Not even this pandemic can dampen the joy I feel being back at Material Studios this summer. I wake up motivated to get to work. By the time I finish the ten-minute walk from our apartment my mind is prepared for the day. I’m getting better at balancing the workload: I set aside days for administrative work as well as research and outreach. I make time for online learning to expand on my skills and learn new techniques. The best days, though, hands down, are the ones that are pure, uninterrupted studio time. I close the door, mute the phone and let creativity run wild.
I knew when I set goals for my practice earlier this year it was going to take balance to achieve them. I wasn’t worried about how to manage the different but necessary workflows; discipline and focus are in my DNA. What seemed kind of strange, though, was scheduling time specifically for the purpose of creative work. I was plenty worried…what if I set aside a Thursday for studio time but woke up with my brain on empty? At some point I figured out I was overthinking that, though, because studio days are consistently the best ones on my schedule.
I took some time last week to reflect on my goals and progress for this year. It was heartening to see what I’ve accomplished already. The last goal I wrote down, but the one that resonates the most is one word: Positivity. I’ve gotten better at muting my inner critic, that little voice that has the unique ability to stir up mountains of self-doubt and insecurity in an instant. I never realized how self-destructive my inner critic was until I started paying more attention to that voice. As recently as a few months ago I’d finish working on a piece, for example, and instead of appreciating what I just spent time creating I’d start examining it for imperfections. Sometimes someone will offer unsolicited advice about a work in progress but their suggestion isn't aligned with my vision. I would stress myself out wondering if I’d gotten something wrong instead of trusting my own creative process. During one of those extremely stressful moments, a friend and fellow artist asked why I was letting that kind of negativity in...and gently wondered how it was impacting my progress on the carefully thought-out goals I had set. Those questions stopped me in my tracks. I realized I was drowning in insecurity and negative thoughts... and letting them permeate my work.
That night I added a new goal to my list, one that went right to the top of the page: Positivity. Well, ok, it was more than just one word. It was: think positively about self, work, life, health. How would I accomplish this? Recognize negativity as soon as it appears, then crush it with totally different thoughts about things that are going right. I'm not great at drawing...but wow, I'm great with color. I'm not earning much income...but I'm lucky to be able to do what I love. I'm sick of having a chronic illness...but why on earth would I allow that to define me? Back to goals, what was my time frame for more positive thinking? Start immediately, continue indefinitely. Keep trying no mater what. How would I measure my accomplishments? Count those negative-to-positive moments regularly and note how much those numbers go down.
Fast forward to that joy I feel as I walk into my studio today…joy may not have been on my radar a few months ago but is perhaps my most important achievement. Instead of approaching my art practice thinking about what I don’t know, adding up things I haven’t done or stressing about what I can’t do, I now make a constant, conscious effort to acknowledge my work in a positive way. I think about everything I have learned, appreciate what I did when I do something, and I've noticed less negative thinking overall in other areas of my life. When unsolicited advice comes my way I give myself permission to weigh it and set it aside if I don’t want it. I take a breath…think about my next studio day…and without fail, I’m back to overflowing with joy. For me, that kind of positivity is huge considering what’s going on around us. Here I am a few short months after setting my professional goals…in the middle of a pandemic, no less…growing my practice, developing artistically and facing the future with a whole new approach. So to anyone else whose inner critic raises its voice...try setting this goal and see what great things you can achieve!