Little tiny steps

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

We long for progress and improvement when making our art. The desire to fast-forward through being a ‘lost’ and shaky beginner is strong. The mind wants us to master things far quicker than what is actually physically possible. It’s going to take time and regular practice to make space for the grown to occur. You don’t plant a seed and then wonder why it hasn’t instantly grown into a fully-fledged flower. That would defy the laws of nature! You understand that some things take time to develop and your art-making practice is no different.

On the Take the Upgrade podcast, Leanne Peterson invites us to think about where we’re feeling we should be ahead of where we are and encourages “instead of getting mad at ourselves, we should be honouring the version of us that we are, that is going to enable us to grow into the version that we see ahead of us that we know we’re capable of.”

She uses the example of her son learning to walk: “I don’t get mad at my son right now because he can’t run. I’m excited that he’s taking little tiny baby steps to walk so that some day he can run. And I think a lot of us can almost picture ourselves running but we’re still in the baby step phase and then we’re mad at ourselves that we’re not running.”

Peterson’s advice on how to overcome the frustration of growing through tiny steps? give yourself “a) room to grow in, b) a direction to grow but c) grace while your growing in. Can I have grace for myself and my mistakes as I’m evolving into the version of me I see? Versus disqualifying myself because I’m not as good as the 10-year-from-now version which was built on the version I am today.”

Who you are today is the foundation for who you will be in the future. Similar to how Rome wasn’t built in a day – it took time – the same goes for your art evolution because it will be built on the foundations of 1000’s of little tiny steps.

Harsh inner critics and runaway brains

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Self-judgement can quickly show up when you start making art. The small whispers of “you’re no good,” “don’t waste your time” or “you can’t improve.” Self-judgment, or the inner critic, can paralyse progress if you believe the stories it spins. It wants to minimise ‘danger’ because the mind feels threatened attempting anything new or unfamiliar and so seek safety in the known and predicatable (in this case not making any art). Shaun McNiff in Imagination in Action argues “The inhibition to act in unfamiliar or apparently strange ways combined with the harsh inner critic is the most essential one-two punch of repression, and for the most part it resides completely within the person, manifesting itself with great power even in situations unconditionally supporting creative expression.” But it’s not just beginner art-makers who suffer from the harsh inner critic’s feedback. “Even the most accomplished artists are stricken when approaching creative expression.”

So how do we overcome this? “Suspend judgement” McNiff suggests. “We all need egos to help in the making of decisions, and arguably artists require ego strength to persist in the face of obstacles, but during the process of insisting the formative forces of expression, ego (and its tendencies towards control) restricts the free and unplanned circulation of possibilities.”

Our brains really do have a mind of their own and that’s why you can’t believe every judgmental thought they tell you. Adyashanti on Oprah’s Supersoul podcast talks about a dream world where we live “primarily in our brains.” He asks us to question “What am I, before my thoughts, before my memories, before my ideas about myself, good and bad and indifferent?” After discovering a quiet space, “our minds do not know what do do with that. So they tend to run away, they go back to the mind.”

The mind is programmed to think a certain way and can run away from you so how do we quiet the mind to access our creative potential? Question judgemental thoughts. See them as a concerned but overdramatic and repressive voice that doesn’t know what’s best when it comes to your creativity. It’s not easy to do, but with practice comes confidence and freedom.

Unblocking your creativity to reveal your inner artist

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

An interview with Julia Cameron, author of this The Artist’s Way on the Don’t Keep Your Day Job Podcast with Cathy Heller, had the following pearls of wisdom:

On not having natural talent:

HELLER: What if someone doesn’t have the natural talent? What if this person is not a natural artist, is it cruel to send them down some path if they’re never going to be this super genius creative person?

CAMERON: I have people say to me “Julia, aren’t you worried that you’re empowering a lot of bad art?” And I say actually I find the opposite. I find more often than when I unblock someone, I find myself thinking how could they have not known they were an artist, [that] they’re brilliant?

On comparison:

“I think what often happens is we try to do something creative and then we judge it again the master work of other artists and we say ‘See, I’m terrible. I’m just not good enough.'”

On creativity:

“Creativity is something that belongs to all of us and working on our creativity is exercising a birthright.”

On perfection:

“…be willing to be a beginner. Do not demand perfection of your efforts… You are intended to practice creativity… You are perfect in your imperfections.

On taking tiny steps:

“You can take tiny steps and they will lead you in the right direction.”

