Cesar Millan is the Dog Whisperer, and his method works pretty well for the unruly, leash-tugging creative urge you can’t control. You know that creative muse–the one you desperately want in your life, but that disappears around the corner and won’t come when called. When it does show up, it runs you ragged. You are off to buy materials and supplies, while your muse stays at home, piling choices on your studio table, and running you ragged with ideas, projects and commitments that you can’t manage.
The Dog Whisperer has a formula. If you’ve watched the show, you already know what it is. It’s on his website: “Through my fulfillment formula exercise, then discipline, and finally, affection. As the human pack leader, you must set rules, boundaries, and limitations and always project a calm-assertive energy.”
The “calm-assertive energy” comes first. It’s not about being a control freak, it’s knowing that you are the calm leader of your creative energy and your studio. If you are in control, the studio is not running you and you aren’t searching for pieces of a project. You aren’t forever using the excuse that you have a coupon and heading out to the craft store. You are centered and know what your project is.
You set the rules, boundaries and limitations for your studio. Here are some good ones to start with:
- Know what your project is.
- Know what your project is not. If you are going to create a journal page, don’t worry about creating the whole journal.
- Leave the studio set up so you can begin. Nothing saps energy faster than having to spend an hour cleaning the studio and another finding what you want to work on.
- Put extra materials away. It’s distracting to see unfinished project lying around.
- Set a time to start and be there to start the project.
- If you have an appointment, set a timer to remind you when to stop. You can’t work deeply if you keep having to check on the clock.
- Keep a paper and pencil around to take notes as you work. Once you get to the studio, you will immediately think of “work” that needs to get done before you start. Stay in the studio, make a to-do list. The laundry will still be there when you leave.
The rest of Millan’s ideas work just as well: exercise, discipline, affection.
Exercise is a way to burn off tension in your body. It makes room for creative ideas. While you are exercising, a part of your brain is problem solving. That’s good for your brain and your body. Allow that to happen often, and you will approach a project with eagerness, without a lot of the adrenaline energy that’s exhausting.
Discipline is not punishment. Discipline allows space and time for deep, meaningful work. Discipline allows you to turn off the phone, shut the computer off and head for the studio. Discipline is a set time to work without guilt or fear. Discipline is consistency–knowing what is going to happen. It’s not a wild streak of cleaning the studio one day and spending three hours looking for just the right piece of paper. Discipline is an approach to creative time that includes knowing what will happen–you will work meaningfully, for a set amount of time, on a regular basis.
Affection is allowing yourself to feel good about yourself and your work. Affection is allowing yourself to try and fail, to try something different, to follow a thought or idea until it works or until you know why it doesn’t. Affection for yourself is allowing your growth at your own rate, not at your best friend’s rate. It’s taking the “just” out of your vocabulary, as in, “I just painted this scene.”
Just as Cesar Millan projects a calm, assertive pack-leader image to his dogs, you can project a calm, assertive creative leader image to your muse and your studio. You’ll be surprised at how well it works.
—Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who works with visual and performing artists to help them find, manage and develop their creativity.