All artists are different. Most want to improve. Many will refocus each New Year and resolve, in some way, to make progress. But sadly most artists, like everyone else, will run out of time and motivation early in the year. Sorry if that sounds a downer, but we have all been there, right? Only a tiny percentage of people have mastered the secret to success.
What are the two things that everyone needs to achieve success? Quite simple.
To live a life of success you need to have:
These two elements are not new. They are core ideas going back to early times. Perhaps made famous in the modern era by Napoleon Hill. The latter wrote these ideas nearly a century ago when the world was struggling through the Great Depression. But you will find these ideas in the writings of Marcus Aurelius circa 161 AD. This Roman Emperor is possibly the first self-help author with astonishing insights into the human condition.
Oh Come On!
How pretentious. Have a purpose and follow through. That is so vague and unhelpful. Everyone has a purpose, but stuff happens you know? Busy, busy, busy! Next thing you know we are sidetracked.
Perhaps even perplexed.
Funny how many words we have to describe the process of losing momentum. You start off well then all too soon you find yourself back at square one. We humans have a wonderful capacity to delude ourselves. Our ego kicks in and conveniently erases those irrational resolutions. Besides it is now Easter time and you have things to do.
Okay this is easy. The problem is how to figure out a worthwhile purpose and then how to stick to it.
Well yes. That is simply stated and true. All you need is to come up with a purpose and then carry out all the steps to make it happen.
Now we are getting somewhere. When you identify a problem you are a step away from finding a solution. Let us say that your problem is a health one. You want to be leaner and healthier in the New Year. Standard stuff. If we had a penny for every health related resolution we would be sitting on a pile of cash. But never mind. Health is important.
If you are an artist who wants to improve your work then a similar approach will apply, as you will see.
A typical scenario will unfold like this:
Identify the problem: You have a few kilos to shed and want to feel healthier.
Exercise and eat healthier food.
Starting tomorrow. Promise.
Go to the gym and fill out the forms, debit order and schedule the first session next week. But first you must purchase a few new gym clothes. You cannot look tatty in the gym. A water bottle and shoes too. It is a bit expensive, but all will be worth it later. Exciting.
Back to work after the holiday. What a drag.
First gym session starts tomorrow. Yay!
Tomorrow comes and it is busy. Shattered after a long day at work and you know what? Gym can wait until tomorrow.
The truth is that making any sort of change that requires effort is difficult. Objectively it looks easy enough, but we can only achieve great things when we face a few truths.
Truth One: We are Creatures of Habit
We seldom realise that almost everything we do is habit based. The universe functions on habits. Napoleon Hill calls this a cosmic rhythm. The sun rises. Grass grows and so on. All effortless and natural. Thankfully the universe does not have a choice. Imagine if the sun decided it did not want to rise tomorrow? It has a headache and needs a moment to cool down. Well we would all be a spot of cosmic bother that’s for sure.
Fortunately the sun will rise as normal and all will be well.
We do have the ability to choose. Sadly we humans have a tendency to make poor choices. We delude ourselves into thinking that we are okay. Tomorrow is another day. That bottle of coke is not a problem. Your diet will get back on track soon. No biggie.
Our default setting is to coast along. Hill calls this drifting. Whatever the term is it amounts to the same thing. Cruising along following the same habits and expecting different results.
Truth Two: Patterns Repeat Themselves
Humans take things a step further. We follow patterns of behaviour that return us to default settings. Perhaps you have identified patterns in friends or family? Why does Jim always blow his bonus cheque on the lotto when he promises to save it? Why does Sue always date the loser who cheats on her? Why do some people start a course, but always bail out before test time?
These patterns are ingrained over years. Decades even. Some reveal deep seated pain. Almost all point to some form of fear.
Truth Three: Mastery of Self is Fundamental
Now I have been a bit harsh revealing some of our human frailties. I struggle with them too. Patterns and habits are so comforting and safe. Life is short. Pass the doughnuts please.
But no. Enough of the nonsense. To break out of the negative patterns we need to be prepared to fight for our lives. Because that is what this is all about. Your life and my life. You need to master yourself before you can achieve anything worthwhile. This means recognising the following:
Thoughts and Decisions
You and I are blessed with a powerful mind. We need to control it and not let the outside world of habits and patterns hijack our thinking. Believe me there are a ton or hurdles out there trying to trip us up. That try to direct our thinking to negative things. Spending money we do not have. Consuming stuff we do not need. Unhealthy food. Circumstances tricking us into thinking that we are busy. Wasting time on binge watching tacky TV shows. On it goes.
Plus people who may mean well, but undermine your efforts to break out of old patterns. Negative talk. Negative behaviour. Our environment can be a huge hurdle too. Bad news in the papers, TV News and all the doom-and-gloom talkers around you. They keep you down too.
What do you decide?
To give in to the negative swamp? Or to step away from it and follow the path to a purpose driven life? If you choose the latter then you will discover a neat trick. Remember those patterns of negative thoughts and deeds? You can use habits and patterns to enforce positive action too. By flipping the mental switch you can start making new habits that support your purpose.
Examples? Let’s say you want to cut out sugar from your coffee. At first it tastes bitter and horrible. But within two weeks you are drinking sugar free coffee and loving it. A small goal backed with a determined mind. Then another and so on.
Painting, writing or learning a language? All can be achieved when thoughts and deeds align. One step at a time.
The New Year Becomes Every Year
So now that we have shed light on the enemy you can take real steps towards progress. Deep down every hurdle is a figment of our imagination. Based in some form of fear that keeps us from breaking out. Now you can step around that hurdle and discover it is only a facade. Like a stage prop of a mountain. Looks huge from the front, but it is simply cardboard when you look behind it.
Instead of New Year’s resolutions you can enjoy lifetime resolutions. When you start to live in the light of positive action positive things happen. Make this easier by:
All of these action are, in themselves small. However the ripple effects are big. You have heard of compound interest. Starts off small and boring. Ends off massive and life changing. Believe it.
Purpose and Action
Now to get back to the beginning of this article. We all need to live a purpose driven life. When the hurdles and negativity are washed away life becomes magnificent. Truly. Sure there are ups and downs. We must keep an eye on our tendency to lapse into coasting along. But once revealed this behaviour is easy to spot.
When you take back your life and start thinking for yourself you are the master of your life. The master calls the shots. Make it awesome.
Happy New Life!
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Malcolm Dewey: Artist. Country: South Africa