If you're like millions of other people the world over, you may have begun this first month of the earth's latest lap around the sun awash in "resolutions." I (Artistic Director Jess) have never been a fan of the concept of a resolution, as it is all about willpower. "I resolve to be a better person." It's as though if we are only resolute enough, all of our goals will somehow be achieved. How many of you have known this to be less than true?
I'm more of an actionable steps person myself, which is why I believe in "practices" more than resolutions. I ask myself each year (and sometimes more often), "What specific skills do I want to practice this year? What things can I actually dedicate time and energy to that will help develop me into a more effective person?"
The start of 2018 was no different for me, as I continued in my tradition of selecting 18 practices to focus on much as I had selected 17 practices in 2017. This year, however, I used my list as a basis for others like me who might appreciate some guidance as to specific skill-building steps for the new year. Although this list was written with artists in mind, many of the principles can be universally helpful to anyone looking to make positive change.
You knew this would be on the list. This particular step has been made a whole lot easier for me personally by not having a cell phone, but I don't know about you--I still have access to at least two computers when I'm at home plus all that Netflix and my Playstation have to offer. Reading a book during downtime instead of turning something on, sipping coffee without anything playing in the background, sitting and spending time with your partner with no chance for interruptions, ending the barrage of constant news and notifications--all things that most of us need to practice in this ultra-connected age.
A Daily "Making" Habit
What do you make? You are a maker, no? You even fancy yourself an artist most of the time. So make art. Write one poem a day. Draw one sketch of an item in your home a day. Try one recipe a day. Play for fifteen minutes a day. Stop making excuses for yourself, and actively practice the craft you espouse.
Every professional and entrepreneur needs to practice this skill, but it is arguably even more important for artists. Keeping my LinkedIn profile and the theatre website updated and stocked with portfolio pieces, certifications, coursework, and past projects will probably take a lot more time and effort than I think it will... But it will also prove valuable in advancing my "brand"--that is, what I want people to think of when they hear my name or the name of the theatre.
Asking Lots of Follow-Up Questions
We all know on a head level that this is the best way to build meaningful connections and be likable, yet it is so hard as humans to stop talking about ourselves for two minutes. Hence, the need for practice. What sets a follow-up question apart is that instead of an interrogatory "Where did you go to school?" "What's you favorite color?" barrage, it plays off of something you heard earlier in the conversation. "What was your favorite place you visited when you were in Italy?" "You like cooking? What's your favorite cuisine to cook?" "What's it like being a live-in nanny?" This way you're not only fostering a connection, you're demonstrating that you are listening, which automatically makes you much more likable.
And I specifically mean one not directly associated with your craft. I'm learning guitar and reading a lot of books about standup comedy lately. Setting aside time for these and other hobbies make me a more well-rounded person, helps avoid burnout, and actually adds to my skill set, making me a better and more marketable artist in the long term.
Clean Eating and a Hearty Breakfast
For me 2018 started with a challenge to eat nothing besides meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, and couple kinds of nuts for 30 days. You know, real food! While I won't keep my diet so strict after the month is up, the purpose of this activity is to remind me to see food not just as a social tool and a source of pleasure, but as fuel for my art. Personally, I can't function as a professional and sometimes as a human without a BIG, filling, healthy breakfast. Oh, and one that also takes approximately two minutes to make... Success for me took a couple days of scouring the depths of the interwebs for recipes.
Listening Just to Understand
Not to respond. Just to understand people whose experiences and perspectives are different from yours. This practice may be the hardest, but it also has the potential to be the most rewarding.
Positive change can be challenging because it often manifests as an internalized list of what not to do. Sometimes it looks like the expectation that new habits will be magically easy to form because a new year has begun. The concept of "practice" can be empowering and help you to be more gracious with yourself. You are not a whole new person because of another revolution around the sun. You are the same person--a great person!--who is practicing habits that matter to you.