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.

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, 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.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: What lights you up?

We all get bogged down by the necessities of daily life – working to pay the bills and put food on the table, sitting in traffic, arguing with others, catching up on sleep, and trying to find time to exercise, and so on.

But what about finding time for the things that you really love?

If you’re exceptionally lucky, then you are one of few the people who manages to make a living doing what you love – you get to do it every day. But I would guess that most of us don’t fall into that category.

So it comes down to making time whenever possible (every day?) to do the things we love – be it knitting, meditation, learning a language, painting, hiking – whatever.

Sometimes, though, after doing all the necessary tasks of the day, we just don’t have the time/energy/resources to do these wonderful things.

I lived this way for years. I had an lesson 15interest in writing, in being creative in some form, and sharing that creativity with others. But I got so bogged down with working full time (or more, if you consider teachers also work on their weekends and evenings) and so exhausted that I could do little other than work. Sure, teachers get regular ‘holidays’, but after working non-stop for ten weeks, all I could do was sleep and try to rest (when I wasn’t marking piles of essays).

Perhaps it’s my own fault for going into teaching. I guess it doesn’t matter what I was doing, all that matters is that I wasn’t exploring the things I loved, the things I felt most pulled to.

I carried on this way for years. Slowly I became more negative, more depressed, more bitter and more cynical about life. I was disillusioned and felt that growing up sucked, basically. I felt like there was no joy in my life, nothing I was doing just for me.

Since taking Susannah Conway’s Journal Your Life course where we were encouraged to journal every day, I started to learn about what was missing from my life. I got back in touch with myself and reconnected with the parts of me that had been ignored. Mostly, that was my creativity.

But then I hit another road block: fear and resistance. It became abundantly clear through my daily journaling what I wanted to do – to write, to paint, to create, to share my work. I got back in touch with these desires, but for a while didn’t do much with them.

Why? Because I was afraid. I didn’t really believe I could start a blog, that was terrifying. And painting? I had no formal training, who was I to attempt painting, let alone share it with others?

It took a lot of hard work, mostly by working through it in my journal, but I found a way to feel the fear and create anyway. I found a way to admit what I really wanted and start taking steps towards it. I reasoned that the fear of taking these creative risks could be no worse than the terrible feelings of ignoring these desires.

Now my life looks a lot different. I have a regular daily creative practice that ensures I remain creatively fulfilled, and a regular journaling practice that means I know when I start to feel like something is missing from my life.

>>> Prompts:

What lights you up? List or brainstorm everything that absolutely makes your heart sing with joy. Are there some things you are afraid to write down? Why?

How often do you do the things on your list? Are there some that you don’t allow yourself to think of, or that you actively avoid? Why?

How can you make more time for the things on your list?

Fun bonus prompt: If you won the lottery and never had to work again, how would you ideally like to spend your days? Describe what a day would look like (after you did all the fun stuff, like shopping, travelling etc – what would your daily life look like?)

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: Love

As a romantic, I’ve never really had a problem with this.

In fact, in the VIA survey of character strengths, I got ‘loving and being loved’ as my biggest strength.

I was a little disappointed when I got that as my biggest strength, to be honest. And when my partner tells me all the time that he loves how caring and loving I am, while it’s nice to hear, I feel like it’s not such a big deal.

But actually, it is. I guess it just comes naturally to me, but I’ve come to see that I’m lucky for that.

Without allowing myself to be vulnerable and open with people, I don’t think that I would make the connections with others that I can. Not to mention, with my partner. He and I fell in love very quickly – within a month. We’ve been close ever since.

loving and being lovedI think one of the reasons I have such a great relationship is that I’m open to sharing who I am, in all forms. I let myself be vulnerable, again and again. I’m vulnerable in the sense of showing my true self and hoping it will be accepted, and vulnerable in the sense that I love my partner so deeply and allow him to love me so much, that it almost seems like a risk – if I should ever lose him that would crush me.

But how else can you truly love someone else? Hiding parts of yourself, keeping a wall up, second-guessing your happiness in preparation for the worst case scenario?

I think it takes courage to really love someone – to wholeheartedly let your guard down and risk being seen, and to risk letting yourself get used to having someone love you, getting used to relying on them.

But the rewards are so worth the risk.

And opening up to loving others and being loved has meant learning to love myself. I’ve been lucky in that my partner loved me before I truly learned to love myself. He taught me how to love myself, and in so doing, I’ve allowed him to love me even more.

>>> Prompts:

In what ways do you allow yourself to be loved?

In what ways do you love others?

How do you stop love from coming into your life?

How would you like to love others more?

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: Try something new

There are so many things I want to do: write books, sell artwork, travel more, meet certain people, learn a new language or two, record an album, learn to sew, knit and crochet… among other things.

The thing is, often when I think of the things I want to do, I can’t help but wish I’d started earlier. Or worse – I feel like it’s probably a bit too late to start at all.

Well, that’s nonsense.

Sometimes I think we talk ourselves out of starting something new because it seems like it will take X many years until we are good at this new thing, and by that stage we will be X years old, and that’s just too old.

Well, I have news for you: you arenot too late still going to reach that age, whether you try the new thing or not.

You can think of it like this – at that age, you can still be in the same position you are in now, with the desire to try the new thing, or you can be that age with a new skill or experience under your belt.

