Creativity

What are your words hiding?

When you establish a regular journaling habit, and you have been at it for a while, you will start to notice something.

There will be certain words or phrases that are repeated, maybe unconsciously, throughout your entries.

You may even notice as you’re journaling that you’re repeating something you’ve already said that day, or a few days earlier. Or you may only notice when looking back through entries that you have a habit of repeating certain words or phrases.

When I’m journaling, words that come up time and time again are exhausted, fear, creative, inspired.

I almost always realise when I’m writing ‘I’m just so exhausted’ again, but I didn’t realise quite how much I used this word. Looking back through past journals, it’s in almost every second entry. I also tend to use ‘creative’ and ‘inspired’ in most entries – which is hopefully a little more positive than ‘exhausted’!

Our tics are a road map to our most hidden and sensitive wounds.

Shapiro says, ‘If we are interested in delving deeply, if we are students of the observed life, we’d best take a good hard look at these easy fallbacks. Repeated words. Familiar phrases. Consider them clues. When you discover them, slow down. In fact, stop. Become willing to press against the bruise – it’s there anyway – and see what it yields.’

That makes me wonder, why do I feel the need to constantly state that I’m exhausted in my journal entries? Is it because I am usually journaling first thing in the morning (6am) when I haven’t quite woken up and, quite literally, feel tired? Or is it easy to use a blanket term like ‘exhaustion’ to cover all the different negative emotions I feel – particularly in my job – like boredom, apathy, frustration or anger?

When my life isn’t going how I want it to go it’s easy to say I feel exhausted. But I think in many cases if I were to look closer, there would be more to it than that.

It’s not until I can be truly honest and confront these difficult emotions that I will make progress. The next time I go to write ‘I’m just so exhausted…’ I will pause and ask myself, is that what I am really feeling?

Have a look back through any journals you have and see if there are any patterns – any phrases or words that you tend to repeat. What might they be covering? Press against the bruise.

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Creativity

Journal spotlight: Art journal

I’m going to start simply by saying that an art journal can be anything you want it to be, really.

In its most simple sense, an art journal is any kind of journal where you express yourself visually. Often art journals are mixed media – that is, a combination of elements such as collage, acrylic or watercolour paint, gouache, pencil, crayon, stamps, inks, etc.

I’ve spent the past two years trying to figure out exactly what an art journal is, at least for me. I’ve seen the beautiful works of people like Tamara Laport, the simple but touching pieces by Nicole Rae, the messy and inspiring sketchbooks of Lisa Sonora, and the gorgeous and striking works by people like Alena Hennessy and Hali Karla.

I’ve worked in sketchbooks, gluebooks, journals, binders, altered books… I’ve collaged, stamped, painted, drawn, written, sprayed, taped, watercoloured, lettered… and still I have struggled to define exactly what art journaling is.

I’ve struggled to find my own style and really claim my own art journaling approach.

Then, a dear friend of mine pointed out that I do have my own style – I just wasn’t acknowledging it.

You see, I had always thought that art journaling was not the same thing as visual journaling. In fact, here is an awesome video that discusses this point quite nicely.

So while I’ve been journaling visually for some time – in a similar sketchbook style to Lisa Sonora (if I may be so bold as to suggest that), I haven’t felt as though I have been art journaling, really, at all. Sure I was incorporating art techniques into my visual journaling, but it certainly wasn’t art.

Perhaps it’s the word ‘art’ in the name art journal – I mean, no pressure, right?!

I much prefer the term visual journal, or creative journal.

For a while, I saw an ‘art journal’ as more focused on particular techniques and creating a specific, visually pleasing outcome, and the term ‘visual journal’ as more about the process and self expression. Now… I’m not so sure.

When I saw Lisa Sonora had blown up images from her sketchbooks to put up onto the walls of her studio, a little thought crept into my head: maybe, just maybe, this could also be art? She says,

They’re not art…but they are artifacts of a creative journey. It’s like meditation, but with art supplies.

I don’t know. Seeing them up on the wall like that, they sure look like art to me. Surely they can be both?

