Why Being Creative is A Lot Like Swimming in Ireland // Blog
[This topic came to me as I started thinking about my artist residency starting next week *eek. If you haven’t heard of it yet, I’m going home to Ireland for the entire month auf August – and because I know how many of you love Ireland and either miss it, or would really like to see it….I’ve decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign to help me turn a vacation into an artist residency – dedicated to bringing Ireland home to YOU! In exchange for your support, I will take you on my month-long adventure and make you feel like you are there with me – except you won’t feel as damp as you would in real life! 🙂 Click here and have a look at the perks that my sponsors get, maybe there is something you’d like me to bring you from Ireland!]
f you’ve ever been to an Irish beach, you know that there are roughly two types of people you will encounter there: Those who are wearing three layers of clothing, wrapped in a blanket, hugging a hot cuppa of something [+ sand] – and those who are running into the ocean in their bathing suits, screaming all the way.
The people I want to talk about today are those in bathing suits, or possibly underwear, running into the water with crazy eyes and a fierce war cry. Because there is a lot that Creatives can learn from these people.
The truth is, and I talk from experience here, nobody just goes swimming in Ireland. With water temperatures below 16° on most days, and some weird algae floating around, you have to be really sure you want to do it, and even then, it’s never easy.
However, if you really want to go swimming, there is a way of doing it that makes it easier and that I think can be very valuable for Creatives who struggle with consistently showing up to do their creative work.
Rather than standing on the beach, nursing your tenth cup of coffee, wondering how it would be if you actually had the courage to go swimming, I want to see you running into the waves, knowing how life-changing this experience is. [If this resonates with you, you might want to have a look at another post I wrote on that topic]
After that, you can have as many cups of tea as you want + the permission to gloat and feel all smug about yourself.
So, without further ado, let me tell share the three lesson any creative can learn from those who dare swim in the Irish sea!
1// Know Your Why
When you go swimming in Ireland, its best if you are very clear on why you want to do it. Because, and let’s be honest here, why would you want to do this to yourself if you didn’t have a really good reason? What makes this experience worth that your body will feel like one big brain freeze for the first two minutes?
The same could be asked of every creative: Why would you want to go through the pain of creating, when there are so many easier ways to pass your time? Binging on makeup tutorials on YouTube, even though you never wear makeup, could be one way, for example.
So, why do you want be the person running towards the water like a mad person, if you could stand on the beach eating questionable SANDwiches instead? Why is creating important to you? Why can’t you just be happy watching other people create and save yourself all the misery and guilt you’re dragging around with you?
Asking yourself these questions is very important, because your why is the foundation and the motivation that will carry you through the fear of the blank canvas, the blank page, that awkward moment with yourself and the voices in your head.
2// Draw A Line
No matter how often you’ve swam in Ireland, and I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, it’s always going to be hard at first. Every time I go back to Kerry and face my very first swim of the holidays, I feel paralysed by my fear of the cold. If my uncle hadn’t come up with a great system to combat this feeling of dread and “nuh uh, no way,” I probably would never go swimming anymore.
His trick is to draw a line in the sand, behind which we all gather with our backs to the water, and count to three. Once we’ve counted to three, and our minds have been distracted from what we are about to do, we turn around and just run towards the water without stopping.
Many Creatives experience something similar to my initial feeling of paralysis, when it comes to the creative process: They want to do their creative work, but they can’t seem to make themselves do it. Even though we spend every car ride thinking about the main character of our novel, or how what happened at dinner would be a great blog post, it can happen that we get stuck in that phase of collecting, without ever moving on to the doing phase.
If you find yourself collecting ideas of things you’d like to do or make – I like to call these pockets of excitement – but never “feel like” following through on them, then what you need to do is draw a line in the sand. You need to create a trigger for your creative work that redirects your thoughts from the big goal to the first baby step of getting there.
You don’t need to go running for 30 minutes, all you need to do is tie your running shoes.
You don’t need to write your novel, all you need to do is open your word document.
You don’t need to have the painting exhibited in a gallery; all you need to do is take out your paints.
Decide on a trigger (meditating, lighting a candle, journaling, making a cup of coffee) that will get you in the right mindset for what you want to do that you always do before starting your creative work. This will help you redirect your focus away from the thoughts that are causing you fear/discomfort and towards an action that is immediately doable.
Once you have established your trigger as a habit, the rest will take care of itself. You will tie your shoelaces and go for a run; you will open your word document and write an entire page; you will take out your paints and lose yourself in the process for hours.
3// Build Trust
When you haven’t done something for a while, or aren’t used to doing it on a regular basis, it’s only natural to feel unsure about yourself and your abilities to successfully do it. This is because you haven’t built a level of trust in yourself and your ability to positively deal with the discomfort you’ll find yourself in – be this swimming in freezing water, or sitting down to write 500 words.
Deep down, you don’t trust that you will be able to persevere when things get hard.
With creative work [and swimming in anything other than a bathtub full of hot water], the truth is, it’s always going to be hard to start and stay consistent. Resistance is something that we all face, no matter how long we have been doing something.
However, and this is one of my favourite thoughts from Steven Pressfield, it’s not that successful people don’t feel the same level of resistance we do, it’s just that they choose to deal with resistance differently: instead of giving in to it, they learn to overcome it.
By showing up and facing your creative process over and over again, you will train yourself to trust that you are not only capable of doing it, but that you always feel happy that you did afterwards. That’s why a making your creative work a habit is very important, as it is an active way of building that trust in yourself and your abilities. Similar to muscle exercise, the more repetitions you do, the easier it will become for you to do them over time. If you manage to show up and write for ten minutes when you said you would, it will allow you to trust in your own word and credibility.
Once this trust is established, you won’t be having discussions in your head about finding time or motivation to create anymore.
Like at the end of my holidays, when turning around to run into the ice cold water is a no-brainer, you will have overcome your fear so often at that point that you know you can do it and that you always feel better for doing so.
After writing this, I cannot wait to walk onto the beach in Kerry and draw a line in the sand – happy that I am not letting resistance come between me and the life I want to live. 🙂
So, how about you? Do you have any special tricks that you use to make starting your creative work easier? Please share in the comments below!
PS: I am going to Ireland on an artist residency this year
The Good Enough Creative
A lot of us have internalised beliefs that keep us miserable + secretly thinking that our emotional suffering is a necessary [and even romantic] part of the creative process.
It took me too long to realise how wrong this is, and it's why I've created this video series for you:
Enter your email address to receive my 5-Day video series via e-mail, and save yourself the grief of learning these lessons the hard way.