Mindful Painting: Turning Anxiety Into Art

By Monica Kovach

If you’ve had any experience trying to develop a mindfulness practice, you know it can be hard work. Mindfulness, by nature, illuminates whatever is present - the good, bad, and the ugly. Learning to face all parts of ourselves with compassion and equanimity is no easy task, especially when we’ve learned to hate, fear, and avoid parts of ourselves.

Growing up, I was a pretty anxious kid, but you probably wouldn’t have been able to tell. I was afraid of doing anything wrong, and I got really good at flying under the radar. I learned to value “goodness” and “niceness” so much, that when any aspect of my personality showcased any opposite qualities (like anger or impatience), I worked hard at denying them, and thus, buried them. If you’re having a hard time picturing what this might look like, think: UniKitty from The Lego Movie.

And just like UniKitty, these buried parts of myself were destined to boil over at one point or another, and when they did, it was extreme. Not extreme as in I unleashed hell on everyone around me; because, I was still deeply afraid of negatively affecting anyone. It was extreme in the way that I reacted toward myself.

Self-deprecating shame spirals were a common occurrence, as were migraines and emotional breakdowns in the form of uncontrollable crying. And later, panic attacks.

All of this self-inflicted abuse continued until I learned how stop avoiding the parts of me I didn’t love, and ultimately, accept and love them instead. How did I do this? Mindfulness. And therapy, let’s be honest. But mindfulness was a big part of my therapy journey as well, so yeah… Mindfulness.

This concept and practice of mindfulness is really just about observing what’s happening in the moment - thoughts, sensations, and emotions - without judgment. It’s the “without judgment” part that really tripped me up at first; I would immediately label my thoughts or emotions as “bad” because I learned to do that at an early age.

The thing that really helped me break free from the automatic judgment response was art - specifically painting. I never considered myself a painter; in fact, I went to school for photography and was pretty attached to that identity for my creative outlet. But when I started experimenting with watercolors as a medium to express my inner experience, it just clicked. The way the colors blend, move, and spread across the page matched my inner thought-scape. Their watery nature felt like an accurate representation of subtle, elusive states of mind, body, and spirit. Their fast, fluid unpredictability said “Yes, this is what emotions feel like.” And after a while, I realized that I was practicing mindfulness.

By representing my thoughts and emotions as abstract, fluid swatches of color, I was able to literally observe what was happening in the present moment. I was able to release judgment, knowing that unpredictability is just part of the watercolors’ nature, and that it would be silly to judge a watercolor painting for doing what it does best. How easy it was, then, to replace key words in that sentence: It would be silly to judge a mind for doing what it does best. There’s a fascinating thing that happens when we create something that resonates so profoundly with our inner experience. It’s like looking into a mirror, and seeing all your flaws, strengths, and features. Then, magically, we look at the image looking back at us, and see ourselves with fresh eyes… With compassionate eyes… With loving eyes. It’s this compassionate and loving experience that I was a stranger to for most of my life.

Watercolor painting opened up an avenue for self-expression, authenticity, and ultimately, self-love. And while I still dance with anxiety, my relationship to it has changed; I now realize that it’s just part of the masterpiece that is my fluid state of being.

Monica is an art therapist and career coach, based in Detroit, Michigan. She runs TheGrowthStudio.org, where she helps dreamers, doers, and change-makers find and live their calling.

The Joy Of Failure

By Smack Bang Designs

It’s our fault. We screwed it up from the start. We gave a word the wrong meaning. The dudes from Collins got it wrong. The peeps behind Merriam Webster missed the memo. Even the guys from Macmillan stuffed it up.

We made history of a word and left out a crucial part of its meaning. Don’t get me wrong, words have dual meanings and complex concepts for sure. But ‘Failure’ in its current definition has just about the solidity of Aeroplane jelly only 20 minutes into refrigeration. When I read the dictionary definition of failure, my brain does not compute. Because to me, the definition of failure should at least mention a thing or two about learning.

Failure is a state of inability to perform a normal function. Yes that’s correct, but what happens after that? Failure is a state of inability to perform a normal function to leverage change or learning. Better? I think so.

