Find Confidence!

What comes first – behaving and thinking confidently or achieving some success?

Do you hope you’ll feel confident someday, perhaps when you’ve become more competent? When you’re more successful? When you’ve accomplished an important goal? 

Or maybe you believe that a person is either born confident, or is not?

Self-confident people trust in their own abilities, capacities, and judgments; they also believe that they can successfully face day to day challenges and demands. Confident people acknowledge their OWN achievements and efforts. They are their own cheerleaders, without needing validation from someone else. Being confident not only helps them to seek new opportunities but also to trust themselves more. Psychologist Abraham Maslow might suggest that individuals need inner self-respect as well as esteem from other people.

It seems to me that feelings of confidence can come and go, varying to some degree day to day. Perhaps confidence is not an all or nothing condition. As you develop skills and achieve success in one area of your life, confidence grows. In contrast, having an off day, making embarrassing mistakes, or encountering criticisms or put-downs can create self-doubt. Everyone has some insecurities. Thus, circumstances can have an effect on your self-esteem and viewpoint.   

     

‘Jug On The Butt’ry Shelf’ Watercolor.

ATTITUDE MATTERS.

Although external events may temporarily affect your sense of self, confidence actually comes from INSIDE YOU. Your thoughts and beliefs about yourself determine how confident you are. Even if you have a difficult and discouraging day, you can remain confident that tomorrow will be better and that you’ll be able to overcome any demands you might meet. 

Do you believe that you could never be a confident person? Do you feel that you don’t deserve to be confident? Perhaps you fear that if you appear confident, other people will feel you are showing off or acting like you are better than they are. Are you afraid others will be jealous if you behave confidently? In fact, most people like being around those with confidence. Your doubts about your own worth are just thoughts that are NOT necessarily justified! Maybe you deserve to be happy and confident. I’m suggesting strongly that you do and that believing you do can help you achieve confidence.

A belief or thought is in your head. In other words, feeling confidence is a frame of mind, an attitude. It is NOT solely dependent on how others see you, but on how you see yourself. You can choose to feel confident.

Therefore, since you can choose what to believe about yourself, you can also learn to develop the skills or practices that will help you sound, act, and feel more confident. How specifically? Let me share a few things that have helped me build up some confidence. Believe me, as a child, I was insecure in my abilities, shy, and hesitant.

1. First, be kind, patient, and understanding with yourself, as you would be to a good friend. Speak to yourself with COMPASSION, kindness, and encouragement. Take time to nurture and care for yourself. You deserve it. Don’t pressure yourself to be perfect or say you’re useless. Stop comparing yourself to others. (There will always be people who are both better AND worse at things than you.) The most important relationship you have in your life is with yourself, so make it a positive relationship.

2. Master your inner critic, the inner voice that expects you to be perfect and not make mistakes. That voice may say you have no talent or can’t do anything right. Don’t believe it! Self-criticism is shaming. NEGATIVE thoughts are toxic and discouraging. Instead, encourage yourself – you’re learning and improving every day.

‘Forsythia in Vase’ Watercolor.

3. Don’t automatically seek approval from others. Always seeking approval from outside yourself is an easy TRAP. Decide for yourself what you think about things.

4. Avoid dwelling on your mistakes; try to concentrate your thoughts on things you have actually done well, on strengths. You have undoubtedly accomplished much in your life. Emphasize your successes, and celebrate them in your own mind. You attract more of what you pay attention to. What you focus on will actually increase. As singer Johnny Cash said, “You build on failure, [but . . . ] use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”

Start to create a “SUCCESS SPIRAL” where one good outcome lays the groundwork for more and then more. The more you achieve success, the more you will come to expect it, the harder you will work, the more you will accomplish, and the more confident you will become. POSITIVE EXPECTATIONS will result. And what you expect, you get.

