December 14, 2008

One Step At a Time

My brother and I wanted to do the unthinkable today. Hey Dao! let's go run a half marathon! I'd never before and actually felt a bit reluctant, I had a small blister on my left foot from trying out a new running shoe. My trusty gray pumas still work better. Two hours, battery acid legs, and chest palpitations later we arrived back where we started and I leapt to high-five the stop sign. We had covered 14 miles and I was giddy with disbelief. It's nice when you can still surprise yourself.

Even though I was so sore, I ecstatically pulled a "brandi chastain" - tore off my jacket, shirt, shoes, socks, sunglasses and celebrated by screaming unintelligible sounds at no one in particular. My brother laughed.

Ken says everyone he loves is leaving him. His kids and former spouse are possibly going back to Mexico. I'm headed up to Dallas to share some precious moments with them. My baby sister moved up to New Jersey for a new life. I wish her health, happiness, and know she will learn a lot from the experience. And I am slowly transitioning to Austin to "see about a girl".

The run taught me some things. Expect challenges. the road is not always easy and smooth.  However, if you press on, there is something special waiting for you on the other side. On this run, a magical creek bed that I had not known existed. My brother and I lost each other somewhere along mile 3 and found each other again around mile 9. I was so happy to see him and he gave me a much needed physical and emotional boost. It's true, there is strength to be found with the right people. I had promised myself not to give up and the promise propelled me through, that and gummy bears (much cheaper and tastier than those goo gel packs).

There are certain portions of the run where you get a second wind. Life has a way of changing one's perspective, one's experience of it. For me, when I get close to the end of anything there is definitely a second boost. "Almost there!" we say to ourselves. One foot in front of the other.  One step at a time.

November 18, 2008

Spent a week in Los Angeles urban camping with my brother for his 32nd birthday. Here are my favorite shots from my brief visit. Credit to Sheryl Crow, "If it Makes You Happy."

Los Angeles from dao nguyen on Vimeo.

November 04, 2008

Where Are The Keys?

In Transit from Dallas To Houston

I spent the weekend at my parents. It's always a mixed feeling experience; one part joy of seeing my other siblings/nephews and one part pain because my dad can make critical comments about the slightest things. The worst this visit being an outburst about my brother having shaved off his hair.  Later the same day I lost the car keys. To make things more complicated, my mother's shop keys were attached and I ran over a nail and got a flat tire.

I've had many challenging circumstances in my solo travels.  What make this particular test more daunting than others however is that I feel I have my dad breathing down my neck the whole time. To top it off, I misplaced both of my mp3 players.

In times of stress s like this I try my best to pull from it something positive, perhaps a lesson. I ask myself "what can I use from this or learn from this"- a reminder that it's all relative; some guy is starving in Somalia.  This is nothing, yet it's my nothing.

While searching for my missing things I was searching for a common theme.  All of this had to mean something. I feel experiences are wasted otherwise. One of the reasons I keep this blog is to remind myself of the lessons I've learned in life. I'm a college drop-out so it's even more important to prove to myself that I can do well in life despite having made that decision.  Losing my keys doesn't help with that campaign.

My sister in law offered to take me back to my mom's deli, the last place I remember seeing the keys  and a miracle happened. Evidently, I had dropped them along with my card keys right in front of the deli door. I was ecstatic and thanked my lucky stars. Later that evening my nephew found my music players and I felt like the luckiest guy. Having retrieved these missing items I thought to myself, what else have I misplaced in my life and is there still hope of retrieving this things also? I thought of my relationships with certain friends and family members. I've been gone for so long.  Can I pick up where I left off?  Are some things lost forever? beyond replacement and repair? I'd love to hear what you think.

"Maybe redemption has stories to tell,
Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell"
- "Dare You To Move" by Switchfoot

November 01, 2008

Renaissance Man

My Brother, Ken, is a renaissance man. He is an artist, an athlete, a father, an all-around interesting character and I am proud to know him as a brother.