I understand that to some, failure feels like an ending, but I will never stop wholly believing that to fail is to leverage a point of change and learning. Failure is not only a steep and inspiring learning curve, but it is also a door to new experience, understanding and excellence. For those who receive failure with the right attitude, it can be an incredibly motivating kick-in-the-bum to do more, be more and get back on the dang horse. It can provide that perfect ‘a-ha!’ epiphany and draw us out of same-same. I would go as far as to say that failure is vital to our growth and continued approach to reaching our dreams!

    Some people trade learning curves in Mexican back alleys for cold hard cash and a black eye. Some people trade learning curves for multidimensional designer drugs and raving bush doofs. Some people trade learning curves for family crises with no happy endings. We all trade learning curves for heart-ache, heart-break and a heart-shake. Without these experiences of hardship or ‘failure’, where would we be?

    I currently trade learning curves with a 24/7 revolving door of work, heated encounters with the ATO, a bank balance that constantly mocks me and being a young leader with a lot still to learn.

    Some days I’m in love with what I do for the sheer joy of creating and watching my vision come to life.

    Other days I wait anxiously to find out if something I’ve emailed off has reached the hands of a happy customer who appreciates the work, because if not, obviously I have failed as a human being.

    Other days I frump around because my latest marketing activity seemed to flop faster than an Adam Sandler blockbuster. Then of course there are the dark days where I close my laptop and consider becoming a greenskeeper.

    Like most people, I swing between various emotional states. And when I say swing, I mean a full-blown pendulum action – just ask my darling boyfriend. But even in my lowest of lows, my pitch black days when it feels like all I am is a 6-foot hot mess of epic failure, I still know, deep down in my anxiety-riddled heart, that right in that moment, I’m learning something.
    Think about your absolute worst-case scenario. That time you positively longed to melt into the ground below you and die a thousand deaths before gouging out your eyeballs with a teaspoon. When the taste of your perceived failure was so acidic that you couldn’t stand it. And ask yourself, 1. Can you handle it? and 2. Can you learn from it? The answer, will almost always be yes.

    Sometimes you need to hit the bottom of the bathroom floor to find the gemstones. While it can be agonising to endure and wrought with emotion, it’s important to allow yourself the freedom to fail. Often, the very act of failing – the mechanics of the process – reminds you how to muster the courage to see the silver lining in everything (cos just about anything is better than how you’re feeling in the pit!)

    It’s in those dark moments, we need to get all bootcamp bad-ass on ourselves and force ourselves to get back up again. In life, and most certainly in business, real strength means picking yourself back up and trying one more time.

    Even after humiliation, anger and pain.

    Even after your 28th hard drive crashes into eternity with your holy grail of files.

    Even after the phone call politely parting ways with your services.

    Even after the revelation that you’ve missed the cut off to submit your work for a coveted award.

    Up you get, on your feet and face the flame. Stronger, wiser, and more determined than ever.

    You might make a risky business move and end up falling flat on your face. You might pour in your heart and soul into an idea only to find out that there is no market for it. Or perhaps your investment deal that looked oh-so-promising turns sour and leaves you for dead. The book deal crashes and burns. The new manager doesn’t last. The client hates your work.

    You feel like the star of an ‘epic fail’ Youtube montage.

    They don’t come up with monotonous cliches for nothing. For doesn’t kill you really will make you stronger, because when you try your best and learn from the rest, you never really fail at all. So welcome failure with open arms and a new perspective on what it means for your future!

This post originally appeared on Smack Bang Design but has been republished here with permission. For more great life advice visit their website.

Overworked: How To Survive When You’ve Overdone It

By Smack Bang Design

'Are these people on crack?!’ was the first thought that came to mind as I read the blog title, ‘How to achieve a work/life balance in three easy steps’.

Three easy steps and the key to happiness, balance and sweet apple pie is in your hands? Sure, and I’m a five-time world pole vaulting champion.

As I continued, it came as no surprise that the blog post didn’t deliver me the sacred position of the Holy Grail and open the heavens above to let me into a world of enlightenment. It did however, make me think about the never ending tug-of-war between ambition and mental clarity and what effect being overworked takes on our wellbeing.

As a business owner juggling 3 businesses, I’ve spent some time in the hellish pits of burn-out. Not the most charming place I’ve visited, but I’m grateful to have been there, done that and bought the tee-shirt. Those moments of complete and utter burn-out make me grateful for the (rare) weekday swims in the ocean and the sometimes late starts — chai in hand, dog at feet. Those moments have taught me to be grateful for the ebbs and flows of busyness and to be patient with myself and my life. I now know what serious stress looks like (as I’m sure we all do), and can flag the warnings signs with myself much sooner these days.

