Everything is frosty as I gaze out the window after a week of arctic blast. The ice is gone, but the trees and distant mountains are covered with frost, soon to go away as the sun finally starts to warm the air. 

A week ago today, I had a moment of parental clarity saying I needed to make the trip back from Florida to Austin with my kids to help with college move-in. So I bought a last-minute ticket, threw a couple of things into a carry-on bag, and landed in Austin a few hours later. The contrast of Florida’s chilly temps versus the arctic air was startling. 

On Monday I drove off  to school and carried boxes up and down the stairs, giving me a great workout, and I was back in Austin on Tuesday morning. I was tempted to head back to Florida for a few days, but since I had to come back here on Sunday for an event I’m hosting, I decided to stay. But I’m reminded that cold weather has worn out its welcome with me.

Golden Silence

I’m not used to being alone. Pre-COVID, I traveled on 40-plus trips a year, but since then I’ve been intentional about reducing travel time, and when I do travel, I’m usually not alone. It’s rare to be alone in this empty house, without the sound of dogs or family. It’s kinda nice. But I have to admit, my first instinct was to fill the void by going shopping or calling some friends to have dinner. 

But then I thought, I’m going to stay home and enjoy being alone. Since then the TV has not come on once, but I can play my guitar and sing as loud as I want and blast my music without worrying about others. I plan to slip out for some painting on the weekend. And I’m not sure what yet, but I’m going to find something different to do, something I’ve never done before, just to step outside of my comfort zone.

Comfort Zones

Being alone is out of my comfort zone, and doing something totally new will be too. I have a love-hate relationship with discomfort. I’d rather be comfortable, but I also love discomfort because it always stimulates growth of some kind. When I started my 2024 planning, I asked myself, “What can I do this year that will be so big, so uncomfortable, something I’m afraid of doing, something I’m not sure I can pull off, but will cause growth and reinvent what I’m doing?”

Keeping Stability

When I came in for the new year and laid out some of my plans, I heard mixed reactions. Some said, “It can’t be done” and others said, “It’s too risky.” And some said, “It’s about time we tried something like that.” Interestingly, I can almost predict what each person will say.

Not Trusting Research

Years ago, I had an idea for a product that had never been done. So I created a mockup, asked around, and 100% of the people I asked told me there was no need for it and they would not buy it. When I asked what they needed, they told me they needed the things everyone else was already doing. So, in spite of 100% negative research, I built the product, launched a company, and put it into the market. They were right, no one wanted it … that is, until I figured out that people need social proof. I needed someone respected to buy my product, and once that happened, everyone followed. My little product idea saw over $6 million in sales over two years. 

More Negative Research

On another occasion, I had an idea for a magazine. I researched it and got the same answer as before: There is no need, no interest. But my gut told me differently, I launched it, and PleinAir Magazine is thriving. It had a rocky start, had to close for a while, but when I brought it back, I tweaked how it was presented, launched it with a convention, and it’s been a hit ever since.

Am I Anti-Research?

Every day I deal with marketing people, ad agencies, and experts, and they are all deeply in love with research. “Find out what people want, and give it to them” is the mantra. And though I do this constantly, the gut still plays an important part. I know my audience deeply because I hang out with them at my retreats and painters’ events, and I observe what they do, what they talk about, and what frustrates them. Sometimes when I ask, the things I see never even come up. Yet if I feel strongly enough about something, I often defy research and do it anyway. My failure rate is high, but some of the most successful things I’ve ever done were initially met with resistance and naysayers. 

The Importance of Gut

Each of us has the gift of knowing when something feels right or wrong. We’re often met with a gut feeling, an intuition that tells us that what is logical may not be the right thing to do. I think your gut is more important than any research you can do, and we should all pay closer attention to what our gut is telling us. 

Listen to Your Heart

There is some very interesting new research about following our heart, or our gut. Scientists have recently discovered that heart transplant patients start having unfamiliar memories, different behaviors, and even different food preferences once they get their new heart. Research suggests they have taken on the memories and preferences of the deceased donors. In one case, for instance, a white recipient heard about this and thought he might start liking rap music because his donor was a young black man. Instead he started liking and listening to classical music, something he had never done in his life. Clearly, this idea of taking on the donor’s memories was mistaken, until researchers who interviewed the donor’s family found out the young man had been a virtuoso classical violinist. Researchers now believe the heart is one of the primary “hard drives” in our system, communicating with the brain more than any other organ.

