I’m not a fan of the positive thinking movement as it’s usually presented to me. The push to constantly be and think positively seems oppressive. I think there’s value in seeing a positive side to things, and sometimes a positive attitude can turn a moment around for you when you’re confronted with shame or blame.
But your so-called negative feelings—cultural labeling, mind—are valuable, too. Our feelings are a deep part of our humanity. Sadness and anger aren’t the dark side. They just are.
It’s important to feel everything so you can interpret it through your work. Your set of emotions is a unique mix, and that thumbprint is more prominent the more you embrace it.
There are plenty of places to go to get advice on overcoming procrastination, and that’s nice to have. We do need to get work finished. But I think we sometimes casually accept a rather oppressive standard for making things, or getting stuff done. That’s the metaphorical idea that if you start riding, and you fall off the horse, you need to get back on ASAP and start riding again.
And so there’s a value in that idea, specifically that it tries to get us not to give up easily, and further that it’s easier to start again or keep going on a thing or a task if you immediately try again. That’s probably true. But maybe unnecessarily demanding. We aren’t given much room for having missed targets, or just plain failing.
I’ll propose a preliminary action: give yourself a minute. It’s really easy to beat yourself up for failing, for missing, for not quite getting to the goal you set. It’s okay that you didn’t. You don’t have to feel bad about it, or try to push aside your emotions. Feel your feelings. Pause for a sec.
I think it makes it a bit easier to do the necessary thing and start again.
What is to come is constantly changing as we make choices. The potential of it narrows, the closer it is to now.
The daily thing is useful, here, since we’re focusing on process, not finishing or goals. But is there something useful about looking ahead? About not throwing aside everything outside the now?
We wouldn’t have the dreams that we’re bringing the shadows of into being. As much as it’s detrimental to dream without doing, it’s worse to never dream big. By imagining a future state of being or accomplishment, the possibilities open for us in the present. Potential is then expanding away ahead.
It’s easier, a lot of times, to take different paths because you can see what they mean. They aren’t just cold notions of where you could take your work, they’re almost real images and feelings. What’s the point of any creative success if it doesn’t give you good feelings or hold any significant meaning for your life? We at least should enjoy the satisfaction of it.
And satisfaction is inspiring, it’s fuel to get you going and making things again.
Today’s was the first post in a long time I didn’t feel like writing when it popped up as any kind of obligation or to-do item in my mind. That happens on any long-term project, from time to time, so it’s not surprising. But since my usual bent is to think of some way out of that reluctance, I’m just going to do the opposite and leave it.
It feels a little ugly. There are plenty of moments in your creative life where some spiraling emotion or other takes over for a while. We’re taught to resist them. We’re told to replace them with positive ones. We’re expected to overcome them with nice thoughts about ourselves and the potential of our work. Because . . . why?
I think the thinking goes that since depression is bad, and despair is bad, and disappointment is awful, we should do all we can to crush them like a Marvel™ villain, lest they drag us to our dooms with them.
But they’re just feelings.
That’s weird, I know, and not a little paradoxical. Our feelings are the foundation of why we work hard at a creative life in the first place, and we risk making things without heart or spirit without them.
Giving too much power to their influence over us, on the other hand, especially when so-called negative emotions are looming, is a path to overindulgence and, eventually, empty work or worse: no work.
And feeling sullen or down about your work is fine. Really. So long as you keep doing it and being honest in it. They’re just feelings and it’s only human to feel them all.
You get tired. Holidays are especially wearing, and stressful in ways that can’t be fully overcome by the excitement and joy they also offer.
So, what do you do about it? Same as everything else you feel, you accept it and keep moving. The only thing certain about life is that as long as it exists, it moves. It moves forward through time—at a terrifying velocity, sometimes—even when we’re sitting still.
Do small work. Do quiet work. Do deliberate work. Your work doesn’t have to be grand or frenetic all the time, it can move with time, as life moves. This is part of being kind to yourself and respecting both feelings and your practice.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.