Even since I was a little girl, I used to tell my mum that I didn’t want to go to sleep because it was a ‘waste of time’. I’ve always been a Type A personality that prides itself on ‘doing’ rather than being. I’ve spent a huge part of my life thinking I have to do all the things, all the time. Things really hit a feverish pitch when I launched my first business baby, this thing I call Smack Bang Designs. And we all know how that goes: I began creating more work for myself than I’d ever be able to accomplish and there was a LOT to learn — tax to deal with, staff to pay, clients to dazzle, an overloaded inbox to have panic attacks over, social media posts to be scheduled, phone calls to return, clients to tend to, blog posts to write, invoices to be sent, money to make, products to update, and parking fines to be paid. The to-do list was endless and it always seems the more work you do, the more work you create.

More recently than I’d like to admit, I went through a period of time where I had about 5 or 6 meetings a day. My calendar was disgustingly colourful and my mind a mess. I’d booked my dog walker to come into the studio and take my pup for a walk. She rocked up about an hour later and I was so overwhelmed and overworked that in the space of 60 minutes I’d both:

a) forgotten my own name, and
b) thought she was a client and invited her in for a coffee and to talk about her ‘project’. 

Luckily she was gracious, understanding and thought the whole thing was hilarious. My team still haven’t let me live that one down.

What is a requirement for success is that you, as a founder, give a damn about everything. Which is great, beautiful in fact… but also pretty goddamn tiring after a while. I guess the thing is, I am so passionate about what I do and love what I do so much, that I could work around the clock til the early hours of the morning and feel fulfilled, great, groovy in fact. But there is one small problem — I am at war with my mind and my body. Whilst my mind says, ‘Keep going, this is fun, hallelujah let’s throw back espresso shot #7 and get it cracking!’, my body screams ‘Holy hell girl, slow down!’.

Of course building a business requires hard work, blood, sweat and a little too often, tears. Of course you have to commit to the cause, put in the work and make it happen. Of course you have to stay back, learn html via Youtube clips and live on bad Vietnamese food for a few years. But often the result of slogging it out day after day, week after week, and not prioritising your wellbeing, is a big rude shock that slaps us in the face one morning when we just can’t actually get out of bed. No-one can go full throttle forever, unless you’re the Energiser Bunny (hint — that thing is a fictional advertising success story).

So, how the HELL do you survive when even your coffee needs a coffee? I don’t claim to know everything. In fact, I don’t even really claim to know anything… but here’s what I’ve found helps to get some healthy perspective back into my life (hello, Tropical Holiday. And hello to you, too, Argentinian Malbec).

    I’d really love to meet the person who decided that the majority of us have to work five days a week with only two day left for adventure and fun. I’d high five them. In the face, with scalding hot iron. As business owners, we often forget that we actually do control our own time, and it’s within our power to apportion it best. Take a load off and maybe even take a day?
    This is a hard task to master, but when you close your laptop, simultaneously close the tabs in your brain. I’ve become really great at switching off when I need to. I feel like my mind is either blissfully calm or resembles a hellscape by Edvard Munch.
    You only have 24 hours in each day. Don’t try to fit in 100 tasks. Just focus on your rule of 3. Slash every non-urgent to-do off your list and just do the bare minimum for a week. Even if you technically have more time in the day, and you feel like you can keep working into the night, eventually your brain bites back and does that thing where it just says “piss off, Tess” and throws in the towel.
    It can’t all be doom and gloom, right? Maybe you have a really epic team. Or a really supportive business partner. Or the loveliest, most reassuring husband at home. Or just a dog who can listen to all your problems and not talk back? As much as you can, try to focus on the bright spots in your day.
    Walk away from your life. Even if it’s just for a few days. Escape is good for the soul. We put ourselves under so much pressure and sometimes the best way to vent that pressure is to pop the lid, let the steam out, and go someplace else for a little while.
    Set an autoresponder and drop offline. We’ll miss you, but we won’t die if you don’t write back to our email. It takes a bucketload of self control, but taking a day off your emails might just give you the time and space you need to recalibrate.
    Take five minutes to sit quietly, calmly and peacefully. Breathe deeply and mindfully. Maybe you meditate. Maybe you listen to the sounds. Maybe you just stare at the wall and wish you were someplace else. Either way, sit still, and learn the art of being, not doing.
    Rid your vocab of the word ‘should’, it is toxic. We place expectations of ourselves that we “should do this, should do that”. Worse still when you’re your own boss — the expectations you set for yourself are intense and often a bit OTT. Drop ‘should’ like you used to drop your Nokia 3310 when mum would check in on you in bed on a school night.