October 28, 2008

8 Tremendously Important Ways That Gratitude Can Change Your Life by Leo Babuata of

8 Tremendously Important Ways That Gratitude Can Change Your Life

by Leo Babuata of

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.” - Meister Eckhart

It’s amazing how one simple, easy, positive action can change so much in a person’s life.

One of the things that has had the biggest effect on my life is the realization of the power of gratitude. Simply giving thanks.

It has affected everything. It has made me a more positive person. A more productive person. A better achiever. A better husband and father and son and brother (at least, I like to think so). A happier person. I’m not perfect, but gratitude has made me better.

Can it change your life as well? I can guarantee it. You might not get the exact same benefits as I have, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the simple act of gratitude on a regular basis will change anyone’s life, positively and immediately. How many other changes can claim to be that quick, that easy, and that profound?

Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can incorporate gratitude into your life, and how it will change your life. These are just some examples, based on my experience and the experiences of others I’ve talked with, and not all will apply to your life. But pick and choose the ones you think will work for you.

1. Have a morning gratitude session. Take one minute in the morning (make it a daily ritual) to think of the people who have done something nice for you, to think of all the things in your life you’re grateful for. You won’t get to everything in one minute, but it’s enough. And it will instantly make your day better, and help you start your day off right. Can you think of a better use of one minute?

2. When you’re having a hard day … make a gratitude list. We all have those bad days sometimes. We are stressed out from work. We get yelled at by someone. We lose a loved one. We hurt a loved one. We lose a contract or do poorly on a project. One of the things that can make a bad day much better is making a list of all the things you’re thankful for. There are always things to be thankful for — loved ones, health, having a job, having a roof over your head and clothes on your back, life itself.

3. Instead of getting mad at someone, show gratitude. That’s a major switching of attitudes — actually a complete flip. And so this isn’t always easy to do. But I can promise you that it’s a great thing to do. If you get mad at your co-worker, for example, because of something he or she did … bite your tongue and don’t react in anger. Instead, take some deep breaths, calm down, and try to think of reasons you’re grateful for that person. Has that person done anything nice for you? Has that person ever done a good job? Find something, anything, even if it’s difficult. Focus on those things that make you grateful. It will slowly change your mood. And if you get in a good enough mood, show your gratitude to that person. It will improve your mood, your relationship, and help make things better. After showing gratitude, you can ask for a favor — can he please refrain from shredding your important documents in the future? And in the context of your gratitude, such a favor isn’t such a hard thing for the co-worker to grant.

4. Instead of criticising your significant other, show gratitude. This is basically the same as the above tactic, but I wanted to point out how gratitude can transform a marriage or relationship. If you constantly criticize your spouse, your marriage will slowly deteriorate — I promise you. It’s important to be able to talk out problems, but no one likes to be criticized all the time. Instead, when you find yourself feeling the urge to criticize, stop and take a deep breath. Calm down, and think about all the reasons you’re grateful for your spouse. Then share that gratitude, as soon as possible. Your relationship will become stronger. Your spouse will learn from your example — especially if you do this all the time. Your love will grow, and all will be right in the world.

5. Instead of complaining about your kids, be grateful for them. Many parents (myself included) get frustrated with their children. They are too slow to do things, they have a bad attitude, they can’t clean up after themselves, and they pick their nose too much. Unfortunately, sometimes parents will communicate that frustration to their children too often, and the kids will begin to feel bad about themselves. Many parents have done this, and while it’s not perfect, it’s a part of parenthood. But there’s a better way: follow the method above of calming down when you’re frustrated, and thinking of reasons you’re grateful to your child. Share these reasons with your child. And then take the opportunity to teach them, instead of criticizing them.

6. When you face a major challenge, be grateful for it. Many people will see something difficult as a bad thing. If something goes wrong, it’s a reason to complain, it’s a time of self-pity. That won’t get you anywhere. Instead, learn to be grateful for the challenge — it’s an opportunity to grow, to learn, to get better at something. This will transform you from a complainer into a positive person who only continues to improve. People will like you better and you’ll improve your career. Not too shabby.

