LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Building Strength

There are no “instant cures”, just building good, daily habits.
There are no “instant cures”, just building good, daily habits.

There are no “instant cures”, just building good, daily habits.

 (6 minute read)

 Another insight gained at the independent gym program at my favorite physical therapy facility.

On Monday, I overheard a conversation between a physical therapist and a client. I immediately thought, “Ooooh, that would make a good column!”

Yesterday, I couldn’t remember an important part of the “lesson”. I didn’t intend to go to the gym today. But then a) I found an article that related to a something the PT had said on Facebook, and b) I realized if I followed my own advice, I would go to the gym, deliver that newspaper article, and ask them for that lost component.

So here I am, with my exercise in for the day and a clear conscience, sharing the wisdom I overheard, get the “missing piece”, and share how it relates to our art biz.

The client in question felt 100% better after a few therapy sessions, and wanted to know why they had to come back in several months for a follow-up evaluation. The therapist replied, “Because during the actual therapy sessions, we work to a) alleviate your pain, and b) restore your range of motion. Then we provide you with follow-up exercises to help you strengthen the muscles involved. That can only take place with sustained healthy practices, i.e., actually doing those exercises!”

“But”, they added, “In 99% of our follow-ups, we find people don’t do those exercises. They don’t make time, or they forget, or feel fine and think they don’t have to do them anymore. And the problem comes back all too soon.”

That’s why they recommend clients who have finished therapy either fully commit to their exercise program, or sign up for the facility’s independent gym program. There, the PTs can monitor our progress, offer corrections if we’re “doing it wrong”, and adjust our plan as we improve. This is why I’ve maintained my gym program for over 5 years now, and made many new friends with the staff, and with other clients as well.

And if you’re a writer, like me, you can also gain incredible insights in our own “work of the heart”.

Here’s what occurred to me in that moment:

If we love what we do, and we’ve found our audience, and our work is selling like hotcakes, then clearly we’re doing it right. We can just keep doing the same thing, because it’s working.

But if we haven’t found our happy work/life/art/income balance, we may need to seek help to put that together.

When we either don’t love what we do (because we’ve focused purely on what sells vs. what makes it worthwhile emotionally/spiritually… when we haven’t found our audience… when our work isn’t selling….

Then it feels like we’re doing it wrong, or we’re simply not good enough. THAT is painful indeed!

If we improve our range-of-motion, if we reach out, step outside our comfort zone, then the pain begins to ease. We take classes to improve our skills. We explore ways to share our work in the world, so our audience can find us. We learn how to price our work, how to find the venues—shows, galleries, sales from our website, etc.—that will work for us.

But if we don’t strengthen our commitment to those strategies, if we don’t make that a daily practice, if we don’t regularly commit to marketing, practicing, connecting through our powerful story….

Then we’ll be back in the same place before long, wondering what the heck we’re doing wrong. Fretting about why it never seems to get better.

Just like our work techniques can’t get better unless we practice, practice, practice, we can’t keep our momentum going without commitment to our long-term goals: Finding our venues, finding our audience, and telling our story in ways that deepen our connection to potential and current customers. And to keep our commitment strong, we need to create daily practices (or at least weekly practices!)

It can be hard to create that momentum. We never know what “practice” will gain us the best results, or how long it will take. I’m here to tell you that just when it feels like our routine is ‘perfect’, life will intervene with another crisis, obstacle, challenge, or inconvenience. That’s life.

And yet…even without these distractions and setbacks, most of us (being human) “forget” to make time for even those simple things that will build our strength. We tell ourselves we don’t have time… (I finally realized that telling myself I “don’t have a minute” to floss was ridiculous. Once I had that insight, my new daily habit was solidly in place.) We say we did it for a while, but nothing changed. (We didn’t do it long enough, or perhaps we were doing it wrong.)

Our personal challenge, every day, is to just keep trying. To get back on the horse when we fall off. To persevere. To become resilient. To keep hope in our hearts. To keep moving forward.

What is something you can do regularly? Going to your studio and making your work, yes! But what else?

I have an “obligation” to write at least one column a week. I missed my deadline several years ago, with a bad habit of waiting until “the last minute” to turn in my column. My column didn’t run at all. I was so embarrassed, I’ve never missed one since. Knock on wood! Yes, I have an hour a week to write, and edit, and sometimes even to “illustrate”. I’m better at being early, or letting my editor know ahead of time if there’s a good reason I can’t hit my deadline. I don’t want to be a “problem” for my editor, nor my audience, ever again.

I sign up for the open studio tours and other local events that help build my biz. Recently, I did a small local, indoor show that only drew around five people last year. This year, I decided not to do it. But the host had featured my artwork in their marketing, so I felt I had to. And guess what? It was hugely successful! Tons of shoppers, and great sales for me. One customer said, “I saw your work last year at (some event) and I couldn’t stop thinking about it all year!” (Yes, they bought something for themselves, and two gifts for friends. Proving that art events aren’t always about making money TODAY.) So you can bet I’ll be doing that show, and others, in the years to come.

I strive to post something about my work regularly on social. I fail miserably, but I do enjoy it, and I just have to commit to doing it regularly. When I do, it’s so gratifying to hear the responses.

And I am committed to finding new galleries, soon, that might do well with my work, for me and for them.

What is a daily/weekly practice you can focus on with YOUR work? Don’t wait for New Year’s resolutions! Most of them are way too big in the first place, impossible to put into motion. Start by what you can accomplish in a few minutes, today. And tomorrow. And the “tomorrow” after that.

