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Posts Tagged ‘creative process’

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” ~ Rumi

In the previous post, I wrote about momentum. Momentum is about sustaining action (large and small) long enough that our project picks up a speed of its own and carries us along with it. We don’t feel like we have to push so much.

Motivation is about what gets us into (or out of) action in the first place. It speaks to a need or a desire that moves us. It can just as easily move us away from our target as toward it. Motivation can come from fear as well as love. It matters that our motivation be honest and in alignment with our more real self.

If we are motivated by fear, we may seek to avoid something. Even if we are motivated by a need to fill a sense of lack in ourselves (looking for love, recognition, a sense of belonging from an outside source), we may be trying to avoid the pain and emotion of feeling that sense of lack. In that case, we are afraid of our own emotions more than that from which we think we are running.

Feeling deeply our own emotions is one of the  first steps toward recognizing we are the authors of our lives and as such are the ones who create our feeling loved, recognized and belonging.

If we are motivated by love, we may seek to express a passion, to share skills and insights, to create something for ourselves, for others, for the sheer beauty or play of it.

interesting photo

Our motivation contributes to our momentum. It is important to explore our motivations because, to put it bluntly, if our motivation is to prove something to someone else or to get something from them, then our strategy may well backfire. Our energy reserves will be depleted and our momentum will lose steam.

If you are procrastinating around something that makes your heart sing, you are more than likely avoiding vulnerability. It is vulnerable to allow yourself to be seen in your awkward exploration, grand adventure, playful innocence, sheer majesty.

If you are procrastinating around something that you think you should do, but it doesn’t really float your boat, then look deeply into your motivation. Is this your agenda or someone else’s? How in alignment with your values and desires for your life is it really? What do you expect to achieve or get for this? If you say yes to this, to what are you saying no? What are you avoiding by focusing on this instead of what you really want? Do you need to delegate or ask for help?

Let’s play with “motivation” as both a process/conditions question and one of goals/outcomes (motive).

As a process/conditions question, we are addressing how we can move ourselves into action, build and sustain momentum.

Some responses might be to:

• Build a habit or routine
• Plant a seed the night before to facilitate more automatic action the next day
• Make a game of it
• Have an accountability buddy
• Create a ritual around it
• Work with others
• Go on a working retreat
• A clean office
• Setting a timer
• Play music while doing the work

What processes/conditions motivate you? Are you putting them into place?

As a goal/outcome (motive) question, we are addressing why we want to do what we say we want to do. What we hope to get from it. It may also be a question of why we are avoiding what we say we want to do. Again whose agenda is it? Is it a should a have to a must or a desire? Is it for short term gratification or long term satisfaction?

Here’s an exercise to help you tease out whose agenda you are following (or chasing).

What do you want?

Take a moment or two to write down your answer to that question. Write at least 10 things you want and include the thing you are procrastinating around that you think or know you want.

Some of your wants may be simple, like a new washing machine. Some may be more complex like to have a child or change careers. An avoidance want might be, to get out of my marriage or get away from this town. (You aren’t sure what you want, but you know what you don’t want. If you have to start there, then do.)

What do you really want?

Take time to write down the answer(s) to that question, however it shows up for you.

If your first answer was more of a “don’t want” avoidance item, then write what you want instead of that. For example, I want to get away from this town might now become I want to live in the country or I want to live where the weather is more temperate.

For some people, it will be further clarity around their original answer, like a front-loading, red washing machine or a career in which I can telecommute.

For others, the answer(s) may be entirely different. The first wants become replaced by something deeper, more heart-felt, more vulnerable. Perhaps it even feels risky to put it in writing or say it out loud.

Many of my new clients have difficulty with the question, “What do you want?” It is totally understandable. For the most part, we have been shut down over the years with admonishments about what we should and shouldn’t want, can and can’t have, need to accept, plan B’s and compromises.

We’ve also been told it is selfish to want what we want unless it is for someone else or “world peace.” We are subjected to the opinions and judgments of others about our desires and preferences. It is painful to want something we think we can’t have. So, over the years, we’ve learned to stuff it.

We bury our treasures so deep that finding them is a major archeological dig. So, don’t worry if you are having trouble with the question. Stay with it. You were designed to want what you want at a heart and soul level. Our life energy and time is too precious to waste on chasing after someone else’s (including our wounded ego’s) agenda.

Here is another fun and powerful way to open up to your heart’s true desire, which you may also interpret as your calling). I first heard this from my good friend Joette Tizzone. She says she may have adapted it from elsewhere. You’ve probably heard similar approaches. I am fond of this version.

