Using Feelings to Shut Down Overthinking

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You’d think my decision to pursue my childhood dream of becoming a “real” artist would be something to celebrate. But it’s been just the opposite.

The pressure was unbearable. As soon as I staked my claim, my internal drill sergeant chimed in. Every time I even thought about painting, he’d pipe up. “Ok, this is IT. This one HAS to be great!” he said. 

Painting became a chore, like an endless march up a very steep hill. 

I became increasingly angry at myself. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the mornings, and then didn’t want to go to sleep at night. With the exception of high school, it was the worst period of self-loathing I’ve ever experienced. At one point, I found myself thinking, No wonder Van Gogh thought cutting off his own ear was a good idea. (Don’t worry, my ears were never in danger.)

Eventually I landed on the sad epiphany that my art practice couldn’t support the weight of my own expectations.

“OK, I’ll make art with no intention of ever selling it,” I told myself. But nothing changed. I’d admitted that art is important to me. And knowing that was enough to keep my unrealistic expectations of myself alive. 

This all changed last week. I’ve been working with Artist Mastery Guide @mariannemitchellart. As Marianne critiqued one of my paintings, she said something about how the best art makes you feel



I’d forgotten all about feel. 

Then I remembered an exercise from an online course I’d taken from @jenlouden. Jen had had us do an exercise where we used feel to overcome procrastination. She’d asked us to remember a time when the creative work came easily and to submerge ourselves in the memory of how that felt as a way to jump start our work.

Adapting the exercise, I asked myself: How do you want your art to feel

I flashed to the beginning of my junior year of high school when I’d just passed my drivers’ test. Mom had loaned me her station wagon and I’d driven a friend to our school’s Friday night football game. I felt cool and stylish driving myself, wearing new Docksiders and a preppy striped sweater. The sun was going down and the world glowed. My skin tingled at the chill in the air and I inhaled the scent of falling leaves and the wool of my sweater.  

I felt free and content—like anything was possible. Both inner peace and karmic delight. 

But the really magical thing was that just remembering the feeling enabled me to re-experience the feeling.

And then I painted. Not what I thought, but what I felt.

Instantly, painting was fun again. 

I wonder what else I can apply this technique to?

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