My musician friend and roommate Adrian sent me this Forbes article on 13 Things Mentally Strong People Avoid, which is geared towards entrepreneurs, but I couldn't help but notice how the list could also be applied to artists. Mental Strength, author and psychotherapist Amy Morin explains, "is about finding the courage to live according to your values and being bold enough to create your own definition of success." Adrian and I often discuss GRIT, or the tenacity to keep on working, day in and day out, with very little affirmation that anything will ever 'work out' for you, as one of our favorite take-home ideas of Jonah Lehrer's book Imagine: How Creativity Works (thank you, Harrison, for lending that great read). Lehrer considers grit to be a unifying factor that all 'successful' people have, and certainly, mental health plays a factor in one's ability to persevere. If you fall into one of the very natural behaviors - dwelling in the past, worrying about pleasing others, etc - it becomes very near impossible to have grit. It can take a lot of mental strength to do challenging long-term work, artistic or not, and more and more I see developing grit as a meditation that can not only empower better creative work but more healthful living in general.
This week in particular was an accomplished one - my improv team broke the world record for longest cage match run by winning our 68th show in a row, Chris and I completed our first full-length album together, and a film I acted in was accepted into another film fest. Each of these 'wins' was the product of no less than 68 weeks of work, with the album being a two-year project, the feature having been in development since at least 2008, and countless friends giving their time and enthusiasm as audience members each week. Thousands of hours of work have been put into these endeavors, and I am so humbled by the generosity and talent of everyone involved in each collaboration. However, also this week, my manager announced he was transitioning into becoming an agent and no longer able to work with me. My overwhelmed ego was majorly bummed by the loss of a great ally and valued member of my team, and while I know his decision was not colored by any love-loss for myself, it rattled my foundation a bit. I already have bomb agents I love working with! I just completed some majorly long-term goals! Someone I think is great is moving on up with his career! Yet a sense of apprehension over the change at hand dominated my thoughts. I was at a loss as to how to manage my emotions on the matter.
What's important to remember, I always realize in hindsight, is that mindfulness and mental flexibility is a process. One week I may excel in one area while falling flat in another. I may have all cause in the world to celebrate yet feel compelled to worry - and that's okay. Number 13 on the aforementioned list is that mentally strong people avoid "expecting immediate results." The desire to have mental strength is very different from attaining mental strength, and so it must become a practice, with small steps along the way. The ability to "regulate your emotions, manage your thoughts, and behave in a positive manner, despite your circumstances," as Morin describes, is learned over time, not willed or forced into fruition. Crafting a career as an artist can be confusing and contradictory - we must practice being open and sensitive, expressive and accepting of emotions - while very often needing mental fortitude to dream past what feels like rejection and set-backs along the way.
Thankfully, Amy Morin also created a list of 5 Powerful Exercises to Increase Mental Strength. I sure do love lists, and this one is especially great because it encourages you to practice tolerating discomfort and celebrating your progress while reinforcing some feel-good philosophies I already know to be effective. I highly recommend checking it out and hope you will join me in developing some stronger mental muscles in the New Year.
As always, thanks for reading. Happy Holidays and drop me a line with your thoughts!