The Bliss Question

Close your eyes.

You have everything you need to create the life of your dreams.

There are absolutely no obstacles.

You have the money you need.

You have the knowledge you need.

You are surrounded by helpers, and anything you don’t know or think you might need is happily supplied to you by others.

Everything is in harmony as you create your beautiful life.

Allow yourself to feel this….

Now, please describe it to me, in the present tense, such as I am ….

Where are you? ( I am …)

What are you doing? (I am …)

What is around you?

Who is with you?

What does it feel like? (I feel …)

Allow yourself to bask in the feeling.

Open your eyes.

If you take the time to do this with reverence for the spiritual human you are, you will have begun to feed energy to a future that motivates you into creative action and comes back to you as a river moving through you.

Do not worry for now about the how. The how is always revealed as needed.

As Joseph Campbell said:

If what you are following, however, is your own true adventure, if it is something appropriate to your deep spiritual need or readiness, then magical guides will appear to help you. If you say, ‘Everyone’s going on this trip this year, and I’m going too,’ the no guides will appear. Your adventure has to be coming right out of your own interior…You must have courage. It’s the call to adventure, which means there is no security, no rules.*

So, dear reader:  What do you want? What motivates you?

The next post in this series will help you make a distinction between the form and the function of what you want which will help you go further with understanding the why.

If you would like to uncover the buried treasure of your true calling, begin your grand adventure and could use an ally along the way, contact me and we can talk about how coaching might be your best investment in your self.

copyright © October 2015 Kathy J Loh, All Rights Reserved

*Joseph Campbell in A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living.

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Momentum: 1: a property of a moving body that the body has by virtue of its mass and motion and that is equal to the product of the body’s mass and velocity; broadly a property of a moving body that determines the length of time required to bring it to a rest when under the action of a constant force or moment 2: strength or force gained by motion or through the development of events. – Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

To build and maintain momentum with a project, we need to be willing and able to be with discomfort.

Most of us have experienced (and really like) flow. It is a momentum of ease and effortless focused attention. But, when we hit a snag that disrupts our flow, we can become discouraged or even infuriated and fall prey to an internal dynamic that steals our thunder and stalls our momentum.

We might allow distractions to lead us to further distractions and voila, we soon discover our project is in a dormant state.

Starting an engine takes much more effort than keeping it running, particularly if it has been unused for some time. (Think of the lawn mower after a long cold winter.) And, we are not machines. We can play all kinds of games with ourselves creating our own virtual winters leading to the energy drain of starting our creative action engines over and over again.

copyright(c)Jordonna Dores 2007

Hero’s Journey by Jordonna Dores 2007

Our momentum might be disrupted by circumstances; both honest and illusory.

Honest circumstances are the stuff of life like death, natural disaster, birth of a child, illness, moving.
When our momentum is disrupted by honest circumstances, we need to find our own center of gravity and dance with it, knowing we can and will begin again. We must be willing to be with the discomfort of starting the engine again. The least we might do is nurture our love for our project in some small way every day to keep the spark alive, keep the engine warm.

Illusory circumstances are excuses we use to avoid our project and pretend we are not at choice in order to avoid discomfort. These might be things like blaming other people for taking up our time, doing things for everyone else except ourselves, busying ourselves with many small but low priority tasks, trying to do everything ourselves.
Some reasons we reach for excuses and blame are that we get stuck on some aspect of our project, we arrive at a complex point and need to spend time working through it and we run into something we don’t know how to do.

Remember the saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going?” Simply put, this means we need to learn to stay with the discomfort. Don’t run from it.

I know, when I hit a snag in my creative work, I become like a Mexican jumping bean. I become wired with anxiety and can hardly sit still. I walk into the kitchen looking for something to eat multiple times. Well, I call it anxiety, but maybe it is just the extra fire I need to push through something. Creativity requires resistance.

Sometimes a walk is good if we stay focused on the question, carry the inquiry. Sometimes we need to gently redirect ourselves back to the chair and stay put. Sometimes we need to ask for help.

Showers, walking, and gardening are all flow activities: ones where you can engage your body while your mind is free to muse and problem solve creatively. Sometimes sleeping on it helps. My father, an engineer and systems designer, used to doze in front of the TV and would suddenly pop up and say “I’ve got it!” meaning he’d solved a problem he’d been working on in his half-awake state.

Most importantly, when you hit a bump in the momentum road, don’t let it derail you. Stop, get grounded and be with what is. Don’t fight it. Be like water. Work with, through and around it.

