We were night owls in my family, my mom, my brother, and me. Getting up early for school and work was challenging. So, my mom started a contest. If we did not hit our snooze alarms, but just got up, we could put a tally mark beside our name. Whoever did that consistently for 30 days got a prize. I won every time. I had the will power (though it was hard) to not hit the snooze button every day for a month, but the very next day, I went right back to oversleeping. Happened every time. Why? Because I was changing for all the wrong reasons. Not because I really wanted to, but because I wanted bragging rights, and to beat out my mom and brother, and to win the prize. Once those things were achieved, there was no reason to continue.
So many times in my career, I’ve looked at the areas in my art or business where I fall short and decided I need to change. I’d download a new program that promised to keep me on track, but I’d stick with it for only a week before I ignored it. I’d hire someone to show me how to better set goals, and then fail to follow any of their advice. I’d set up an accountability partner, and then just make excuses. Why? Because I never really desired to change, I just wanted to stop feel guilty or frustrated or ashamed, and I wanted to believe if I could just fix my shortcomings, my whole business would take off.
But the fact is, we never change unless we really want to. We can promise we’ll start that diet or get back to the gym or work on our art every day, but our promises aren’t worth much if we’re doing those things just because we feel we should.
When I was fifteen, I was a couch potato. But one day, I decided if I exercised regularly, I might feel better. And I did. So, I kept that habit. When I was in my 30s, I decided if I ate a healthier diet, I might feel better. And I did. So, I kept that habit. When I was in my mid-20s, I decided if I followed my passion for writing, I might feel better. And I did. So, I kept that habit.
What habits have you maintained over the years? I’m guessing they’re the ones that bring you satisfaction and joy, the ones that make you feel better. Most habits grow over time, if we give them the chance to mature. So, if, for example, the pursuit of your art still feels like something you should do, you’re probably not ready to make it a habit. If your family, your job, your community responsibilities feel more important right now, maybe they are.
But if you find yourself musing one Saturday afternoon, “I think if I draw a picture or write a poem, I might feel better,” and you do it, and you do feel better, you might keep that habit.
And if you’re a professional artist trying to figure out to be more bold or resourceful or organized, you won’t get there through false incentives or forced promises. You’ll likely only do it when you decide you’ll feel better if you change than if you don’t. You’ll likely only do it when you want to.
But what if you never get to wanting it? What then?
Well, you hire people to do the things you don’t want to do (or aren’t good at); you say no to projects you know you won’t do well (regardless of how much they’re paying); you quit making promises thinking the commitment will force you to deliver and instead start being honest with people; you throw out all the advice and programs and methods and spreadsheets that aren’t working and come up with whatever silly little system works for you (for me, it’s sticky notes all over my desk).
Mostly, though, you stop beating the hell out of yourself every time you “fail” at an attempt to “improve yourself.” You take stock of the things you do well and the things that are going well and try to do more of those. You work on loving yourself more so you want to treat yourself better. You don’t give up on yourself too soon just because things get hard. You quit comparing yourself to people who are doing it “better.” And you trust that nothing is permanent. Just because you don’t want to do something today, doesn’t mean you might not want to in the future. Keep going, keep trying, keep hoping, keep wanting, keep loving yourself, shortcomings and all.
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