Sam Bennett is the author of Start Right Where You Are and Get It Done. She created The Organized Artist Company to help creative people get unstuck and achieve their goals. She is a writer, actor, teacher, and creativity/productivity specialist who has counseled thousands of artists and entrepreneurs on their way to success. Visit her online http://www.startrightwhereyouare.com.
Q. Just twenty years ago, you were depressed, broke, exhausted, and fed up with yourself. What changed?
A. I realized that the only way to be happy in the future was to be happy in the present. In other words, I had been thinking that I could be happy only if my career worked out in a certain way, or if I had a certain amount of money or if my body looked a certain way. Once I realized that I had the power to be happier right now – mostly by taking better care of myself, getting enough rest and softening that inner voice of endless self-criticism, the future started to take care of itself.
Q. You say, “This self-help stuff actually works.” Is that really true?
Absolutely. In my experience, self-help stuff encourages two things: inquiry and responsibility. Once you start asking yourself the right questions and taking 100% responsibility for your own life, anything is possible.
Q. Start Right Where You Are is based on based on the premise that small shifts in the right direction can yield big results in the realization of our creative dreams. How so?
A. All the power you have exists in the present moment. So when you focus your attention on the present moment, and work with whatever is right in front of you, you are bringing your dreams to life. If you want to be a writer, pick up a pen and write a paragraph. If you want to have a deeper spiritual life, take a deep breath and endeavor to perceive the divine that’s happening all around you right now. Procrastinating on your dreams hurts so much, and taking even the tiniest step toward the life you want feels so good.
Q. What’s your number one bit of advice for those of us who feel overwhelmed a lot of the time?
A. Get your cell phone out of the bedroom. Deloitte’s 2015 Global Mobile Consumer Survey shows that 43% of consumers check their cell phones within five minutes of waking up, and that’s a guaranteed way to feel overwhelmed. Give yourself back the glorious experience of waking up. Stretch. Snuggle. Breathe. Pay attention to those lovely loops that your mind makes when you’re still half-asleep. There’s nothing happening on the Internet that can’t wait for a few minutes while you allow yourself to wake up gently.
Q. Your book offers 66 small, do-able changes that can lead to big joy. Please share a couple of your favorite examples.
A. The all-time easiest and most effective one is this: whenever you are stuck or troubled, make some 5-Minute Art about it. So if you’re feeling frustrated with some situation in your life, take just a moment and draw a picture or make up a little song or do a little dance that expresses how you are feeling. Feelings just want to be felt. And once you’ve put your feelings into form, you can get a better perspective on what’s bothering you, and maybe see things in a new way. By the way, it shouldn’t be “good” art – don’t worry if you’re not artistically gifted – just pretend you’re a little kid again and scribble away. You’ll be amazed by how quickly you’ll feel better.
Q. Another easy way to improve your life is ask yourself, “How can I make this moment more ME?” Whether it’s an email or an outfit or a recipe…finding ways to insert a bit more of your authentic self into each thing you do will have you feeling more engaged, and will allow others to get to know you better.
A. I must say that I love how the book itself is made up of little steps; all the chapters are really short, and they each have a “do-it-right-now” action step, so you can feel some progress even as you’re reading.
Q. One of your suggested changes is to turn complaints into requests. Can you give an example of what that looks like?
A. I was raised with the idea that you weren’t allowed to complain unless you could offer a solution that might make things better. So rather than focusing on the negative things that I couldn’t change, I was encouraged to focus on making positive changes. Complaining is the hobbyhorse of a victim mentality. So instead sitting around grousing that Mr. TalksALot always dominates the team meeting, why not request that no one gets to speak a second time until everyone has had a chance to speak once? Or rather than just complaining about a restaurant’s bad service, ask the server if there’s anything that can be done to improve your experience. The answer may be “no,” of course, but at least you know that you took responsibility for yourself and spoke up.
Q. Keeping in mind that this is a family show, please tell us about “Happy Grown-Up Naked Time”.
A. I’ll try to be discreet : ) In a time when people are feeling increasingly disconnected from each other and even from their own bodies, I think it’s important that adults take time each week – even just half an hour – to be naked. It’s not about having sex. After all, some people are single, some people don’t want to have sex and some aren’t able to. It’s about exploring your own skin. It’s taking time to touch, to tickle, to massage and to play. No goal in mind. No pressure. Just making sure that as adults we take time to honor and enjoy our bodies.
