Early outcomes of Art Thinking (or Color Thinking)

Throughout the day I am more likely to refer to it as Color Thinking, or say to myself ‘Think in Color’ when I’m catching myself being too cerebral. I’m doing it quite often – when I feel that tinge of discomfort as I encounter certain people in my life, or feel that edge of stress just prior to a critical meeting. I used to remind myself to take deep breaths; now I do that and prompt myself to Think In Color. It let’s my mind keep chugging as it simply will do, but at least I’ve changed the flavor, the essence. It’s soothing. 

I’ve been actively applying Color Thinking for a week, and nurturing this practice with immersing myself in more art. Nothing dramatic, but even simple things, like perusing Pinterest, exploring, filtering, digging for those images that hum; usually they are simple and colorful drawings with ink and watercolor, or doodles in natural and floral patterns. I’ve picked up the book Art as Therapy, recently highlighted on the This…is interesting podcast. And, of course, doodling and casual art – picking up pens or water color and letting the tools drift across the paper as I let my mind think in color.

Today something very special happened, that convinces me there is something to this. Every few weeks I visit with a naturopathic healer who specializes in working with energy and chakras. That in itself has been an interesting journey as I am ever the skeptic and, did I mention I was very cerebral and logical? He’s been very patient with me; I suspect I’ve been one of his more challenging clients, and maybe also one of his most interesting.

In the past I’ve frequently come to him very ‘verklempt’  – simply put, systemically constipated with bad energy and tension. Not today. Today I was in a pretty good place and I feel strongly that this experiment of thinking in art, in color, has played a significant role (although there are definitely other factors at play, more of which I’ll go into another time).

Today I came in very relaxed, my heart space already more open and free than usual. In fact, instead of me wanting to focus only on me and making it all about me, I was more interested in working on my relationship and connections with other people, and focus more on important people in my life, my husband, my children, my mom.

And I proceeded to have a mind blowing session. I kept up that mantra of thinking in color and not in words and ideas and problems. I let my mind keep moving as it just seems to always want to, but directed it towards colors, patterns, motion – beautiful swirling pattern. And suddenly my heart space opened even more, I felt it so strongly, saw it in a massive array of streams of small colorful spheres, millions of them. I normally don’t experience things very powerfully in sessions with Martin; this I felt. It swept through me, over me, carried me.

Another beautiful thing happened, as I embraced this experience. I felt a pull through my third eye, a current of energy that I saw, but more importantly felt as joy and love. And I have to say here, since I haven’t been writing this blog very long and you don’t know me all that well yet, I normally never write like this (joy, love, bliss – I don’t bliss out often) or have experiences this powerful. But lay there on that table grinning like a fool, because it truly was a beautiful thing.

And in that current there were these flashes, these moments of glimpses into something else. It was like being behind a waterfall, a stunning and mesmerizing waterfall, but every once in a while noticing the curtain of water part and seeing something else even more intense just behind it, just on the other side of that powerful flow.

A teaser into the future, into that next dimension of understanding and awareness. One step closer to my True Self.

I think I’ll keep experimenting with this Art Thinking…

Mental Energy Gas Tank (and planning that daily road trip)

I’ve heard about variations to this particular research study a few times from different sources and I find it intriguing.

The scenario: Two groups of participants – one is given an easy mental task (remember 2 numbers) and one is given a more challenging mental task (remember 7 numbers), and walk down a hallway. At the end of the hallway you are given one of two options of snacks – a fruit cup and a slice of chocolate cake.

Outcome: The group with the more challenging mental task is significantly more likely to select the chocolate cake.

What it means: When your mental energy is reduced, you lack willpower.

I’ve oversimplified the study, but the outcome is solid – and has been repeated in several different ways. The bottom line holds – you have only so much mental energy in a given day and you must use it wisely.

There are interesting implications. For example – I, like millions of others, need to lose a few pounds. My pitfall is in the evenings – I love to snack as part of my evening routine, but this snacking quickly exceeds healthy proportions. One of the top 10 recommendations made by Dr. Hyman in his popular and thoughtful health and fitness programs is not to eat anything after 7 pm. He’s right – when I’ve gone a stretch of not eating after 7, I lose weight. But I can’t stick to that habit.