7. When you suffer a tragedy, be grateful for the life you still have. I’ve recently lost an aunt, and my children recently lost a grandmother. These tragedies can be crippling if you let them overcome you. And while I’m not saying you shouldn’t grieve — of course you should — you can also take away something even greater from these tragedies: gratitude for the life you still have. Appreciation for the fleeting beauty of life itself. Love for the people who are still in your life. Take this opportunity to show appreciation to these people, and to enjoy life while you can.

8. Instead of looking at what you don’t have, look at what you do have. Have you ever looked around you and bemoaned how little you have? How the place you live isn’t your dream house, or the car you drive isn’t as nice as you’d like, or your peers have cooler gadgets or better jobs? If so, that’s an opportunity to be grateful for what you already have. It’s easy to forget that there are billions of people worse off than you — who don’t have much in the way of shelter or clothes, who don’t own a car and never will, who don’t own a gadget or even know what one is, who don’t have a job at all or only have very menial, miserable jobs in sweatshop conditions. Compare your life to these people’s lives, and be grateful for the life you have. And realize that it’s already more than enough, that happiness is not a destination — it’s already here.

“Everyday, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.” - Dalai Lama

October 18, 2008

Random Thoughts From Past Weeks

Listening to Countin Crows' "Perfect Blue Buildings" over and over tonight and thinking of friends new and old and thinking of the different challenges we all face. Some of us have kids. Other's still, like myself, are searching for the elusive place called 'home.'

After a two week layoff, my brother Ken is finally running with me again. He had been recovering from a rib injury that I inflicted on him accidentally during a roughhousing session. We ran for an hour despite the rain and I felt strong and focused. The maxim is true, two heads are better than one, strength in numbers. I got to visit my adorable nephew Pablo whom we affectionately call "Pablito", little Pablo. These two people in my life also happen to be father and son.

October 02, 2008

Urban Camping

I needed something to sleep on of course having $20 dollars to my name cuts off a lot of options. My attitude was I'll find a way. Homelessness is real. I was at the beach, beautiful! but needed a cot to sleep on. The Clay Hostel using my experience sleeping in the UT Theater department which I discovered by sleeping in the music lounge at Richland College it was too hot to do so in the car. An evolution of public camping.

It all started at UT. I was depending on friends and girlfriends but knew I couldn't forever depend on them. My college girlfriend told me that I could no longer stay. Looking back I can see how difficult that must have been for her. God bless her sweet soul. So many things left unsaid between past lovers. I needed a place to sleep. I was hangin' out at Jester Dorm because they have showers and found out that their were study rooms that students would use in the wee hours. I noticed that some students would take naps there sometimes "crashing" on the sofas. S I imitated, pulled a couple sofa section couches together left some books out as if I were a student still and pulled out. I would wake the next morning very early (the janitors came around 6 AM) and start my day again. It wasn't comfortable but hey! I wasn't out on the scary streets either.

I've come a long way. Most people think that sharing a room with my brother is tight quarters. I say it's all relative. My sleeping quarters have included and not limited to: theater back stages, band rooms, audition rooms, bathroom in apartment gym, boiler rooms (2), rooftops of hostels, rooftop of college campus, 24-hour study rooms, a dodge van, honda accord, toyota cressida, mitshubishi pickup, back of a van, countless hostel couches , couch-surfs, Walmarts and gas station parking lots. It gets either freezing cold or ridiculously hot. My brother, Ken, has done similar. Two hippies finding our way home.

September 21, 2008

September 19, 2008

Hurricane Bonding

We got our electricity back on last evening and although it's been a fun challenge to go without for a week, we're very glad it's back on. The first couple of nights you look for some way to past the time especially at night when it's pitch dark. My neighbors formed a drum circle led by Desmond who is from Ghana, Africa and two sisters from Galveston. I volunteered my interpretive dancing.

We had a barbecue going and we all shared the grill (the only way to have a hot meal if you didn't own a gas stove). My neighbor Joel, a self-proclaimed redneck from 'Mizzurah' was so kind to lend me a little ice chest for the veggies that would have gone bad in my fridge.