As for my own messy journals – I may not have found a style that looks anything like the work of Tamara, or Alena, but I’ve got my own visual approach. Who’s to say it’s not art, in some form? And it will continue to evolve over time, as I do. I figure as long as I’m expressing myself visually, well, that’s all that matters.

My advice to anyone who wants to start an art journal: grab some art supplies you like (acrylic paint is a good one, as are stamps) and play. That’s it. I was going to give some lengthy list of instructions but really, you don’t need them and they would only serve to confuse or intimidate someone starting out. Find an artist you love and copy their style for a bit, then copy the work of someone else. Do this many times over and you will start to find your own style. Give yourself permission, try to get past the fear of creating, and practice being imperfect. You don’t have to show anyone, or you can join 15 Facebook groups and show the world. There is no right or wrong way.

Do you keep an art journal? How do you define art journal? Do you see art journaling and visual journaling as different things? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

Creativity

Why fear is a friend, not an enemy

Last night a had a dialogue with fear in my journal. It was simply a case of me writing what I wanted to say to fear, then waiting to hear what fear had to say back, and writing that down.

I’ve done dialogues in the past, and they always feel a little silly. Each time I go to use this journaling technique I think, but isn’t it just me writing those words?

Well, yeah, of course. But the fear is a part of me.

And this turned out to be an incredibly useful exercise.

You see, it started out as a rant. I’ve been pushing myself to dream bigger lately, with creating an online course and offering my coaching services online, as well as redesigning the website. I have a lot of ideas and inspiration floating around at the moment.

And then fear comes along and – as Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic – screams the one word it knows: STOP. STOP STOP STOP.

So when I sat down to talk to fear last night, I was all ready to give it a piece of my mind. I was sick of it getting in my way, ruining my plans and basically just crapping all over everything.

But the strangest thing happened.

I found within myself a sort of compassion for my fear.

It is so worried about me, about protecting me and keeping me safe. It’s like a little child who just wants us to hide under the bed. Instead of yelling at it and pushing it away, I took a moment to see things from fear’s perspective. No wonder it’s so worried – going after big dreams can be a scary thing!

And then I realised another thing – I actually need fear. Fear is a great indicator that I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Whenever fear starts to pop up, I know that I’m growing and challenging myself.

So I reassured fear that I wasn’t trying to get rid of it, but that I just needed it to trust me. I said:

But here’s the thing: I’m going to keep going even when you feel like stopping. And I know we will be safe, because of faith. I have faith that things will work out – I certainly wouldn’t be asking you to quiet down and let me continue if I didn’t have faith! So I need you to trust me, to trust that I know things will be ok. I’ve been doing this for 30 years now and I am absolutely on your side. It’s just that I have access to information that you don’t – and that’s my faith. You know, if you worked along with faith, we could do some amazing things.

I’ve always thought of faith and fear as polar opposites – natural enemies. One of my favourite sayings is, ‘let your faith be bigger than your fear’. But what if they could help each other?

Imagine that – getting faith and fear to work together!

Fear pops up and says ‘stop! This is too scary!’ and faith says, ‘thanks for that – we’re definitely on the right path then. Ok, we can keep going, just trust me.’

Maybe this sounds silly to you. It feels a little silly as I write this, in all honesty. But I can tell you one thing for sure: I feel so much better for talking with my fear, for reassuring it that I need it and it is heard.

And from now on, I’m going to approach fear in a much different way: less anger, resentment and irritation at its arrival, and more compassion, reassurance and trust instead.

How does fear hold you back? How could fear become a friend to support you?

Creativity

Practice makes imperfect

If you’ve read anything else on this blog, you will likely know that I have a bit of an issue with perfectionism – I struggle when things are imperfect.

Actually, I think a lot of people do. I think it’s symptomatic of an age of airbrushing and increasingly ridiculous expectations.

Nowhere is my need for perfection more apparent than in my creative work – my creative journaling, my painting, my writing.

Visual journaling is a real challenge for me because it’s supposed to be about letting go, playing, exploring and expressing yourself. It makes sense that the outcome of this process is not always pretty. In fact, I feel like visual or creative journaling is more about the process than the outcome – just like regular written journaling.

