Why? Questions for Self-Motivation

Most weeks I write as if I have all of the answers. I don’t. Far from it. I write about what I’ve experienced or witnessed.

When I don’t know an answer, I know the best way to find it: Ask.

Questions can help us think more comprehensively about a situation – especially questions that begin with “why.”

In his exceptional book, Smarter Faster Better, Charles Duhigg notes that “why” questions help us link hard choices to something we care about. He says, “Make a chore into a meaningful decision, and self-motivation will emerge.”

©Dorothy Raymond, Blue Forrest. Cotton, linen, polyester, rayon, 12 x 26 inches. Used with permission.

©Dorothy Raymond, Blue Forrest. Cotton, linen, polyester, rayon, 12 x 26 inches. Used with permission.

With that in mind, I’ve outlined a number of situations in which you might need a hefty dose of self-motivation. Each has a number of questions to help you make progress and a Big Why to ask yourself.

When You’re Not Making Art

One day off is understandable. Two days is acceptable.

An entire week without thinking about or making art is something to be concerned about when you’re trying to gain recognition and earn money from your art.

Ask yourself …

©Revi Meicler, Midnight. Mixed media on panel, 52 x 36 inches. Used with permission.

©Revi Meicler, Midnight. Mixed media on panel, 52 x 36 inches. Used with permission.

Why am I not inspired? What can I do about it?
What am I prioritizing above my art? Is it right to do so? (It might be!)
One year today, will I be happy that I chose to spend my time in other ways?

The Big Why: Why do I care?

When You’re Overwhelmed

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the demands of modern life and all that is required to run a business. And you can’t let it stop you.

Take a deep breath and consider …

What do I need to do more of to feel in control?
What do I need to do less of?
What do I need to let go of?
What boundaries do I need to better abide by?

The Big Why: Why am I overwhelmed in the first place?

When Too Many People Want a Piece of You

The gallery needs new work. The art center asks you to teach a class. The organization wants you to serve on the board.

Before you say Yes to everything immediately, it’s worth pausing to think about these questions …

Is there someone else who could do this?
Is there a different solution that no one has considered?
Is this in alignment with my vision, goals, and values?
If I make this choice, how will it serve me 3 months from now? 1 year from now? 5 years from now?
What if I pass on this opportunity? What if I agree to it?
What’s the worst that could happen? The best? Which is easier to live with?

The Big Why: Why is it important that I do this?

When You’d Rather Do Anything Other Than Marketing

Yeah, I know. You’d rather be in the studio.

©Sarah Schneiderman, Blue Chromis. Cardboard and wood base with gum wrappers, feathers, ribbons, beads, plastic caps and disks, hair clip, elastic, braiding, and buttons. 10 x 29 x 2 inches. Used with permission.

©Sarah Schneiderman, Blue Chromis. Cardboard and wood base with gum wrappers, feathers, ribbons, beads, plastic caps and disks, hair clip, elastic, braiding, and buttons. 10 x 29 x 2 inches. Used with permission.

You’d rather the art fairy visit your studio in the middle of the night, wave her magic wand, and sell all of your art. What a joy it would be to enter an empty studio and discover a big fat check on your work table!

Well, you’d better roll over and keep dreaming cuz that ain’t gonna happen.

Your success, whatever that means to you, is your responsibility. Keep in mind …

Who needs to know about this event/exhibition/product?
Who haven’t I been in touch with lately?
Who needs to know about my art?

The Big Why: Why is it important that I share my art?
(Until you know the answer to this, you’ll keep making excuses for not doing the work.)

When Sales Are Slow (or Zippo)

Whether your work sells or not depends on a huge variety of factors, including pricing, competition, quality, venue, marketing, and networking.

You can’t try something once or twice and say it didn’t work. And you can’t fix what you can’t control.

Sandra Duran Wilson, A New Dawn. Acrylic on canvas, 20 x 20 x 1.5 inches. Used with permission.

Sandra Duran Wilson, A New Dawn. Acrylic on canvas, 20 x 20 x 1.5 inches. Used with permission.

Examine the results …

Where am I not making my best effort?
Where have I been inconsistent?
Have I outgrown this space/exhibition/event?
How has my work changed?
Are my works larger or smaller than what’s selling?
Am I following up?

The Big, Overarching Why: Why is my art not selling? Keep digging!

When Your Next Move Is a Big One

You’ve been doing the same shows year after year. Or maybe you’re teaching the same classes to the same students at the same level that you were five years ago.

If you’ve been stuck in a rut, it is probably time to make a big move. Step back and review …

What obstacles will I need to overcome?
Where am I playing it too safe?
What makes me uncomfortable, and how might my business expand if I overcome that discomfort?
By when can I make the next move happen?
Where is there opportunity that I’m ignoring?
Am I all in?

Two Big Whys: Why do I want this? Why have I been avoiding this?

When You’re Too Much In Your Head

You’re focusing too much on yourself and not about your place in the bigger world. You have forgotten your vision and all that you can be.

Susan Lobb Porter, Blue Moon. Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 48 inches. Used with permission.

Susan Lobb Porter, Blue Moon. Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 48 inches. Used with permission.

Time to reboot and start thinking about others …

Who can I send a Thank You card to today?
What are my blessings?
What do I need to do to fill the creative well?
Who can I help today?

The Biggest Why of All: Why am I here?

Your Turn

Next time you find yourself feeling unmotivated or stuck, try asking yourself the hard questions.

What’s the Big Why that motivates you?

