Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Welcome to the Chinese New Year: Resolutions vs. Mantras

January is almost over, and for many of us, that means our New Year's Resolutions have already cracked or broken under the pressure of everyday life.  
I'm taking solace in two things

First, Chinese New Year is January 31st, which means an opportunity to start fresh!  Hurray for the year of the yang wood horse!

Second, I didn't make any New Year's Resolutions. 
Instead of a list of resolutions, what I have for the new year is a mantra.  I did this in 2013 and it worked.  Really well.  According to Wikipedia, a mantra is a "group of words believed . . .to have psychological and spiritual power. . . The spiritual value of mantra comes when it is audible, visible or present in thought." I think of it as one step more powerful than an intention. 
My 2013 mantra? "I am enough. I have enough."  I wanted to shift that feeling that I needed to do more in order to be good enough.
I would say it to myself when I was falling asleep, standing in line, driving, or restless. And I would say it anytime I realized I was about to do (or had done) something out of insecurity. I never said it out loud, though you certainly could. Eventually, my thinking started to shift. Those words would just pop into my head when I hit an awkward situation: I started to believe the words at a deeper level and they began to impact my actions.  That mantra was a great tool not only for change.

This year, as I looked at things in my life that I wanted to shift, I thought about how much I let myself get distracted from what I'm actually good at - making stuff and helping other people make stuff.  Over the past few years, I've spent a lot of time on non-profit administration and advising entrepreneurs, among other things.  They were worthwhile tasks, and I was ok at doing them, but I wasn't great. I was doing them to make money, or to gain approval, or because I thought people needed me. 

The thing is, they weren't really mine to do.  I'm happiest, most productive, most energetic, most excited, when I'm doing what I'm really meant to do.  Making art, teaching art, facilitating creativity, exploring creativity and sharing those explorations with others. I know what work is mine to do, and I have solid skills that enable to do that work well.  And if I focus on it, all the other things I want come into line.  I've just had a really hard time trusting that, believing it on a gut level.

So the new mantra?  "I know my work. I own my skill."  It's my reminder to stay true to my own creative path.

If you've made a creative commitment to yourself for 2014 - be it to make more art, spend more time in the studio, learn a new technique, let go of perfectionism - having a mantra can help. 

What makes a good mantra?
  • It's short. No more than 8 syllables. Cut out all the non-essentials.
  • It's easy to remember, maybe even a bit poetic or rhythmic.  This is the hard part - I'm still tweaking my current mantra a bit. 

  • You can say it during or around a single deep breath.  
  • It's in the first person, or is a directive.  In other words, you're either saying what you are or you're telling yourself to do something. "Be Bold" and "I'm never in a rush" are both mantras that I've seen other people use successfully.
  • It's a simple action or an attitude. In other words, reminds you of a way that you can be in the moment. It's not dependent on anyone else.
  • It's something you're very close to believing or doing.   Maybe something you accept intellectually, but are having a hard time getting it at an emotional level or following through on in real life. 
  • It's a reminder at decision time. Thinking about whether or not to fit in one last email before you rush out the door to get to that appointment? "I'm never in a rush." Trying to decide whether or not to apply to that art show? "Be Bold." 

Curious about the images?  They were all taken as I worked on the sample for "Make Your Mark!" a full-day workshop that's coming up right after the Chinese New Year. If you're interested in jump-starting your creative 2014, and in exploring personal imagery and your creative mantra, join me for "Make Your Mark!" February 2nd in Milwaukie, OR.