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Behavior Influences Attitudes

It’s true that our behavior influences our attitudes. Tibetan monks say their prayers by whirling their prayer wheels on which their prayers are inscribed. The whirling wheels spin the prayers into divine space. Sometimes, a monk will keep a dozen or so prayer wheels rotating like some juggling act in which whirling plates are balanced on top of long thin sticks. Many novice monks are not that all emotionally or spiritually involved at first. It may be that the novice is thinking about his family, his doubts about a religious vocation or something else while he is going through the motions of spinning his prayer wheel. When the novice adopts the pose of a monk and makes it obvious to themselves and others by playing a role, their brain will soon follow the role they are playing. It is not enough for the novice to have the intention of becoming a monk: the novice must act like a monk and rotate the prayer wheels. If one has the intention of becoming a monk and goes through the motions of acting like a monk, one will become a monk.

The great surrealist artist Salvador Dali was described by his fellow students at the Madrid art academy as “morbidly” shy according to his biographer Ian Gibson. He had a great fear of blushing and his shame about being ashamed drove him into solitude. It was his uncle who gave him the sage advice to become an actor in his relations with the people around him. He instructed him to pretend he was an extrovert and to act like an extrovert with everyone including your closest companions. Dali did just that to disguise his mortification. Every day he went through the motions of being an extrovert and, eventually, he became celebrated as the most extroverted, fearless, uninhibited and gregarious personalities of his time. He became what he pretended to be.

The Greek philosopher Diogenes was once noticed begging from a statue. His friends were puzzled and alarmed at this behavior. Asked the reason for this pointless behavior, Diogenes replied, “I am practicing the art of being rejected.” By pretending to be rejected continually by the statue, Diogenes was beginning to understand the mind of a beggar. Every time we pretend to have an attitude and go through the motions, we trigger the emotions we create and strengthen the attitude we wish to cultivate.

If you want to become an artist and go through the motions of being an artist by painting a picture every day, you will become an artist. You may not become another Vincent Van Gogh, but you will create the attitude of an artist and you will become more of an artist than someone who has never tried.

Mona Lisa’s Smile

Think, for a moment, about social occasions-visits, dates, dinners out with friends, gatherings, birthday parties, weddings, etc. Even when you’re unhappy or depressed, these occasions force us to act as if we were happy. Observing other’s faces, postures, and voices, we unconsciously mimic their reactions. We synchronize our movements, posture, and tone of voice with theirs. Then my mimicking happy people, we become happy. You begin to behave like the people who surround you, and that behavior influences your attitude.

Leonardo da Vinci also observed that it’s no mystery why it is fun to be around happy people and depressing to be around depressed people. He also observed the melancholy that painters usually give to portraits. He attributed that to the solitariness of the artist and their joyless environment. According to Giorgio Vasari (1568) that while painting the Mona Lisa Leonardo employed singers, musicians and jesters to chase away his melancholy as he painted. The musicians and jesters forced him laugh and be joyful. This behavior created the attitude of joy and pleasure as he painted. As a result, he painted a smile so pleasing that it seems divine and as alive as the original.

Even Facial Expressions Can Change Your Emotions

CIA researchers have long been interested in developing techniques to help them study facial expressions of suspects. Two of the researchers began simulating facial expressions of anger and distress all day, each day for weeks. One of them admitted feeling terrible after a session of making those faces. Then the other realized that he felt poorly, too, so they began to keep track. They began monitoring their body during facial movements. Their findings were remarkable. They discovered that a facial expression alone is sufficient to create marked changes in the nervous system.

In one exercise they raised their inner eyebrows, raised their cheeks, and lowered the corner of their lips and held this facial expression for a few minutes. They were stunned to discover that this simple facial expression generated feelings of sadness and anguish within them. The researchers then decided to monitor the heart rate and body temperatures of two groups of people. One group was asked to remember and relive the most sorrowful experience in their life. The other group in another room was simply asked to produce a series of facial expressions expressing sadness. Remarkably, the second group, the people who were pretending, showed the same physiological responses as the first.

The CIA researchers in a further experiment had one group of subjects listen to recordings of top comedians and look at a series of cartoons while holding a pen pressed between their lips an action that makes it impossible to smile. Another group held a pen between their teeth which had the opposite effect and made them smile. The people with the pen between their teeth rated the comedians and cartoons much funnier than the other group. What’s more, neither group of subjects knew they were making expressions of emotion. Amazingly, an expression you do not even know you have can create an emotion you did not choose to feel. Emotion doesn’t just go from the inside out. It goes from the outside in.

Try the following thought experiment.

•Lower your eyebrows.

•Raise your upper eyelid.

•Narrow the eyelids.Press your lips together.

Hold this expression and you will generate anger. Your heartbeat will go up ten or twelve beats. Your hands will get hot, and you will feel very unpleasant.

The next time you’re feeling depressed and want to feel happy and positive, try this.