I don’t sit down to write a journal entry so I have a pretty page of words, I write because it helps me to process things and is healing. Visual journaling should be the same.

It’s been a real conscious process for me with my perfectionism in my art. I have to regularly remind myself that it doesn’t have to be perfect, that it’s ok to make a mess and not know where it is going. It is a very uncomfortable feeling, playing with my paints and not knowing how it will turn out. I have to deliberately sit with that uncomfortable feeling.

But I’ve discovered that the best way to get past this is practice. And I don’t mean practice so that I get better artistically, I mean practice being ok with not being perfect. Practice being in that state of discomfort. Practice being imperfect.

The more I can work in my journal and actively continue despite feeling uncomfortable and even fearful of what will happen, the more I start to become desensitized to that feeling. The less power it has over me. The more I can create freely.

Someone once told me that discomfort is a sign that we are challenging ourselves, that we are growing.

So the feeling of discomfort, as unpleasant as it may be, is actually a sign that we are doing something good for us. I like this. It means that when I sit down to work in my creative journal and I feel uncomfortable with not knowing how it will turn out, with making mistakes, that I’m actually growing.

Maybe one day there will even come a time when I can play without fear of what will happen. Maybe, with practice.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Have courage

I think fear is one of the most dangerous things we can experience.

I’m not talking about real fear – the kind where we feel afraid of going too close to the edge of a cliff, or driving too fast, or not being able to afford food.

No, I’m talking about the kind of fear we feel when we face the blank page, when we dare to show our work to others, when we think about doing something we have always dreamed of, when we want to follow that deep longing inside. That kind of fear is a liar.

imageIf I had to list all the obstacles that got in the way of me pursuing my dreams of writing, painting, creating, sharing my work with others and generally building an awesome career and life that I love, it would be a very short list.

What has stopped me? Fear.

Sure, we give it fancy names: resistance, procrastination, perfectionism, planning, preparing, waiting until the time is right, following common sense, not being rash, etc. But really all it boils down to is that I have been too afraid to go after what I really want.

And I know that I am not the only one who has experienced this.

What have I been afraid of? At first, it’s hard to describe. But on closer inspection it becomes obvious: I’ve been afraid of looking foolish, of failing, of making mistakes, of being disappointed, and even of being successful.

Fear’s job is to keep us safe – safe from these imagined dangers. The key word here is ‘imagined’. That’s not to say those things couldn’t happen – of course they could – but rather, that I won’t know for sure that they will happen. Fear assumes the worst. Fear knows for certain that they will happen, and it’s just not worth the risk.

But fear is a liar.

We have no way of knowing for certain that these things could happen. It is also possible that wonderful things could happen – the most amazing things we could possibly hope for.

There’s a line from a poem by Erin Hanson that sums this up nicely:

What if I Fall? Oh, but my darling what if you fly?

Fear says, you will definitely fall.

The antidote to fear is courage. Courage says, you could fly. Let’s give it a try.

fear is a liarCourage is a nice word, and it sounds simple enough, but courage is like exercise: you need to do it consistently every day to see results. Courage is an active thing that takes deliberate effort.

Every day I have to ask myself, what would a courageous person do? I’m not exaggerating when I say this – I actually ask myself this question on a regular basis.

You see, journaling regularly made it abundantly clear to me that fear was holding me back. The more I journaled, the more absurd it became that the only reason I wasn’t going after my dreams was because I was afraid of imagined outcomes. So I taught myself how to be courageous, with that one little question.

Courage will look different to each and every one of us, but for me it looks like:

  • Sitting down with my journal even when I feel like I have nothing to say
  • Facing my journal when I have difficult things to deal with
  • Painting and creating often
  • Showing what I create to others
  • Opening up and expressing myself freely to others
  • Offering what I create to others not knowing whether they will like it (for example, the newsletter)
  • Committing to things that scare me, like the 100 Days Project
  • Singing in front of others
  • Owning my talents and gifts
  • Embracing the parts of myself I used to reject

Now I know not to listen fear, because fear is a liar.

