My Toxic Habits

Chipboard Personality Sculptures

A few posts back, I talked about my “poisonous checklist.”  While thinking about writing my new checklist, it became clear that in order to do that, I need to eliminate some toxic habits.

I don’t know why it’s so hard to do what you know is good for you, and why destructive behaviors are so incredibly seductive.  For example, I hate thinking about exercising, and every time I know I should go to the gym, I dread going. Yet I have repeated proof that I am guaranteed to feel great after a workout. For me, exercise is the most effective anti-depressant that exists. I am well aware that I shouldn’t wander the Internet aimlessly. I waste time which I feel guilty about later, I lose sleep, and I feel worse about myself.   Inevitably, I end up reading about people who look happier, smarter, richer, and more successful than me.

Below are 3 habits I’m trying to erase.  This list is very specific to my current situation, so this is not applicable to everyone.

Figure Armatures

1) Stop reading about successful artists.
(I know that there are many, many different definitions of “success.”  In this specific context, I am defining “successful artists” as artists who have achieved the items on my old checklist.)
I believe strongly that it’s critical to look at the works of other artists, this process has been a huge part of my artistic development.  In the best case scenario, looking at other artists is inspirational and you can learn from their work. However, I do think that you can overdose on this, (which I have) and the worst case scenario is that you can become bitter and jealous. Having so much content at your fingertips can be great, but sometimes that colossal quantity of information can consume you. I’m at a point where I need to step away from the noise.

2) Stop checking my phone constantly.
I used to check my phone any time I had an idle moment, or when I was waiting, even if I knew my wait would only be a few minutes. I think for many people, the impulse to check your phone is there because people think they will be bored.  On the contrary, since I’ve been letting myself just stand there, I enjoy the little things I notice: the shape of the shadows on the ground, and the mixture of random sounds I hear. After changing my behavior, I noticed that checking my phone stresses me out, and it’s rare that I’ll see something on my phone that can’t wait for later.

3) Stop telling myself that there are no other options.
I once went to a meeting where one person spent the entire meeting shooting down every idea.  When suggestions were made, they talked about how that would be very difficult, or that it wasn’t possible. They didn’t make a single statement that discussed what we could do, which made for a very unproductive meeting.  For the last few years, I was that person, saying these things to myself.  My old checklist dictated that there was only one way to do things, so when those things didn’t work out, I told myself that there was nothing else I could do. I felt helpless and paralyzed, and my progress would come to a grinding halt. A friend of mine told me that their way of coping with their anxiety was to find an action they could take right away, no matter how small. Now that I’ve shifted my outlook, alternative actions are becoming visible.

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3 thoughts on “My Toxic Habits

  1. Right, and sometimes there’s that not wanting to take the time to exercise, even though I know if I do I’ll probably get that time back and more in increased energy.

    A thought about “successful artists”. How does one define a successful artist? As monetarily successful, or in terms of the intrinsic merit of her or his art? I don’t see much point in measuring oneself against the fiscal success of other artists (I can’t compete with anyone there), but think it’s very useful to look at the successful work of artists. For example, I’m always on the hunt for new music. So, why wouldn’t I have the same attitude about visual art? I see new musical discoveries as just that, discoveries. Same applies to visual art. If I truly admire someone’s work (not very frequent), I will champion them and promote them, even on my own blog. I don’t worry that they will overshadow my own material.

    Also agree with the advice that one can snap out of inactivity or wasting time by just doing anything that’s productive, no matter how trivial. The reason is it’s often just a matter of switching gears, and once you switch gears the problem disappears.

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    1. There are many, many different definitions of “success.” Perhaps I should have been more specific to explain that in my specific circumstances, the “successful artists” are defined as artists who have achieved the items on my old checklist. (winning a major artist grant, being in a national museum collection, having a tenured position at a college, showing with a respected NYC gallery, to name a few)

      1. Right, and that make perfect sense. But, from my perspective, there’s another sort of success that is the only one that really matters, and is the hardest to achieve: worthwhile art. Do we make art to be successful and get recognition, or to realize and develop our inner vision and communicate in a visual form? Van Gogh and Gauguin were not successful in the eyes of other people, in their lifetimes, but persisted anyway. In Van Gogh’s case there was so little recognition that it was humiliating. But I guess that they persisted anyway because they knew their art was great, and it served the primary drive to make art. They were searching for something in their art, such as the transcendent, and they found it. Nowadays the focus can be so far on the other side that people argue that marketing oneself is the real art. That’s ridiculous. I don’t care how successful Richard Prince, Kostabi, or Tracy Emin are, if their art doesn’t capture my imagination and doesn’t make it off the ground. If I look at music, the most successful current musicians are not anyone that I even listen to, because they can’t hold my interest. The real goal should be to make a truly great song, not to receive a trophy or be accepted. Acceptance, recognition, and reward are not the real measure of art for the artist, the critic, or the connoisseur. One can never hope to compete on that level with Jeff Koons, especially if one isn’t a multi-millionaire. However, anyone in the world with enough imagination, persistence, integrity, and vision can potentially sit down with a pencil and paper and make something that is more meaningful and substantive than anything he’s ever done. I’d rather make that drawing than have all the success and make over-inflated fashion baubles for the plutocratic class.

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