Releasing Motivation

1039-relax-and-succeed-you-have-been-criticisingThe reason artists are often called “crazy” is that the two states of creativity and insanity are really degrees of the same thing; few people talk to themselves more than artists need to, and more talking to yourself than that starts to get dangerously close to being lost in thought, otherwise known as “crazy.”

Most people have a boss with deadlines and job descriptions they have to fulfil so they can’t see how much that format is making them work, because even entrepreneurs know it’s much harder when there’s no external deadline imposed. But at least an entrepreneur has a client they’re servicing, but the reason they find marketing the hardest part is the same reason art’s difficult; there’s not only no boss, there’s no customer and the job is pure open space. As an artist you can’t even go to work until you decide how big your canvass should be.

Athletes might bemoan their hours spent training, but most artists would trade them that feeling for the agony of finding it difficult to create. I get a lot of mock hate-comments from artist friends who can’t figure out how I can do other writing and these pages every day by 7am. When your thoughts hold you back creating is very very hard indeed. I remember that sense well.

1039-relax-and-succeed-dont-think-about-making-artIt’s terrifying to start a piece of art because you have a lot of notable things to think about. You have big, public ways to fail. If you’re an author you’re probably comparing yourself to literally the very best people in the world. If you’re a painter you’re worried about $2,500 in paint and canvass you have to invest before you can even try to sell it. If you dance you’re worried about injuries and being a musician on the road has all sorts of potential pitfalls. It can easily make you crazy if you do too much thinking and too little creating.

We’re all such harsh critics. We could still have our opinions and yet talk to people with the approach we’d use with them a kid, where we’d have fewer expectations and where we’d want to be more encouraging. But as adults we make it painful to show personal things. We offer our negative opinion; our corrections. And even if they’ve paid us for that opinion, it still hurts them to hear voices of nonacceptance. And so creating art is hard. The climb is high and the fall feels long.

What’s important for the artist or any other person to remember is that these distances we’ve climbed and these heights we fall from all exist only within our imaginations. You’re not linear. You didn’t advance and then fall back; you expanded and then expanded again. The courage to create work is hard enough; the courage to show it publicly is even more precarious. These are victories not failures. These are what every great artist experiences. It is simply the act of moving past our fears and into an act of creation.

1039-relax-and-succeed-act-without-doingWe tend to think that when things are painful we must be doing something wrong but we only feel that way because there’s a cult of feeling good when in truth you wouldn’t even be able to sense feeling good without feeling bad to compare it to. So we must embrace feeling unsettled and wounded too, lest the art of our lives be shallow and hollow.

Artists spend very little time actually physically creating their art. What they do is spend time doing is observing life and then capturing poignant, worthwhile moments of it in art so that we too can benefit from their keen observations. Maybe they see something funny, maybe it’s what lead them to no longer be racist, it doesn’t matter; their only job is to place it in the world for us to find in the format we personally understand things in, whether that’s dance or painting or any other form.

Artists would benefit if they treated their art more like work, but before they can do that they must have enough respect for themselves that they actually feel genuinely motivated to live up to their own deadlines. If an artist is excited about what’s next then it makes sense that they’ll be excited to complete the project they’re working on, and that’s what gets the deadlines met; not a boss, not a date on a calendar–a genuine desire to finish so that more can be created. That’s a lesson the rest of the work-world can learn from successful artists.

Find what matters about your work even if that ends up being your co-workers having better days so they go home to their kids happier. As long as you feel genuinely motivated to create that positivity by doing what you’re doing, then the doing of it won’t feel much like work because it won’t be. It’ll be your life. It’s time you started actively living more of it. I’ll be better for everyone.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

Physical Realities

853 Relax and Succeed - Stay beautifulYou’ll see overweight men keeping their suit jackets on to hide their bellies if they’re out for lunch with an attractive co-worker. You’ll see large-breasted women constantly re-pulling their cardigans over their breasts in a pointless attempt to conceal them. If a girl thinks her bum is too big she’ll try to hide it with long tops and coats. Short men avoid standing near tall ones if they’re trying to impress someone.

You think that what people see when they look at you is either the bad quality you’re focusing on as a part of this week’s meditation, or you’ll assume they’re focused on some particularly negative aspect about that particular day–like a stain on your shirt or spot you missed shaving or some hair that won’t go where it belongs. But people are rarely noticing those things. That’s because they’re too busy doing exactly what you’re doing.

