Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Your Mental First Aid Kit

A Tweet-mate and fellow author got stuck on something. He knew what he wanted to do, but it just wasn't happening. Much sorrow and frustration followed.

I understand. I've been there. I've learned a few tricks over the years.

In every craft, in every skill set, one of the most necessary tools for the professional is their First Aid Kit. These are the tools necessary to fix something when it goes snafu. A violinist has spare strings and a second bow*.  Every car should have a spare tyre and the tools to change it. Every hospital has a crash cart. Every mother has a box of bandaids and an ice pack or three. These are the items of their First Aid Kits.

For those of us who use our brains in creative work, we need a Mental First Aid Kit for those times we get stuck in the mud.

They include (in no particular order):

  1. Sleep.  This is at the top of my list for so many reasons.  Sleep resets the brain chemistry. Sleep also turns off the busybody conscious and lets the pure subconscious get to work without interference. Regardless of what you do, music, writing, calculating, your performance will be better after some good sleep.
  2. Do something else. Anything else. If your brain is fatigued in one direction, move it in another. this is the equivalent of stretching. Draw, dance, sports, mathematics. I'll work out astrophysics equations to give my brain a break.
  3. Eat. Low blood sugar does nobody any good. The human brain requires sufficient glucose to function. If it doesn't have this, it will slow down and even stop working in higher functions in an effort to conserve the glucose for necessary stuff. Like breathing.
  4. Read for pleasure. Now, this is more a writerly thing, but also works for everyone else. Sometimes you've just gotta chill out. Try reading outside yr preferred genres so you don't fall into a familiar rut.
  5. Meditate. Slow your body and brain down. Let it catch up. Shut all words out of your head and Just Be.
  6. Service to other human beings. I really should list this as #2, if I was going in order of importance. Go do something kind for someone. As a Relief Society sister, I can't tell you just how powerful helping someone else is in putting your life and soul back into its proper place. When you forget yourself, that is when your self finds you. Go mow a neighbor's lawn. Offer to take your elderly neighbor shopping. Babysit for a single mother one afternoon. Bake cookies for the lonely kid down the street.
  7. Change your outfit to something fancy. Sometimes we get so stuck in one identity that we need to literally change our clothes so we look different. Remember the old "Hello Dolly" song "Put on your Sunday Clothes when you feel down and out"? There's a reason it works.
  8. Don't force yourself to do something you can't do at the moment. It's like forcing a cat to cuddle you. They simply won't. Sometimes you've got to relax, sit back and let the cat come to you. Whatever it is you need to do, let go for now and it will come back to you. Be patient in this thing.
So when you get stuck, don't let your brain freeze and the Dementors to fly in. If you have a Mental First Aid Kit, know that you can get unstuck. It might not be this very moment, but it can happen.

*Her Grace has a story for you:

Once upon a time when Her Grace was a mere Ladyship, she had to play the violin for exams. Every performer worries about their pieces--are they playing them well, will they remember how to play the piece, will they remember how to play the violin, will they remember how to breathe?

But nobody ever expects their equipment to fail on them.

That's what happened to Her Ladyship. In the middle of the piece, the head mortise of her bow fell out, sending horsehair flying everywhere. Technical difficulties. To her dismay, she did not have a second bow with her. Fortunately, she had an audience of about a hundred other violinists, one of whom was more than happy to lend her one.  She finished the piece and earned a Superior rating.

Moral of the story: never hurts to have your first aid kit well-stocked.

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