Because either way, you will reach that age. The years will still pass. It’s up to you what you do in the meantime.

>>> Prompts:

What have you always wanted to try but never done? Write as many things as you can think of, big or small.

For each one, why haven’t you done it?

When will you do it? See if you can ‘schedule’ it in somehow in your life either now or in the future.

Imagine your life 5 or 10 years from now. Imagine you haven’t done any of the things on your list. Write about how that would feel.

Now, imagine your life 5 or 10 years from now. Imagine you’ve done the things that are most important to you on your list. Write about how that would feel.

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: Nobody expects me to be perfect but me

I think this should be the mantra of every perfectionist.

How did I get it into my head that I have to be perfect? Because when I stop to think about it, this lesson is so very true – no one else expects perfection from me, just as I don’t expect perfection from anyone else.

But when it comes to myself – my own work, my own appearance, my own life – I want it to look and be perfect. Of course, no one else looks at me with such high standards.

Unconsciously trying to be perfect is one of the things that stops me from even starting things.

When I look back now, I done somethingrealise there are so many things I’ve not done simply because I feared I couldn’t do them perfectly, even if that fear was unconscious at the time (as I think it often is). I’ve started novels, paintings, classes, careers, hobbies of all kinds, only to give up when it became clear that I wasn’t doing it perfectly.

Like my novel – I gave up because it didn’t seem good enough so it sort of felt like, what’s the point? But imagine if I’d finished it! I would have a complete novel by now if I’d kept going. It wouldn’t be perfect but it would be done.

Perfectionism is very limiting in my creativity but also in other areas of my life – how I look, speak, behave etc. I find I am often judging myself against some self-created, unreasonably high standards.

So I try to remind myself – the only person who expects perfection from me, is me. And if that’s the case, maybe I can change my expectations of myself?

>>> Prompt:

What does perfectionism mean to you? What would it mean to you if you were perfect? In what ways do you expect perfection of yourself? How attainable is this, really?

What have you put off, quit or not even attempted because of a fear of not doing it perfectly?

If you were to embrace the beauty of mess and mistakes, what could you do?

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 prompt: Don’t censor your dreams

The good thing about journaling over a long period of time is that you can look back and see how much you have changed and grown.

Today I was reading some journals I wrote around the time I was finishing high school. I had just been overseas to the USA and France for the first time and I was inspired about the possibilities for the future. I mentioned how much I would love to study film at the Tisch School of Arts.

And then, a line or so later I declared I couldn’t afforddont-censor-your-dreams it, and would have to stay and study in New Zealand, even though that wasn’t what I wanted.

In truth, I probably couldn’t afford it. But what if I had found a way? What if I had wanted it enough and dreamed so big that I made it happen? I could have borrowed money, worked for a year to save – done any number of things to make it happen.

But I just didn’t believe it was possible.

I can’t help but wonder what my life would look like right now if I had done it. Don’t get me wrong – I’m ok with where I am in my life, but I am acutely aware that the dissatisfaction I do feel is the result of short-changing myself – of censoring my dreams to make them more ‘acceptable’ and ‘realistic’.

When I look back on past journals I see big dreams – of becoming a scriptwriter and director, an author and a singer. I wrote about how much I wanted to move to New York to pursue my dreams.

Sure, I was a teenager, full of optimism and hope. It was ok to dream big back then because ‘the future’ was still far-off and existed only in my head.

The reality is that I didn’t have the courage to pursue these things. I didn’t believe, at my core, that I could really have them – so I settled.

I’ve mentioned before that I am currently planning a business with a friend. As part of the Right Brain Business Plan, we had to imagine our business as wildly successful, and describe what that would look like. We were both hesitant to say anything too ‘unrealistic’ – so we stated ‘realistic’ salaries, working hours, locations, etc.

dream-bigWhy did we do that? We are starting from scratch. We can have anything, build anything. Surely if we dream small we will only make something small?

Perhaps it is to do with disappointment – if we dream small then we can’t be disappointed. And if others hear of our plans, they won’t scoff or laugh or warn us that we aren’t being ‘realistic’. Nelson Mandela famously said:

There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

Once I realised we were holding ourselves back, I said to my friend: let’s dream big. This is our business, our passion, our one chance to leave our mark on the world. Who cares what people will say, or if we end up disappointed. We have to risk it to achieve big. I am sick of playing small, of censoring my dreams. She agreed.

A part of me wishes I could go back to the young me and say: Be bold! Dream big!

But I needed to go down the path I have to learn what I know now. The only thing I can do now is to move forward boldly. To dream big.

>>> Prompts:

What were your biggest dreams as a child/teenager? You may like to look back through old journals/yearbooks etc to remind yourself.

Have you achieved those dreams, or are you in the process of doing that? If not, why not?

Can you think of what may have stopped you from moving towards them – perhaps a parent’s wishes, the words of a teacher, worrying about what your friends were doing, etc?

What is it that you really really really want now? Get really quiet and listen. Try free writing about this for a few minutes and see what comes up.

Do you feel any sort of resistance or words of warning about dreaming too big from your inner critic? If so, you could try writing a letter to your inner critic in your journal – thank them for their concern about you, but declare that you don’t need them to worry and state boldly and clearly what it is you want.

How can you start to move towards what it is that you really want?