Takeaways? Everybody is inherently creative – it might just be buried a little deeper for you. Comparison can be destructive and might halt your creativity. Imperfection is a better goal than perfection because perfection keeps you stuck. Tiny steps always lead you somewhere so don’t underestimate them – big steps don’t necessarily lead you in a better or faster direction.

Goofing off and being lazy

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Two examples of men at the very top of success in their fields, who talk about goofing off and laziness playing a role in their work lives. This goes against the grain of what we imagine work life to be when you’re at the top of your game, but doesn’t it sound nicer than the alternative of your nose constantly to a grindstone??

In a Malcom Gladwell Revisionist History podcast, Cliff Asness, a billionaire hedge fund manager, talks about not working hard: “This is not a secret. I don’t work as hard as people think. I goof off a lot.” Malcom Gladwell describes him as liking “puzzles, games, problems that engage the imagination.” And Asness confesses “I have been caught several times playing internet chess in my office…”

In a Freakonomics interview, behavioral economics and novel prize winner Richard Thaler discusses his reputation for being lazy:

DUBNAR: You’ve you’ve been accused – or really, praised – by your collaborator and mentor and friend Danny Kahneman as being extremely lazy, and furthermore, he argues that laziness has in fact been a big part of your success. What does he mean by that, and should we all try to be a bit lazier?

THALER: Well, I don’t know if I can recommend laziness… I have little patience for working on things that aren’t, at least to me, both interesting and somewhat important. And so compared to many economists or academics, I haven’t written a super large number of papers, and I don’t follow the habit of writing 20 versions of the same paper, or on the same topic, because I get bored. And the fourth paper on some topic is not nearly as interesting as the first one…

DUBNER: And the mechanism of that benefit is what? Because you’re lazy you just don’t want to waste time on things that aren’t going to be potentially important and/or interesting?

THALER: Yeah, that’s that idea. [emphasis added]

Not working, play and fascination in the creative process

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Interesting insight into the writing process from author/musician/screenwriter Jeremy Dyson via an interview on The Comedian’s Comedian podcast. While he speaks from a writers perspective, it’s relevant to any creative field. ‘Not-working,’ incorporating play and being fascinated with what you’re doing are key themes.

Preparing the soil:

“So much of the work of writing happens when you are not doing it… you’re not actually doing the work, you’re preparing the soil and the work happens when you’re not thinking about it.”

Balancing work and play:

“…the creative process, it’s always a dance between both [work and play] and you’ve got to get them in the right amount. You can’t just have the hard work without the play because it’s deadly and you can’t just have the play without the discipline of a tangible date when the show’s going to be on… because you won’t do anything.”

Your best work:

“It’s about what have you got to offer, what’s particular to you that’s gong to be interesting to other people. And again it’s not mild interest, it’s passion, absolute fascination. What’s your obsession? And that’s where you do, I think, your best work, that’s where you’ve got to be.”

Creatives constantly sat at a desk ‘working hard’ is an outdated idea when it comes to producing good art. Engaging in conversations, thinking, dreaming and pottering around can allow your brain to think more divergently compared to actively thinking hard about what you should make next. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Creativity explains “This does not mean that creative persons are hyperactive, always “on”, constantly churning away… They consider the rhythm of activity followed by idleness or reflection very important for the success of their work… a strategy for achieving their goals.”

Also the interviewer and comedian Stuart Goldsmith made an interesting comment about the joy of discovery:

“The first half is very enjoyable, it’s a strong show. The second half… does occasionally make me think that I should just do work-in-progress for the rest of my life. I think it suits my energy. As soon as something becomes fixed I find myself going “Well that is fixed and I know how this works.” And it works, it really works, it’s great fun, but it doesn’t contain the same joy of discovery for me and I think maybe I’m a joy of discovery person.”

Can you learn to find joy in the journey of creating where learning and developing is the goal, instead of just focusing on the finished, final artwork? The process of discovery is a richer experience when you haven’t figured everything out.

We need to connect more

“We need to connect more. We choose not to. It’s a choice, everything’s a choice. That’s what we’re choosing to do. We’re choosing not to. We’re in a Tinder world, a throw-away world. A world where actually deep connection is something that’s almost becoming avoided just because there is so much able connection that isn’t really with meaning. Those things are compromising us as human beings.”

– Emma Kenny, interview on Under the Skin Podcast #40: How to Be Spiritually Healthy in Damaged Times