•Put a pen between your teeth in far enough so that it’s stretching the edges of your mouth back without feeling uncomfortable. This will force a smile. Hold it there for five minutes or so. You’ll find yourself inexplicably in a happy mood. Then try walking with long strides and looking straight ahead. You will amaze yourself at how fast your facial expressions can change your emotions.

Advice on how to get out of a rut

1. “Get out of the studio… far away from the computer and look for the fabulous in the mundane. Mini road trips to antique malls and thrift shops provide some of the most amazing juxtapositions of function, color, shape and materials, as well as time to ponder them. Not to mention, the drive itself forces an unplugged brain cleanse that makes space for the new ideas to get in.” — Bob Faust, Principal/Designer,Faust Ltd.

2. “I like to have several things going at once. That way, if one’s not coming I can work on something else. If none of them have any life to ’em, the best thing to do is to just take a break. There’s nothing worse than trying to force it and the world doesn’t need any more bad art; there’s already plenty of that.” — Dmitry Samarov, Painter and Writerp03601l6.jpg

3. “I make a cup of coffee instead of miming one. I stop ripping out my hair in large tufts and watch it grow in. I take a walk and get a life. The rut will pass. Not creating with a gun to your head works, too.” — Susan Messing, Improvisor, Messing With A Friend

4. “I always reach out to my mom to get inspiration if I’m in a rut. Childhood memories are big part of our restaurants. At Urbanbelly, menu item number #15 “Rice Cake” is from a street vendor when I was growing up in Seoul, Korea. So my mom reminds me about certain dishes or even tells me a recipe that she has used.” — Bill Kim bellyQ , Urbanbelly, and bellyshack.

5. “After attending a great play, or great musical concert, I tend to become creatively inspired. After listening to someone like Stevie Wonder in concert for 2 hours, it’s kind of hard not to.” — Billy Branch, Three-time Grammy Award Nominee

6. “The most difficult thing for me is to get started on a big creative project. I have many ideas, but putting them into clear form is a true challenge! In those cases, I need to clear my mind of all other life concerns, and I give myself the time to take a nice walk or do some meditation so that my mind is clear of all the little stresses that get in the way. Then, I reserve a good chunk of uninterrupted time to work, as the big creative projects require intense focus to be formulated.”  — George Lepauw, President and Artistic Director of the International Beethoven Project

7. “To dig my way out of a creative rut, I close the door to my hayloft studio…and hit the closets to play “Keep & Toss.” Once everything is bagged & tagged for donation, I pour a red beverage and turn off my brain in front of an old movie;Mommy Dearest paved the way for Spring ’13!” — Peach Carr, Project RunwaySeason 8 & All Star

8. “In order to come up with new dishes, I fast and go for long runs. Being very hungry brings clarity to exactly what I crave and want to eat. Refinements of these ideas often end up on my menus.” — Gray McNally, Tortoise Club

9. “I lock myself in a dance studio, put on good music and improvise.  Without setting any rules, I simply dance, allowing myself the space to move free of judgment.  Removing the pressure of creating on a deadline or for a specific reason, frees me up, resulting in more spontaneous and rich movement.” — Stephanie Paul, Be the Groove, Co-Founder/Artistic Director

10. “Sometimes when I find myself in a creative rut, I look to my cookbook collection. I more often than not go to the books that I bought when I started cooking, like Alfred Portale’s 12 Seasons, Alain Ducasse’s Grand Livre de Cuisineor even recent publications like anything from Stephane Raynaud. Sometimes just a glimpse at a picture can start the creative juices flowing, and get me back on track.” — Sean Pharr, Chef de Cuisine NoMI Kitchen

11. “When I’m in a creative rut, it is frustrating and tortuous because it can lead to self-doubt and the thought, ‘has my artistic well run dry?’ When it happens, I step away from my work, clear my mind through meditation and have a good laugh watching Modern Family.” — Stacy Bowie, Painter

12. “I believe creative ruts are often related to overtiredness and being overloaded. Rest, breath, laughter and nature for rejuvenation are my go-to solutions, and I often spend time with kids playing because it cleanses my mind and starts me at a free, playful, creative place. Taking quiet time with my animals also puts me in a place to start any creative process, and then I trust.” — Melissa Veal, Wig and Make-up Designer, Chicago Shakespeare Theater

13. “It’s easy to get into a rut when you are conceiving and designing shows a lot, back to back. The nature of commercial theatre dictates that you think really far ahead and sometimes that is very limiting. For me, the final creative answers can’t come until you are in the room, so it’s a matter of balancing the practical with the creative.” — Rachel Rockwell, Director/Choreographer

14. “I spend some time outdoors hiking, foraging, camping or fishing. Nature puts me back on track!” — Paul Virant, Chef/owner Vie Restaurant, Chef/partnerPerennial Virant