5. Set a goal to become more confident, and make your desire intentional and explicit. If you don’t know what you want, you can’t take action. When you state an INTENTION, however, you can then plan ways to take the specific actions that can improve your confidence. Building confidence is an ONGOING PROCESS of building skills and changing attitudes. It doesn’t just happen to you. You resolve; you make a promise to yourself to take action.

6. VISUALIZATION can be an effective catalyst for creating your confident life. IMAGINE having already achieved confidence. Describe to yourself in as much detail as possible what a wonderful confident life will be like for you. What would it mean to you if you achieve your desire? Close your eyes and imagine what it looks like, smells like, sounds like, feels like, how you would behave. The process of visualization directs your subconscious to be aware of the end goal you desire, making a positive outcome more likely. Imagine what you WANT to happen. Remember, what you focus on, you get more of.

‘Red and Green’ Watercolor.

ACTION STEPS.

So, how exactly? Having set your intention to become more confident, realize that goal is up to you to achieve. Set up a system or plan to help you take daily ACTIONS. Scientist Martin Seligman reminds us that a positive self-image by itself does not produce anything, but requires positive and productive behavior.

1. Perhaps you could practice talking in a confident manner by speaking clearly and in a straight forward voice, choosing words that a confident person would use. Speak up. You need to SOUND the part. Stop mumbling and apologizing – don’t talk like a hapless victim. For example, DON’T BLAME your difficulty on someone else (or make some other excuse). Admit your troubles, but step up, take responsibility, and say something to yourself like “I can figure this out!” Your words have power.

2. Train yourself to project confident BODY LANGUAGE. In other words, stand tall, take up room, make eye contact, smile and greet others. Feel your feet on the ground; keep your body relaxed and open.  Don’t slouch or hunch your shoulders; don’t cross your arms; don’t avoid eye contact; don’t fidget. Social scientist Amy Cuddy has shown that an individual’s posture does not just reflect that person’s level of confidence or insecurity. Posture sends messages to the brain that can actually change your internal chemistry and the way you FEEL. Furthermore, your appearance and presence affect how others see and treat you, and ultimately how you feel about yourself. When you are relaxed and confident, others will feel at ease around you.

3. Similarly, wear CLOTHES that make you feel good and are comfortable, clean, well-fitting, tasteful, and well taken care of. By creating the impression that you are confident and being proud of the way you look, you will begin to feel more confident.

4. In addition, EXERCISE can invigorate and strengthen you. It can boost your mood. It keeps you healthy. A strong and toned body certainly increases your confidence. Try to find a form of exercise you enjoy so you’ll be likely to continue.

5. Allow yourself to be a learner. Have the courage to take a risk and give yourself a CHALLENGE. When breaking out of your comfort zone and starting something new, you are expanding your own limitations. As you successfully complete difficult tasks, you learn, becoming more confident and more resilient. Easy wins usually don’t feel as satisfying.

6. Finally, offer your HELP to others. Doing so is generous. When you reach out to others in a positive way and share what you are learning, your confidence soars; when you encourage learning in others, you recognize what you already know. Teaching my watercolor classes gives me confidence. While I recognize and tell my students that I do not know everything, I offer plenty of ideas for them to try, having done a lot of experimenting myself. I have learned that I can always pivot and try something else if the painting does not go as planned.  While I focus on helping others, I worry less about my own inadequacies.

‘Colorful Tulips’ Watercolor.

SUMMARY.

Being confident is a frame of mind. It doesn’t just happen but takes work to build, develop, and maintain. Make the decision to become more confident, and commit to cultivating that attitude. It is NOT dependent solely on how others see you, but primarily on how you feel and what you believe about yourself. 

Choose and practice some of the specific steps mentioned above. Behave and think like the person you want to become. As social scientist Amy Cuddy says in her TED talk about confidence, “Fake it until you become it.” Remember, confidence is a skill that can be learned, an ongoing PROCESS. When you stumble, get side-tracked, or have a discouraging day, don’t give up. Take a breath, give yourself a short break (perhaps a treat), and REFOCUS on taking action to become more confident. Pick up where you left off, and persevere.

