In early June, I brought home a scrumptious ball of white and yellow fur with giant paws — my sweet golden retriever puppy, Sophie. It had been almost ten years since I’d had a dog, and nearly 24 years since I’d had a puppy.
I had a lot to relearn and fast!
I took the advice of the breeder and watched a wonderful DVD series on puppy training. In one of the videos, the trainer said something that completely rocked my world: “Don’t punish negative behavior. Just ignore it. Instead, look for any excuse to reward positive behavior.”
I thought immediately that I wished I had heard this sage advice before I had teenagers!
I also began thinking about these words of counsel from the perspective of how we treat our Creative Selves. Aren’t we routinely incredibly mean to ourselves in general and punishing to our Creative Selves in particular?
Just consider what we do to ourselves in a typical day: we tend to not give our bodies and souls nutritious food, enough rest, enough water, enough play/fun, enough quiet, enough white space in our schedules, enough kind self talk, enough self care, enough boundaries, and/or enough adventure.
When it comes to our Creative Selves, we are generally genius at focused attention to whatever our Inner Critic says, but woefully inept at celebrating wins of any size. In fact, we tend to ignore them altogether. We’ll punish ourselves with harsh thoughts about nascent works in progress and judge them against those from established, experienced creators. We’ll abandon work that has barely been given a chance to become vital, stuffing it in a drawer in disgust and shame.
We will play the Put It Off Game — the kicking of the creating can down the road another block — until that Magic Someday when we are ready, or the timing is right. We’ll tell ourselves we simply do not have the time to start writing that book, work on that painting, sign up for music lessons, or take a pottery class. Just too damn busy right now. You’ve got a J-O-B.
This is mean, punishing behavior, and it’s time to stop.
How about instead, you pull that paper and pen out and just see what happens. Say to yourself, “I wonder what would happen if I just begin?” Or, take a small action toward finding out more about that sketching class that caught your eye last week that you promptly tuned out. Return to it and make a call. Or, go to that drawer where sheets of ideas, paintings in progress, photographs, and/or pieces of writing live in stacks. Sit down with a loving eye. What could you select from the pile today and play around with? What would feel like joy to you to develop further?
And then, celebrate. Reward yourself. High five yourself in the mirror. Give yourself credit for showing up for yourself and your creativity.
Every day, look for and take that tiny step forward, and then call it a win. Put down the ruler of judgment and harsh thoughts. Neither is welcome in your life or your creative heart. Your blossoming creativity is a playful puppy looking to you for love, attention, nurturing, and guidance. Proceed with care.