Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Inside the lines or on the edges?

I remember that I once liked colouring books or, at least, I remember enjoying colouring with the kids I was babysitting. There was something satisfying in choosing colours and playing with texture and pressure, often while having a conversation. Colouring inside the lines is often scorned, but the lines make it easy to relax into colour.

My children had a different kind of childhood, and I remember only a few colouring books, mostly used as samples of how to draw superheros. My children learned to sketch early, and I encouraged them to take sketch books to picnics and parks and art galleries. They delighted in making the lines and sometimes even in filling them with colour.

If someone else gives you the edges, you will probably bump into them. You will probably find that your colours move over the lines here and there. You will probably feel constrained. The problem may not be lines. It may be lines that don't provide you with the shape you need.

Because when you make your own lines, you can be thoroughly, joyfully engaged in getting the shape and thickness just right. And if you choose to colour, you will do that thoroughly and joyfully, too. You will sketch and sketch, just bits here and there, preparing for a work that will expand beyond the limits of the page.  You will begin to make sketches so that you can make yourself.

Even the sketches that fit in the middle of the page reach beyond it to the person who draws and the person who looks. The third dimension is the one without an edge.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Unstuck: Finding the End of the Tape

Have you ever grabbed a roll of tape and been unable to find the end?  You twirl the tape around and run your finger over the surface to find the edge that will allow you to actually unwind the tape you need. Nothing is as stuck as a roll of tape whose end is so tightly wound that it is almost impossible to find.

Almost impossible. But you know there's an edge there and you know you need the tape. So even though the first time around it appeared to be seamless, you twirl it again. This time maybe you look with both your eyes and your fingertip.  In a hurry, you press too hard and you miss the difference that marks the edge.  You still know there must be an edge and you still need the tape. So you take another breath, slow down, work with a lighter touch.  When you find the edge, you tease it away from the rest of the tape.

If you move too fast, the edge breaks. You know where it is, but you still can't make use of the tape that is right in front of you, the tape you hold in your hand.  So you take another breath, slow down, work with a lighter touch.

The more tightly wound a problem is, the more patience it takes to find the edge that will unravel it. This is especially true when you notice that what is tightly wound is somewhere in your core.  You breath around this too-tight feeling. Your stomach flattens, but not in a good way. You are becoming the problem that you are trying to solve.

Rushing won't help. Force won't help. Cleverness won't help.

What does help is patience. You take another breath, slow down, work with a lighter touch.  Because you know there is an edge and you know you need what it will unwind for you.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The simplest tip for feeling better and doing better

There are miles of books on self-development shelves telling people how to improve themselves, overcome problems and generally become more perfect or more satisfied (or both). We really, really want to know the secret: that one thing that would make the difference and allow us to magically get what we want and then like it when we get it.

Or do you? Do you want it enough to take a really simple action, over and over, that I guarantee will change how you feel and how you perform?  Yes. This is a dare.

Here is the action. Whenever you become aware of not liking something about yourself or your performance, think of someone you actually know who has a quality you would like better.  Don't analyze; don't mimic; don't beg them for their secrets.  Just think about that one person and your actual interactions with her/him when s/he was demonstrating that quality.

As you focus all your attention on that person who has the quality and can do that thing, be curious about all of that person: how they stand and breathe and move and their expressions and the sound of their voice. Gather all the information you have stored about that person having that quality.  Then let it go.

And go on with your day.

If you require scientific precision, write down the problem before you start and set an alarm so you can check in with the problem one hour and several hours and one day later.  When you do, just be curious. At first you might think nothing is different, but something is always different. Find out what it is.

And repeat.