LESSONS FROM THE GYM: The SAID Principle

Challenges can be just enough to keep us moving forward
Challenges can be just enough to keep us moving forward

Accommodation can be our friend, or our enemy…

(5 minute read)

More lessons about life, and art, overheard at the gym this week.

A client was amazed at how much better they felt after only a few days of physical therapy. The therapist working with him said something that caught my interest, describing a well-known principle in the field: The SAID Syndrome.

Posited by a Hungarian physicial, Dr. Hans Selye over a hundred years ago, SAID stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. That is, our body, given any form of stressors (biomechanical or neurological), will specifically adapt to that stress. (There are now more modern acronyms and phrasing similar in tone, but this is the one I overheard.)

That can be a good thing, a neutral thing, or a bad thing.

For example, if all we do we sit all day, month after month, year after year, our bodies will adapt to that. We may lose our ability or inclination to do any physical activity, or worse.

If we train by running laps, we may get fit and strong, but it won’t necessarily mean we prepared for lap swimming. The two activities use different muscles. We have to cross-train in both activities, in order to get better at both.

If we gently, slowly, challenge our body, all our muscles, and our mind, they will adapt to that, too.  We can challenge our body in different ways, too.

We can strive to go from simple motions to complex motions. From moving slow to moving faster. To go from using a low level of force to higher force. To walking/running a short distance to a longer distance.

We can get stronger, faster, more flexible, more resilient, more persistent.

How does this apply to making, marketing, and even selling our art?

If we get discouraged with our sales, we could slump into our sad place and believe no one wants our work. Or, if sales matter, we can experiment with shows and fairs until we find the ones where we find an audience. We can approach stores or galleries to represent us. We can use an online sales venue or sell from our website.

If our art isn’t quite up to snuff, we could keep our blinders on and do nothing about it. Or we can explore ways to get better: Use better tools, or experiment with a new media that might suit us better, or expand our skillset with classes/books/online tutorials.

If we feel like failures, if we believe our work of our heart doesn’t matter, we could walk away from the work we love. Or we can seek out a supportive community, realizing if it makes us happy, that can be “good enough”. We can ask for input about how we could do better, whether it’s our technique, our color palette, our subject matter, etc. (I overheard one local artist declaring if they never painted another vineyard, they would be totally okay with that.) (We live in wine country. Guess what most landscapes are?)

Short story: For our work to change, WE have to change. For our skills to get better, we have to do the work. For our attitude to change, we have to explore what our goals really are, what is important to us—and practice that mindset. To find our audience, we have to believe there IS one for us out there somewhere, and do whatever we can to get our work out into the world.

This effort doesn’t have to be a major shift, either. Some of us can do that, maybe. (We moved across the country to California five years ago, to reboot my partner’s career.) But usually, small incremental steps, moves, and changes will suffice. Otherwise, we could injure ourselves by trying to do too much, too soon, too fast.

One of my favorite challenges I’ve seen (which I haven’t tried yet, myself) is the 100-day daily challenge: Painters a single small work every day. Collage artists create an ATC (artist trading card) every day. Writers write a page a day. Then share it with our audience. I’ve seen these so many times, and it’s jaw-dropping how this simple exercise seems to not only improve the person’s skillset, but also set them on an entirely new journey, one they couldn’t see until they tried this.

My goals moving forward are pretty manageable so far. Keep a happy heart. Do the work. Get “bigger” in a way that’s manageable for me, and let myself be the judge of what “bigger” is. Trying the occasional new thing, whether it’s materials, subject matter, color palette, venues, etc.

Even my story, which still means so much to me, has evolved over the years. The heart of it is still there. But as I’ve faced spiritual and emotional challenges about my place in the world, my story has grown: A woman artist finding a place in the world, a place in prehistory and more modern history. Finding the medium that let me tell that story, then adding new media to the mix. (First fiber, then jewelry, then prints and sculpture, now assemblage.) Expanding my color palette from “only what we’d find in the Lascaux Cave paintings” to what those ancient artists would have used if they’d had the access. (Indigo/lapis blue! Aqua! Turquoise!) Expanding my skill set. (Refinishing antique boxes, creating museum-inspired mounts for display.) In the process, my definition of “creative work” has gotten bigger and stronger, too.

If everything is working for you, then the “challenges” can be just enough to keep us moving forward, or comfortable with staying in the same place. Maybe we can share our techniques and knowledge with others, so they can take our original journey and move onto their own. Maybe we can encourage other artists by making recommendations for a gallery that might be a good fit for them. Or we could assist them with finding their own powerful stories.

Or we simply share conversations overheard at the gym, sharing a little insight in our lives, for others who just might need to hear them, today.

How do YOU challenge yourself? Have you had a successful experience with challenges, like the “make a ‘whatsits’ every day for a 100 days”? Where are you stuck, and did this article get you thinking about an intriguing challenge, just for you? I would love to hear about it, and I bet others here would, too!

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