I’ve been working on an art project on and off for a few months, and I finally finished it this weekend (yeee-haw)! This is a big deal for me for a few reasons: 1) I have so many unfinished projects tucked away in drawers or filed on my computer that I often doubt whether I’m capable of actually finishing anything, 2) I’m pretty psyched to have something new to hang on the wall, and 3) It clarified that although I may not officially be an artist by day, I can still do art (we all can)!
So, how does this relate to wellfesto? (Just cutting to the chase, in case this one is feeling too far afield.) This experience of conceiving and creating a piece of art hit on a few areas that I think are foundational to overall (and particularly mental and emotional) wellbeing:
- It feels good to use the whole brain. Popular psychology often generalizes that the two cerebral hemispheres of our brain have different characteristics; we’ve all grown up hearing about left-brained (logical) and right-brained (creative) people, and are likely applying one of those labels to ourselves right now. I’m not a neuroscientist and would never claim to understand how true this indeed is (if you are, I’d love to learn more). But, I do know that we fall into ruts in terms of how we use our brains, and we likely skew toward more logical or creative “exercise” based on what our day jobs are, what we enjoy most, what’s easy for us to do, and what the people around us are doing. This makes sense, and while I agree with playing to our strengths and natural preferences, this project reminded me how good it is to challenge the brain to work in a new and different way.
- Being in “flow” is awesome. It’s hard to understand flow unless you’ve experienced it (it’s sort of like getting to a new level of meditation during shavasana at the end of yoga class). But once you’re in it, you just want more of it. There has been a ton of research done on flow or “the mental state in which one is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of activity.” I know that doing creative projects, writing, exercising, brainstorming and strategic planning are some of the things that enable me to be in a state of flow, and this project was a great reminder to continue to work to shift more time away from tedium and toward flow (yes, easier said than done). If you want more info about flow, here’s a book recommendation and TED talk to check out.
- Accomplishment isn’t all that counts, but it does matter. As a parent, I’m conditioned to constantly “praise the process,” and not the outcome. And while I’m philosophically bought into the idea of focusing on effort versus achievement, this project made me realize that it IS important to note and celebrate achievement. There is something valuable about going the last 30% or 10% of 1% to finish something, regardless of how fulfilling the rest of the process has been. Look for another blog post on this one, once I sort out my broader point-of-view (this is a complicated topic).
- We’re all makers at the core. Particularly here in Silicon Valley, it’s cool to be a maker. The idea of being a “maker” has been popularized by the Maker Movement and most notably, but the Maker Faire, “a gathering of fascinating, curious people who enjoy learning and who love sharing what they can do.” As great as it sounds, it’s often intimidating to actually make something, particularly when we’re surrounded by images and examples of perfect and beautiful things other people are making. But I firmly believe that at our core, we’re all makers…we just need to find our medium and have the courage to put it out there.
This post isn’t a call for every person to make art, but it is a reminder that we all may find joy in things that fall outside of our normal, daily existence….and it’s worth giving these things a shot (for super creative people, this might be doing something more analytical). This doesn’t need to take a lot of time (I worked on my project for a few minutes a day, on and off, for a few months), and it can have a huge impact on our emotional well-being, sense of purpose, and even basic things like our stress level. So I challenge to you think about a few questions: What projects are you working on right now to keep your brain alive and challenged? How have they impacted you? And if you don’t have one, what’s one you could start today?
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