One day at the Hilton Hotel (the one I adopted as my second home) my sister and I met a little girl who was looking despondent. We asked her if she wanted to play dominoes with us and ended up stacking them into domino buildings instead. We found out her name is Stephanie and that her dad works as the head chef at the hotel. She was so adorable and we wouldn't have met her if we hadn't gone there. We wouldn't have gone there if the electricity hadn't gone out. I sometimes ask myself if people come into our lives for a specific purpose and end up "we make up our own reasons, our own meanings."

No one was hurt from the trees falling here. But I am going to miss them much.

September 17, 2008

September 12, 2008

It's Has To Be the Hair

I got my hair permed yesterday, and I must admit, I look hawt! LOL.

These are my five siblings at a raceoff last year in Dallas. I have to defend my title on Oct. 11 and am training for that. Well, have a great weekend, I will try to capture some footage of this Hurricane.

September 08, 2008

Third Times the Charm

I've moved back to Texas and am living with my big brother in an apartment near the Galleria mall. It's not my ideal environment. Too much concrete and cars. Although we share a car, we try to get around as much as possible by bike. We have lot's of fun here and I am blessed to have such a wonderful sibling in my life. Portland was great but I longed for the familiarity of family too much while I was there so I didn't make the most of it. Well, we live and we learn :) Don't you agree? This is my third time living in Houston and I think it will fair much better than the first two.

The video is my brother, Ken, who is rollerblading while I ride his bicycle and film him. He's quite a character and I'm almost sure you would enjoy his company. He's 4 years older than me but doesn't look it and definitely doesn't act it. I love him. The streets of houston are not friendly, but we sometimes give each other piggy back rides on the bicycle and think of it as bringing joy and individuality to the urban landscape.

August 26, 2008

August 22, 2008

people first, then place

it took two times for me to realize, great weather means nothing if I'm depressed and holed up in my room all day. social environment is very important. Why to San Fran and Denver running away from pain. I want to stop that behavioral pattern. Running away from the weather. But also, the negativity I felt the last few days before I left are not positive.

August 07, 2008

Gustavo's Taco Shack

There's a taco shack by the library i frequent that's great. It's run by a couple of hispanic guys in a mobile unit, you know the big white box-like van with the crazy sounding horn except thy're staionary by a mini-mart. I gaterh they have some type of arrangement with the store owners. I don't know their names but if I did one would be called Gustavo and his sidekick "Pedro".

Today, Gustavo's 12-year old daughter is tending the cash register. What a cutie. I order three tacos in spanish, "dos de carne asada y uno de pollo...para aqui". She asks me where I come from and I jokingly replied, "the library". "No, where are you originally from?" I giggled and said, "I know, I was only kidding. I am from Viet Nam". "Oh, cool" she says, "I have a friend from Vietnam and I can speak a little vietnamese." She says, "Ban que khong?" which is an endearing way to say "how are you". I am smitten. The tacos are always terrific and I enjoy them by the small outdoor patio they have set up and wonder how I can help them with their lives here. Everyone is working to survive and be happy. I hope that little girl and her family get everything they want out of the American Dream.

July 02, 2008

Longing to Belonging

I've been longing for a feeling of belonging. I am sitting at an Asian supermarket here in Portland at one of the tables they set out for someone to eat at if they bought something from the store and want to enjoy it here. I haven't bought anything from the store yet but i have pretty much learned to freeload any and everything i can in life.

I am writing out of a feeling of disassociation, in terms of the need to belong to someone or some group. My roommate has a hawt girlfriend and they are always laughing and enjoying each other...awww, how sweet...barf! I don't want to see that! Sometimes I hear them giggle behind closed doors and that's when i imagine myself barging in and throwing hot water on them. I dunno if that would take the pain of not belonging to someone away. Would I enjoy it? probably.

So what is it like for a person to uproot himself and be in a place he is not from? Who does he belong to? I guess you could say I still belong to my family, mother father sisters and brothers. More frequent visitation would instill a stronger sense of belonging. I found a subculture of cyclists here in Portland. It basically resembles an audience at a sex pistols or any other punk 80's band concert. I feel a sense of belonging with them.