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Prevent, Correct, And Reframe Your Painting Mistakes!

      

Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to the error that counts.                                                                                                                          Nikki Giovanni, poet, writer.

                                                                                                      

It is a common misconception that experienced painters don’t struggle or make mistakes. Not true! We all inadvertently make wrong decisions at times when painting and get outcomes we don’t desire or intend. Failing in this way is unavoidable. If recognized early, however, many mistakes can be corrected in watercolor. You can lift colors, blot, scrub, scrape, disguise mistakes, change values by lifting or glazing, reevaluate and change course, or even adjust a composition.

YOU CAN CORRECT MANY MISTAKES.

One of the simplest techniques to correct a mistake involves BLOTTING AND LIFTING wet paint. If while you’re painting you accidentally smudge or paint over an area you intended to keep white, quickly blot up the wet paint with a paper towel or tissue. As long as you have not painted with a staining pigment, the color will lift. (Suggestion: Become aware of which paints on your palette are considered staining. Common staining colors that cannot be easily lifted include Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Green, some of the Sap Greens, Gamboge, Permanent Rose, Prussian Blue.)

Another technique for altering wet paint is using a THIRSTY BRUSH to remove some color from your painting — e.g., to lighten a wash, create a highlight, or lift out clouds. The painted surface should be damp, with the shine just about to go dull. A ‘thirsty’ brush has been moistened but squeezed nearly dry before the brush is moved over the moist painted surface. After each lifting stroke with a thirsty brush, wipe the brush clean to remove wetness and lifted paint from the brush before continuing to lift.

If your paint has dried, WETTING AND LIFTING can remove areas of dark color. To lift at least some of a staining color, you will need a stiffer brush and stronger scrubbing. Use a very wet brush to wet the area where paint will be lifted.

Work in small areas to loosen and lift paint, before moving and moistening a new spot. SCRUB until the water loosens the dried pigment. Quickly blot to absorb the liquid with a paper towel or tissue, removing the loosened pigment along with the water. Do not let the loosened color remain on the scrubbed surface. If the damaged paper fibers reabsorb the color, you will not be able to lift it. Be sure to have a wet enough brush when using this technique – using just a damp brush may rough up the paper and scrub the paint deeper into the paper. A slight variation to the above scrub-and-blot technique would be WIPING OFF COLOR with a paper towel or tissue.

‘Mountain Stream’ watercolor painting, using scrubbing and lifting.

SCRAPING can help you recover a lost highlight or create sparkle. You can scrape with a variety of tools (for different effects), either before your applied paint dries or after. To add texture to tree trunks, for example, scrape wet paint with a palette knife or hard brush handle. Scraping can form dark marks on wet paint as the paint flows into the scrape. Or, on less wet but still damp paint, scrape in lighter marks as you push paint away from the scraping.

‘Red Canoe’ watercolor painting, using scraping and lifting.

‘Waves’ watercolor painting, using scratching and scraping.

Rocks can be highlighted and textured with a knife or palette knife by scraping and pushing damp paint. An X-acto knife can scrape dried paint to reclaim highlights, generate sparkle on water, or repair unsuccessful dry brush work. Keep in mind that scraping can damage paper, so it should be one of the last adjustments made to your painting. (Sandpaper can also remove pigment and bring back the white of the paper, although it also damages the paper.)

Hazel Soan, in The Essence of Watercolour, maintains that errors in “light-toned early washes are NOT a problem. As soon as darker tones are employed the eye is distracted from the pale tones.” Soan goes on to suggest that sometimes you can reclaim your watercolor by disguising or DISTRACTING from a mistake. Add a dark-toned accent, such as some grasses or reeds, near or over the error “to distract the eye away from the problem.”

