One of my favorite things about life is how we’re always learning and growing. There will never come a time when you’ve learned it all, when you’ve mastered life. There are always new lessons and opportunities.
For the past several years I’ve chosen one word to help guide my experiences, to remind me of something I need to learn or remember that year.
My word for 2015 was accept because I had a lot about my life and situation to come to terms with, including flagging energy that was standing in the way of what I wanted to achieve.
Accept served me well. Whenever I bristled against the restrictions of my body or situation, I remembered to accept where I was and what I could do now. As a result, 2015 was a year of deep healing, both physically and mentally.
I spent a lot of time alone, not lonely, just alone with my thoughts and at rest. It was wonderful, actually. I know some of my friends didn’t quite understand where I was or what had happened to me, but it was exactly what I needed at the time.
As I began looking toward 2016, experiencing greater energy and excitement than I’d had throughout much of late 2014 and 2015, I knew this would be a year of greater action.
In fact, I considered the word action as my word for 2016 but, as I took on more responsibility and engaged in more activity, my body reminded me that I must rest as well as act. I’m not fully healed and, as an introvert, my need for downtime exceeds that of the extroverts I know.
Therefore, my word for 2016 became:
Although I know there’s really no such thing as balance in this complex, beautiful life of ours, acknowledging the ideal reminds me that action and rest are two sides of the same coin, interdependent and inextricable.
Whenever I choose a word, I look up its definition to ensure I know what I’m surrendering to. Some of my favorite definitions of balance include:
: a means of judging or deciding
: equipoise between contrasting, opposing, or interacting elements
: equality between the totals of the two sides of an account
: an aesthetically pleasing integration of elements
: the juxtaposition in writing of syntactically parallel constructions containing similar or contrasting ideas
: physical equilibrium
: the ability to retain one’s balance
: an amount in excess especially on the credit side of an account
: mental and emotional steadiness
(full definition here)
And so I’m entering this new year with an eye toward balance and, in particular, balancing several seeming dichotomies:
- Action and rest
- Introspection and external engagement
- Self-care and caring for others
- Consistency and experimentation
What’s your word for 2016 and how do you expect it to help guide your year?
The new year is upon us, bringing to mind thoughts of what was during 2015 and what’s next for 2016.
My gal pal Eliza and I were talking the other day about how we like to begin a new year. Neither of us do resolutions—too confining, too fueled by ‘shoulds.’ Instead, we both choose a word or phrase to guide our intentions and I like to ease into the new year instead of storming the gates.
The holidays can get so busy, can’t they, in spite of our best efforts to remember rest and mindfulness? Afterward there’s often a feeling of letdown because that special time of year has passed and the status quo is back—with the added stress of resolutions and expectations.
Eliza and I envisioned another way to begin 2016, one focused on gratitude, self-care, mindfulness, and gentle visioning, while remembering the importance of action in bringing your goals and dreams into being.
Inspired January is our vision. A series of 31 prompts, one for each day of the first month of the year, it invites you to rest, dream, explore, and ease into what’s next for you.
How you engage with Inspired January is up to you. We will be guiding the journey by posting daily photographs on Instagram and we invite you to join us there. Of course, you may also choose to keep your process private through journaling, meditation, or creating in your preferred medium. The prompts are designed to be flexible and invoke your imagination.
If you decide to create visual work, we hope you will share it with us and your fellow participants on Instagram, using the hashtag #InspiredJanuary.
Unlike other photo-a-day projects, this one isn’t a challenge. It’s an invitation. You’re welcome to pop by when the spirit moves you, whether that’s just for one day or all 31. Either way, Eliza and I will be there, welcoming you and sharing our own journeys.
We hope to see you there, and happy new year!
P.S. I’d like to give a shout out to my gal Jody for designing such a beautiful graphic for this practice. Thank you, Jody!
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been wondering how to have a more conscious Christmas. Every year, I learn a bit more. Some of the things I’ve been considering this year are:
Is it better to get a locally grown tree, a living tree, or a high-quality artificial tree that will last for many years?
What is the best type of holiday card to send?
How can we stay present amidst overburdened schedules and family expectations?
Well, according to the experts, the tree preference is #1) Living, #2) Locally grown, #3) Cut tree that wasn’t locally grown or an artificial tree.
To save paper, experts also prefer e-cards versus printed cards.