Went dumpster diving yesterday. Couldn't find any food. My friend, Ryan had done it the day previous and scored 5 bags of sweet rolls. Not 2 or 3, but five. The only thing i got for my troubles was an accidental poke in the finger by a hypodermic needle who knows where it's been (joking).

Sometimes when i go to a new city I always try to find the Asian part of town and go to a Pho restaurant. Always helps to remind me of my mom and home cooking. I remember being in Denver and frequenting the one and only Vietnamese buffet that I have ever encountered. I wonder why they don't do it more often. It was pretty good. You could make bowls and bowls of prepare-it-yourself Pho and bun bo hue. Not bad I would say.

Those are the small gems I enjoy being away from friends and family. But it's also important to not feel like I don't belong. I try to mitigate this pain by writing to friends, text messaging, instant messaging, etc. There is a lonely looking lady eating all by herself across the store from me I can spot her from where I am. Then what appears to be an acquaintance of hers approaches and makes small talk, even pats her on the shoulder and they exchange pleasantries and these gestures make me feel warm inside.

The Vietnamese are so cute with their public displays of affection. Rarely is there hugging or kissing. It's smiles and love taps on the shoulder. Cute. Note to self: try to involve yourself in more love tapping. *ahem*

June 18, 2008

Life Experiement: Giving Up T.V.

I notice that whenever I am super stressed upset or whatever, I invariably go for the remote. That's right, good ole tv; nothing like it to numb the pain away.

Where did I pick up this as my preferred coping mechanism? Not sure, but what I am sure about is that I am giving up television for the next thrity days, that includes television, cable, film, an dall forms on online televisin. An experiement to see if I am gothe quality of my life increases without television of any kind.

My theory is that I will be much more productive. This sounds obvious, but for 5 or so years now I have been in a cycle of strive, strive, strive, hit a wall, get frustrated, seek comfort in fthe form of television. Get numb. Mispend my youth, feel badly. Get back on the saddle. Repeat.

Well I will try to put a kink in that cycle by giving up t.v. My hope is when I hit my next wall, which is inevitable, I will rely on reading and writing as coping mechanisms over television. This will prove to make a positive change. There so much good television to watch, but I hear that there's also a lot of life to live also.

June 01, 2008

What We're Looking For May Be Closer To Home

I want write story about all my searching and looking for something through my solo travels when my dad's acceptance was what I really longed for the whole time.

May 17, 2008

April 15, 2008

Goodbye To You, Austin

Sweet moments from my half year here in Austin. Wish me luck in Portland. Why Portland? Why not.

March 24, 2008

March 17, 2008

March 08, 2008

Live What You Love

I read a great book once when I was depressed, a self-help book, naturally, entitled "Live What You Love" by a married couple named the Blanchards. They are one of my heroes and I, too, want to "Live what I Love." My problem is I love to create but sometimes I get sick of it as well and want to do something else. I've found that the best thing is discipline and also variety.

It is important to keep on going on even when you don't feel like it. Right now my discipline muscles are not well developed. I can only do what I don't want to do and keep my focus on such activities for no more than 30 minutes currently twice a day. So basically, I am a slacker. I "work" about an hour a day and the rest of the time I am doing whatever the hell it is I want. My goal for the end of March is to be able to "work" 45 minutes everyday, twice a day. I'm on target to reach that. Hey, you gotta start small, eh?

Once my discipline matches my dreams I will really go places. So for now, I'm still daydreaming about the following:
I find that passion and girls and work are all inter-related. Case in point. There are a lot of jobs and girls out there. Each with there perks and minuses. For example one girl could be super pretty but with a short temper. Another could be a whole lot of fun but old enough to be my grandmother. So for the time being we take bits and pieces of what we can and live off that. The goal or my dream I guess is to have the one woman or the one career that fulfills all of my needs.

That would really be something wouldn't it? And to create a life that are all those qualities. It seems all so egocentric. Me, me, me. I wish I could have the things that bring me joy so that I can offer joy back. The ideal would be to do something that brings me joy that also brings others joy. Ah, so idealistic. Is there such a thing? I don't know any other way.
On the surface I'm funny and always try to make people feel something evoke an emotion I guess, but in private I'm very worried and anxious, desperately, at times trying to figure out how to live my life. When I'm in flow state it's wonderful. I really do enjoy being alive. Oftentimes, however, it seems like a struggle. I wish I could just follow a daily formula. something that proves to work time and time again without fail. Does such a formula exist?