Hitting a plateau can feel like a disruption of momentum, but it is really a different form of momentum. It is a time when it feels like we’ve completely stalled out for weeks at a time after a period when we’d been making steady progress. This is most obvious when we are engaged in projects with a learning curve, like learning to play an instrument, learning a language, spiritual growth and practices and it is also true of some instances of writer’s block.

During a plateau, we think nothing is happening and we’ve lost momentum. Actually, it is an essential part of our process which is integration and assimilation. This is the time that is needed for us to embody a new skill, a new habit, a new way of being. We don’t just think ourselves into something. We build a field which becomes us and align all aspects of ourselves in the embodiment of that field. This is where the magic happens. It looks like nothing is happening, but once it is over, the new skill, the new way of being is established and we can rely upon it in a way we could not before.

Momentum takes time to take hold and build speed. Whether experienced incrementally or exponentially, the more momentum you have with something the easier it feels to sustain. Some like to think of momentum as a wheel that goes around in a cycle. I prefer to think of it as a spiral, because we never really return to the same place where we started. Spirals represent duality: increasing-decreasing, rising-falling, growing-decaying. It depends on the direction of the spiral. Is it expanding outwardly or contracting inwardly? Is it rising in resonance or falling?

So, we can see that we can have momentum that contributes to our desired outcome and momentum that does not. For example, the momentum of a daily writing habit vs the momentum of daily procrastination around that habit; getting to it – putting it off. The longer we procrastinate, the more speed and familiarity (potentially inevitability) the procrastination momentum gains.

At the top of this post, I wrote that we have to be willing to be with discomfort to build momentum. Consider the irony that we also need to be with discomfort to procrastinate; the discomfort of not making any progress toward our dreams and desires and the discomfort of changing our momentum direction.

We’ve got to stop, become present, make a powerful and often uncomfortable choice (or two or three), turn ourselves around, get some traction in your new direction and stick with it until we have new expanding momentum. We can do this by becoming still and stepping into the center of the spiral as an observer of our world, our direction, our life. From there, we can find our center of gravity and empower ourselves to make the shift.

Having completed something before helps build momentum, because now you know we can do it. So, if you are making things, make lots of them. If you are writing poetry or songs, write lots of them. Be willing to make bad things on the way to what you saw in your mind’s eye. This is difficult for visionaries who see things whole and perfect but must now fumble through the imperfection of manifestation in physical form. Each step prepares you for the next.

Be willing to be with the mystery of what you don’t yet know and challenge yourself. You will bring forward what you have already assimilated and what is next will be revealed to you or even created by you. If you wait to know how to do the entire thing, you will blow your momentum.

When I used to play tennis, I remember being told to play with someone more skilled than me. That way, I could be challenged to rise to the next level whether I felt ready for it or not, even if I fumbled and flailed. Be willing to fumble and flail when you stall out, when you are blocked. Don’t wait for the perfect feeling or time. Stay and keep going. Don’t judge. Get curious.

Something else to remember about momentum is that it is a force that is not necessarily entirely created by your muscle and effort. Your commitment, your daily meeting with the muse, your self-trust, the project itself and even the future participate in momentum.

When we birth something, it takes on a life of its own, which is to say a momentum of its own. Know that you can tap into that like a surfer rides a wave.

When we seed the future with the vision of something we are creating, that future, that vision, reaches back and pulls us toward it, if we allow it. It sends us opportunities and signs. We need only pay attention and lean into it with our commitment and awareness. This means we need to be willing to be with discomfort of mystery, because we do not necessarily know the outcome. It is being created as we go. We need to release control. It’s not all about our ego.

We also may face having to be willing to be with the discomfort of being seen and standing out as a tall poppy. We are revealed by what we create. It is vulnerable to stand out in the world and make a big noise, a big splash. Momentum might be destroyed by too much worrying about these things along the creative path or too much sensitivity to the opinions of others along the way.

Next, I will write about motivation, form and function and their impact on our momentum, willingness and capacity to getting things done.

Ready to stop procrastinating and get some momentum going toward the life you really want? Consider hiring me as your coach. I’ve helped many people get off the train to nowhere and fall in love with life again. I invite you to contact me for an exploratory consultation to see if coaching is right for you.

Copyright © October 2015,Kathy J Loh, All Rights Reserved
Photograph of original art copyright © 2007 Jordonna Dores, Used with permission.

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In my last post, I discussed how we can rebuild our self-trust by making commitments to our goals and them chunking them down into bite-sized doable bits. In this post, I am going to address how our inner dialog and dynamic stirs emotions that impact our self-trust and discipline.

