Why I Torture Myself- And Why You Should Too!

My entire blog (Inquisitiveart.com) is a testament to me making my life harder, and more complicated then it needs to be.

I could just enjoy creating art! Why force myself to draw things I’m bad at? Study the history? Practice a skill so much I’m sick of it and can teach it to others without thinking?

I could just keep it to myself! Why face potential critism and embaressment by sharing my ugly, beginner art with strangers and, even worse, people I actually know?

I could at least set less ridiculous goals and only post after I’ve improved! Why rush to improve? Why not go slow and wait a few weeks, or years, until I’m already a master?

The answer to all of that is that art, and life, is better when you have to struggle a little.

I mean this within reason of course. I personally know the pain of having too much stress and not knowing if you can handle it. Not wanting to go to work in the morning because you know you’ll just end up failing again. Crying in the car on the way to work, dreading another day of unmet (largely self-imposed) expectations.

Just me?

Anyway…

Too much stress and too high of expectations is clearly NOT desirable.

But neither is too little.

I challenge myself artistically because:

  1. Life is better with (reasonable) challenges
  2. Improving artistically has it’s own amazing benefits (for me, and YOU too!)

How challenges make life better

  1. Challenge = achievement and self-efficacy

Self-esteem is great and all. It’s important to think well of yourself and recognize your inherent value, BUT self-efficacy (believing in your ability to DO THINGS) is both important in it’s own right and a great way to build up your self-esteem. Challenging myself beyond what is comfortable helps teach me what I am capable of, what I can personally do and achieve. Self-efficacy is just a fancy way to say that. And with high self-efficacy I can more confidently tackle other, less optional, challenges in my life and succeed.

2. Challenge = visible progress

If you take it slow, if you stay within your limits, if you only do what’s already comfortable-you may still grow…but it’ll be slow. Incremental. Invisible. Pushing myself to learn something more challenging or faster makes my learning more dramatic, visible, and MOTIVATING! Seeing myself improve is exciting and encourages me to keep going-the irony of going slow and steady is that it can actually make it more difficult to persevere than when I am pushing harder.

3. Challenge = learn about self and limits

Challenges, by that I mean trying something before you’re ready or that will be hard and likely frustrating at times, are the only way to test your personal limits. If you just do what you’ve always done, how can you know what you are fully capable of? I think this quote makes my point pretty well:

“Every life form seems to strive to its maximum except human beings. How tall will a tree grow? As tall as it possible can. Human beings, on the other hand, have been given the dignity of choice. You can choose to be all or you can choose to be less. Why not stretch up to the gull measture of the challenge and see what all you can do?”

-Jim Rohn

4. Challenge = Eustress = better resistance to stress

A challenge can also provide the good kind of stress in your life (eustress). Long term, or chronic, stress wears you down, makes you sick, detracts from your ability to focus, and slowly kills you. Not good.

In contrast, brief and intense periods of stress-like completing a strenous physical challenge, meeting a short-term deadline, or creating something and putting it out there for others to comment on (eeek!) can actually be good for you! This eustress challenges and strengthens your body and mind to better deal with challenging situations in the future, but also provides time to recover and grow stronger. This good stress can also be a great way to build up your tolerance for pain and discomfort- as John Morrow says: (in his BRILLLIANT article here: https://unstoppable.me/life-lessons/)

“At some point or another, life punches everyone in the face.
The punch may be hard, or it may be soft, but it’s definitely coming, and your success or failure is largely determined by the answer to a single question: how well can you take the punch?”

Challenging yourself and dealing with eustress and pain within your control better prepares you for when life punches you in the face. Sounds worthwhile.

Conclusion:

In short, I like to set challenges for myself because they make life more exciting, help me improve and build my self-efficacy and confidence, and prepare myself for the challenges that I do NOT choose and can’t avoid.

I believe everyone should have challenges and goals to work towards, whether they have to create them themeselves or not. And if those challenges are creative or artistic there are EVEN MORE benefits!

So go out there, grab a pencil, and get to work!

If you need more convincing of why an artistic challenge is the best kind of challenge, then check out the second part of this article coming tomorrow.