I say that creating is my miracle drug. Sometimes I get burnt out though. For example, I'm working on this blog and reach a point where I feel, okay, that's enough. I don't really want to do anymore. I'd just like to lay down and close my eyes and dream sweet dreams.

Oftentimes this is because some other need has not been met. I'm hungry or feeling neglected. for example, Aubrey is suppose to call me. It's already 4PM and it looks unlikely that she will follow through with what she said. She's probably on the defensive and will write an apology later.

I'll tell you what has worked. On my daylog it reads setting specific goals. My specific goal right now is to crank 7 more minutes of writing. 2nd on things that have worked is the daily adjust. Okay, so here we go. to keep our habits is key yes I agree and creative activity seems to work but at times we don't want to be creative and just want to relax. shall i force myself to create? I'll nap. Napping always seems to give me a boost. listening and grooving to music is only ephemeral and not intrinsic. having a performance day, yes, that is very key. to set specific goals with a deadline that is part of being specific. make it attainable and measurable.

They are playing football as we speak. Damn, the dog farted. something tonight?

March 06, 2008

Miracle Drug

For me, the act of creating (whether it be making music, pictures, or film) can often yield the best high. Here, I went blog crazy. Click on the images to enjoy.

March 05, 2008

March 02, 2008

Sibling Reunion

We haven't been together even once in the past three years so it was a much needed get together for the Nguyen Siblings in Sachse, TX.

February 24, 2008

February 17, 2008

Break Yoself

Joining Hill Country Outdoors, a social group here in Austin has helped me to make friends and keep things interesting. Here we play a precarious game of dodgeball on ice. The skinny asian guy with glasses is a friend, Tommy, who (three days later) flew to Oslo, Norway to fulfill a dream of sushi cheffing abroad.

January 24, 2008

Don’t Like Meditation? Try Gratitude Training. (Plus: Follow-up to “Testing Friends” Firestorm)

Filling the Void

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk and zen teacher once nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr., has a knack for making the esoteric understandable.

In discussing what some call “present state awareness”–experiencing and savoring the present—he offers a simple parable:

Let’s say that you want to eat a peach for dessert one evening, but you decide to only allow yourself this luxury after washing the dishes. If, while washing the dishes, all you think of is eating the peach, what will you be thinking of when you eat the peach?

The clogged inbox, that difficult conversation you’ve been putting off, tomorrow’s to-do list?

The peach is eaten but not enjoyed, and so on we continue through life, victims of a progressively lopsided culture that values achievement over appreciation. But let’s get specific.

If we define “achievement” as obtaining things we desire (whether raises, relationships, cars, pets, or otherwise) that have the potential to give us pleasure, let’s define “appreciation” as our ability to get pleasure out of those things. To focus on the former to the exclusion of the latter is like valuing cooking over eating.

How then, do we develop the skill of appreciation, which is tied so closely to present state awareness?

There are a few unorthodox tools that we’ve explored already for state awareness, like the 21-day no-complaint experiment, but the most common mainstream prescription is meditation.

The problem with meditation is that it too often gets mixed with mysticism and judgment (attempting to forcefully exclude certain thoughts and emotions). Who really wants to visualize a candle flame for 30 minutes? It can work, but it doesn’t work for most.

Here’s where we enter the 60-second solution: gratitude training. From Cornell to the University of Michigan, scientists are looking at the far-reaching effects of practicing gratitude just like exercise.

Here is one example from Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis and Dr. Michael McCollough of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas:

“The first group kept a diary of the events that occurred during the day… the second group recorded their unpleasant experiences, [and] the last group made a daily list of things for which they were grateful.

The results of the study indicated that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. Additionally, the gratitude group experienced less depression and stress, was more likely to help others, exercised more regularly and made more progress toward personal goals. According to the findings, people who feel grateful are also more likely to feel loved.