 >>> Prompts:

How do you experience fear? How does fear hold you back?

What would/does courage look like to you?

How might your life be different if you had more courage than fear?

In what ways do you already practice courage? List anything you can think of, no matter how small.

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity

Journal prompts: Make the most of today

When I was 21, my dad said something to me that has stuck with me ever since:

This is it. This is not a dress rehearsal. There are no do-overs.

We only have this one life. Make it count. All those cliches that say to ‘do one thing each day that scares you’ and ‘live each day like it is your last’ and so on – well, they have a point really.

this is itWhat is it you really ache for? What sets your soul on fire? What do you think about more than anything else? What moves you? What makes you feel alive?

Do the things that matter to you, don’t worry about the opinions of others, find your own happiness. You won’t get another chance to live this day again, ever.

Life is short and it will pass faster than you know. Don’t put things off. Don’t wait for the perfect circumstances.

I don’t have much more to add except this line from Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

>>> Prompts:

Write the Mary Oliver quote above in your journal. Now, list all the things you want to do. Create a bucket list full of items big and small. Start checking the items off.

Answer these questions: What is it you really ache for? What sets your soul on fire? What do you think about more than anything else? What moves you? What makes you feel alive? Now consider, how can you do more of this, every day?

Obituary exercise: write your obituary if you were to continue living your life the way you are now. Then, write your obituary if you chose to live your life as fully as possible, doing all the things you dream of.

If you were to win the lottery and never had to work again, what would your ideal life look like? How can you start to make your life more like this ideal version, now?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Vulnerability

Since embarking on my creative journey, I’ve been very interested in fear and courage. I had never really given vulnerability much thought, until I stumbled across the work of Brené Brown and her talk The Power of Vulnerability.

Our culture places a high value on having it all together, being strong and not being seen as weak. But I’ve found that allowing myself to be vulnerable, and sharing that vulnerability with others, has changed the way I approach my life.

Instead of feeling fearful and letting vulnerabilitythat stop me from doing things, I can acknowledge the fear and accept that it’s ok to feel that way. Instead of trying to make things perfect and get everything right, I accept making mistakes and feeling a bit uncomfortable about that.

Why?

Because with vulnerability comes growth. Vulnerability comes when we take a risk, dare to do something, and push ourselves out of our comfort zone.

And, vulnerability leads to real connections with people. It is the act of opening ourselves up to be seen, as we really are, that allows others to connect with and love us as we really are.

It is not a sign of weakness in any sense – how can taking a risk and daring to make a mistake be a sign of weakness?

As Brené Brown says:

Vulnerability is about having the courage to show up and be seen.

One thing about our imperfections is that we often try to hide them from others – we feel vulnerable when they are exposed. I have found it incredibly empowering to share my imperfections with others – especially on my blog and through my art. It allows me to take control of who I am, and embrace all parts of me. And, it helps others to see their imperfections are perfectly ok, and when they reach out to tell me that seeing me be vulnerable has helped them, well that makes it all worthwhile.

Obviously, there is a time and a place to be vulnerable. Pouring your heart out to your boss or the guy who makes your coffee simply because you want to be vulnerable is probably not the best idea. You need to consider who you can be vulnerable with, especially to begin with. Think carefully about who you trust to support you as you share a little more of yourself.

How can you practice vulnerability?

  • Try saying no to something when that’s what you really want
  • Tell someone how you really feel
  • Let another person see a talent or skill you have
  • Share an embarrassing story of yours
  • Tell someone what you are afraid of
  • Share your biggest dreams and hopes with someone

>>> Prompts:

What does the word ‘vulnerability’ mean to you? What does vulnerability feel like or look like to you? Does it have any negative associations? Write about this.

Write about a time that you have felt vulnerable.

How could you see vulnerability being a strength? Why might you want to include more of it in your life? Explore this idea. (If you’re stuck on this one, I really recommend Brené Brown’s work.)

In what ways would you like to (safely) allow yourself to be more vulnerable? Who could support you in this?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.