It takes discipline to meet your daily commitments to yourself, regardless of your emotions, regardless of circumstances. Do you notice that you have an adverse reaction to the word discipline? I know I used to. When I was growing up being disciplined was code for being punished.

So here is a little something that helped me reclaim that word in a powerful way. Consider being disciplined as being a “disciple of” something. If you are disciplined about getting into your artist studio every day, you are being a disciple of your art, your curiosity, your wonder, your integrity. When you think of it that way, does it help?

interesting image

Some of us, by nature and/or nurture, are more impacted by our emotions than others. Some people are able to “just do it,” as the Nike phrase goes. I tend to be emotionally based and have procrastinated more than once with “I don’t feel like it” or “I’m just not inspired right now.” If you operate from an emotional base, it can be challenging to get good traction with a new discipline or habit you want to build.

Your energy level might be low, perhaps you are physically depleted, both of which can contribute to your emotional state. In any case, it’s important to work with what you have. Start where you are.

Also, if you recognize that your current emotional state is due to low energy reserves or physical illness, be gentle with yourself and get curious about what your body needs from you and how you can nurture yourself to a better physical and energetic state. If you are in a state of grief over loss, experiencing trauma, terror or other deep emotional pain, again, please nurture yourself and get whatever help you need.

If you are in fairly stable energetic and physical states, and you are stalling out on your commitment to yourself, then look to the emotions conjured by your own internal dialog. These are more illusion than reality. They are driven by thoughts about the past or the future and they are the result of some way we are talking to ourselves.

Think of your emotions as an alchemy of thoughts and physical sensations. For example, I might feel my heart racing right before I go on stage and at the same time I am having a flurry of thoughts. If my thoughts are fear based, I am likely to experience my heart racing as stage fright. If my thoughts are thrill and adventure based, I am likely to experience my heart racing as excitement. In each case, the circumstances are the same, but how I interpret them is different.

Become the observer of your inner dialog.

As you state intentions, meet commitments and get into action, your fear and excitement buttons will get pressed. Your saboteur is suspicious of change and prefers status quo. A couple of ways it may show up as you embark on your new adventure are as a slave driver/bully or (on the other side of the coin) a complete enabler of all things slothful and indulgent.

Both set off a dynamic that can keep you entertained until the day you die, never having accomplished much of anything. Both of them erode your self-trust because you are in a battle with yourself. Let’s take a look at each.

Inner Slave Driver/bully: this is a critical and demanding voice. You are never doing enough, never working hard enough and what you produce is not good enough. Even when you have committed to something and met that commitment regularly, the slave driver will be on your case. There is more to do and do better, more to study and you do not have time for a break. Fun and recreation are not part of this picture. Play has no place and when you are working it has to feel hard and you have to feel miserable in order to get your merit badge for showing up. This is not love.

Inner Indulgent Enabler: this is the pendulum swing opposite of the slave driver that says things like: You’ve worked so hard you deserve a break or one more cookie won’t hurt anything, you’ve been so good anyway. This is not love.

Both voices run a volume continuum from whisper (which is hardly noticeable and so very sneaky) to an echoing scream. They are like drug pushers, if you believe a little of what they say to you, it is only a few more steps down a slippery slope to a lifetime of procrastination. They work you individually and as a team.

If you are prone to ongoing internal dialog with the slave driver, you are likely locked into a bully vs rebel dynamic. The slave driver bullies you, berates you and criticizes you. It can lead to a response like (my most familiar one) a rebel who says “screw you I will do what I want!” (in the name of freedom). It can also lead you to respond like a victim who curls up into a fetal ball, depressed and weary awaiting rescue.

If you are prone to listen to the inner enabler, you are likely to procrastinate by way of saying “mañana.” I need a break today, I don’t have enough energy right now, I lost my inspiration and it feels too hard to get it back. You will then go on and do something easy, like watch TV, go on Facebook, play video games, or do some other more menial task. This last one is clever as it is an indulgent response to the slave driver. “Heck, at least I am doing something on my list.”

Neither of these voices is helpful. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Their true intention is not to get the work done, but to avoid it.

Sometimes they are mirrored by those around you; a spouse, parent, even a coach. You can project your bully or indulgent voice on them. It is a way to blame others for your own internal battle.

Your best bet is to become familiar with these voices and realize that you are not the voices and you are not the emotional response you have to those voices.

Step away from the inner dialog and listen with your observer. What is the dynamic you see at play? Is it more slave driver and rebel? Is it slave driver and victim? Or is it more indulgent and enabling?

