them are things you think you SHOULD do (mostly because someone else thinks you should) rather than things you WANT to do. Remember what I said about distractions? We are masters of distracting ourselves from what we WANT to do. We will organize a drawer, clean out a closet, watch TV, obsessively check Facebook or overwork like our lives depend on it just to stop thinking about what really matters to us. What if instead, we consider the “1 thing to remember when you hit 6 figures” (or whatever our income goals might be), recall why we thought we needed that money in the first place and start doing what we WANT. I don’t mean do what you want in a selfish way, or to the detriment of others, but do what you feel CALLED to do. Stop being distracted by other people’s lists and do the things you were born to do. That might include making art but it could be anything. Only you know what that is.
The problem with lists is that they can quickly become never-ending and impossible to master, and will only serve one purpose – to keep you tangled in their branches forever so that nothing notable is ever accomplished.
It hits me this morning that I am guilty of this.
I don’t care what anyone says, you can’t learn 98 things in a day. Heck, if I’m focusing on what I WANT to do, I shouldn’t be paying attention to those lists at all. Most of them are things we already know intuitively but just haven’t managed to put into practice yet. So thanks a lot, social media, for reminding me of all the things I SHOULD be doing but I’m not. No pressure.
As I approach week two of my class I have just one item on my list: pay no attention to other people’s lists. I feel this as my truth of the day. I confidently enter the classroom, begin setting up my supplies and notice that the handout for the day is…
wait for it…
After my panic subsides, I realize the list fits neatly into the “simple” category. It is a checklist of things like how to hold a brush, speed and rhythm of a brush stroke, how to do a wash, and various other techniques that we will practice on day one of putting brush to paper. This is the kind of list I see as critical if I am going to be great at watercolor painting. And then I remind myself, I am doing this for fun. If I want to I can burn this list too.
As the class ends I decide this list is a keeper for now. It was just practice but the art feels simple, free …something that can’t be controlled. I like it. It sums up how I want to feel all the time. It will take practice to decide which lists I will focus on and which ones I will set ablaze.
Raw talent means nothing without application. Desire means nothing without intention. Lists are meaningless unless practiced. Practice takes time and time is limited. The only way to focus intently on what we WANT to do is to ignore the 98 “shoulds.”
“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”
~Lin Yutang,Chinese writer, translator, linguist and inventor~