Many of the problems that plague artists can be traced back to common old garden-variety laziness. I’m an authority on the subject. Early identified as chronic, this malaise has plagued me for a lifetime (my grade three report card stated “Bobby has lazy habits”). I’ve also devised various ploys to cure it. People are always telling me I’m the most un-lazy person they know.
How have I managed to fool them? Some say I’ve programmed myself like a zombie. I go about my interests, they say, like an automaton. I tell them I’m contented in my zombiehood.
But that’s not the whole story. Like a lot of teenagers, I found myself wasting a lot of time. I had to teach myself respect for time. If you too feel you might have a touch of sloth, here are a few ploys you might find useful:
To become enthusiastic, act enthusiastically.
Retrain to the better habits you know you can have.
Keep track of time and pay attention to the clock.
Know that acquired proficiency breeds love of work.
Count your jobs completed, not your time spent.
Reprogram regularity into your life.
See the value in what you’re doing.
Be a loving collector of your own accomplishments.
Unfortunately, in spite of all this picker-upper stuff, it’s important to keep in mind that what appears to be laziness or lassitude may be the result of clinical depression. Depressed people can have trouble with willpower. This may call for professional help.
Recent research at the University of Miami indicates that religious people tend to score higher in the exercise of willpower. It seems that the regular act of prayer or meditation gives the brain a sort of anaerobic workout in self-control. It may not be the content of the prayer or even the particular deity involved that tunes people up. Apparently it’s the regularity of the act and the committed repetition. A good example is the Muslim ritual of facing Mecca and kneeling on a prayer rug five times a day. Reading a different encyclopedia article at proscribed intervals might do the trick for some folks. For many of us, it means the formalized and regular act of entering the cathedral of our studios and rebooting ourselves at the altar of our easels.
Esoterica: For many artists, particularly the overly thoughtful and imaginative ones, self-sabotage can be a big boo-boo. Procrastination, avoidance activity and general lying around are some of the symptoms. If you look at the big picture, you may see yourself as a minor player, but it’s also possible to see and hold dear the sacred value of each individual’s life and times, yours in particular. With this view, simply making a contribution lets work-effort seem worthwhile and even inevitable.
This letter was originally published as “Laziness” on January 6, 2009.
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“Paint something every day.” (David Hockney)
Mary’s interest in pastel painting began during her years at Whitworth College in Spokane, WA where she majored in art and elementary education. Though she has worked in watercolor and oil as well as calligraphy, her interest has consistently turned primarily to pastel because of the medium’s potential for glowing, vibrant color and the harmony achieved in bringing together lights and shadows.