Big Power in Tiny Acts of Kindness
It is my pleasure to welcome Melissa Dinwiddie to our pages today! More about Melissa below.
In February of 2011, I gave myself a gift: as an experiment, for one month, I committed to spending fifteen minutes every day making art, just for fun, just for me.
I wanted to share about it here, during Kindness Month at The Calm Space, because that 30-day commitment was the kindest thing I think I’ve ever done for myself. This small, daily kindness became an ongoing practice, and has gone on to have a profound impact on my sense of well-being and happiness. I tell this story in the hopes that it may inspire you to try a similar self-kindness experiment.
I called my daily fifteen minutes “playing in the Creative Sandbox,” to distinguish it from the other creative work I do. As a professional artist who made my living from my art, you might think this was nothing new for me, but in fact, it had been over a decade since I’d really let myself play at my drafting table.
I started my art and calligraphy business back in 1996 because I loved creating, but over the years, having to make a living, having to always please, perfect and perform for clients in order to keep the money coming in, all the fun and play had leached out of my art. I found myself making less and less art altogether, and virtually zero art for me as my business evolved.
By 2011, my poor creative spirit was desperate to come out and play! Truly, I’d forgotten how. Hence my fifteen minutes a day challenge.
The Power of Tiny
You might scoff at the notion that fifteen minutes could make a difference. I was skeptical myself, but for the previous decade I’d set the intention countless times to carve out a weekend, or a day, even a couple of hours to get back to my creative joy, and it never happened.
Only for five days each year, at an annual retreat with my calligraphy guild, did I actually give myself the gift of creative play. I’d come home recharged and inspired, re-committed to bringing play back into my “regular life” back home, but I could never quite find the time. Instead, my unmet goals would invariably end up weighing on me—just one more thing I “should” be doing.
What I discovered with my fifteen minutes a day experiment is that frequent, tiny kindnesses actually have a much more profound impact than periodic big ones.
With my goal set to be ridiculously achievable (everybody can carve out fifteen minutes!), I actually managed to start creating again. And because I was making art every day, even when I wasn’t actually doing my art, I was thinking about it, so my toe was perpetually in the “creative stream,” much more so than I would have expected.
Keeping it Kind
I had to leap over a lot of resistance to get back to creating, so I developed a set of rules for myself—my Ten Rules for the Creative Sandbox —to make sure I was really playing, and not drifting back into “work” mode.
In the Creative Sandbox, there is no wrong, so my perfectionist paralysis dissolved.
I told myself that it didn’t matter whether I liked or hated the outcome, that all that mattered was enjoying the process.
When I didn’t know where to start, I started anywhere, trusting that the path would become clear eventually (it always does, if you just start).
I banished my gremlins—those inner voices of self-doubt and self-criticism—outside my studio, and made the Creative Sandbox a “gremlin-free zone.”
I even made rule that whenever I was debating about whether to try something that I feared would ruin a piece, or leave it as-is (and unfinished) so I wouldn’t ruin it, I was to do the thing I feared. I didn’t want “preciousness” and fear of making a mistake to stop me from playing, exploring and growing. And I wanted to be in the space of experimentation and “what if..?”
It’s just a painting, after all—if I “ruined” it, I could respond to that and turn it into something else!
Within just a few days of starting my fifteen minutes a day experiment, I found my mood lifting and my metaphorical fuel tank much fuller than before.
Small Kindnesses Proven by Science
I am reminded of a study by the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, which I read about in the Globe and Mail. The study showed that frequent, small kindnesses toward your spouse or partner make for a stronger, happier relationship than the rare grand gesture.
I can vouch for this with my own relationship: my sweetie has built up way more “money in the bank” with me from the little things he does for me—helping make dinner and do the dishes, taking the garbage out, doing laundry, regular spontaneous neck and shoulder massages, stopping to get something I need on the way home—than from fancy dinners or expensive vacations.
Why should the relationship we have with our self be any different?
For me, the kindest thing I can do for my self is to give myself space and time to create—even just fifteen minutes!
For you, self-kindness may come in a different form, but I invite you to ask yourself, what small kindnesses towards yourself could you incorporate into your daily life? What could you do for yourself, regularly, that would make you feel loved and well taken care of?
Asking that question changed my life. Perhaps it will change yours as well.
About Our Guest Contributor
Melissa Dinwiddie is an artist, writer, performer, creativity instigator and inspirationalist, on a mission to empower people to follow their own creative callings. She coaches and consults with individuals and groups, and leads creativity workshops and retreats in inspiring locations around the world as well as online. You can find Melissa at her blog, Living A Creative Life, on Twitter and Facebook.
To try your own hand at playing in the Creative Sandbox for fifteen minutes a day, check out Melissa’s free course, Creative Sandbox 101.