OPAQUE colors, if not overdone, can be used to cover some painting mistakes or recreate lost highlights. Edges can be redrawn with an opaque color. Titanium White, full strength, can hide a mistake against white paper, while a matching opaque color can reclaim a colored background.

Too many layers of paint will eventually destroy transparency, so consider GLAZING to preserve transparency and improve color harmony. Tame overly bright colors, make shadows interesting, or even enliven dull dark color by glazing with a TRANSPARENT pigment. When glazing, make sure the surface of the paper is thoroughly dry. To calm bright colors, choose a transparent NON-STAINING pigment and apply it quickly (without scrubbing). To rescue dull, dark colors, use transparent STAINING pigments (such as Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Phthalo Blue, or Phthalo Green) for glazing. As Jean Dobie explains in Making Color Sing, “turn an error into an asset!”

‘Apple Blossoms’ watercolor painting, using glazing to tame background and create depth.

MISTAKES HAPPEN. HOW YOU REACT AFFECTS THE OUTCOME.

While no one enjoys or aims to make mistakes, the way you react to an unintended outcome makes a difference. Will you respond with upset, embarrassment, and self-criticism, and feel that you’re a failure as a painter? If so, you will lose objectivity and be unable to learn from your mistakes. Instead, try to remind yourself that mistakes can actually be good things (even though it may not initially feel that way)! Making mistakes is a clear sign you’ve moved beyond your “comfort zone” and are challenging your abilities. In other words, this is exactly where you NEED to be so that you can learn and improve your skills. Remember, to improve your skills, give yourself a challenge.

MISTAKES SHOW US WHAT WE NEED TO LEARN.

If making a mistake upsets you, stop painting and take a break. If you don’t know what the painting needs, you should stop. Avoid an emotional response by giving yourself some distance from your painting so you are able to regain some objectivity. A mistake does NOT mean you’re a failure as a painter or a person. When you regain your calm, you’re ready to REFRAME your thinking about your mistake. The best artists are problem solvers. Remember that mistakes are unavoidable, no big deal, and they present us with clear lessons. Looking at your work with fresh eyes, evaluate what happened and think about how best to correct and learn from this mistake. (Look for an upcoming blog post on how you can critique your own work.)  What specifically isn’t working? How can you improve what went wrong? (One or several of the above techniques might be useful.)

REDEFINE ‘MISTAKE’.

Yet another way to look at mistakes is as gifts. What just happened on your paper may not have been what you were planning to have happen, but… it may be something good, if not even better than what you intended. It may be a chance to change the direction of your painting if you let go of a preconceived idea that is not working – it’s okay to be open and change your mind. Perhaps the paint is moving in an interesting way, creating a pleasing effect. Is the ‘mistake’ truly a mistake or instead an opportunity to take the painting in a different, better direction? Letting go and allowing the painting to lead requires trusting in the PROCESS (rather than stubbornly trying to control the paint and force a desired outcome). It’s not easy, yet there are times when you might wish to rethink your initial intention and let the painting begin to ‘paint itself’. Try it! (This option can result in a looser style of painting.)

‘Pitcher and Pears’ watercolor painting, a picture that wanted to ‘paint itself’.

SUMMARY.

Try not to rush to correct all your painting mistakes. It is sometimes best to evaluate your work near the end of the painting process when you can see how one area affects or supports the other sections of a picture. While many mistakes can be corrected or improved, at times it can be best to start a picture over. Try to learn from any blunder. Identify where and how you can improve your work. If you’re not learning from your mistakes, you’ll tend to repeat them. With experience you will become confident about what you can correct as well as know when you probably should begin anew. Continue to enjoy the process of painting, without trying to force the watercolor to always bend to your will. Part of the beauty of the watercolor medium involves its flowing, unpredictable nature and its ability to create beautiful, transparent blended color. Don’t get discouraged – becoming frustrated or giving up could be the worst mistake of all.