And as far as the social issues go, it’s the same thing you do all year: Try to be mindful of your calendar, practice good self-care, and stay present.
Here are a few of the things we’re doing at Casa Watson to have a more conscious Christmas this year:
- We decided to buy fewer gifts and to be more mindful of the types of gifts we buy or add to our wishlists.
- We’re looking at Fair Trade options before making purchase decisions.
- We’re asking for digital goods or experiences instead of stuff.
- Our Christmas cards were printed by environmentally conscious Paper Culture.
- The adults in my husband’s family are participating in a Secret Santa gift exchange, as we have for years. It’s fun and means less shopping!
- We’ll recycle spent wrapping paper and reuse gift bags—as we do every day.
- We purchased a living Christmas tree this year. It’s a drought tolerant variety that should fare well in California and give us a few seasons of use before repotting or planting.
- We only decorated indoors to save on electricity and—let’s face it—time.
- We’re incorporating natural elements into our decorations, including wood and pine cones that can be composted afterward.
- We’re using what we already have versus buying new ornaments.
- Last weekend, hubby and I decided that it didn’t yet feel like the holidays at home so we put on some Christmas tunes and spent some time together decorating the tree and our home. It was nice quality time.
- We’re keeping mindful of our personal commitments. Since we’re both introverts, we need a lot of downtime between holiday visits and sometimes we have to say no to kind invitations.
- Because people matter, though, we invited friends to join us for Christmas dinner. This is something my grandmother always did and, while I found it a bit uncomfortable as a child, I’ve grown to appreciate it as an adult living across the country from her family.
- Throughout the year, we try to eat consciously. This is harder with the endless snacking options around the holidays, but we’re staying mindful of when to indulge and when to abstain, and savoring those treats we do choose.
- We’re also trying to be conscious of our expectations and stay in the moment. It’s so easy to get caught up in the schedule, looking ahead to what’s next. As I write this, I’m taking a deep breath and remembering to relax and enjoy this moment of peace and quiet before my mom arrives tomorrow and the festivities really begin.
Because we can always do better, here are a few things I’d like to work on next year:
- If we need more tree lights, I’d like to go with more energy-efficient and longer-lasting LED bulbs.
- I’d like to explore recycled and eco-friendly wrapping options.
- I will be more conscious of buying locally and from small businesses although I must confess that I love the ease and crowd-avoidance of online shopping.
- Both of our work schedules got a little hectic this December. In my case, I probably took on too much between launching a new program and planning a surprise Instagram challenge for January. Next year, I need to account for that by making more room for holiday downtime.
How are you celebrating a conscious Christmas this year? Let me know in the comments.
P.S. For additional reading about eco-friendly and conscious holidays, check out:
Someone recently asked me why I created The Artist’s Way Creative Cohort.
In a word: community.
It’s the one thing every creative must have and it’s not that easy to come by.
Working from home, I often hanker for authentic connection with fellow creatives instead of the constant promotion and posturing on social media. But I’m strongly introverted and can’t handle much in-person networking.
Traditional networking doesn’t work that well for women anyway. As Daniëlle van de Kemenade writes, women connect best with each other when they focus on personal growth, not self-promotion.
Having slogged through the ashes of creative burnout—sadness, regret, anger, frustration, blocks, and limiting beliefs—and made it to the other side, I also know how important it is to have someone along for the ride.
And for someone who’s always wanted to engage her creativity, but never seems to make the time or is afraid to take that next step, having a support network is the key missing piece. I know that, too, because there’s a frustrated artist (or two) in my life.
Maybe you can relate.
I’m talking about a woman who loves art and relishes spending time with creative folks, but doesn’t create anything herself.
She says she’s too busy or isn’t that creative while secretly wishing she could pick up a new hobby or artistic outlet, maybe something simple like coloring.
Whenever she gets too close to that dream, someone in her life puts a wrinkle in her plan and a furrow on her brow by suggesting that she’s wasting her time or money. And so she gives up before she’s even begun.
That other person probably even means well. He may have her best intentions at heart. But he’s not her and so he can’t really say whether it’s in her best interest to color or sew or stand up for open-mic night.
Only she can determine that. Taking a stand for her creativity may make her feel a bit uncomfortable. Or incredibly vulnerable. She, too, needs a support system.