Share your own daily practice that helps your heart, your art, your story become stronger! I’d love to hear it, and I bet others will, too!

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more at Fine Art Views or my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com .

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #5: The Rules

Don't miss Luann Udell's next topic "Rules" in her series, "The Four Questions".
Don’t miss Luann Udell’s next topic “Rules” in her series, “The Four Questions”.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #5: The Rules

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Safety, and privacy, first!

 (5 minute read)

The biggest rule for your artist support group is, what happens in group, stays in group. So….

 Rule #1Safety and privacy.

They are “one rule” because they so closely relate to each other.

What people share in your group, especially during these sessions, it’s personal. Sometimes painful. It may feel embarrassing to share what holds you back, what we’re afraid of, sharing our failures or set-backs.

Hard enough to share, without worrying about it being shared with others.

It should remain private.

This means you must ask permission from that person to ask a question. You need permission to comment. You even need permission to talk with them about what they’ve shared, while you’re together. (“May I get more information on that situation you brought up earlier?”) And even when you’re not in the group! (“So, what you shared last week—may I talk with you about that?”)

And it means you should not be discussing it lightly with anyone else in your group, and definitely not with anyone outside your group.

Most of the time, people won’t mind giving you permission, especially if you’ve shown that you’re a good listener who consistently asks good questions and offers sound feedback.

But don’t assume. Ask.

Safety and privacy also mean, closed meetings. The only time our first group had a guest was, we hired Deborah to do a mini-observation of one of our sessions, to ensure we were doing it right. Her small but important course corrections were invaluable! But we all had to agree to that beforehand.

Rule #2: Smile!

Body language and eye contact are important for creating an atmosphere of comradery. When my adult son was very, very young, I noticed he often had a frowny face. I actually said out loud, “Why does Doug always have a frowny face when he’s thinking about something?” I happened to be near a mirror, and looked over.

Gulp. I had that same frowny look on my face! 

He was imitating how I looked when I was thinking. 

When we’re listening, deeply, many of us have the habit of the frowning, thoughtful face. Some of us have “resting bitch face.” (Look it up!) (Okay, never mind. Some people’s relaxed faces just look….grumpy. It’s just a thing.)

But when the speaker/person in the hot seat is talking, when they look around the group, the last thing they want to see is frowning faces. Especially if we’ve been raised to be highly attentive to signs we’re “doing it wrong”. A frowning face, a bored face, a face looking out the window, are all subtle signs that others are not interested in what we’re saying. Not exactly conducive to doing this work!

In fact, Deborah Kruger urged the speaker and the questioner to stand at the front of the group, facing each other. Holding hands. And the questioner’s goal was to keep their face open and welcoming, smiling. Not a big fake grin. Just a smile as if you were welcoming someone into your home.

 Which, if your home is a safe place, a haven, is actually a good metaphor for your group! All should feel “at home”, and welcome.

For the questioner, it also helps to nod in agreement as someone describes their perfect studio, their ideal customer, their markers of success, their professional goals, etc. Yes. Yes! Yes!!

I still treasure these beautifully formed little pit-fired pots from a member of my very first artist support group! Thank you, Bobbye! 

Rule #3Don’t rush to comfort.

This doesn’t mean no empathy or sympathy.

It simply means, when things get hard, when someone gets overwhelmed, when they cry, don’t rush to soothe them. Don’t try to stop them.

Just let the tears come. Let them cry.

I learned this in hospice, too. When people cry, WE get uncomfortable. We feel we need to do something. We rush to get them to stop crying.

But that simply puts pressure on THEM to make US feel better. We are asking THEM to take care of US.

So sit with the discomfort. Don’t rush to action.

Be a witness.

And from last week:

Rule #4: Listen

The premise of peer support groups is to empower each member to solve their own issues. We achieve that by learning to believe in ourselves, and by learning to listen to –and trust–our own heart.

Just….listen. Listen carefully, respectfully. Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump in. Don’t offer opinion, unless asked for one, or given permission to offer one. (See Rule #1)

Above all:

Don’t tell the speaker their reality.

Don’t tell them what you think they should do.

Don’t tell them what YOU would do.

Don’t tell them what someone else did.

Do look for places where the speaker gets stuck. Make a mental note of that. An assumption they’re making that could be tweaked.

You may be given an opportunity to ask your own question about it. You may be asked to share a thought or experience.

But don’t assume you will. Sit with that, okay?

Remember: Hopefully, this group will grow, and repeat this process. There is plenty of time to sort out the inconsistencies between what people say they want, and what they do. (Part of the human condition, actually, and it won’t be fixed in ten minutes!)

Rule #5: Focus, and be present! 

You chose this. You chose to try this, you chose to show up.

Embody that decision.

Heaving bored sighs, acting distracted, staring out the window, checking your phone, etc., etc., all indicate you’d rather be anywhere but here. This isn’t fair to the others in your group.

Cross-talk refers to carrying on a conversation on the side. So easy to slip into! So distracting to the rest of the group! Take notes of what’s on your mind, and share it later.

Beyond being unkind and disrespectful, you are missing a chance to learn something.

Take the opportunity to learn from someone else’s experience, their assumptions, and their mistakes–and discover their insights and solutions!

If you are truly bored to distraction, then this group is not for you.

Do yourself, and your fellow group members a favor. Let them know they should find someone else who will be more engaged.

Did I miss anything? If you’ve been in any kind of peer support group, you’ll recognize the playlist.

Feel free to suggest additional thoughts I may have overlooked!

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