McCollough and Emmons also noted that gratitude encouraged a positive cycle of reciprocal kindness among people since one act of gratitude encourages another… McCullough suggests that anyone can increase their sense of well-being and create positive social effects just from counting their blessings.”

In practical terms, here is one example of how you can test the effects of gratitude training in less than 10 minutes over the next week:

From Thanksgiving to next Thursday, November 29th, ask yourself the following question each morning, immediately upon waking up and before getting out of bed:

What am I truly grateful for in my life?

Aim for five answers, and if you have trouble at first, ask yourself alternative probing questions such as:

What relationships do I have that others don’t?
What do I take for granted?
What freedoms, unique abilities, and options do I have that others don’t?
What advantages have I been given in life?
Which allies and supporters have helped me to get to where I am?

Thanksgiving shouldn’t just come once a year. Use it as a system restart and a chance to put your appreciation back on track with your achievement.

Don’t forget the peach… and Happy Thanksgiving!

January 18, 2008

Staying Motivated

Staying Motivated

Maintaining Motivation

Whether your chosen medium is pictures or language, food or formulas, everyone has the capacity to be creative in their work. But we can often lose our motivation to create, making it difficult to stay focused and excited on a project. So how does one keep their creative well from drying up?

Maintaining your motivation to create is actually a long-term endeavor. Starting out can be tough, but with discipline and consistency you will eventually reach a point where staying motivated only requires minimal daily maintenance—a simple matter of learning to make the right choices at the right time.

Of course, everyone is different, and each person will have their own unique formula to propel themselves into a creative frenzy. So while this article offers some possible solutions, it is up to you to make the right choices to keep yourself motivated. Maintaining motivation requires paying attention to your behavior, listening to your instincts, and learning how to encourage, bargain, and even trick yourself into being creative.

Phase I: starting out

As I’ve mentioned, starting from scratch is the hardest part, and rewards don’t come quick. But if you want to reach a point where all you need to do is give your motivation occasional maintenance, you have to start somewhere.

Here’s a few tips to help you when you’re starting out:

Set goals

It’s a lot easier to stay motivated when you feel like you’ve accomplished something, but how can you know when you succeed if you never set a goal? Give yourself something to achieve.

Stack the deck

Keeping interested and motivated is directly related to those successfully met goals. Set yourself up for more success than failure by being realistic in your goal setting. Small, bite-sized tasks at first. As you get more and more successes under your belt, make your goals more ambitious.

Build a creative den

Whether it’s your desk area, a dark cave, a hotel room, or a home office, you need a place specifically set aside to be creative in. Once you’ve decided on that place, use it like the dickens. Each creative success you have in that location will train your mind to be creative within its boundaries. When I set foot inside my office, something clicks on in my brain, and I’m ready to work. Sure, it took about six months to turn into a den—but trust me, it’s time and effort well spent.

Retreat, but don’t surrender

Never give up on projects or problems. Put them aside for a while, but always come back to solve them (even if it’s only developing a theory for solving them). Solving these problems will build your confidence, your knowledge, and (hopefully) your portfolio.

Find your cycle

Just as your body has optimal times for sleeping and eating, there’s also an optimal time when your body is at its most creative (and, unfortunately, least creative). For me, that super-creative time is in the morning. I know many other people find that they’re most creative late at night. Find out when you’re at your creative best, and start using that time to your advantage; save your least creative time to do the mundane administrative aspects of your job.

The right tools

Being creative is difficult enough; don’t make it harder for yourself by using inferior (or just plain wrong) tools. Explore your options and find the tools that allow you to create what you want to create, and get the best ones you can afford.

Follow your progress

Seeing just how far you’ve come can be an excellent motivational tool. If you don’t stop every so often to see where you were a couple months ago, and where you are now, do it—you might surprise yourself with how much you’ve gotten done, or how much you’ve creatively grown. Or perhaps you’ll feel you didn’t get enough done, and it will strengthen your resolve to work harder. Whatever the case, it’s worth it to check every once in a while.