Even right now – clasp your hands together. Notice the warmth where your palms meet and the texture of your skin. Notice the muscles in your fingers, and how strong your thumb is. Simply taking one moment to really inhabit your own body and pay attention to the sensations of your body is a wonderful way to find joy.
Q. What is 4:7:8 breathing and why should we do it?
A. This simple breathing technique is astonishingly effective, even if you just do it one time: simply inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7 and exhale for a count of 8. I usually do it at least three times in a row, any time I want to calm down, get present, or relax. It’s great in traffic jams, or when you find yourself having racing thoughts. It’s also fantastic for getting to sleep.
Q. You say the phrase “nothing bad is happening” helps you. How does that work? A. I finally figured out that just because things aren’t going the way I’d planned does not mean that things are not going well. Reminding myself that even when things seem unfortunate, inconvenient, or unpleasant, I can still remain calm and find the positive things that are happening, too.
A. The last time my assistant made a mistake that resulted in half of my mailing list not getting the information about a new program I was offering, I reminded myself that “nothing bad is happening” and immediately adapted my sales strategy to work around the error, and I think I ended up enrolling at least 30% more people because of that shift. I didn’t waste time getting mad; I just assumed it was all for the best and kept working. Everything that looks like a mistake can be a blessing, but you have to keep yourself from freaking out, you know?
Q. You mention some unusual advice for getting rid of clutter, can you tell us about that?
A. Well, I call it the “5 Ughs and 3 Ahhs” theory of clutter. Anytime you have a space that makes you go, “Ugh” (like your cluttered car, your crowded email box or your closet full of clothes you don’t wear) you lose momentum. You let yourself get pulled down by your environment. Rack up enough Ughs and your whole day is ruined. A. On the other hand, an “Ahh” is the sigh of joy you make when you see all the dishes put away, the paper on your desk neatly arranged and your tools and equipment properly stored away. When you maintain the systems that make you go, “Ahh,” the occasional “Ugh” becomes much easier to deal with.
Q. I believe that 5 Ughs can ruin your day, but it only takes 3 Ahhs to make you feel great. Please talk about self-care and why it is so important.
A. Taking excellent care of your self isn’t selfish. In fact, it’s the opposite of selfish. When you spend all your time giving to others and you’re tired, stressed out, overwhelmed, and exhausted, you are no fun to be around. In fact, making the rest of us deal with you when you are a humorless wreck is really quite selfish of you. (I’m kidding. We love you.)
On the other hand, when you are rested, fed, meditated, walked, cuddled, and creatively satisfied, you bring your best self to the world. You have more to give, and you give more freely. You think more clearly, and you don’t sweat the small stuff.
Q. Your book offers a unique perspective on goal setting. What advice do you have to offer in that area?
A. I like to set “good/better/best” goals. That is, I’ll set three versions of a goal – the one I must meet, the one that seems reasonable, and the one that feels like a bit of a stretch. That way I’m not constantly moving the finish line on myself.
As far as working to achieve goals, I recommend that people set a “minimum daily requirement.” Make it something super-easy to do, but still meaningful. If you want to write a book, perhaps your MDR is to write one sentence on an index card. If you’re trying to declutter the garage, maybe you will commit to spending five minutes a day in there, whether you do any work or not. And of course there’s my favorite “fifteen minutes a day” strategy. I firmly believe that spending just fifteen minutes a day on the project that is dearest to your heart has the power to change your entire life. Try it and let me know.
Q. What do you most hope readers will take away from your book Start Right Where You Are?
A. Change doesn’t have to be risky or hard. By taking little, tiny steps to shift your beliefs and behaviors, you can see wonderful results – quickly. A happy life is not one of perfection, but rather of continuous improvement. You don’t need anyone’s approval to lead a joyful, creatively fulfilled life that’s full of love and good work.
Start Right Where You Are by Sam Bennett November 15, 2016 • Creativity/Personal Growth • Trade Paperback/eBook • 256 pages Price: $15.95 • ISBN 978-1-60868-443-4