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Banish Imposter Syndrome, Self-Doubt, And Perfectionism.

I reach a point in every painting where I begin to doubt my abilities and decisions, however briefly. My painting may not be turning out as well as I’d hoped, one of the techniques I tried wasn’t very effective, or a color that I mixed wasn’t what I wanted. Or I may just find myself in the ‘difficult middle stage’ of a picture, after the initial layers of color but before painting any details. This self-doubt can lead to anxiety and second-guessing. I think almost every artist feels a similar emotion about their art at one time or another. And I believe this is very normal. 

Do you worry about small mistakes or flaws in your work? Do you sometimes attribute your successes to luck or happenstance? Are you sensitive to even constructive criticism? Do you ever feel that people will inevitably discover that you are not as knowledgeable or talented as you pretend? Do you ever downplay your own expertise, even when you are genuinely skilled in an area? This kind of self-doubt, although quite common, has been called imposter syndrome or imposter mindset.

Apples Watercolor Painting.

Imposter syndrome can affect anyone! In fact, scientists suggest that as many as 82% of all people experience the self-doubt and lack of confidence of imposter syndrome at one time or another. 

Perfectionism can play a significant role in Imposter Syndrome. Steven Pressfield discusses perfectionism in his book The War Of Art and describes perfectionism as a type of resistance and fear. Perfectionists fear failure and not being good enough. They may also procrastinate, making it difficult to get started on anything new, or to continue a project when encountering difficulty.

Porch Rocker Watercolor Painting.

Imposter syndrome and resistance can hit unexpectedly, out of nowhere. I can be painting along, having fun, secure in my progress so far, when that self-critical voice suddenly screams at me. “What were you thinking? How could you possibly think you could paint this? Really?” It can be deflating.

I have to remind myself that these doubts are just thoughts in my head. Everyone feels unsure at times, but I’m trying to train myself to step back, evaluate the situation, reassess my painting, and engage in some positive self-talk. “Let me be realistic and try to be objective here,” I tell myself. “It’s time to adjust my  attitude.” 

Beach Cottage In Fog Watercolor Painting.

How exactly can you overcome imposter syndrome and self-doubt? I have some suggestions that have worked for me. Try them and see if they help you.

  • REALISTIC GOALS: Set realistic, attainable goals. Step back and try to regain some objectivity about your situation. Stop expecting yourself to be perfect. There is no such thing as perfection. Mistakes actually help you learn and grow. They define a problem, and now you can solve it! Think of each mistake as a puzzle to solve, a challenge to improve.
  • SMALL STEPS: Break up overwhelming tasks into small and manageable steps. In a painting, don’t try to paint everything all at once, including all the layers and details. Focus on one task at a time.
  • BE POSITIVE: Focus on the positive. Even if you notice something you don’t like, make a conscious effort to notice all the good work you’ve done. This approach will start to change your critical focus and build a positive new habit. Remind yourself of all the things you’re good at.
  • NO NEGATIVE SELF-TALK: Cultivate self-compassion. Be kind and encouraging to yourself. You’ll enjoy life more and begin to appreciate yourself and your work. Enjoy the process of painting.
  • AVOID COMPARISONS: Avoid comparing yourself to others. You are unique. No one has had the experiences you’ve had, or has your viewpoint, which is as valid as those of others. If you look to comparisons as a way to gauge your successes and the quality of your work, you will always find others more skilled than you (as well as less skilled). Believe that you are progressing at the rate that is right for you. To compare your progress to someone else’s will only increase your insecurities. An environment where you feel safe, comfortable, and accepted rather than ‘lesser than’ is vital for your creativity.
  • FOCUS ON PROCESS: One important way to recover from perfectionism is to begin focusing more on the PROCESS of reaching TOWARD a goal, rather than just focusing on results and the goal itself.
  • ACTION: Self-doubt feeds on inaction, so choose your best option and get something done! Stop overthinking. Stop ruminating, worrying, or second-guessing yourself. The people who push through imposter syndrome have one thing in common: they don’t abandon the situation that they find themselves in — they don’t give up. They turn their fear of failure and embarrassment into a motivational tool to keep moving forward. Your achievements do not define your self-worth. As Fred Rogers might say, “You’re perfect just the way you are.”
  • SEPARATE FEELINGS FROM FACTS: What you’re thinking and feeling about yourself is not necessarily the ‘truth.’ Don’t believe every thought you have. Having a thought over and over does not make it fact. When you FEEL inadequate, it doesn’t mean you ARE inadequate. Never define yourself as a failure, because what you believe will then become reality. Examine your self-doubts. If you can change your thoughts and your internal beliefs, you will break through your feelings of imposter syndrome. What you think and believe creates your results. Let go of the pressure that you’re putting on yourself to be great. Doing your best work will be just right.

