• Justin Key

The Discipline Assessment

I have to start editing the Hawaii photos tonight. Before I can do that I have to move the Costa Rica and Michigan folders off my hard drive so there’s space. I should write a blog post but that’ll kill the afternoon. I need to cut the grass and I haven’t gotten to the gym today yet. Don’t forget Lambeau needs a walk. You have some emails to respond to and at some point, you should go put another round of poly coat on the bin racks. Am I slouching? Ok back straight. My knees are getting stiff. Ding! Well, that meditation could have gone better.


My meditation practice has its good days and bad days. Some days I slowly open my eyes feeling completely zen and other days my mind wants to catch me up on everything I’ve thought about for the last week. The most important thing I’ve learned about meditation is the mind is going to wander. When it does, you recognize you’re off track, bring it back and start again.


We’ve moved into the sixth month of my “Year of Discipline” and I’ve had to start again many times in more than just meditation. When the year began I was riding a wave of confidence, combined with the traditional New Year’s assessment and you have the cause behind a determined blog post that set the bar for 2019 very high. Discipline was the keyword. It was intended to keep me on the straight and narrow, and it has been echoing in my head ever since January 1.


There is a weakness inside of all of us that makes the couch look extra cozy when there is work to be done. It is the same voice reaching for another slice of cake when you’re already so full your back hurts. When the weakness starts whispering to me, another voice begins chanting, “discipline, discipline, discipline.” That voice didn’t exist before 2019 and more often than not, it wins.


Editing has been an area of concern for years. I’ve developed quite the backlog of photos waiting for their moment in Photoshop. My problem wasn’t finding the time it was the focus. I always found ways to distract myself while editing and when that failed the excuses would trickle in. In the “Year of Discipline”, the distractions are gone and the excuses are being drowned out.


One of my goals for 2019 has contributed to the increased productivity. I try to meditate every day. At first, meditation was an experiment. I’d heard about the benefits, one of which was improved focus. The effects were noticeable surprisingly quick. Since I’ve adopted a daily sit, I’ve been able to keep myself on task and have been checking things off my to-do list rapidly.


The biggest adjustment this year has been my workout routine. I’ve made a point to incorporate physical activity into my daily routine. The combination of meditation and my new discipline mantra have helped with the transition. In the moments before I go exercise I rely on that voice pushing me out the door because the alternative is so much more appealing. That voice wasn’t there the last few years and without the extra encouragement, I chose the stay home option far more often.


The resulting endorphin rush has helped level out my moods that, as a struggling artist, can be all over the place. That daily boost keeps me positive and I’ve seen an increase in production and creativity. I also feel better. Laziness was a huge problem of mine but lately, I’ve been keeping my hands busy. I have to be doing something now and when that desire starts to fade, a quick trip to the gym resets the system and puts me back in work mode.


Another goal for 2019 was to focus on the business side more. As of this post I’ve closed a show in one new location, am currently hanging in two others and have another I’ll be installing in later this week. I’ve also doubled my festival acceptances from last year and have big plans for the booth that I think will greatly impact that number in 2020.


My biggest victory of 2019 so far hasn’t come as a result of discipline, however. For the first time, I feel like I have an identity as a photographer. Following the release of the “Sands Study” for the Long Shutter Project, another huge accomplishment this year, I have seen a dramatic swing in my style. My work is becoming more contemporary. My new work has abstract and minimalist qualities that really inspire me. This newfound identity has added confidence to my work, which has made talking about it more like a flow state rather than improvisation.


The last five months haven’t been perfect. I’ve missed a number of workouts and have forgotten to meditate on plenty of occasions. There was a string of weeks where editing got put on the back burner. I got complacent with my showing spaces and stopped looking for new opportunities. I’ve had plenty of slip-ups but the key is to notice when they occur, acknowledge it, then calmly begin again.

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© Justin Key Photography