Phase II: maintenance

Applying the tips from above, you’ll hopefully reach a point where you’re consistently motivated. Yet even when you’ve reached this plateau, you will occasionally hit points where that fervor wanes. It’s in those instances when you’ll need to try something new or different, set obstacles, or even take a step backwards in order to get your motivation back.

Here’s some things to try when you feel like you’ve hit a rut:

Don’t set any goals

In the early stages of an idea, or if you’ve stumbled upon a creative endeavor you wish to experiment with, setting goals may destroy some of the spontaneity that makes experimentation so fulfilling. Let things play out naturally, and when you’re ready you’ll know if it’s time to duct tape that idea to a timeline.

Make the goals unrealistic

I believe in certain instances that biting off more than I could chew worked out to my advantage. It helped me focus on the project, and push myself farther than I would normally. Unfortunately, you run the risk of failing to complete those goals, or completing them and completely burning out.

Get out of the house

While a creative den can often get the juices flowing, sometimes it helps to go somewhere different to work. It may not be as familiar and comfortable as your creative den, but it can provide different stimuli that can positively influence your ideas, and eventually your work.

Study your peers

It can be helpful to see what others in your industry are doing. It may provide inspiration, and at the very least will give you an idea of what the standards are for excellence in your particular industry (which can help you figure out what to expect of yourself).

Ignore your peers

While it has its benefits, studying your peers too much can often cause you to focus only on their achievements, and lose focus on your own goals. What’s worse, it can often cause you to doubt your own work if it’s too different from the industry standard. When in fact you might be working on something just so different and fresh that it’s what the industry needs. Have a care, and don’t lose focus on your own work.

Seek external stimulation

We’re absolutely surrounded by the creative output of both human beings and nature. Taking a closer look at everything around you can spark new ideas, and give you insight into how to solve some of your own creative problems. Whether it’s a museum, the center of town, or the biggest damn waterfall you’ve ever seen, there might be something out there to push you back into a creative mode.

Seek internal stimulation

While surrounding yourself with stimuli can be helpful, it’s often just as helpful to remove all external stimuli, and let your brain stimulate itself. For example, I often go running to help give me ideas. Not because I like running, but because it’s possibly the most boring activity in the world. It’s often easier for me to mull over creative problems when there’s nothing for my brain to do.

Keep a sketchbook or notebook

I can’t emphasize this one enough. Ideas—good or bad—need to be recorded. No one can remember them all. Writing down an idea for long-term storage might just free up some room in your brain to tackle new problems. What’s more, you now have a library of ideas to lend a hand when a deadline is looming and you’re not feeling your most creative.

Work through it

While it may seem counterintuitive to force yourself to be creative, often it can work out for the best. It might feel difficult and clumsy at the start, but as you gain momentum you’ll almost always find your motivation has returned. And if it hasn’t, then take comfort in this—sometimes you may feel the work you’re producing is the most horrid abomination the world has seen, you may be producing good work after all. You’re just in the wrong state of mind to tell. Get through things as best as you can—you won’t know whether it’s good or bad until later on.

Give yourself obstacles

Set a time limit, refuse to use a certain tool, make yourself take a more difficult direction—often these obstacles lead to some pretty exciting results.

Remove unnecessary obstacles

We sometimes set unnecessary limits on a project, which hinder our ability to solve the most important problem. If you feel you’re too restricted while trying to solve a creative problem, it can often help to reevaluate the restrictions, and see if some of the unimportant ones can’t be stripped away.

Get on your horse

So there you go. Hopefully, some of these suggestions can help you get on the right path to long-term motivation, or help you jumpstart your slightly-waning creative enthusiasm. As I mentioned above, these are by no means the only solutions. Only you can decide what direction is appropriate when. But with a little luck, experimentation, patience, and persistence, you’ll find the right regimen for keeping your motivation and creativity ever flowing.

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Related Topics: Creativity, Graphic Design


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About the Author

Kevin Cornell Kevin Cornell is an illustrator/designer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He spends the majority of his days maintaining his website, and drafting treaties for imaginary conflicts. It is rumored he is allergic to cashews, but that is largely unconfirmed. Kevin is the staff illustrator to A List Apart.