Today’s column from my lastest series on creating your own artist support group.
Enjoy! (Click here if you’d like to see this at the Fine Art Views website and read the comments: THE FOUR QUESTIONS #3: The Power of Affirmations )
You get to choose who you are in the world.
(5 minute read)
Here are my experiences with affirmations, a complicated and simple concept.
An affirmation is a positive assertion. It is also a powerful tool for change.
Affirmations can be part of your support group agenda, done as a group exercise. But it’s just as powerful as an individual, daily exercise.
Affirmations became a powerful topic in that first workshop with Deborah Kruger. We were on our second day, and boy were we a needy group! As Deborah encouraged us to be the artist we’d always dreamed of being, we all pushed back with disclaimers. All that encouragement to recognize our strengths and talents? Hah! It was easy for her to say… She was talented, strong, and smart. We were little groveling wriggle-worms, looking for some proof we could have what we craved so badly. (As I’ve said, my fairly-recent commitment to my art empowered me. But I recognized the same feelings of self-doubt shared by my group-mates.
About the eleventh time someone voiced that pushback, Deborah put down her notes, and looked at us thoughtfully.
“I don’t usually do this in group training”, she said. “But I think I need to share a bit of my own personal journey with you today. I want you to really understand where I started, how far I’ve come, and how I got here.”
I will not share the personal experience she shared with us. It’s not my story to tell.
Suffice to say that we were shocked and appalled. And her story gave even more power to this insight, this tool for self-growth she shared with us:
Every sentence of inferiority, self-doubt, insecurity, invisibility, had to be replaced with a sentence, of strength, courage, confidence, compassion, and ownership.
And it was going to take time, and repetition, and practice.
“I believe,” she said quietly, “That when we are told we are worthless, when we are told we are nothing, when we believe ourselves to be invisible, when we are told that a million times, we need to tell ourselves the opposite, a million-and-one times.”
She said, “We have to offset the cruelty and ignorance, and fill ourselves with something new, something better, something kinder, and something empowering.”
Just as there is the 10,000 hours thing about the amount of time and effort that goes into becoming skilled at something, this is the “plus one” thing about overcoming “truths” that hold us back.
A beloved professor shared with me his favorite go-to affirmation: IALAC.
“I am lovable and capable.”
After Deborah’s powerful, personal story of self-healing and growth, I created my very first affirmation, based on how uncomfortable I still felt saying this simple statement:
I am an artist.
And so I followed her advice.
I wrote this sentence hundreds of times. Thousands. Sometimes I filled three pages a day, writing it over and over again.
I still remember the feeling of amazement that day when someone asked me what I did. With no hesitation, I replied, “I’m an artist.” Boom.
I’ve created many more affirmations over the years. “I have a story to tell.” “I have the power of my choices.” “I am worthy of love and respect.” “I am a successful artist.” “I am a writer.” “I have a place in the world. My art has a place in the world.”
When I took this workshop, I wasn’t even making Lascaux-inspired art! I made tiny dolls and hand-knitt sheep, handmade polymer buttons (!foreshadowing!), and small doll quilts. And yet I was ready to hear all the wisdom being shared with me.
I don’t write about how much money I could make, or how famous I could be. That isn’t the measure of my success as an artist anymore. (Don’t get me wrong, I love selling my work!) And if that’s your goal, use it!
For me, when I hear that someone’s heart has been lifted, or healed, or strengthened by something I’ve written, when someone tells me my work creates wonder and mystery for them, when I realize I may have helped someone through a hard place, or encouraged them to tell their story, that means success to me.
Take a few moments today, and think about that whiny voice you hear whenever you are discouraged, or lost, or unhappy with your art.
Your homework for next week (or hey, share below!) is to think about the biggest doubt you have right now about your work, your creative work, your place in this world. (I can’t tell you how many people say they are too embarrassed to call themselves an artist! “Oh sweetie, do tell!” I exclaim.)
Take that thought, the one that snuck into your heart all those years ago, and look at it.
Then transform it into a simple statement of power, and truth. Something that means something important to you.
Think this is a silly premise? Read my blog post about how a graduate education student framed her historic problem with multiplication tables.
So let’s get to work! Grab a composition book from the dollar store, and your favorite pen or pencil, and write it down a thousand times. (Er…. you don’t have to do it in one sitting.)
Simple rules: An affirmation is grounded in the present. Not “Someday I’ll….” Instead, “I am….” An affirmation is the truth YOU need to carry in your heart. Not what someone else says is your truth. An affirmation is not about “trying” (to be better, kinder, smarter, etc.) An affirmation is learning to believe, realizing, you already are.
If you struggle with even this simple task, hold that thought. You are on your way to finding a supportive group of fellow life travelers who may have some helpful ideas!
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