At some points in 2015 half the entries in the Amazon top 10 bestsellers list have been adult colouring books. Marketed as the latest DIY mindfulness technique, they seem to have become more popular than most people would have thought possible. And it’s true, any activity where attention is gently focussed on one thing will tend to relax us and take our attention away from the chatter that fills our heads most of the time. Many hobbies have this effect – total immersion in an activity in the moment to the exclusion of thoughts or worries about past or future.
Unfortunately, I’m too much of a rebel for colouring in – I don’t want to be constrained by other people, limiting myself to slavishly following their design. There’s also the perfectionist part of me that would worry about going outside of the line – so it sounds far from relaxing! I was never much of a fan of colouring books or painting by numbers when I was a child so the concept of adult colouring books leaves me a little cold.
Not wanting to be left out altogether, I thought I’d give doodling a try. While I wouldn’t describe myself as creative, I do enjoy doing the odd illustration (and sometimes they are very odd!) to liven up flipcharts.
So, armed with a black pen and some paper, I took my first tentative steps – drawing an abstract squiggle on the paper to divide it into sections and then filling in each shape with a different pattern – all freehand and no rules. The satisfaction gained from joining dots and creating increasingly complex, repeating geometric patterns was surprisingly great. The satisfaction was coupled with a great deal of focus and relaxation – I think the house could have fallen down around me and I wouldn’t have noticed! Here’s an example (not yet finished)…
If it had stopped there, I would have said that it was an interesting experiment and certainly something I could do more of whenever I felt the need to de-stress and unwind. But it didn’t – the trance-like state that I developed whilst doodling caused my normally dominant, logical, reasoning left brain to take a holiday. This allowed the creative, intuitive, holistic thinking right brain to the fore. In focusing on the patterns I was creating on the page it was as if patterns in my life were being revealed and dots to be joined where I had not thought there to be any connection.
I took me back to two very strong childhood memories, I remembered when I was 8 or 9, being given a “Spirograph” for Christmas – it was one of my favourite toys and I remember spending hours creating elaborate geometric patterns. It wasn’t that the finished articles were particularly impressive, but it was the sheer joy of seeing the patterns unfold that held me mesmerised for hours.
And then I remembered an even earlier memory of a craft activity at school when I was only 6 or 7. It was the 1970’s and string art was in vogue – rows of nails were hammered into a piece of board and thread wrapped around the nails to create patterns. Again, I remembered the sheer magic of seeing the shapes unfold as I wrapped the string, and wondering at how curves could be created from straight lines.
And then it hit me – how this childhood fascination is manifesting itself right now! I realised that the enjoyment I find in coaching also lies in identifying patterns, changing unhelpful ones and creating new patterns or habits. Sometimes there are dots to be joined, but sometimes it is like working with a pristine sheet of white paper. Often all that is required is the confidence and commitment to take the first step – a bit like making the first mark on the paper.
So ask yourself, what do you really enjoy? And go hunting for patterns, is there a thread that connects the present with the past? How can you carry that forward into the future? To use Joseph Campbell’s analogy – these will be the times when you are following your bliss.
“Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”
So whilst I won’t be buying any adult colouring books, I probably will continue to doodle – who knows how many new patterns there are to create? and I’ll certainly enjoy discovering them!