In summary, most people experience moments of doubt, and that’s normal. The important part is not to let that doubt control your actions. The trick is doing what you do ANYWAY, despite your insecurity and anxiety. Don’t deny your strengths, or you will remain trapped in imposter syndrome. Give yourself credit for your efforts, and celebrate all the improvements you make.

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Loosen Up And Get “Painterly”!

I hear a lot of painting students wanting to loosen up their art. What do they really mean? I believe we all strive for looseness so that our art appears fresh and relaxed, not overworked. Another term for loose might be “painterly.” 

DON’T OVERTHINK IT.

When we are just learning to paint, we often strive for an exact likeness of what is being painted. This approach may cause us to overthink and overcomplicate what we are doing, trying to get our picture “just right.” We become focused on painting precise details. As a result, we hold our brushes (often too small brushes) tightly and increase our tension. Stiff, controlled, overly detailed work can result.

WHAT EXACTLY IS “PAINTERLY”?

Many painting students soon realize the value of expressing themselves in a more “painterly” fashion – an approach creating the suggestion of form by utilizing colors, strokes, and textures, in contrast with a linear or graphic method involving the drawing of line. The term “painterly” was popularized by Swiss art historian Heinrich Wölfflin (1864-1945), who used it to describe the characteristics of paintings. A painterly picture tends to be expressive, to focus on more simplified shapes, and to limit detail by using hard and soft edges.

Some painterly artists include Pierre Bonnard, Francis Bacon, Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt, Renoir, and John Singer Sargent. More linear artists are Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Ingres. According to wikipedia, “contour and pattern are more the province of linear artists, while dynamism is the most painterly trait.”

“Painterly” – J. S. Sargent Watercolor, Brook Among Rocks, 1910.

TIPS.

We all want our art to appear confident and spontaneous, while suggesting depth and emotion. But how can you transition your art from overly detailed to looser, more relaxed, and expressive? Painting looser may require a shift in both process and thinking. 

  •   One tip to loosen up your art is to use larger brushes, which allows you to make fewer, bolder brush strokes and which prevents overdoing details. 
  •   Paint with quick and lively, confident brush strokes. 
  •   Try to focus on more simplified shapes to avoid getting distracted by unimportant details. 
  •   Paint hard, soft, and lost  edges to help the viewer get interested and involved while looking at your image. 
  •   Directional strokes, such as those used to create a swirling cloud or flowing water, help you describe movement and the essence of a scene without painting every detail. They can help direct the viewer’s eye toward the focal point. (Interestingly enough, directional strokes themselves can actually follow a direction and pattern that simulates what you’re painting. They can swirl like clouds, blow like hair in the wind,  or flow and ripple like water – a visual form of onomatopoeia.)
  •   Further, you may be interested in exaggerating certain elements in your painting, such as pushing colors beyond what you actually see, to emphasize your interpretation of your subject.
“Painterly” – J. S. Sargent Watercolor, La Biancheria, 1910.

