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Category Archives: Advice from a Life Coach

For many of us, creating art feels like a leisure activity that we simply don’t have time to do. Who can devote 17 hours to making a vase? Or spend weeks painting and repainting a canvas. And then there’s learning a new skill (photography, calligraphy, needlework…). How many hours does that take?

While it doestake time to master an art form, that’s not necessarily the goal of creating art (especially if you’re doing it for enjoyment, rather than earning an income). The important thing is the action itself, not perfection. The simple act of making art (no matter its form) can be a wonderful and welcome escape. Even doodling in a notebook counts! You don’t have to make something to hang on the wall or display in a case (though you could!). The point is simply to DO.

The act of creating art can have remarkably positive side effects. Some of these include the following:

Stress Reduction

Art, in its many forms, has been known to lower stress. Studies have shown that creativity can increase dopamine levels—a neurotransmitter that is known to increase happiness and stave off feelings of anxiety, stress, or even depression.

I suggest picking an artform that comes naturally to you—watercolor, pencil drawing, molding clay, knitting—and engaging in that activity throughout the week, especially when you’re feeling stressed. What do you noticed when you do this activity? How does it feel to let your mind drift as you’re creating art?

Increased Optimism

When you actively make art, your spirits lift and you tend to feel more optimistic. Artwork can spark creativity and inspire hope. The same goes for looking at certain pieces of artwork. If you’re beholding a rugged mountain landscape or a serene forest path, you may begin to feel inspired or comforted. What inspires you? A blooming flower? A lake in the middle of a dense forest? Abstract colors and shapes? Photos of the galaxy? Either create it or view it.

Better Problem-Solving and Focus

Professor and art therapy researcher Girija Kaimal says that “making art should induce what the scientific community calls ‘flow’ …It’s that sense of losing yourself, losing all awareness. You’re so in the moment and fully present that you forget all sense of time and space.” When you allow yourself a moment to get creative, your concentration improves and you equip yourself for problem-solving.

Kaimal also states that art could serve an “evolutionary purpose” by helping us “navigate problems that might arise in the future.” When we choose to let our minds wander, they can go to incredible places and, perhaps, even aid us in problem solving.

Improved Self-Esteem

In addition to the many neurological benefits I’ve mentioned, art can also act as a confidence booster. How? Positive accomplishments (even small ones, such as creating a doodle drawing or sewing on a button) give us a jolt of dopamine. One study examined the effects of participating in a creative art program on a group of women with Multiple Sclerosis. The study found that participants experienced “significant increases in self-esteem” after joining the art program.

Art is tangible, and creating it allows us to feel a distinct sense of accomplishment. That, alone, can give your confidence a boost.

Even if you’ve never considered yourself artistic, you might find enjoyment, relief, and clarity through art. Pick something you enjoy (or you think you’ll enjoy), start engaging in it regularly, and get into the habit of creating art. The potential positive effects are numerous.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE.

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From a young age, we’re conditioned to always strive for more. We try to earn top grades in school or become the best athlete. We try to become first chair in the band or the lead singer in the school musical.

And that inclination doesn’t leave us as adults. At work, we try to earn accolades, climb the ladder, or gain recognition from our peers. In our personal lives, we think we’ll be happier if we buy a bigger house, purchase a certain car, join a certain club, or modify our appearances to look a certain way.

Where does it end? When do you actually achieve satisfaction?

Arthur Brooks, author of From Strength to Strength, asked the Dalai Lama this very question. To me, the answer was enlightening. The Dalai Lama said that to find “stable happiness,” we need to “stop striving to have what we want and start wanting what we have.”

If we’re constantly striving for more, we forget to be grateful for what is right in front of us—what we already have. Yes, ambition and motivation are important, but there’s a limit. If you’re always wanting more, more, more, you will forget to pause and enjoy life.

Today, I fear we’re all moving at a pace that is unsustainable and, frankly, unhealthy. What if we were to slow down? What if we were to pause each and every day to think about what we have instead of dwelling on what we lack? How might your worldview change? How might your sense of self-worth and happiness change?