853 Relax and Succeed - My body does everythingJust as you’re pulling your sweater down over your butt or standing behind a piece of furniture that conceals your gut, everyone around you is busy doing the same thing. The desire to be accepted by the group is a very human thing, but language and advertising have whipped an otherwise healthy human drive into a crazy over-drive that has 99.9% of people worried most of the time about some aspect of their physical selves.

There is no need to invest time in these thoughts and strategies. In fact authenticity and openness have never looked more attractive in a world driven by egocentric fears about not being enough. In today’s world a calm demeanor, sense of humour and open mind are far more valuable than any combination of body parts.

The more “attractive” people are the more they worry about what you think. No one is imprisoned more by ego than someone who dresses and acts in ways to get strangers and acquaintances to approve of how they look.

853 Relax and Succeed - Be kind to yourselfYou’re trying not to criticize your least-loved body part as a part of the weekly meditation we started yesterday. Make it easy today by focusing your attention outward instead. As you walk past each person try to figure out what they think their worst quality is and see if they work to hide it. If you don’t see them hiding it then that’s not what they think is their thing. The younger the person the more they’ll be inclined try to conform, so don’t watch octogenarians looking for a lot of signs of ego.

Get out of your thoughts and self-discussions comparing you to your ideals. Use your consciousness to take the world in rather than comment on what’s already known. Watch others. See their fear. See how misplaced it is and realize the same is true for you.

Give others compliments. Accept the ones given to you. And stop criticizing yourself. It’s never accomplished anything and it never will. It’s time to surrender. What’s waiting is a quiet world rarely invaded by judgment. It’s a beautiful state of mind to live in. I hope you’ll join me.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.

The Cooking Test

You are being tested. This is the most meaningful test you will ever take. Your entire life depends on this how you handle it. And the universe itself is giving you this test. This is the test of your life.

713 Relax and Succeed - Act without doingFirst you helped Mom mix things and that was fun but you wanted to grow. So then you got to heat things. Eventually you matured enough to be able to chop things and you’ve had so much fun doing that you’ve entered cooking school. You wouldn’t think a couple words like “cooking school” could be very ambiguous, but like all words—they are.

Because you’re at a school for cooking you set about learning everything you can about the preparation of food. You learn basic skills, you learn about food types, and grading, and texture and colour and timing and temperatures and styles and cultural traditions etc. etc. And you work very hard at mastering all of them.

Most of the dishes are too big and too elaborate for one person and so your kitchen is filled with other cooks. Some are better at this, some are better at that, but all of them have much to learn which explains why they came to school. Everyone’s just trying to get it right. Everyone is studying their teachers extremely closely to see precisely how they prepare their best-tasting dishes.

713 Relax and Succeed - Don't try to follow others pathsAs you advance through the school each year your dishes and their creation becomes more nuanced and detailed as you can add things learned from both experience and ongoing education. Every year you add more, every year the bar for success gets higher. So does the pressure, but you accept that as the heat that goes with the kitchen. Yeah it makes you bark more at your fellow chefs and it really can make you sweat but you came here to succeed. This is a test you’re really serious about and you’re dedicated to doing what it takes to pass.

One of the trickiest parts about cooking school is that, as you advance, there will be things that you’re good at that others aren’t. And rather than notice that they’re good at something you’re not good at, they’re far more likely to undermine your cooking and insult your dishes as a way of not feeling like they’re failing. This is an important school and everyone knows it. Just to get in is a miracle.

As time passes some of the students will come to compare themselves to the other students around them and they will actually decide to give up on their dream of being a great cook. This is a naturally unhealthy state of mind for natural chef to live through but it happens a lot. Those too poor to continue, or those broken and defeated chefs—ones for which the criticisms just got too much—they eventually turn bitter and they will even actively disrupt and damage better chefs meals as petty revenge.

713 Relax and Succeed - To avoid criticismBeing attacked for working hard and being good at something tends to upset people and so you’ll get defensive when they attack you. You’ll attack back. You’ll spend some time going over their cooking and judging it. It can turn into all kinds of ugly and it often puts people off their food.

