I've spent a lifetime trying to figure out why some artists just go ahead and do things and thrive, while others don't get much done and languish. I noticed that thriving in our game often has more to do with attitude than talent. Further, I noticed that some would-be artists were dragging something around. I knew this because there were times when I dragged the thing around myself.
These days, some high-priced shrinks are talking about "Your Inferior Shadow." This creepy critter is a dark presence--always with you--and he wants you to be fearful, incompetent, lousy, victimized, procrastinatory and self-loathing. Some of us have almost untamable Shadows while others have small ineffective ones. It's possible to train the former to be the latter. No matter what the size of your shadow, here are a few ways to keep him in check:
A lot of what comes out of your mouth is him speaking. When you speak, you reinforce intentions. You need a small policeman standing alert at the side of your mouth. He puts up his hand and says, "Stop." Shadow-talk needs to go to the trash.
You need to cultivate habits that overrule his power. Some of these habits can be mighty small, like washing your brushes, but when they become habitual you can move on to bigger ones. B.J. Fogg of Stanford University in California has pioneered a system of developing "tiny habits." According to Fogg and many of his satisfied customers, the system can change behaviors and even personalities.
Your Inferior Shadow is a whizbang at throwing obstacles in your way. Funnily, some of the obstacles can be legit and daunting. But once your Shadow knows you will react to obstacles, any obstacle will do. One lady told me she couldn't paint because her laundry wasn't dry yet. I used to have a friend who felt he couldn't paint until his studio was finished--and then he took 10 years to finish his studio.
Because your Shadow has his own powerful ego that can overshadow your own ego, he can actually block your ability to work confidently, study, take advice and learn. He can literally shut you out of your own best interests. Just knowing he's there and understanding his motivation is half the battle. You can't shoot him because he's just a Shadow.
PS: "I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see."
(Robert Louis Stevenson)
Esoterica: The weaker your self-esteem the more powerful your Shadow becomes. By making small gains (like a painting a day) we begin to show our Shadow that we are in charge. For some reason, accomplishments blind him and make him crazy. It's our accomplishments that build our self-esteem. One of the real pleasures of writing this letter is receiving the large number of emails from artists who confide. Frequent disclosures include, "If I don't paint I start to feel rotten," and "When I paint I'm happy." These admissions let me know that another Inferior Shadow has at least temporarily bitten the dust.
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