That’s why I created The Artist’s Way Creative Cohort. I wanted to share my creative process with fellow creatives and reap the rewards of having a creative community: camaraderie, connection, and collaboration with like-minded women who offer each other support and accountability.
If you’re looking for creative community, too, I hope you’ll join us. To learn more, click over here.
Whether you think you’re creative or not—spoiler: you are!—you need one or more creative outlets. Increasingly, research shows that engaging in creative activities improves your health and happiness.
Creativity sits at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, nestled among the self-actualization needs that help you realize your full potential. By listing creativity as a self-actualization need, Maslow was suggesting it is something you can address only once you’ve met certain baseline needs, from food, shelter, health, and safety, to love and acceptance.
New research suggests that Maslow might be wrong, however. Having a creative outlet may, in fact, be an essential ingredient to a happy and healthy life.
According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, “Engagement with creative activities has the potential to contribute toward reducing stress and depression and can serve as a vehicle for alleviating the burden of chronic disease.”
Clinical neuropsychologist Catherine Carey Levisay adds, “There’s promising evidence coming out to support what a lot of crafters have known anecdotally for quite some time, and that’s that creating—whether it be through art, music, cooking, quilting, sewing, drawing, photography, cake decorating—is beneficial to us in a number of important ways.”
- Creating gives you a sense of purpose. “Imagining and creating give us a sense of purpose,” says educator, author, and founder of Harvard’s Change Leadership Group Tony Wagner. “If you lack those things, a pervasive sense of emptiness becomes [your] default. The great seduction later in life is that many of us fill the vacuum with false friends, material things, and medication, legal and otherwise.”
- Making time for creativity gives you a sense of power. Scheduling time for yourself to engage in creative outlets also gives you a sense of power over your life, increasing positive feelings.
- Scheduling your creativity ensures follow through. By committing to something on a regular schedule such as a dance class or artist date, you ensure that you’re making time for yourself and experiences you enjoy—a critical element of life satisfaction.
- Creative engagement increases mindfulness. Engaging in creative outlets forces you to remain present and focused on the task at hand, relieving you of any anxiety and stress you may have brought to the experience. It’s a simple form of mindfulness training anyone can experience.
- Creative outlets lower stress. Similar to other forms of mindfulness, including meditation and yoga, creative pursuits have been found to lower blood pressure, the stress hormone cortisol, and your body mass index.
- Creativity boosts your mood. Biologically, when you engage in an enjoyable pastime, the reward center in your brain releases dopamine, a natural anti-depressant. As a bonus, seeing your finished work reminds you of the creation process, invoking added positive feelings after the fact.
- Creative accomplishment boosts self-esteem. Completing a creative project, particularly one that tested your abilities, offers a sense of accomplishment that leads you to believe you can accomplish other new things, thus boosting your self-esteem.
- Joining a creative community offers kinship and support. Engaging in a regular creative activity, particularly a class, also offers an opportunity to expand your circle of creative friends, finding kinship and support.
- Creative pursuits may ward off aging. Learning new things, particularly creative outlets that involve many areas of your brain, “can improve reasoning skills and the brain’s processing speed for up to 10 years after said training has been completed,” a recent clinical trial revealed.
- Engaging in creative activities makes us happy! Last but not least, we have to remember that “creating helps make people happier, less anxious, more resilient and better equipped to problem-solve in the face of hardship,” Amanda Enayati shares.
Being happy leads to even more positive benefits. As psychologist and author Richard Wiseman writes in 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute, “Happiness makes people more sociable and altruistic, it increases how much they like themselves and others, it improves their ability to resolve conflict, and it strengthens their immune systems.
“The cumulative effect means that people have more satisfying and successful relationships, find more fulfilling careers, and live longer, healthier lives.”
Creativity: Making lives healthier and happier since the dawn of time. Another interesting finding from Wiseman’s book is that intentional change is a key to maximizing your happiness. While circumstantial change, such as getting a raise or buying a new car, makes us temporarily happy, intentional change results in longer-lasting happiness.
Since the new year is almost upon us, start thinking about cultivating a new hobby, beginning a new project, or joining a creative community. Let me know what’s in your cards in the comments.
Do you feel burned out or out of touch with your creative spirit? Are you ready to conquer the blocks standing in the way of your new creative life? Join me for The Artist’s Way Creative Cohort, a 6-month creativity workshop and community for creative women. Registration is now open!