Let’s start small. This week, I challenge you to set aside 5 minutes every day to journal about your gratitude. Jot down whatever comes to mind.

Consider these questions:

  • What are you grateful for right now?
  • What gives you a spark of joy?
  • What do you have that you often take for granted?
  • Who has helped you along the way?
  • What small act of kindness or helpfulness aided you today?

Focusing on what you have (whether tangible items, reliable people, or kind gestures/actions of others) is an important step toward becoming a generally satisfied person. Of course, you’ll probably have moments when you’ll want more of something or desire some kind of change in your life, but let those moments spur productive motivation instead of greed. As long as you keep gratitude at your center, you’ll empower yourself to become more content and satisfied with life. And isn’t that the ultimate dream?

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE.

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Compared to people of other nationalities, Americans tend to take relatively short vacations. A Resume-Now survey revealed that 26 percent of Americans have never taken off two weeks straight. What’s more, the average American worker only receives 14 days off per year, compared to 30 in Brazil, France, Germany, and Spain, 28 days in Italy, 26 days in the U.K…the list goes on and, sadly, we are at the bottom of it.

So when we do take a vacation, it’s usually brief. Because of that, there isn’t much time to get into “vacation mode” before we’re forced to return to the workplace. Additionally, because our vacations are relatively short, we sometimes feel pressured to see and do EVERYTHING in a short stretch of time. Ironically, that can make us positively exhausted at the end of a vacation.

What to do?

Ideally, Americans would be granted more vacation days in a year AND actually use them. But if that’s not a possibility, it’s smart to get the most out of your vacation, even if it only lasts a week or a few days. To do that, it pays to take several steps to prepare. Otherwise, you’ll be thinking about work duties as you’re trying to relax on the beach or hiking through the woods, and no one wants that.

Try following these five steps:

1. Loop in Everyone Who Matters

When you’re preparing to take a vacation, it’s not enough to simply inform your boss. Loop in any co-workers you regularly work with, clients who will likely email you, or support staff with whom you regularly connect. If you have any responsibilities that need to be covered, be sure to find someone to take over these duties well in advance. Make sure to thoroughly cover the material and answer any questions ahead of time. The last thing you want to do on vacation is field questions about how to log into a certain system or run a certain report.

2. Set Your Vacation Responder One Day Early

Set your vacation responder one day early. This will serve as a reminder to those who regularly email you that you’ll be out of the office the next day. That way, they can quickly run any urgent business by you before you take off.

3. Take a Half-Day on Either End

If you can, take half a day off before and after your vacation. The half-day before your vacay will give you ample time for last-minute packing, watering the plants, passing along instructions to the dog sitter, or any other final preparations you need to make for the next day. When you return, take another half-day to sleep in and have a restful morning. You’ll probably need it if you have a jam-packed vacation itinerary OR if your flight back is delayed.

4. Set Up House Care Well in Advance (and have a backup plan)

There’s always a checklist of routine items that need attention when you’re taking a vacation that lasts more than a couple of days. Your mail needs to be collected (or you need to set up a mail hold through the post office), your plants and animals need care, your sidewalk needs to be shoveled (if it’s winter and you live in a cold climate), your garden needs to be watered (in the summer), etc., etc. To cut down on stress, set up your house care plan well in advance. It’s also a good idea to have a backup plan or person in mind in case your original plan goes awry.

5. Don’t Over-Plan Your Trip

If your itinerary is filled to the brim and you’re spending most of your time driving from attraction to attraction, you likely won’t feel like you’ve had a vacation at all. I encourage you to tone down your vacation ambitions! Aim to see or do one or two things every day, and have a list of backups in case you’re itching to do more. By keeping your itinerary simple and manageable, you’ll have more time to relax, enjoy the company of your travel companion(s), and even be a little spontaneous (you never know when you’ll fall in love with a restaurant/landscape/attraction and want to stay a little longer).

When you’re planning a vacation this year, do your best to be fully immersed in it. With adequate planning, you should be able to press pause on your inbox, feel confident that things are running smoothly without you, and enjoy the moment. You deserve it.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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