One of the best things my Mom use to do for me as a kid was hand me a spoon and say “Go outside and play.” I grew up in poverty, without an abundance of toys and monetary resources, but what that spoon gave to me was priceless: imagination, ingenuity, inspiration, self-sufficiency, tolerance, perseverance, acceptance, and confidence. Hard to believe a dining utensil could do so much for someone, huh? It’s all because I would go into my backyard and play with that spoon for hours. I would dress it up with grass and leaves to play characters in grand stories. I would dig and build intricate cities with it. It would become a microphone, a sword, a magic wand. That spoon traveled and lived and so did I. Through this kind of play I maximized my external resources and learned to cultivate my internal ones.
Resourcefulness is a key resiliency in life. It is a birthplace of ingenuity, creativity, imagination, confidence and perseverance. Think of all the meals you have thrown together with only what you had in the fridge, all the fabulous outfits when most your clothes were in the hamper or too small, or the fun times you had on an outing where the original plans fell through or it rained and you had to make due. Learning to build your confidence in these areas can open many doors in life. Because let’s face it, we are all in scenarios frequently when things don’t go as planned or we don’t have all we need and have to make due.
Working with clients as an art therapist, we often come to a crossroad where we are working on a project and we don’t have the right supply or run out of something mid-way. Frustration and disappointment ensue and I always see it as a grand opportunity to assess and work through issues of internal and external resourcing. While the following are just some examples of responses and ideas of why, it is important to note that each person is different in their challenge with this scenario, and it is common to experience struggle. Frequent responses are:
- People express their feelings then shrug and rally quickly looking around for what we can use or do for the project instead. This shows me that they have a great ability to resource.
- People freeze, get quiet, implode and shut down. They want to give up and often can’t even express why or say something about their inability to be creative. They are often locking up in fear and insecurity and often need encouragement and gentle guidance to build confidence in their ability.
- People melt down emotionally and might even have a tantrum of sorts and give up. They will often insist with frustration that we do something else with “all the right supplies,” or that I purchase the supplies for them for their next visit. They are usually looking for the external world and someone else to soothe them and often need boundaries and calming techniques to be able to go forward and think creatively.
Those that give up often get stuck in their thinking, “there is no hope, I can’t do it.” This shows difficulty in tapping into their internal resources with ability to soothe, get flexible and find a new solution or way to maximize their external resources creatively. The good news is if a spoon can wear a cape and fly over a city it built, I assure you that with encouragement and learned coping skills, there is always hope.
With creativity, curiosity and a willingness to adapt, potentially fail and try again anything is possible. No glue or tape? Use clay or join things together through dove-tails of some kind. No more popsicle sticks? Use cardboard? No black paper? Use white and color it. There is always a way if you shift your expectations and go with the process, and this takes practice to gain confidence in yourself. It’s good to put yourself in healthy-risk situations where you have to engage the insecurity, fear and frustration and to work through it creatively. This is one of the reasons art therapy is so effective because it is experiential in nature as you learn to cope with what arises.
Here is one of my favorite art interventions to cultivate resourcefulness I call “Mixed Media Surprise Box” I have a box in my studio that is equivalent to an art supply junk drawer. It is filled with all kinds of odds and ends and random objects like old buttons, left over duct tape cardboard rolls, foil gum wrappers, broken bits of things, recyclable/reusable jars, feathers and rocks. I pull out 5 things, hand someone tape and glue and say, “make something.”
I facilitate this with a lot of encouragement and questions trying to get the imagination going. I am often reminding them, “It’s not what it looks like, it is about the experience of making it!” If there is great frustration or insecurity it is an opportunity to work with that learning new coping skills. Watching the process for those uncomfortable or unfamiliar is fascinating. They end up working through a lot emotionally and cognitively to create some kind of end result; the frustration most often ends up with pride and gained confidence. Below I have an example of client art from this intervention, most people leave this project with a sense of surprise and pride from what they made.
Apart from projects and play, it’s good to reflect on life situations like plans getting canceled, weather intervening, when things break or are missing an ingredient or piece. How do you cope with these situations?
Some good questions to ask yourself on this topic are:
- What is my relationship to not having what I need or having a plan disrupted?
- What is my reaction when I am frustrated with a project or something not going as planned?
- How do I usually work through that frustration, what do I need emotionally and mentally to work through it?
- How often do I put myself or my children in healthy-risk situations where we have to become flexible to figure something out?
Finally, in a culture of consumerism, what this kind of resourcefulness also brings us is awareness on what we need versus what we want. Many of my clients are children and adults who can purchase or have whatever they want, they have ample external resources to do so. I suggest trying something new: don’t get the ready-made kit, use stuff you have at home. Give yourself opportunities to try even knowing you might fail and have to try again. It’s good for you. The Rolling Stones said it best with “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.”