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Attention Deficit Disorder Association

An Artist's First Job

by Duane Gordon

I'm an artist, and I have ADHD.  I work with a mentor to improve my art, and while I expected to improve my artistic skills, I was shocked.  We do work on composition and color, but we spend the most time (and do the hardest work) on self-awareness.  My mentor explains that an artist's first and most important task is self-discovery; an artist's most valuable asset is self-awareness.
ADHDers aren't renowned for self-awareness, but there are tools and strategies to help in the process of self-discovery.  Artist or not, you can benefit from these self-discovery tools.
Life is easier when you learn from your mistakes, but ADHD can make this difficult.  When things go well, we're eager to move to the next exciting thing, so we don't pause to consider the lessons in our success.  We don't think about how we could succeed in similar situations in the future.  Perhaps we promise to mull it over later to identify successful strategies to re-apply in the future.  But then we promptly forget it, missing a great opportunity to improve our future performance in similar situations.
We also learn valuable lessons when things don't go as we'd hoped.  When things go wrong, we replay events in our minds, but we chastise ourselves for our poor performance without seeking the lesson.  Rather than choosing alternate responses and experimenting with different outcomes in our imaginations, we often spiral down into a black mood that we struggle to escape and we want only to forget once we do.
One of an artist's essential tools for self-discovery is a journal.  Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way recommends a practice called "Morning Pages."  Record your thoughts, complaints, revelations, ideas and expectations by writing three pages in your journal each morning.  Your journal is a place to answer questions about yourself, to explore your values, needs, desires and goals.  For the non-artist, three pages daily may be too big a commitment, but you will achieve significant benefits writing far less.
Using a journal prompts you to reexamine your day for things to write about, to review your successes instead of forgetting them.  It's the perfect opportunity to identify what you did right.  Describing it in your journal helps seal it in your memory, making it easier to repeat successful behavior in the future.  And when things don't go well, writing about it allows you to test alternate approaches in your imagination without beating yourself up.  It's very difficult to ruminate in writing.
I also use my journal to play out future scenarios.  When preparing to face a situation I'm nervous or unsure about, writing about the encounter and the anticipated result imprints the thoughts of how things will go in my mind.  Once I'm in the actual situation, I naturally follow the pattern of behavior I planned, and I'm able to keep a positive attitude by focusing on the success I foresee.
It is not enough to think about the things you'd normally write in your journal.  The writing process helps your organize your thoughts into a coherent sequence.  Since my thoughts often flit around, I often distract myself with a new idea before I've explored the previous one fully.  Writing keeps me on track.
Writing also makes it far easier to spot and eradicate self-sabotaging thoughts or self-judgments.  While you may repeat, "I never do anything right," in your head, write it down and you immediately recognize it as false.  You're free to erase it and adopt a more positive approach.
You don't need complicated tools; a pen or pencil, something to write on and a desire to learn more about yourself are all it takes to start.  You can't do it wrong, and it's very empowering.  You just might accomplish things you never believed possible; I know I did.

Duane Gordon is a Canadian Landscape artist. His new collection celebrates the play of light on the geometry of the buildings of downtown Montreal as it illuminates, reflects on, refracts around or passes through the glass, steel and concrete of modern buildings. Visit his online gallery at www.duanegordon.com.

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