I believe another factor causing tight, overly detailed paintings is an artist’s mindset. When we want to create a “perfect” picture and we feel unsure of our painting abilities, tension and insecurity result. The body naturally tenses up, we worry about results, and expressive work becomes difficult, if not impossible. 

Therefore, often before I begin a painting session, I do a “warm up,” like an athlete stretching and warming up before exercise or a race.

“Painterly” – J. S. Sargent Watercolor, Villa Di Marlia, Lucca, 1910.

Before I get to serious painting, I try to relax and play a little. I get out a sketchbook or several pieces of watercolor paper (perhaps 7X11” or 8X8”, the size doesn’t really matter), and begin to make some watercolor marks. It doesn’t matter what kind of marks or what color they are. It’s just an exercise, an experiment designed to get you moving.

Never mind what you end up with! Sometimes it may be hard to even begin if you’re worried about what the marks will look like or whether they’ll be any good. It doesn’t matter! Make a mess; fool around.

For me, it doesn’t always begin easily or feel like fun. Usually, I start making tight, hesitant marks, often feeling unsure. After one page is full, I grab another and continue. I’ve used brushes, spray bottles, sticks, sponges, etc. I keep going UNTIL I start to get sloppy, confident, boisterous. As I go along, the marks somehow get looser, freer, and more beautiful; I like them much better than those I made when I began. I start feeling more relaxed, having gotten over the worry that things won’t turn out well. I eventually move beyond the resistance, past any hesitancy to start, away from the  belief that art is a struggle, that the work needs to be perfect. 

My mood gradually changes to loose and easy without my forcing it. As the marks become looser, so does my mindset. I’m ready to carry over and try to maintain this mood in my paintings. And with this more relaxed attitude, I worry less about making mistakes and feel more comfortable listening to my own intuition and expressing my ideas. 

“Painterly” – J. S. Sargent Watercolor, In A Medici Village, 1906.

TRY IT.

Once you’ve felt this more relaxed attitude and tried these tips, understand that you can recreate the mindset yourself and begin to paint more loosely whenever you want to. 


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Busy, Busy, Busy… How Can I Make More Time To Paint?

 

Do you have too much to do and too little time? Do you ever feel overwhelmed, exhausted by chores and commitments? Do you wish you could find the time for your creative pursuits, or even just a bit of relaxation? Do you ever say “I don’t have time!” for the things you want and yearn most to do?

Our culture has raised us to believe that the more you do, and the BUSIER you are , the more valuable and worthy you are. “No sitting around daydreaming!!!”, my father used to bellow. Or at other times,“Get your nose out of that book!!!” We sometimes feel we have to do it all or we’ll be seen as lazy, less successful.

’Busyness’ can, however, also be a distraction from dealing with important issues in your life. It can be a way we NUMB ourselves and even a way we AVOID taking time to think about who we are, what we want, and what we need to change in our lives.

Lost In Time, Pepperell, MA.

Lost In Time, Pepperell, MA.

STOP DOING SO MUCH AND SET PRIORITIES.

Perhaps you are trying to do too much and need to be more selective. Are you getting the right things done?

Have you heard about the 80/20 Rule? It’s also called the Pareto Principle, named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, who in 1896 discovered that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. The Pareto Principle states that 80% of consequences usually come about from only 20% of all efforts, suggesting an unequal relationship between inputs and outputs. In my art business, for instance, I have found that about 80% of my sales come from only 20% of my customers no matter how much work I put in. So, instead of marketing to the general public (who may not care about art or watercolor), my efforts are made more effective by prioritizing my relationships with that 20%.

Fenceline, Shelburne, VT.

Fence Line, Shelburne, VT.

Wouldn’t you like to use your time more efficiently? All the tasks on your ‘To-Do List’ are NOT equally important! You DON’T have to do it all! You can (and should) CHOOSE your own priorities. (No one can tell you what is a priority for you.)