This post originally appeared on Smack Bang Design and has been republished here with permission. To check out more design and sanity saving tips check out their website.

4 Time Management Strategies for Writers, Artists and Creatives

By Elaine Calloway

Ah, time management—that elusive thing we attempt to harness but somehow it eludes us. Like a butterfly refusing to be caught in the net, time escapes from us at a rapid rate. When we do finally take a breath and glance at the clock, we think, “Where did all the time go? How can the day be almost over when I haven’t gotten much done?”

I’ve said these things plenty of times. And I’ve beaten myself up and sworn I would never get on social media first thing in the morning again. And guess what? Some days, I still do. But I’m getting better.

Below are some tips to let time work FOR you, rather than against you.

1.     Determine your “Best Self” time.
Figure out when your brain is at its most alert, least stressed and ready to work. For some people, it’s first thing in the morning before the day’s chaos pushes its way into our minds. For others, it’s late at night when everyone else has gone to sleep.
Determine your best time and then GUARD it with everything you have. If you’re more refreshed in the morning, get up an hour earlier to tackle your goals. If you’re a night owl, let the kids listen to a children’s story audiobook an hour before their bedtime, and then use that hour to get a jumpstart on your plans.
Do the essential chores during a time when you are not at your mental peak. Laundry, dishes, cooking, etc. actually allows your creative brain to think, which helps you when you do sit down at your most productive time.

2.     Postpone Social Media.
For your prime creative time, stay off social media. I know, this one is a struggle. It’s so easy to just grab that morning cup of Java and click the button to check email, read through some funnies on Facebook, check Twitter, etc.
Here’s the thing I’ve learned, though. Doing what seems like a relaxing task actually isn’t relaxing. The information (even the cute kitten photos on Facebook) gets into your brain and leaves less room for your most creative self to flourish.
There’s a fantastic book I’m reading called Your Brain at Work by David Rock. One thing he mentions is that the creative space in our brain, the prefrontal cortex, fills up quickly. He compares the amount of brainpower able to handle creativity to a performance stage. Once you have the social media, the worries of the day, the thoughts about what to fix for breakfast, etc. creeping onto the stage, then there is less room for your book, painting, or other endeavor.
We need to remember that the stage is a finite space, and we must choose who has the right to be onstage at any given moment. The author, David Rock, gives great recommendations on how we must manage our “stage” every day in order to be most efficient.
So remember: Social media is a great outlet, but only AFTER you finish your creative tasks.

3.     Keep a Notebook for Distractive Thoughts.
Our brains know how to distract us, to keep us from achieving our goals. We must manage our thoughts to be able to be our most effective. Keeping a notebook handy is ideal for this.
Whenever I sit down to continue writing one of my books, the inevitable happens: I get ideas for other books. This is a common procrastination technique, but I’ve learned how to tackle it and keep working. By keeping a notebook nearby, I jot down the idea that won’t let go, and then I immediately get back to work.
Jotting down the distractive idea does two things. First, it gets the pesky thought out of our heads and onto paper so we can continue working. Second, it gets the thought off our “stage” so we are free to choose what other work to put on our stage as we move toward our goal (be it painting, writing, photography, etc.)

Managing Your Time

4.     Use the Pomodoro Technique.
I love how popular this technique, and the phone apps for it, has become. Years ago, the most prolific writers recommended using an egg timer to time several writing sessions of 20-40 minutes. The Pomodoro has taken this a step further.

So, what’s the Pomodoro Technique?
It’s basically a timer that allows you to work in short increments, taking a break between sessions. Our brains are able to focus and work more productively because we know the task time limit will be short.

  • First, set the Pomodoro timer for 25 minutes.
  • Work exclusively on your task until the timer rings.
  • Take a 5-minute break and stretch.
  • Set the Pomodoro for another 25 minutes, followed by another 5-minute break.
  • After 4 Pomodoro sessions (2 hours), take a longer break for 20-30 minutes.
  • Repeat as desired.

