Trust Your Instincts

Updated: Sep 19, 2021

Recently, I’ve been grappling with a few situations that will require difficult decisions to be made. As a result, I’ve been spending some time pondering the paths before me: what’s the right thing to do, what happens if I make the wrong choice, and what if my choice makes someone else upset? While I’ve been examining my choices, a voice has started to speak from within: “Stop doing what you’re supposed to do! For the love of all that is good, do what is right for you. It is time”


But what exactly is this inner voice? And how do we cultivate and encourage it to speak up in our time of need? This voice is our instinct reacting to external experiences. Just like your instincts scream at the main character of every horror movie ever not to go into that creepy, dark, and obviously haunted house alone, they can also guide you in making choices regarding your artistic journey. With that, let’s get into three ways to tap into your instincts and strengthen your inner voice.


Find Your North Star

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Have you ever been lost? As in, you feel like what you’re doing with your art isn’t what you expected or even something you like? Don’t punish yourself. This happens all the time. We start doing something out of love and passion only to end up in the completely wrong place, because we decided to do something based on “shoulds”. This is where your North Star comes in. We all have one. Even if you don’t think you do, I promise it’s in there. (It might take a little more internal tidying to find it beneath all the shoulds.)


Your North Star is the guiding principle in your work. It’s what keeps you centered and moving towards projects that align with what lights you up. For example, I love work that takes me on an adventure. It’s the type of work that when I look at it, I automatically teleport to another realm of existence full of magic and absent of all reality. It took me a while to find the common thread, but eventually I realized I love the art of story-telling. Since this discovery, I’ve been following this North Star and allowing myself to make art that reflects my values.


So how exactly can we go about finding this elusive North Star? Find a place that is quiet, safe, and peaceful. Spend some time decompressing in that space. Then close your eyes and take three deep, expansive breaths, the kind that makes your stomach expand. With a clear mind, ask yourself, “what sets my soul on fire?”. You might get flashes from movies you love, melodies from songs that move you, or passages from books that speak to you. You could also hear words such as “magic” or “peace” or “truth”. You might even reflect on memories from your past. Whatever shows up, accept it and then ponder it. Find the commonality present in those flashes and memories. How they show up in the things you enjoy now is likely your North Star.


Another exercise you can try either alone or in addition to the above is looking back to what you loved as a child. For example, when I was young, I was totally enamored with fictional worlds involving magic: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Chronicles of Narnia, Marvel Comics - the list goes on. By examining these interests, I’ve found that I love stories and their ability to transport us to another place. This has become my North Star and what I want my work to do for others. So reflect on what you loved as a kid, because those past experiences contain nuggets of wisdom for the future that can evolve into your North Star.


As you develop this North Star, you’ll be able to look to the sky during difficult times and get back on course. This might look like turning down work that doesn’t match your mission, revamping your entire portfolio, or switching to another career. And while it might be difficult in the moment, you will eventually get back to where you were meant to be all along.


Body Scan

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Our bodies have an amazing ability to tell us when something isn’t right. But this ability goes beyond connecting food poisoning to that sushi that looked a little iffy; this intuition can also guide our life choices. When I know something isn’t right for me, I can feel it. My neck and shoulders immediately tense up, my heart starts racing, and I feel the urge to run. These aren’t outdated physical responses from our prehistoric ancestors. Responses like this can actually clue us into what is and isn’t working!


Of course, identifying these responses takes practice. And one of the easiest ways to tap into this is through a body scan. To do this, simply sit or lie down in a safe place. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Then call to mind whatever has been bothering you. It might be a commission you’re hesitant about taking, starting a new series that looks really different from your old work, or maybe scrapping a piece entirely. Focus on whatever it is and then start to scan your body for a reaction, starting from the top of your head and moving down to your feet.


If you notice your jaw clenches every time you think about working on a specific commission, that could be a sign it’s not a good fit. Examine why that might be. Does it not fit your style? Is the client being difficult? Do you not like taking commissions? Just listen to your body and honor what it’s trying to tell you. And although this exercise might seem silly, I promise that your instincts shouldn’t be ignored. More often than not, that gut instinct is right. To validate this, go back and list times where you listened to your instincts and it turned out to be right. You’ll be surprised how often this happens.


Embrace Self-Trust

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For some reason, we’re taught to believe that our inner voice is always wrong. We’re told over and over that this voice will lead us down a path of failure. So instead of strengthening our instincts and learning to trust them, we turn to others for advice and how-to’s. As you probably know, this rarely works. I know that every time I ignored my inner voice and did what I was “supposed” to do, I ended up in a place I didn’t want to be. And that’s because those ideas and pieces of advice were coming from an external place.


When we listen to the shoulds of the world, we end up living a life in the way others want us to instead of the way we’re meant to. In the art world that can look like making paintings based solely on trends, doing commissions we hate because it looks good to others, or showing up in a way that doesn’t feel good but is “required” to be a professional artist. This often leads to pain, disappointment, and that feeling of being lost. On the other hand, when we abandon the shoulds and tap into what our inner voice tells us, we find true happiness.


To do this, make a list of the things you’re doing right now that are draining you. Then examine each one and ask yourself, “Am I doing this because I want to or because someone told me I should?” If it’s the latter, ask yourself if you can stop doing that thing right now. If you can, just stop. There’s no reason to continue living for someone else’s approval. If you can’t stop now, though, ask yourself why that is. Is it because you have to make money with that thing? Is it because you have a commitment? List the reason and then make a plan to slowly remove that thing from your life. We don’t have to make giant leaps in order to get back to our authentic selves. In fact, it’s better for our brains and emotional well-being if we start integrating small changes in our existing routines. For example, if you’re tired of taking on specific commissions, finish the ones you accepted, taper off any future commissions in that style, and communicate what type of commissions you’ll be accepting in the future. By incorporating small changes that listen our inner voices, we'll slowly start to turn to them instead of other people.

 

When we don’t live our life according to our inner voice, we start to feel it in our daily lives. Headaches, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and avoidance all start to creep in when we ignore who we truly are for who others want us to be. I encourage you to push back against these ideas and honor your instincts. After all, we have them for a reason.


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Thanks for reading and happy creating!