Mind and Matter
The source of this series, Breaking the Block, stems from an internal analysis that I’ve recently done while thinking about the months-long creative funk that I’ve been experiencing. In all of my creative life as a working photographer, I can’t recall suffering from as strong of a block as this one. For a while, I embraced it and used it as a crutch… an excuse to not create. Then days turned into weeks and then months. It’s actually frightening when I think about how much time has gone by so easily and quickly. Shockingly, it has only been very recently that I decided to do something about it. Or, if not actually do something, then at least analyze what my current situation is and determine what is causing this creative block. It was through this internal audit that I came up with several themes that I’d like to share with you over the course of this series. At first, I considered recording videos to share these messages but the truth is that I think more clearly when I’m writing and clarity is what I need most right now in order to do justice with sharing these thoughts.
While writing the posts for this series is about helping myself, it is also my strong hope that it can serve to help others, too. I hope you find some use from these posts and would love to hear from you either in the comments section below or you can email me directly at email@example.com. No one should feel alone while engaging in—or struggling with—creative pursuits.
Food for Thought
One of the first comparisons I made to my struggles with creative growth was with my struggle with food. Well, not with food per se, but with body weight and the effects that food has had on that. If I were to plot my weight against my creative energy, I suspect that I’d see a very clear correlation. In other words, I firmly believe that when my creative engine is firing on all cylinders, my physical energy is in tune, which translates into not only exercising consistently but also being disciplined with my eating habits. Conversely, when my creative tank is empty, my tendency is to abandon everything else that is good for me, including exercise and eating well. For example, from 2015 through the middle of 2017, things were great. Nothing is ever perfect, but there was a rhythm that allowed me to grow creatively. It also fueled me to exercise consistently and eat well. As a result, I was in excellent physical condition (losing over 50 lbs), I felt great, and I even treated myself to a new wardrobe of clothing that fit my improved physique.
Then things began to change towards the beginning on 2018. I plan on exploring what those reasons are in other posts within this series, but the results have been profound. And, again, my relationship between creativity and fitness presented itself conversely. I’ve put on about 40 lbs and had to literally shelf my “Healthy Brian” wardrobe, reverting to more loose-fitting attire.
It’s worth pointing out that I don’t typically work in such extremes. I understand that everyone has their ups and downs. My issue is that this down has lasted longer than any other I can remember and it has taken its toll. Fortunately, I feel—and hope—that something is changing and now is the time to identify and execute on a course of action to return to a better place.
It’s Not a Matter of Right or Wrong
It’s not like all of this happened overnight. It has been a slow burn getting to this low point but the pattern has been very clear, and that’s a good thing because if you can see a pattern, you can devise measures to break it. The first thing that I need to realize is that this isn’t a matter of right or wrong. A big reason for thinking this way is because people tend to lay blame on things that are wrong and, in this situation, blame is a useless mechanism. It’s the emotional equivalent of empty calories. Rather, I need to realize that this is how things are now and that is how I want things to be. It’s not about making excuses for how I let myself get to this point. Right now, it needs to be more about me forgiving myself rather than blaming myself. Most importantly, I need to remember and believe that I can make things better for myself. Admittedly, all of this can effortlessly slip into the “easier said than done” camp, which is why “how you approach the road” is so important.
For the past few months, I’ve all but withdrawn myself from creating or sharing new content. On the creativity side, I haven’t taken many new photos, nor have I edited or shared any. I stopped recording new videos and have been on a hiatus with my podcast. On the nutrition side, I have given myself license to abandon exercise while eating whatever crap food I want. It’s a classic coping mechanism. No surprises, right? The first step is that I’ve identified these destructive patterns. The next step is embracing—not admitting—that I need to fix myself. The key is to fix me with care and inner-empathy. Rather than focus on how far I’ve let myself fall, I need to focus on the journey in front of me. Just because I’m working to reach a finish like that I’d already crossed doesn’t make the effort—or the reward—any less meaningful. It also doesn’t mean that I have to set unrealistic expectations. It’s all about incremental growth. Start with small daily wins and then move the needle a bit further, making the challenges a little more of a stretch to attain.
What Does That Even Look Like?
The detail and degree of incremental growth vary from person to person. As someone who has a history of backsliding into negative patterns relatively easily, it’s important that I set attainable and incremental goals. One of the sources of inspiration for this came from my good friend, David Imel, when he recommended I browse the NonZeroDay subreddit. I’m going to share more about my sources of help and inspiration in another entry but I thought it’d be helpful to include this here. For me, attainable and incremental growth looks something like:
- Start with sharing a new photo on social media for one day while eating sensibly for that same day. Simple. Straightforward. Attainable.
- Next, move onto creating a new long-form blog post once per week while extending sensible eating habits to three times that same week and introduce one 45-minute cycling session on the Peloton bike. Notable growth while still being attainable.
- Where I go from there will be determined by how successful I am with reaching my previous goals.
And, yes, it’s certainly ok if there’s a slip. You don’t need anyone’s approval, forgiveness or validation except for your own. I believe that this time if I treat myself with understanding and kindness instead of with guilt and blame, I will see better and more lasting results.
What’s even more exciting is that you’re a part of the journey, too. It took me a long time to get to the point where I was comfortable with sharing this with you. When you’re barraged with manicured and polished content portraying seemingly perfect lives from every possible angle online, it can be a bitter pill to swallow when you compare yourself to it. Toxic thoughts begin creeping into your subconscious as you use the sugar-coated success of others as the yardstick for how you measure up and when that happens, it can very easily lead you down a dark, downward spiral.
But, we’re past that now! Now, it’s all about bettering ourselves by living healthier and more creative lives on our own terms. It’s not meant to be easy or quick… nothing worthwhile in life ever is. But, it can be inclusive and supportive. Again, my goal of sharing this new series is partly to hold myself accountable by shining a bright light on things, as well as to offer up a place for others who may be feeling similarly in your creative lives. I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re going to do this thing together.