Making art can be confronting if you feel your work doesn’t live up to your high expectations. You may, especially as a beginner, find that because your expectations are so high you immediately feel you’re failing. It doesn’t help that we downplay the importance of consistent practice over time, expecting ourselves to get better too quickly. On the Hurry Slowly podcast, Tami Forman explains “We kind of collectively hate the answer that things take longer and that time is required to produce things.”
In the episode (titled What Gets Measured, Gets Managed), Forman talks about performance and how inefficient time can be to measure it: “It is extrodinarily difficult to measure performance, both quality of performance and quantity of output. And so a time clock it feels objective and again goes back to this idea of the factory floor where literally time equalled product. The amount of time you spent on the floor was the amount of product that you created. And we haven’t come up with something better.”
The idea of busywork can make us feel like we’re achieving something, we’re earning our badge for “I worked hard today,” but it may be that you’re not actually getting any important work done. It’s familiar for us to believe time equals output, “I think this is why we struggle so much with the time thing and why we all sort of gravitate to it because it feels very objective and measurable, how much time I spent in the office is how hard I worked. And it feel imposed upon us in a way that’s comfortable.”
While practice over time is an important key in improving your art performance, so is the power of playing, taking thing slower, pottering around, resting and letting your ideas slowly hatch.
To embrace rest, slowness and not-doing, to unbusy and schedule time in advance to recharge seems counter-intuitive in a world where there’s always something that needs doing. You could tick something off your to-do list or search the internet endlessly, but the to-do’s will never be done and not taking time to unplug and switch off from work is actually holding you back.
In this interview, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, explains “It seems self-evident that more work equals more output. This is true of machines, so why shouldn’t it be true of us? Well it’s not. We have adopted industrial-age attitudes, and they don’t really work for us. There is also a long-standing assumption that not working is morally suspect.”
Is not-working laziness? Does our culture frown upon idleness because succeeding and accomplishing is more desirable and is an outward arbitrary indicator of ‘success in life’? We’re certainly taught at a young age to work hard – to keep your nose to the grindstone – and eventually receive a reward. But as Soojung-Kim Pang points out “Work and rest are actually partners… You can’t have the high without the better you are at resting, the better you will be at working.”
Rest is overlooked in a modern world of productivity and hyperconnection to technology. Why do less when you can do more? But more does not necessarily equal success, satisfaction or contentment (most likely long term it will bring overwhelm, anxiety and burnout). And if incorporating rest into your daily life improves your work life, then let go of the reigns a little and regularly schedule off time.
“I am a lot more conscious now when I am in line at the bank or have a couple of free minutes; rather than pulling up my phone and checking e-mail, I will let my mind wander. I think it’s a good discipline and I think I have become better at crafting those moments that invite insight. And I carry a little notebook and pen all the time now.” – Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
“It seems obvious, but when did you last take time out of your busy day simply to sit and think?” Asks Greg McKeown in Essentialism. “I’m talking about deliberately setting aside distraction-free time in a distraction-free space to do absolutely nothing other than to think.”
With everyone walking around with a portable computer in their back pocket, constant distraction is at your finger tips every single second of the day. It now takes more willpower and intention NOT to touch your phone when you’re bored than it does to be fully immersed in your daily surroundings during ‘waiting’ periods. Distraction or entertainment – however you wish to frame it – allows you to soothing escape whenever you feel the pang of boredom. McKeown argues that people don’t enjoy being bored “But by abolishing any change of being bored we have also lost the time we used to have to think and process.”
Zooming out from our smart phones, the ‘busyness’ epidemic is currently rife via the rat race, multitasking and being available to everyone at all times, to name a few. Jonathan Fields in How to Live a Good Life explains “By the time we reach adulthood, we’re so distracted by the pull of speed, connectivity, expectations, and rules, we lose the ability to see and experience what’s right in front of us. We become 99 percent unaware, and in doing so we lose the ability to choose and to act rather than react.” Fields suggests mindfulness as a antidote to this lack of awareness. “Mindfulness is about slowing down, noticing and seeing what is really happening in front of you in this moment, without the anxiety of expectation or the haze of regret.”
Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi in Creativity echoes the idea of slowing down: “You should just indulge in the luxury of reflection for its own sake. Whether you intend it or not, new ideas and conclusions will emerge in your consciousness anyway – and the less you try to direct the process the more creative they are likely to be.”
Regularly taking pauses to stop and think will also long term allow you to avoid future burnout. When you get completely cooked you’re forced to take a giant break – one that makes up for all the times your subconscious asked for a break and you ignored it. Save yourself that cooked feeling and allow yourself to regularly slow down.
What if not taking action in the form of forced decisions and ‘busy-work’ for the sake of feeling productive, is actually the best thing you could do right now? Instead of the hustle and forced striving, you went with the flow and followed your curiosities gently, with no sense of rush?
Reading, dreaming, talking about your area of interest is all focus and holds so much power. We underestimate the value in thinking more consciously about how you want to show up in the world and what you want to create. It’s enough to be present and gently focusing. When it’s time to take action, it will feel exciting and you’ll do it naturally.
What could we create is there were no limits or rules and the goal was to follow your joy and pass that message onto others?
“You might spend your whole life following your curiosity and have absolutely nothing to show for it at the end – except one thing. You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you passed your entire existence in devotion to the noble virtue of inquisitiveness. And that should be more than enough for anyone to say that they lived a rich and splendid life.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic.