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Making Change: An Often Overlooked Step

color_pencilsWhen I was a small child I loved to color and stay within the lines.   I loved getting a new box of 64 crayons and all the projects I could conjure up to create.  When about age 10 my mother came upon a large coloring book of the 50 States of the USA with products, pictures of their Capital buildings, and their agricultural primary crop; I set myself a goal to finish the book cover to cover.   We were on a long car trip and each day I meticulously worked on one page until the book was completed.   As a consequence, I never had to memorize the States on a National Map and I knew all the Capitals.

As I colored I would often use the flat end of my crayon in order to create a darker and precise boundary line around the picture.  I liked how it contained and highlighted the color within the drawing.  It also marked a completion of that segment.   It demonstrated that I was able to stay within the lines.  When my children were taking drawing classes in high school, I learned something new – negative space and I watched them learn how to improve their skill of no line by practicing drawing with negative space.  Their work is so lovely we had them framed and they cover the living room wall in our house.

Making change in our lives is about learning to create with that negative space.  In order to be successful in making a meaningful change in one’s life one has to remove the boundary line that was containing the old concept or idea.  I wish I could say that I could teach a child not to place that darker line around things and experiences, but that line is a survival mechanism that is vitally important.  Most 3-4 year olds can tell one the sex of a chair or a dinner plate, when they are categorizing life, but they have punched holes in that theory by the time they are 5.

When we are making New Year’s Resolutions or changing our eating patterns, we need to punch holes in the boundaries of our old patterns in order to create that negative space necessary to make the change complete or successful.  Those of us who believe in the power of the positive actually avoid looking at those old boundaries and think that just diving in will move us forward and we will not have to deal with the negative feelings.

In my own life I had an extremely difficult time giving up ice cream cones after I was told to stop all dairy products.   No problem with cheese, or whipping cream and I find that I feel so much better having given up on dairy; even chocolate without milk tastes fantastic.  Yet the need for an ice cream cone persists.  I had to poke numerous holes into the boundary around this delight.   I found that the ice cream was consistently bloating and lax.  That was not a big enough hole/discomfort.   I found that I really was upset if others around me were eating ice cream cones and I could not have one.  I sorted out all my rationalizations and excuses – one by one.   Finally, I was at a friend’s house for supper and I was so worried about the ice cream cone making me sick away from home – I DID NOT EAT THE OFFERED DESSERT.   I created negative space around that issue and within a few minutes along came the AH-HA.   I was unable to give up the cone because my Father taking one for an ice cream cone treat was the most loving time of owning his total concentration and attention.  I was eating the treat because I was craving someone to listen and understand me and what I was saying and thinking.  The treat was just the dark line around the need.

It takes time to erase those dark lines and it needs to be an active process which by creating negative space provides the ah-ha faster.   It is the principle behind diet programs or restricted eating systems or LENT.   It is also a leading principle used by folks who might want to control your thinking or sway a political process – even to create religious fervor or control.  No change happens until one punches holes in the dark boundary line around our thinking.

Are you working on making an important change in your life right now?  Are you avoiding the negative space?  Do you think you will have success or do you think it might lead you in another direction?

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Related Reading:
5 Forms of Problem Solving and Change 
How We Make Decisions and Change
7 Steps of How We Learn 
Code to Joy

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12 Responses to “Making Change: An Often Overlooked Step”

  1. Laurie Buchanan Says:

    ” In order to be successful in making a meaningful change in one’s life one has to remove the boundary line that was containing the old concept or idea.”

    Patricia – That single statement is profound because it can be applied to absolutely any area of life (home, work, academics, relationships, etc).


    Patricia Reply:

    You are right – and we just do not want to move that boundary line – as if our survival depends on it!

    Happy New Year.
    Patricia recently posted..Making Change: An Often Overlooked StepMy Profile

  2. suzen Says:

    Hi Patricia – Happy New Year!
    Wonderful blog! Really took me back to the box of crayons day – I too was a huge fan of coloring inside the lines. Until I realized the backgrounds were empty of color so I started going right to the edge of the pages, sometimes ripping them in the process but the entire page had to be colored, I was obcessed!