Eventually someone in a white lab coat comes up with a clip board and tells you that it’s time for your big test. It’s time to feed your dishes to Le Grand Fromage. The Big Cheese. God. Whatever you call it, it’s Judgment Day. Everything you’ve worked for builds towards this test and hopefully your graduation.

When the big day comes you can feel it. The weight of everything that’s come before it is lined up behind you. This is it. The Head Chef is going to taste what you’ve done and that’s it—there’s no more fixing it. You torture your fellow chefs through one final brutal preparation and then you load your dishes up and you enter the room. You go to the table and trembling with fear you set them down and take your place at the opposite side of the table and wait.

713 Relax and Succeed - Tension is who you think you are

The Head Chef eats. You watch her chew. She looks at you across the table. You’re sweating. This is the craziest thing you’ve ever done. You figure it must be okay, because she looks like she’s pleased with you. But seems like it’s taking forever. F-o-r-e-v-e-r. What is her judgment? Is it okay? Did you learn well enough? Are you good enough? Did you pass???

Oh my God, she’s wiping herself with her napkin. She’s finished. She ate the whole thing. She smiles at you and stands to leave. You look at her imploring. “Did you like it?” you squeak out.

“I really enjoyed eating it yes, thank you.”

“But was it good enough?” The Head Chef looks confused. “This was supposed to be my big test. I just want to know if I passed…?”  You’re almost in tears.

The Head Chef looks on sympathetically. “Oh my love I don’t tell you if you passed or failed.”

713 Relax anx Succeed - I am a human being“You don’t?”  You’re lost. “Then who does?”

“You’re asking yourself the wrong question.”

“It’s not about my cooking?”

“No, it’s not about how much me or anyone else likes the dishes.”

“Then how do I know if I passed?”

The Head Chef smiles. “You passed if you enjoyed your time in the kitchen.”

peace. s


Shadow Personalities

What you perceive of as people’s individual personalities are actually just shadows cast by your own thinking. This may seem ridiculous but it happens in much the same way that a cinematographer can make a character look angelic or sinister to you depending on where he or she places the light. The angle of the light represents the perspectives of our beliefs. A character or person can change drastically based on our beliefs. Just think of how that angle changes between falling in love and breaking up! But what changed? Them, or the direction of the light?

687 Relax and Succeed - In this lifeYou spend a lot of your life trying to manage people’s perceptions of you but that is futile and wasteful in all kinds of ways. First off, you have no idea what their perceptions are. Even if they say so you still don’t know. The prettiest girl in school can give you the sort of make-up and hair advice that subtly suggests to you that you are ugly, but she’s more likely to do that if she actually thinks you’re the prettiest girl in school. And even if she thought that something or someone was ugly, who’s to say she won’t change that opinion? We do our whole lives. So why try to manage the entries in some weird historical Etch-a-Sketch book that’s always being shaken clean? Why not live instead?

You don’t see others and they don’t see you. Not figuratively, literally. Because there is no you to see. Because everyone has their own idea of value and so everyone perceives you in their own unique way based on their knowledge and life experience. So since everyone has their own idea of you—their own angle of light—then they’re all seeing something slightly different. And there’s no way to reconcile that. Since there is no one who would even be able to perceive any strange, general Objective Reality above that, we can just relax into the idea that all that really matters is our Subjective Reality. We don’t have to manage all of those people because the universe won’t let us. We only have to manage our own thoughts. Because it’s from those that we shape the beliefs that in turn shape both ourselves and others.

687 Relax and Succeed - I have already lostYou have to see people in some way. So your views are fine to have as long as you don’t take them too seriously—that you remember they are just your views. The cinematographer doesn’t want to start treating the actor like he’s the character. And this applies to others opinions about you as well. Do some views carry consequences in your life? Yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that you have no control over their perspective. Your ability to influence anyone’s view of you is crippled by the fact that you don’t even know where to start. You cannot think from their perspective and so you have no idea what their view of you is.

Despite this reality everyone spends most of their lives trying to manage these perceptions. They get angry or sad or bitter about their perceptions of other people’s perceptions about them. To surrender all of that is to be free of your ego’s need to prove itself. To be valuable. To be worthy. And it turns out that all you have to do is stop talking to yourself under the presumption that anything’s wrong with you or anyone else. Do that and suddenly you don’t need all of the self-discussions about, what do I do to become acceptable? or how do I get that person to do what I want so I can deem them acceptable? Instead you’re fine with people and things the way they are. You just have peace.

