Do you realize you are both artist and picture?

Today is May 28 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “do you realize you are both artist and picture?” Austrian medical doctor Alfred Adler established the school of individual psychology and is considered the first community psychologist, because his work pioneered attention to community life, prevention, and population health. Adlerian psychology emphasizes the human need and ability to create positive social change and impact.

Adler was one of the first psychotherapists to disregard the symbolic couch in favor of two chairs, to create a sense of equality between patient and clinician. Adler also focused greatly on family dynamics, specifically parenting and family constellation, as a preventative means of addressing possible future psychological problems. With a practical and goal-oriented approach, Alfred held a theory of three life tasks – occupation, society, and love – that intermingle with one another. Success and health in each and all life tasks is dependent on cooperation.


For many, navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well means the successful intersection of occupation, society, and love. Some people have a job they like; others fit in with society very well; and some have love in their life. Some people might have two of the three. Attainment of all three life tasks, continuously for a long period of time, is certainly a critical component of navigating the chaos. Physical and mental health are prerequisites for the three life tasks as well.


According to Adler “We are not determined by our experiences but are self-determined by the meaning we give to them; and when we take particular experiences as the basis for our future life, we are almost certain to be misguided to some degree. Meanings are not determined by situations. We determine ourselves by the meanings we ascribe to situations.” This meaning, however, involves what Dr. Shahram Heshmat labeled as psychological distance - mentally separating oneself from the immediate situation and taking a broader perspective or seeing the big picture. In a Psychology Today article Heshmat explains how “Psychological distancing allows greater flexibility and control in our thinking and behavior and is central to self-control. Self-control requires people to make decisions consistent with distal goals when tempted by more immediate rewards. Exercising self-control requires ignoring the attraction of short-term temptations in order to pursue other long-term goals. Resolving goal conflicts through self-control is an important component in achieving and maintaining a healthy life.”


This observation is most certainly helpful as you look to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well. While you may think the experience impacts you, and it very well may, but what meaning did you affix to the life situation? Did you create any psychological distancing? Perhaps you gave an event too much meaning and another too little? Only you have the power to prescribe a level of meaning to a situation. This is critical when it comes to one of the three life tasks of occupation, society, and love. What one person may interpret as a significant experience you might view as a minor one.


Adler continued and noted: “Every individual represents a unity of personality and the individual then fashions that unity. The individual is thus both the picture and the artist. Therefore, if one can change one’s concept of self, they can change the picture being painted. He is the artist of his own personality, but as an artist he is neither an infallible worker nor a person with a complete understanding of mind and body; he is rather a weak, extremely fallible, and imperfect human being.”


As you navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well consider yourself both the artist and picture. You hold the paintbrush in your hand and can change the color, structure, or design of your future self at any time. If you are relying on others to paint the picture of your future self how is that working out for you? Are you afraid to let yourself be both the painter and picture? What is holding you back?