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24 comments to Why? Questions for Self-Motivation

  • I needed this today and always. Thanks for your out of the box…get out of the way of ourselves

  • This is a timely post for me. I went to an event last night that I thought was a social event for artists. It turned out to be a networking event with various arts organizations looking for teaching artists.

    For years I’ve maintained a spreadsheet detailing teaching opportunities throughout the state, but I didn’t follow through on it, I just added to it. I never asked myself why I avoided contacting these organizations, even though I knew they were looking for teachers.

    I was forced to ask myself the question last night and had no good answer. Even though I wasn’t completely prepared, I talked to about 6 organizations and now have good leads on teaching venues.

  • Deborah scott mason

    Thank you

  • I agree with Alicia–needed this today and other days in the future.

  • Alison, you are so spot on as usual. I love how you get what’s in our heads!
    I feel constantly overwhelmed especially about all the possible things that I could be doing . I actually made a really big step yesterday and hired a part time assistant to do the mailchimp and tedious marketing and computer work that is sucking so much of my time, so that I may do what really fills me up and makes me the most $. My bank account say I shouldn’t but my mental health and my creative deadlines say YES! I look forward to following up on these great concepts that you have put forth in this article. Thank you for all that you do and for your loving supportive energy.

    • Nice, Wendy. I was just talking about this to a group of artists. Someone said, “I never thought about hiring someone” after she spent 10 hours trying to figure out MailChimp. Boom!

  • Zippo is the place I’m in and consistency is not the issue. A lot of the advice I’ve found online isn’t applicable when you don’t have those opportunities where you live. There is no audience nearby, no networking events at all, and so on. It’s getting very exhausting to keep working so hard for no results but I am examining ways I can keep going without burning myself out. I wish I did know the who, where, and what but I don’t.

    • Debbie

      Wow. I know exactly what you mean. I’m in the middle of no where living in a beer and camper and “what the heck is art good for” world. Prices are low if anything sells at all. Someone said I need to find my niche. Perhaps. But it does slow down the want to fire. Not sure what I will do with all those finished paintings. Some need a good bonfire perhaps but there are others that are worthy. Most other artists of my acquaintance are 60-120 miles away. One art association folded. I know of 2 that are going pretty good. We are all in the same boat. Plus there are too many artists and not enough clients. We gather and paint. Keep the associations afloat. Have art shows but what we don’t have is sales. I was hoping I might supplement the beans of old age with income from paintings. I just don’t see that happening.

    • Okay, so you have both identified a problem. Why is it happening? (You seem to have the answers.) What are the solutions? You can’t control what people do or say (or don’t do), but you can control your response.

      What can you do differently to get better results?

  • I agree – this is such perfect timing. Feeling overwhelmed this week. Time to sit down and work through some of the points. Thank you.

  • Thanks, Alyson. I’ve never been much of a “why” asker.
    Much more of a go with the flow person.
    Looks like I need to add that to my list of questions for myself.

  • Exactly what I needed to hear today. Thanks Alyson!

  • Just put this list of questions in my Morning Pages journal and it’s getting a post-it bookmark! Lots to ponder. I especially need the reminder to think about “Why am I avoiding this?” This year I have been reflecting weekly (most weeks) and it really helps to write out the answers so I get to the heart of what is overwhelming, or what I’m avoiding, or what needs adjusting. It has really helped with the overwhelm of large future plans 🙂

  • KJ

    Alison, I just made a big step; I have decided to go into art full time. These questions are very useful for me. Thank you.

  • Jeannie

    Alyson, I’ve been admiring/recommending you for years, by reading your relevant posts and stylish newsletters. Since my goal is not necessarily to sell my art, I mentally filed away the advice, thinking it didn’t apply to me. Well, with this post something clicked, and it certainly DOES apply to me and my goals, so just wanted to thank you for all of the above. Keep shining!

  • Over the years, whenever I’ve gotten into a rhythm of producing art with the (mental) objective of creating a collection for an exhibition, I’ve (sabotaged myself?) accepted offers of jobs where some of my creative skill could be used together with causes close to my heart (eg. a horse rescue at the mo). This invariably puts my own art on the back-burner and on a very low heat. My excuse being that I’ve not been selling anything despite (reasonable) efforts and I desperately need some income to make ends meet. I also live in a country (Greece) that is experiencing huge economic recession so buying art is a luxury for the extreme few, coupled with the mentality that it’s not worth anything if you aren’t already a well-known name in the circles that matter. I’ve been creating artwork that is large and heavy, so this could also be a ‘handicap’ but, although I like the technique for it’s effect (mixed media on wood with pyrography) I don’t like it for the amount of time it takes me to get a piece done. Even the smallest possible piece can take me a few weeks from board prep to finished. Perhaps that’s why I’ve turned to photography of late and been developing that, and enjoying it immensely primarily because of the speed and immediate satisfaction it gives me. I miss creating art but I can’t seem to carve out enough time to get started, let alone finish a piece. Your post is great for helping me ask the questions I need to ask myself again and again and how I can manipulate my situation to my advantage and make it work for me rather than me working for IT.

  • Very good text. Always good to keep in mind.

  • Very inspiring, love the way you write! Although at Peddle Art we usually do interviews, it is interesting to read other kind of art related articles!

  • I love this list of questions and refer to it often (it’s on a sticky note on my computer desktop).
    In my version of this list I’ve added one more question: “What am I resisting? And why? What would happen if I stopped resisting?”

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