Can you see where they double-team you? An example would be: you are on the couch playing a game on your iPad. It started as a quick well-deserved break and has turned into a two hour marathon sponsored by your inner enabler. Now the indulgent voice gives way to your slave driver who berates you for being a couch potato, time waster, video game addict. You are being shamed and criticized. By whom? Yourself. You are not the couch potato and you are not a victim.

You are the author of these dramas, not the characters. As the author, you can direct and re-direct the script, but first you have to be aware that you are the author and it will be very helpful if you have an awareness of the kinds of things each of your characters says. What are their favorite strategies?

This is an assignment I give most of my clients who are beginning a coaching journey. What is your self-talk? How much of it do you even notice and how much do you just embody without question?

There is another voice that you will want to cultivate. It is a nurturing voice; one that has your best interest at heart and tells you the honest truth, never shames, but lovingly redirects. You might imagine a higher self, soul or grounded parent. This is love.

Many of us have difficulty finding this voice at first. We tend to equate it with the indulgent enabler.

I am reminded of something I saw years ago at the SD Wild Animal Park. A young Asian mother with her toddler who appeared to be a few months new to walking were ambling along the entry path. She let the toddler wander and be curious under her watchful eye. Whenever the toddler was headed toward potential trouble (off the path, in front of an oncoming crowd of people) she would gently redirect the child with her hand. No words were said, there was no grabbing, forcing, yelling, admonishing.

This is what it feels like to be guided by our nurturing voice. Every moment we can redirect ourselves, not with shame, shouting, guilt, force, but with a loving light touch that does not allow for self-pity, indulgence, waiting games. It is also a helpful voice for emotions and avoidance that arise when we get confused or don’t yet know how to do something. This voice can lovingly guide us to ask for help from someone who does know how.

In conclusion, what I will say is, most of our emotional responses to our commitments that lead to procrastination, inertia and depletion of our self-trust are actually responses to this internal dialog and drama to which we’ve allowed ourselves to become captive. While we may feel we are at the mercy of this dynamic, we are not. We are actually the creators and so, we can re-create.

What about these dynamics is familiar to you?

How will you gently re-direct yourself and re-create your life today?

If you would like some help with identifying your dynamic and getting off the emotionally run procrastination train, I invite you to consider coaching with me.

Next in this series, I will write about momentum.

Photos and words: Copyright©2015 Kathy J Loh

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Dawdling un-rule #2 is no time, now time.

When we dawdle, we lose track of time, or at least, we stop tracking it momentarily.

(Whether or not time is actually an illusion anyway is another topic, a great one for social dawdling.)

I’ve heard so many creative clients say that one thing they love and fear most about the process of creating art is that they lose themselves in it. They lose track of time and time seems to forget them.

I know this is true for me. If someone calls while I am in the midst of composing, I have a hard time bringing myself out of the music and into the conversation, out of reverie and into, uhm…what day is this? Don’t make me jump from composing to the calendar!

I wonder if this is why we creative types say we want huge expanses of time in which to work; in which to get lost. We dream of a day, a week, a month outside of time. Oh to have the clocks stand still for awhile.

As a child, I naturally dawdled, being so otherwise-attracted to the world around me and the songs within me. I still remember how jarring it was to be called out of my reverie to go somewhere and to “hurry or be late.” Somewhere, I collapsed dawdling and loss of time, even presence, with bad behavior and wasting time.

Dawdling in Glacier National Park

Dawdling in Glacier National Park 2004

What I notice now, is that dawdling expands time. It renders the space between the minutes, the space between the hours longer. Presence creates more time.

It follows then, in my crazy logic, that dawdling is a time saver. (Hey kids, try this one at home!)

Whether we are musing internally, observing outwardly, or living at the intersection of the two, time becomes no-time and our awareness of this moment becomes all of time.

On the clock, an hour is an hour. Within me and my experience of life, an hour is all over the time-map.

If I am willing to surrender to dawdling, surrender to the reverie of musing, I am more able to receive the gifts of the creator (whether you read this Creator or creator)

And here’s my favorite part:

In that deep presence there is no judgment. There is no projection of me on to other people I imagine watching me to make sure that I am behaving. With the suspension of time, comes the suspension of the inner critic.

I am free to sing, to twirl, to follow whatever wants to unfold, to free my body to move more naturally. The other day, this meant walking down the driveway in a switchback pattern and I could not, I just could not do it without opening my arms like airplane wings.

I admit it, I felt a little bit shy and a little bit silly.

I admit it, I felt fantastic!

It was not the straight line home.

It was not the most efficient use of my time and energy, or was it?

(Tomorrow, I’ll tell you the story of the snake that told time)

Copyright(C) June 2009, Kathy Loh, All Rights Reserved

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