You can download apps for the Pomodoro online or for your phone. I use Clockwork Tomato for Android, which is a free app. Browse the Google Play store here.

Using these 4 strategies for time management will help you stay focused and get more creative tasks done. Building a habit takes 30 days, and practicing these techniques will help you form good habits for time management.

Soon, you’ll be able to hold that elusive butterfly of time management in your hand. And the world will thank you for the creative gifts you have to offer!

Elaine Calloway is an Amazon bestselling author of paranormal fiction/ghost stories and a speaker on self-publishing and how to become a successful author. She has several online courses available for authors: The Writer’s Bootcamp – Your Complete Guide to Writing Your Book in 30 Days, and Marketing for Authors / How to Gain More Readers. When she’s not teaching self-publishing, writing or sleeping, she enjoys hanging out with friends and family and her very spoiled black-lab mix. Connect with her online at www.howtoselfpublishyournovel.com or www.elainecalloway.com.



Love Yourself First And Everything Else Flows Into Balance

By Sinead Dunne

Stop everything else you are doing right now, shut down all those distracting tabs you have in your web browser. And pay attention to these words you will read. Your self-care is the most important priority right now. This saying “your health is your wealth” is not just a saying but a true fact that most entrepreneurs ignore.

There is always just one more thing that needs to be done. Who has time for a relaxing bath right? Even if you had time for a bath you would not stop thinking about your to-do list. And self care is just something else to be added to that endless list.

Burn out
Time and time again I have treated entrepreneurs for burn out. Who work tirelessly on their business till late at night. Or get up earlier before the family wakes up, just to get some extra work done.

Your business is you. Just remember if you burn out then there is no business. The same way you invest in your business to keep it running you need to be added to the invest column.

More focus & energy
So I ask you how you would feel to have, more focus, more energy, more clarity and even get your mojo back and be a siren in business and life? By adding some self care to your priority list you can have all this. And you might be surprised that you actually get more done in less time.

Entrepreneurs’ with a strong self care mindset are more productive in their work. They attract more opportunities. Why? Because putting your own needs first make you happier and healthier. There is nothing more attractive in a person that is HAPPY.

In business we learn so much about mindset. The main focus is on confidence, sales, marketing and even money. The first thing we should learn is our self care. When we value ourselves this shows up in our businesses and life.

Self care does not have to be time consuming by just adding in some of my top tips you can reap the benefits fast.

My Top Tips:

  • 10-20 minutes mediation (there are lots of guided ones on You Tube if you find this difficult).
  • Eat regularly three main meals with some small healthy snacks in between. Eat away from your desk. Taking time out to enjoy your meals and chewing well. We waste most of our energy on digestion; remember that our stomachs do not have teeth. When you do not chew foods till it is like liquid we give a stomach more work to do and this wastes energy. Chew well and gain more energy!
  • Get out for a daily walk. Even if it is just a short one, we need fresh air and vit.d from the sunshine even if it is in the winter. Some of my clients have gone days without leaving there house.
  • Take seasonal detoxes. We become more focused and clearer by giving our bodies a clean out. There a several types of detoxes chose one that suits your needs.
  • Add some extra nutrition in your diet by having a smoothie you can get so many nutrients in one serving. I like to call mine my cup of health. I add my good fats and omegas in to my smoothie (we need to keep our brains nourished)
  • Juicy juices just go down a treat. A glass of juice power! Your body has to do no work here, just enjoy all the benefits. When we juice all the hard work is done for us by the juicer. We get instant nutrition with no energy waste.
  • Move your body! Exercise even if it is only twenty minutes a day just move. There are plenty of videos of home routines with no fancy equipment needed.
  • Take a nice long hot bath with candles burning, relaxing music playing and some up lifting essential oils burning (this just sounds so seductive).
  • When you invest in yourself you are making an investment in your life and business.

                                    As in the words of Loreal “because your worth it”

Sinead Dunne is a mindset/health/business coach for new mompreneurs who want to uplevel their life and business. Through her totally addictive blogs, 1-1 coaching, free challenges, high energy online courses and face book group. She’s here to show you how to get more money, be the boss in YOUR business and live a sexier, healthier, happier lifestyle while kicking fear in the ass! She believes that you can have it all.

And when she is not mentoring momprenuers and manifesting, you can find her: hanging with her family, living the beach life in warrior pose, indulging in a tasty green juice or on Facebook.