Where has your gut been, right when others thought a different solution would be better?

What is something you’re facing now where you should maybe be paying more attention to your gut response?

Is there a tug-of-war between your gut and your brain in a current situation?

There is a significant amount of data that not only supports this idea of the memory in the gut, but saying that if we spend time in prayer or meditation, if we quiet our busy lives a little bit every day, we’re likely to make better, more well-rounded decisions. Scientists say intuition is a powerful force, if you take time to listen to it.

I have to admit that my mind is clearer on the days that I exercise and get my heart pumping, and less so when I skip a day. Everything is tied together.

Recently I’ve had to make some challenging decisions, some of which were against the advice of people I trust. I spent a lot of time listening, taking a lot of things into consideration, and made some big leaps of faith to go against that advice and trust my intuition. Time will tell if I’m right or wrong, but even if I’m wrong, I’m invigorated by being out of my comfort zone and the prospect of what could be. I highly recommend it.

You’ve Got This

One last thing … this is your life. You get to make the final decisions. One of the hardest things I ever have to do is follow my gut against the advice of others. Every time I defy advice, I get butterflies in my gut, wondering if I am making the wrong decisions. Ultimately, owning a business like I do, if I’m wrong and screw up, I’ll pay the price. Yet the best advice is to not allow the pressure and influence of others, even if they’re smarter than you are, to encourage you into making the wrong decision. The hard part is they might be right, and you might be wrong. But follow your beliefs. It will serve you well.

Follow your gut.

Eric Rhoads

PS: “We need to stop this now that COVID is over. No one will come, and it will bankrupt us if we do it and they don’t show up.” These were the words of advice of a counselor who said that I should not continue to do my virtual online conferences after the pandemic was over. But my gut told me something different. It said, “You may lose a few, but most of the people who attend do so because they want the content and can’t travel because of their responsibilities at home.” 

On Tuesday we begin Watercolor Live for the fourth time, and attendance is healthy, substantially large, and about the same as when people were locked down and had time on their hands. Hundreds of new people have signed up to join the hundreds who return year after year to see the world’s top watercolor masters share their techniques. 

I’ll be hosting Essential Techniques Day on Tuesday, which is designed for beginners and as a refresher. If you want to learn watercolor, even if you can’t attend the whole week, attend this one day, which will cost you about the same as a dinner out but will serve you your entire life. 

If you believe you want to try painting, I believe watercolor is the best entry point. But there are so many different ways to do it and make your work look good, we all need coaching like this. If you attend and feel it was not worth your time or money, let me know by the end of the day and I’ll refund your investment, whether it’s Essential Techniques Day or all four days of Watercolor Live. 

Though following your gut is important, sometimes your gut tells you, “You can’t do it, Don’t bother.” That is what Tony Robbins calls the “reptilian brain” trying to protect you. It’s why we naturally default to the negative. If you spend your life listening to that voice, you’ll not live the rich life you deserve. You have to defy the negative voice and take risks. 

I’ll see you at Watercolor Live —  www.watercolorlive.com. If you can’t attend, you can still watch it on replays for up to a year.

PS 2:

I struggle with something. We have invented so many things for artists and people who love art that we have a ton of things to talk about. Yet people tell me all the time that they did not know about something and wish they had. We have a rich number of offers, new art instruction courses (we have over 700 professionally produced courses, which is unheard of), new art retreats, new art conventions, new online events, new newsletters and magazines, and so much more. 

If you’re on our e-mail list, you’re getting hit with a lot of different things. At my last Fall Color Week, one attendee scolded me about a different event: “If I’d known about that, I would have come. Why didn’t you tell me about that?” I gently asked, “Do you receive e-mails from us?” “Yes, but there is so much, I don’t open them all.” I then reminded him, “That’s how you missed it.”

We send so much because we offer so much. Give ’em a quick open and glance. You’ll find new things all the time, and lots of other great stories and tools. You’ll be glad you did.