    It wasn’t until later in life I discovered all the power in negative space. It changed everything for me!

    2013 will see ginormous change in SuZenland. I welcome in all the fresh air, the negative space, and honor the flame within that sustains me!

    Hugs and best wishes for a totally awesome New Year for you!

    Patricia Reply:

    I am excited to discover all your changes at SuzenLand! You are quite the wonder woman!

    I am working at finding new changes to knock down boundaries for – my partner has put in for retirement buy out ( will take 3-5 years for the process) but he is not ready to make some of the changes I have been ready for for a number of years….including just painting the rooms on the main floor of the house.

    I think Patricias Wisdom will be making some changes too…I am going to work at another big push for Wise Ears and see if I can produce some income. If not I will probably give up blogging and just volunteer at the local schools.

    Happy New Year and I am wishing you a fabulous New Year also
    Patricia recently posted..Making Change: An Often Overlooked StepMy Profile

  3. Chris Edgar Says:

    That seems like such an important insight — that you were eating the ice cream because it gave you a feeling of being seen by your father. I suspect that a lot of other people who struggle with the compulsion to eat or eat a particular food could benefit from that kind of awareness too.

    Patricia Reply:

    Happy New Year –
    I was hoping blogging would provide more than and ice cream cone and lots of good listeners and discussions….It has certainly filled many hours of my time over the past 5 years and it has been good – good to hone in on specific ideas and changes that I want to make in my life…

    It is nice to share those changes and maybe assist someone else in seeing the possibilities – it is very hard for some people to let go of old boundaries…it has to get very painful sometimes….I am a person who just sees it as possibilities and learning something new.

    That negative space is crucial but often uncomfortable

  4. Sara Says:

    Ah, oh wise one…did you know this was a lesson I needed to read today?

    Thanks and a very happy new year to you:~)

    Patricia Reply:

    Oh Sara of the wonderful story telling and photography – I was writing about my needs here…and Epiphany one of my favorite events of the year…it was just a moment of touching heart to heart….

    Happy New Year to you also – Hope you had a great holiday season.

  5. Deborah Barker Says:

    I used to enjoy working on negative space in art classes but I love the way you apply it to life. As for coloured pencils, the most memorable set belonged to a neighbour who used to let me sit in her kitchen and colour using the pencils she kept in her table drawer. Those pencils were rainbow coloured, they had lead of several different colours so you could lean the pencil one way and have black, another way yellow etc. Using the tip caused a rainbow effect on the paper. I can still remember the excitement that the four year old me felt, every time one of those pencils was put in my hand!
    Deborah Barker recently posted..Sausages, Santa and Royal ConnectionsMy Profile

    Patricia Reply:

    I remember those multi-colored rainbow pencils – they were something else and oh so fun. My mother had a set that she used for grading papers when she taught first grade – did not feel like a big red mark on the page – she thought it was a colorful way to make the possibility for a change

    thank you for you good words, they are encouraging.
    Patricia recently posted..Wanderers: Stories by Edward BelfarMy Profile

  6. Davina Haisell Says:

    This was an excellent post, Patricia.

    Colouring was one of my favourite things to do as a child, too. Loved making sure I was colouring inside the lines.

    Your metaphor about the boundary lines and the negative space was brilliant. You are wise and always seem to be looking forward.

    I love that you had your children’s artwork framed and put on your wall.

    Patricia Reply:

    The art work in my house is spectacular and inventive stuff. The kiddos all banded together with my Librarian daughter who had to make 600 buttons for those students who finished the reading incentive program at her school It took hours, but those children are going to have very fabulous designer buttons to celebrate their reading success. It was a fun group task.

    You know I love metaphor! and identify it often.

    Did you ever colour by putting the crayon in a candle flame and let it drip on to the design. Much to my mum’s dismay, I spent hours doing that and using up the little pieces ( and burning my fingers!)
    Nice to find you here – thank you for your comment
    Patricia recently posted..HabitsMy Profile