Think about what works (and what doesn’t) FOR YOU. (I need to stop worrying about being a ‘good girl’ and doing what other people think I should.) What gives you the most bang for your buck? Do MORE of that and less of the nonessential. (I want to spend more time actually painting.) What gives you the best outcomes and most satisfaction? What works best with the least amount of effort? Can you stop doing some of the less important tasks? (Be honest.) Do they actually have to be done now? (Put them on your calendar to be done at a later date.) Do you even care about this task? Might it be something you’ve done for years but don’t need or want to do any longer? (I don’t need to be part of a co-op anymore.  I still use healthful foods but don’t need to invest hours placing orders, sorting goods, or writing co-op newsletters when I could be painting or working on my blog.) Can you delegate some jobs, so you can start spending more time on the activities that make a difference, or that you enjoy? (My husband does more of the cooking these days.)

Clarify what you want to learn, where you want to go, who you want to be. Prioritize, and WRITE DOWN three things to do today; ignore the rest for now.

Apples, Marlboro, VT.

Winter Apples, Marlboro, VT.

ESSENTIALS FIRST.

Often we do unimportant or low-priority tasks on our ‘To-Do List’ before we do something that would add real value or satisfaction to life, perhaps because we want to ‘get something DONE’ or ‘get warmed up’. No! Instead, START with the important or difficult job that will offer you the BIGGEST PAY-OFF.  This insures that what matters most is done first – it is a PRIORITY and should be treated as such, not left to do if you have any leftover time. Don’t work non-stop with no time reserved for relaxing, but choose to squeeze a few of the less pressing tasks in around the essential.

DO ONE THING AT A TIME AND FOCUS.

Trying to do TOO MANY things can actually be a PRODUCTIVITY KILLER! ‘Busy, busy, busy’ DOESN’T mean you’re getting more done. (This may seem counter-intuitive – some people try to multi-task, thinking they can get more done.) But when you FOCUS on one thing at a time, rather than many, you are more effective. When I’m writing a blog post, every interruption takes time away from actual writing and adds time to re-focus and recover my train of thought. Paying attention to what you’re doing can actually save time.

Keep your eyes on the MAIN GOAL you have chosen. (I will make the time to do more watercolor painting.) Establish short-term goals and sub-tasks that revolve around your big goal. (I plan to clean up and reorganize my painting area, make sure my palette is filled with paint, plan and set up my next painting, decide the time and day I plan to start. Related to my main goal is taking advantage of the online art courses that I have previously lined up.) Be intentional about how you use your time. (I will share my plans with people like my husband, who might unknowingly interrupt.)

LIMIT DISTRACTIONS. DEVELOP SELF-DISCIPLINE.

Don’t allow yourself to be sucked in by distractions. IDENTIFY what distracts YOU most and prevents you from being productive. Strive not to pay attention to things that upset you or that you don’t really want to be involved with. (No twitter for me!) Take the dog outside before you begin your work. Reduce any distracting input. Don’t watch the news on TV – watch only your favorite shows, and do it later. Stay away from your phone, stop scrolling on social media, turn notifications off, and even unsubscribe from some apps. Shut your door (or politely say “No” when people interrupt or ask questions when you’re trying to focus).

reflection-townsend-ma.

Reflections, Townsend, MA.

IN SUMMARY.

All the tasks on your ‘To-Do List’ are NOT equally important! When you know what’s important, it’s a lot easier to IGNORE what’s not. So, focus on what matters to YOU, do it first, and eliminate some of the busywork. Don’t work non-stop, but reserve some time to relax. Do less and get more done, and spend more time doing what you want to do!

Footnote: This blog addresses issues that I continue to struggle with. Some days, I’m more successful at focusing than others. Some days, life gets in the way. As in painting, we must be kind and patient with ourselves, and not expect perfection. Just don’t give up!

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Photos taken and copyrighted by Tristan T. Haman (https://www.instagram.com/thaman15/).