50 Shades of Judgement

pencilsAt the end of last year, I purchased my first adult colouring book, a suggestion which came from my mentor, a highly trusted advisor. Like many people I’ve talked to, I wondered What is this adult colouring really all about? I would soon find out.

I spent a number of weeks deliberating over which book had images I would most like to colour. My favourite colour is green, I love visiting the florist, and my grandmother instilled in me a natural love for exploring the garden and all its little critters. It is not surprising then that I settled on The Secret Garden by Johanna Basford (http://www.johannabasford.com/book/4).

I started the book while on holiday at the Sunshine Coast, and (to my surprise) found colouring to be both calming and enjoyable. This prompted me to take the book and my pencils on my flight to Melbourne last weekend. After the initial elation of being spontaneously upgraded wore off, I settled into my seat and began colouring a circular design of interwoven vines and flowers. Taking the time to think about each colour carefully, and sharpening each pencil as I went.

The flight attendant buzzed around with snacks and asked if I would like water or juice. Without much thought I opted for juice which arrived with a lovely stripy straw.

About half way in to the journey I noticed the older couple across the aisle watching me closely. I smiled at them. They didn’t smile back. This surprised me as I am definitely a ‘smiler’ (from a family of other big ‘smilers’). Thinking perhaps they were concerned about me travelling alone, I tried to give off the air of being highly content. But each time I reached over to choose a new colour or sharpen a pencil, I could see them watching me out of the corner of my eye. Did they think it was odd that I was colouring? Did they think I was immature? Had they heard about adult colouring and thought I was undergoing treatment for stress? Pondering all of these possibilities I then noticed my glass of juice and stripy straw. Did they think I was super young or something?

This is when it struck me. These inner thoughts and judgements are exactly what colouring-in is trying to help us reduce. Adult colouring is a form of mindfulness practice, designed (for the most part), to help the busy working people of the world to focus their attention on one thing, and be present in the moment. It enables us to take time-out to get in touch with our ‘creative selves’ and focus our thoughts. For many people this helps to reduce their stress.

Despite knowing this, I had let the negative thoughts hijack my enjoyment and I was judging myself. I was determined to learn from this experience and I’ve decided to share my colouring-in learnings with you.

1. When someone notices you colouring it might seem genuinely interesting or unusual to them. Smile and make a comment ‘This is really enjoyable’. Even if they don’t smile back, you’ve told them you’re comfortable and have given them an opportunity to ask you about it (if they’re curious!).

2. Monitor your thoughts as you are colouring. For example, you might find yourself annoyed or self-critical if you colour outside of the lines. Acknowledge the thought, and then remind yourself there are no judges of your art work. It is, in fact, ok to go outside of the lines (there are no real consequences).

3. Challenge yourself to think differently about colour. Do leaves always need to be green? How about colouring the background white space instead of all the pictures? When we break our assumptions about what we feel we ‘should do’, it opens our minds to new ideas (and actually prompts the feeling of relief for me!).

With these things in mind, I encourage you to try colouring and reconnect with your ‘creative self’ (you might not have been in touch since school!). You might be surprised by what you gain from the experience.

Colouring Image

Alexandra Walsh

Associate Consultant Psychologist