3 Months Down. How I’ve Stayed Motivated.
I recently started a new project called Art a day where I create a video, photo, or writing everyday for a year. I go into more depth on the concept of the project in my earlier blog post I wrote after I completed the first month: http://connorbutterworth.com/art-a-day-one-month-down/
Anyway, I just completed 3 months of the project (1/4 of the way finished!) I feel like I have learned a lot in these three months. Not just about my art, but also about who I am as a person and as an artist. Mainly,I have learned that I can always push myself a lot harder than I thought I could.
Anyone, who plays a sport or exercises intensely, can attest to the fact that the real battle is not against your body, but your mind. Our minds place walls and borders on ourselves and for some crazy reason, we listen to them, we follow their rules. When we are exercising, our brain tells us, “Ok, I think we’re ready to stop now” and then we say to ourselves, ‘Well, I guess I’d better. I shouldn’t get too hot, my heart shouldn’t beat too fast, I am probably dehydrated.’ We know these are just pitiful excuses, but why do they continue to work? Do you ever think ‘what would happen if I really did get too hot, if my heart did beat too fast or if I do happen to get dehydrated?’ Well… if you are like me… a 20 year old in decent shape and perfect health then quite literally nothing. Nothing negative, at least. I mean you only just redefine your limits and become a better, stronger version of yourself. Runners describe the phenomenon as a “runner’s high”. The moment when you feel like you are done, that you can’t go on anymore, but somehow you just keep going. When this occurs, you experience a sudden euphoria and a steady burst of new energy. Your mind has set up a wall and said “this is your limit” and you just busted right on through. Ok so now you may be asking yourself, “What does exercise have to do with this silly art project you’re blogging about?”
Everything. Well, everything in this post at least. Exercise is a perfect example for pushing yourself because it is something we can all relate to, but exercise doesn’t have to be limited to the physical activity. Exercising your mind, exercising your imagination, your creativity can be just as challenging. Our mind throws up the same barriers and we make the same type of excuses anyway. For instance, as I’m writing this, my mind is telling me “Hey buddy, it’s 2AM, you’ve had a big day; just go to sleep. You can finish this tomorrow.” I am not in the mood to be exercising my mind, my creativity right now writing so some part of me is coming up with excuses like ‘What’s the point?’ ‘Nobody is going to read this anyway.’ ‘This isn’t going to sound as good when you read it tomorrow as it does coming out of your head right now.’
I have discovered that this doesn’t go away, this resistance, these excuses are here to stay. However, I am getting much better at handling them. I have come up with a few methods for dealing with this that have really been helping me lately to stay productive and utilize my time effectively when my mind is telling me ‘You know we should probably just re-watch all 5 seasons of Friday Night Lights today.’
Make it a conversation and keep it a conversation. When my mind is coming up with all of these excuses for why I shouldn’t be grinding away at whatever I need to be doing, I treat it like a typical argument. I listen and quantify every reason for why I don’t want to do what I’m about to do and then I come up with a better reason for why I should. Trying to block out parts of your thoughts doesn’t work. If you don’t believe me then stop and try NOT to think of a brick wall for five seconds… It doesn’t matter what reasons you come up with, but you need to have better reasons for doing something than for not. When you examine every excuse individually, you realize how petty or absurd they all really are. This is what you have to do. Always keep it a conversation. If left unanswered, these excuses become a feeling. It is a very crippling feeling. It is the feeling when someone asks you to go somewhere and you really don’t want to, but you don’t really know why you don’t want to. You have no reasons; you just aren’t in the mood. For many people, exercise has just been forever accompanied by this feeling. To avoid this, keep your battles a conversation and come up with better reasons for doing something than not. One of the best ways to win these internal arguments is to…
Bring it to the grand spectrum. When all other reasoning fails, the surefire way to win these internal arguments is to bring it to a large scale, a longterm scheme. Just think of it like… you want to be a thing. Whether, that is a professional artist, an entrepreneur, a healthier, more attractive person, whatever. And you are thinking of doing this one thing to help get you there (exercise, practice, study, etc.) and your mind is telling you that this other thing is more important (television, social media, sleep, etc.) . There is no way that can be true. Your life is determined by habits and your habits are determined by actions. Therefore, this single action is plotting the course of the rest of your life. If everyday were like today would you be where you want? Would you look how you want? Would you achieve what you want?
You can only fight it for so long. You can only deny your desires for so long. You can only stay focused and productive for so long. You can only be miserable for so long. We are not machines. There comes a point when it becomes too much and you need to unwind. Reward yourself. If you’re happy with what you just accomplished then treat yourself. Take some time to maintain your sanity. If you have begun to control and argue with your mind’s excuses and reasoning then you will not be relaxing anywhere near as often as the normal person does. So you’re really going to need to make it count when you do get a chance to relax. Don’t just take a bath, for instance. Take a bath in a jacuzzi with bubbles and candles, while sipping tea and catching up on the new episode of Game of Thrones. You’ve earned it, buddy.
Procrastination is not as bad as you think. I remember having a conversation with a friend in high school about a huge project we had due for class in a few days and him saying, ‘I haven’t even started, but I never really worry about deadlines for projects and stuff. I procrastinate a lot, but it isn’t that bad. I mean I’ve never had a project that I couldn’t finish if I just stayed up all nite and worked on it until I had to turn it in.’ I’ve thought about this conversation a lot. It’s a wild concept and I definitely agree with him. If you are pressed to, you can knock out almost any amount of work over nite. You have to get this thing done and you only have tonite to do it. Frequently, I use this concept for art a day. It’ll be about the time I normally go to sleep, I’ve had a busy day and I didn’t really get a chance to do anything for art a day yet. However, I have to finish something and I only have tonite to do it (my ‘Art a day’ day is not 24 hours, but rather when I wake up to when I go sleep). So I get to work and while my mind is saying “Just go to sleep.” I am replying “not until I finish.” Nothing is on television, my friends are asleep, I’m too sleepy to want to do anything else so all I have to do is either work or sleep. Pretty soon, my mind gets the message and it stops complaining. My mind is quiet, the world outside is fast asleep, and I am completely in the zone. Pretty soon I’m done and, thanks to procrastination, I knocked it out quickly and it didn’t get in the way of anything else I wanted to do. Other than sleep, but I can do that when I’m [my creativity] is dead, right?