15. “Navigating out of a creative ‘rut’ means taking an afternoon away from my studio to sit in a hotel lobby and sketch people. I can immerse myself in seeing a variety of fascinating subjects, interesting fashion looks, all while madly capturing them with pencil on paper. Afterwards, I feel creatively refreshed-ready to tackle new fashionable opportunities.” — Rosemary Fanti, Fashion Illustrator

16. “I take a shower. There is something about the rote activity of washing your hair that frees up your mind.” — Jared Van Camp, Executive Chef Nellcote

17. “When I feel stuck creatively, it’s generally because I’ve been at it for too long. When that happens, I delve into another art form for awhile (i.e., if I’m stuck on a painting or drawing, I might go and write a poem or short story, immerse myself in cooking a wonderful meal, or meditate for a bit.) Switching it up really helps. A fresh look is invaluable when you return, and you come back with renewed perspective.” — Lyn Pusztai Co-owner / Co-designer of Roulette 18 jewelry and Freelance Painter/Illustrator

18. “Distraction works best. When I’m out on the road I crave the quiet of the painting studio and vice versa. Making art is my job and mostly I don’t have time to get to all the nonsense bubbling in my skull.” — Jon Langford, Artist and Musician

19. “When I am in a creative rut, I go to art museums and art shows, and look at other people’s art. I also look at books with pictures in them to get the visual part of my mind working and activated. Going out in nature always stimulates my senses and my mind, so I do that to find inspiration, as well, and I usually come back with some new ideas. Also, going to lectures, movies, taking a walk in the city, and listening to some music seems to help free my mind a bit, so that some inspiration can float in when I am diverted and not trying so hard. I am the most creative when I am relaxed and not trying.” — Victoria Fuller, Artist/Musician

20. “One way that I get out of a creative rut is to sit down with super forward-thinking books, as well as ones from cooking school (the fundamentals). It helps me find my center. Usually hyper-focusing on an upcoming season like Spring and Google-searching images helps create a positive flow of thoughts.” — Pat Sheerin, Executive Chef/Partner, Trenchermen

21. “After dinner, I head to the studio for ‘concepting time.’ When I feel the creative rut creeping in, I put on Chicago Tonight and break out a sketch book. That show always provides a variety of intellectual stimulation to get my mind and imagination warmed up. If after an hour my sketches are lame, at least I saw/heard an excellent show!” — Jeff Zimmermann, Artist

22. “I read poetry… Rumi, Neruda, Rilke, and my own poetry, to remind myself of my own art. The words help me to see shapes, colors, form, which then inspire me to write, paint and create.” — Arica Hilton, Poet/Artist

23. “Usually, when I need inspiration, I get more collaborative, working with all members of the team can help spark some initial burst of creativity. Or, I’ll cook something with my wife and children to help drown out all of the noise (budgets, P&L statements, deadlines, etc) that fills my head and I can focus on what I enjoy the most. My kids have amazing palates, too – they let me know if anything is off balance in a dish, so I really focus on clean, simple, well prepared items.” — James O’Donnell, Michael Jordan’s Steak House

24. “If I get into a creative rut, I take a long bath, light a candle, and listen to soft music followed by a nice long slumber. After a restful night’s sleep, I often wake to a morning of refreshing ideas!” — Dee Alexander, vocalist

25. “I choose to spend my time with brilliant people, who excel in many different areas, and this helps me get out of my creative rut. From restauranteurs to investment bankers and from musicians to engineers, the people with whom I surround myself inspire me to create new pieces and come up with ideas that meld different types of art.” — Josephine Lee, President and Artistic Director of Chicago Children’s Choir

26. “To get inspired I love going to some of my favorite Italian restaurants like Balena or Piccolo Sogno and when I can, I also love going to New York to visit my Italian favorites like Lupa, Keste or Il Buco. Going back to my favorite cookbooks, like Babbo and A16, also helps me get new thoughts and inspiration.” — Chris Macchia, The Florentine

27. “I destress. I take the pressure off of creating just for creation purposes. At times, we can focus on the business aspect or the productivity of our craft so much that it sucks the passion out of us. I go have fun and stop thinking so hard. I let life take it’s course and fill me with experiences that shape my art. Also, our competitive nature can block creativity. I remind myself that I’m not competing to win a contest. I remind myself that this is what I love and how and why I fell in love with it.” — Marco The Poet, Poet, co-founder of Speak Life Movement

28. “On the rare occasion that I’m uninspired about a piece I’m practicing, I play something else, and return to the original piece feeling more refreshed. I love talking about music, but can find it challenging to write essays or articles on the subject. My solution is to just write something, anything, and once I get going, I find it usually isn’t so bad after all!” — Rachel Barton Pine, international violin soloist

29. “I go to the movies, go see live theater or music.  I find that experiencing the creativity of others is most inspiring.” — Lynne Jordan, vocalistp03601l6.jpg