This ‘mental energy tank’ way of thinking suggests that maybe it’s not because I’m a failure, but that I’m just not set up for success. By the end of the day it’s very likely my mental energy tank is drained. This suggests a radically different perspective to solving personal challenges; no more ‘simple’ solutions like ‘Don’t eat after 7 pm.’

The bigger question is, how can I set up my day to maintain more mental energy for the evening, so I am empowered and more capable of making a ‘good for me’ decision?

Tips to keeping that tank full:

  • Long term proactive planning, rather than short-term reactive doing
  • Build good habits everywhere I can so no energy is used to get yourself to do the right thing (e.g. drinking water every time you walk into the kitchen)
  • Address big decisions earlier, in smaller steps to minimize amount of energy burned (e.g. choose what you are going to wear the next day the night before so there is one less thing to do in the morning when your under time pressure)
  • Offload mental to-do lists as keeping them in short term memory requires effort
  • Leave your mind empty as much as possible to allow for rejuvenation and creativity
  • Train your brain to not ruminate on negative thoughts – that takes practice and tricks (see Art Thinking)

Take a journey line view of your day – what is your energy level in the morning? How does it change through the day? Where are the big dips? As you look at the patterns from previous days you can see where there are opportunities to reduce mental burden and rejuvenate your brain. Take control of tomorrow’s journey line and design the day to minimize the dips and encourage an upward trend.

If you can end the day with a tank more full than empty, saying no to temptation can happen almost naturally.

Story Thinking – A tool to finding your Life’s Purpose

I’ve never been one to think much about the past:

  • It wasn’t common in my family. My German parents didn’t talk much about their past, likely because of how difficult it was, or because of the guilt of being associated such a horrific political history.
  • In my twenties and thirties I spent what felt like hundreds of hours in therapy rehashing the past – no sense beating a dead horse.
  • We are often told not to dwell in the past, as it can’t be changed.
  • I’ve generally not seen any value in it. I’m tend not to be very sentimental, sometimes to a fault.

This seemed to be okay, especially with the new trend of being mindful, being in the moment, being present.

I’ve also never thought much about the future. I’m not sure why not, I guess just not wired that way. My lens into the future was about 3-6 months; I’ve tended to be rather spontaneous, letting life take me where it takes me.

But I’ve always felt a bit adrift, unable to ‘find’ myself, unsure of who I really was, what I should set out to do with my life. And as cerebral as I am, that’s kind of dangerous. I would overthink my way into any one of many directions, broad and deep, without ever gaining any clarity.

In recent years there is growing encouragement to find your passion, that you can accomplish anything you want as long as you are clear with your vision and focus on that one big thing. Accomplishment, productivity, excellence is all within reach, but it depends on you getting really crisp on your purpose.

There are many books and podcasts that emphasize this as the critical first step to accomplishing anything you want  – first, they say, you need a vision.

But how do you get that vision? That’s the tough part and I’ve struggled with finding helpful advice just how to find it and define it. It’s more than just listing what you are good at.

I’m an avid listener of life-hacking podcasts and was happy to come across an episode of The Life-Optimized Show that addressed exactly my need and offered an intriguing solution – look at your past. In fact, don’t just look at it, but really dig into it, really understand it. Understand your story.

Your story, explains Shawn Phelps, is a powerful tool in guiding you to your vision. Your story defines you and provides clues to who you really are, what you really want to and can become.

Your story is a signal; with it’s highlights and lowlights it illuminates your potential super powers and offers clear markers as to where it your life journey can take you. It’s your map.

That same day I started looking back on my history and I realized that my 20 year old self had the same questions, interests and drives as my 40 year old self, and maybe I should take a closer look at those questions and interests and take them a bit more seriously, because obviously they aren’t going away. Maybe that vision has been there all along, I’ve just ignored it because I got caught up with signals from others, instead of from myself.

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I’m excited now to take the time to tell the story, and listen to myself tell the story; to understand the Setting and the Turning Points, and then own the Character Arc – that direction that I can go in as a result of what I’ve learned, the mistakes I’ve made, the adventures I’ve have had.  It’s my story; going along with that story will take me where I’m supposed to go; if I look at the story line, the vision will become clear, and my future road map and journey line will be apparent.