Find the angles you light people from. Had a bad experience with betrayal? Then you’ll probably cast a suspicious light on others. Had an angry, reproachful father? Then you’ll be inclined to look at things and people fearfully. Or was your mother carefree almost to the point of neglect? Then you’ll either need that same kind of freedom or you’ll crave order but, either way, unless you become very conscious, your experiences with your mother will have shaped where you place the light on yourself and others. That’s why so many people vote just like their parents. They’ve only ever seen issues lit in one fundamental way.

687 Relax and Succeed - What is loveForget all of that head-talking. Forget gossip. Forget the words that you use to place the lights that will shape your vision. Stop wanting your spouse or co-workers to be different people. Accept by going quiet. Let their light be natural. It’ll still have an angle relative to you, but you’ll have saved yourself all the effort of re-lighting it yourself with your psyche. Because the less your ego is involved the more you open the light up and the better you can see. But no matter who you are no one sees everything. There is always mystery. There is always shadow. The secret is to stop asking. Relax knowing that the mystery is where your future is. And it’s not a future you’re not supposed to figure out, you’re just supposed to live it.

Now go have yourself an awesome day.

peace. s

Are We Having Fun Yet?

When I was a young boy I was at a war memorial with my father, who had served during wartime. It was November 11th and in Canada we call it Remembrance Day. I asked my father if I should spend the day being sad for all the soldiers who didn’t come back. My Dad understood what I was saying, but his response was typical of my Dad. He’ll always find the best in everything.

137 Relax and Succeed - There is no path to happinessHe told me that those boys didn’t get a chance to live out their lives because they sacrificed theirs so that we could have ours. It would be a disservice to them if they sacrificed their lives and then we wasted ours in misery. For their death to have meaning our lives had to have meaning. So we should be joyful, and we should spread that joy by helping others.

Too many of us have been taught to think of our own joy as something we should squeeze into gaps in our responsibility. What is the point of life then? If there isn’t a lot of fun, then life isn’t anything to write home about. Existence is not life. Why have intelligence and free will if we’re going to use it to choose responsibility and obligation and no joy and laughter?

How often do you laugh hard? And is that at a TV show, or with other actual human beings? Do you act like a happy human being, or is the verb of your life to make the choices that sad human beings make? If people invite you out, do you make excuses and say no? When someone compliments you, do you tell them they’re mistaken? Do you look at your week as a bunch of slots for potential fun? Or do you see it as a life of quiet desperation, where you’re just hoping a meteor of happiness will serendipitously intersect it?

137 Relax and Succeed - To live is the rarest thingIf you’re waiting for life to get better because you’ve taken care of all of your responsibilities, then you’ve misunderstood how all of this works. Life gets better when that becomes a priority. Life becomes better when you stop worrying about the downsides of choice and instead you just start making choices. Because thinking about them is to spend your life thinking. Taking action is for your life to have motion, and activity, and accomplishment.

I’m not suggesting that you need to be irresponsible in your dealings with your employer, friends, family or strangers. I’m simply suggesting that you should also have some responsibility for your own life. It’s a much shorter life than you realise. Don’t waste it thinking someone hands you a gift of a joyful 40 years because you were so good and proper in the first 40. It doesn’t work that way. Your job is to collect joy along the way. You’re not supposed to live to work, you’re supposed to work to live. Because if you’ve lost track of the joys of living, then you’ve also lost track of the reasons for working.

Stop feeling guilty when you have fun. Stop criticising yourself for taking some time out of your short existence to laugh, or play, or have sex. It literally is your life. And you are spending it through action. The activity of your life is both your payment and reward. So stop thinking about what’s right or appropriate or smart or impressive, and start doing things that are fun. You’ll be surprised at how some fun can really help you with things like patience, calmness, listening and understanding. Because life isn’t a case where if you’re good you’ll be happy. It’s a one where if you are happy you will be good.

It’s your life. It’s short. Enjoy it. Start now.

peace s

Scott McPherson is a writer, mindfulness instructor, coach and communications facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organisations around the world.