Art thinking (new perspectives on art)

“You are very cerebral.” (my high school basketball coach)

“You’re overthinking this.” (most people I’ve worked with, and the voice in my head)

“You are making this more complicated than it needs to be.” (again, me, and also my husband)

“You’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders…”

“….analysis paralysis…”

All true. I think a lot. Partly I’m just really curious and like to think about a lot of things. But partly, I can’t help it. I think, overthink, worry, stress, dwell…it goes beyond healthy contemplation to being consumed. And I beat myself up over the fact that I can’t turn that off.

I’m working on changing my perspective. What if it’s my superpower? And I just need to learn how to harness it better? Ok, that’s cool and something I want to dig into. But, short term, how do I manage so I can sleep at night?

I started thinking about art. I’ve always been drawn to art, art supplies, art lessons, art books, art museums, art stores…anything art. Yet I don’t actually do much art myself – why not? Because I overthink it. I get hung about the output, the quality of what I create, rather than letting go and appreciating the process. ; I stop myself in my tracks before I ever take a first step.

I remember very distinctly as a child, pen and paper in hand, quickly sketching the profile of my father as he lay in the beanbag watching TV. And dang if it wasn’t an awesome drawing – anyone who looked at it knew right away it was my dad. And I haven’t been able to do anything like that since…because I started overthinking it.

Incidentally, along with overthinking comes a lot of reading. I am an avid book collector and am typically reading 3-5 books at a time, many different topics. My husband once commented that I read too much (is that possible?), and that maybe it isn’t good for me. I bristled at that, but have since tossed that idea around. What if I do read too much? What am I actually ‘doing’ with all that I’m reading? I am using it? Is it helping me?

My job is research; I do a lot of research, in a lot of different directions because they are all important and together allow for a better understanding of the problem space with a more holistic lens. But, I don’t synthesize and deliver on meaningful insights and outcomes often and effectively enough.

It’s cool and good to do a lot of thinking, but I have to work on sometimes not thinking, and land some planes. Sometimes just stop for a bit, package up the thoughts into something consumable, put a bow on it and deliver it so it can be meaningful for something or someone – an action or an outcome.

So what does art have to do with this train of thought? As I said, I’m drawn to it, and I’m learning to pay attention to those subtle signals. Art is important for my arsenal, although I’m not sure yet how.

So I thought about it (yes I did)….and I connected some dots:

  1. I’m drawn to art. Art pleases me, having art supplies around me warms me, I feel a sense of peace when I doodle. I want more art. I need more art.
  2. I think too much and sometimes it hurts.
  3. Once, when I didn’t think so much, I freely sketched an awesome representation of what I saw, what was there. And it felt really good.
  4. Thinking keeps me from doing art.
  5. More art in my life would make me feel better.

Could art help me with my overthinking?

What if instead of focusing on art, and getting stymied by my overthinking, I focus on how to manage my overthinking with art?

I did an experiment with art thinking, and it’s becoming kind of interesting.

When I’m overthinking and I can’t stop, I tell myself to think visually, artistically – in colors, shapes, patterns – just not words. I can’t easily make my mind stop churning…but it turns out I can change the ‘language’ of that churn. And when I do, a sense of calm and clarity starts to evolve. A cerebral stillness, though still rich with content.

It’s a muscle I have to flex and encourage myself to embrace, so I’m also experimenting with Zen Doodling, casual art (e.g. Marion Denchars Draw Paint Print like the Great Artists), art lessons, and art journaling.

Altogether, it’s helping me feel more at peace, more creative, more centered and more real. And I can’t help wonder what goodness it is doing for my brain – bringing together Right and Left brain for a more cohesive, balanced existence. Might be crazy, but maybe there is something there. Sometimes, when I meditate or do energy work, I feel a dark chunk of energy in the right side of my head and lately, it hasn’t been there.

A few nights ago as my husband and I talked about the day and the things on my mind, I started to prompt myself to art think. And suddenly, when my husband spoke, I saw a stream of colorful dots and stars in my mind – and it matched perfectly with his voice and tone in that moment, as he shared with me some things that had pleasantly surprised him. Maybe art thinking will strengthen new senses I didn’t know I had?

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