Caught in the Learning Trap? 5 Tips on Freeing Yourself.

Hello my fellow creatives!

Today, I wanted to let something off my chest, and share some of my personal struggle with the mentality of lack that for many many years has been robbing me of reaching my full potential creatively and in other areas of my life as well. I call it the Learning Trap.

Have you ever found yourself endlessly digging up educational content online, collecting piles of PDF's, reading articles, watching countless technique demos on YouTube, or perhaps stalking your favorite artists on social media to see what materials they use? Scott Fischer accurately described this obsessing with learning what other artists use as "materials fetishism". I am definitely guilty of that pattern of thinking, randomly catching myself leaving a comment under yet another amazing masterpiece by one of my heroes, saying things like: “Is it watercolor or mixed media? What type of ink do you prefer? What kind of paper do you use?” Of course, I am always polite, and express my gratitude for providing me with so much inspiration (while secretly hating myself for not being on their level). I was ignorant of my own mentality, telling myself if only I learned yet another thing, then I can allow myself to create. Like if there is a shortage of artists who use nothing but a pencil to create amazing art.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is extremely important to educate yourself and learn new skills in order grow. The trap is, we actually learn when we do something–not when we are watching others do it. There is a HUGE distinction here! One is endless consuming of information disguised as “learning”, that is perpetuated by our lack of confidence, and the the other is actually applying what we learn to our practice. If it's the former, it is nothing but an escapism, a coping mechanism that we engage in pretending that we’re “learning”, getting ready for our next big move, blah-blah-blah, ____ (Feel free to insert whatever other excuses you might habitually come up with in your head), in order to distract ourselves from feelings of guilt, shame, and general sense of unworthiness.

You have a choice. Dedicate time to your creative practice and dive in IN SPITE of feeling uncertain, fearful, not confident, etc., or continue to hide in the shadow of the greatest version of yourself that you know you can be. We all have to learn how to trust ourselves with the process, whether you are a creative professional or not. You don’t have to be an artist, designer, musician, or a writer. We all engage in creative tasks in our lives, relationships, health, finances, etc. Instead of being the prisoner to techniques, falsely believing they will lead to any substantial improvement, the key is to get out of our own way, and allow for those serendipitous moments to occur. If we fail at recognizing this mental pattern, we will continue blocking ourselves, feeding the resistance in our bodies and perpetuating the lack we so desperately want to avoid in our lives. The price is much higher than stepping over ourselves, and making a promise once and for all to stop succumbing to our fears that lead to a life of mediocrity. 

So what can you do, you ask? There are a strategies that helped me begin to reclaim my freedom, and stop being the prisoner of my own subconscious running this show called “MY LIFE”.

Follow these steps to break through, and prepare to be amazed by the crazy creative animal that you are:

  1. Tap into the power of self-awareness.

    Why self-awareness is important? If you are unaware of the underlying limiting beliefs in your subconscious mind, then every action you go into will be like swimming upstream. They inhibit our reality, and whenever we face a large obstacle, come out in a form of laziness that says: “It’s fine, you’re tired today, watch some TV, and sleep in. You can try tomorrow.” But tomorrow turns into a week, then a month, then into years.

    Self-awareness is a byproduct of mindfulness, AKA observing your thoughts, and not believing the meanings you attach to them verbatim. Be cautious of your own tendency to try and rationalize your thoughts, because although they are real, more often then not, they are not true. Just as physical strength develops overtime with consistent exercise, your mental muscles need to be trained too in order to develop mindfulness.

    Start meditating! Like, TODAY! Pledge to stick to it for at least 40 days as a personal challenge. Be easy on yourself. Don’t judge the practice or yourself for not knowing how it's done. It will be uncomfortable at first, so just make your goal to sit quietly and observe your thoughts for 5 minutes a day. You don’t have an internal debate about brushing your teeth or bathing daily, right? Do the same thing here. Set aside the same time everyday, same place; create the environment where you won’t be distracted, where you can sit with your back straight and just focus attention on your breathing. Once you notice you are chasing after another thought down that rabbit hole, gently switch your attention back to the physical sensations of your breath for a few seconds. Than release that focus again.

  2. Cultivate self-compassion.

    Stop beating yourself up for your shortcomings, or for thinking you’re not enough. As a baby being born, all of us come into this world perfect as we are, but as we grow, we are conditioned by our parents and society into believing we are not worthy of love, because we were given love only if we fulfilled certain conditions. The lesson we learn: I'm bad or not worthy to be loved if I don't do this or that, or behave a certain way. In essence, we build a concept of self around this perverted form of love. We buy into a belief that love cannot be unconditional, and that we have to be a certain way in order to receive it. That creates a fracture of self within us. We are constantly experiencing that internal conflict, and until we make a conscious choice to develop the self-compassion and self-love, we are not going to be truly free.

    For over a year, I have been applying the technique taught by Tara Brach that she calls the RAIN of self-compassion, and the results were amazing. Make sure to check out her podcast, because there is SO MUCH GOLD there. Start applying it. It will make miracles happen.

  3. Take inspired action.

    The key word is “inspired”. You need to set a positive intent prior to taking on a task and jumping into action. Sit quietly for a minute. Think about why you want to take this action. Imagine the positive feeling you are going to experience with the desired outcome, anticipate that feeling, feel it in your body. Hold a smile while maintaining a perfect posture, with your back straight, shoulder blades pulled back and down. Hold this mimicry for at least a minute. I guarantee you, just a few seconds into it you’ll start hearing that annoying inner voice of laziness trying to tell you how stupid it is. Don’t let it talk you out of it! Starting to feel that energy flowing, that inspiration, elation? Okay, now you’re primed to take on any challenge. Now, you can grant yourself permission to engage. After a few practices you’ll be able to access this feeling at will whenever you want.

  4. Study fundamentals and make mistakes.

    Understanding the fundamentals of your craft as a creative allow you to make the process a second nature, and start trusting your instincts. The more confidence you gain in yourself through practice, making mistakes, and learning from them, the less chances you'll succumb to the victim mentality.

  5. Have fun with it.

    When we were kids, we didn't worry about what others might think of us when seeing our fabulous creations, but many of us are slowly conditioned out of remembering how to have fun with our process. In one of the episodes of his Accidental Creative Podcast, Todd Henry referred to this as "unnecessary creating". The idea is not worrying about the outcome, and just learn from allowing yourself to experiment and make mistakes freely.

    Approach your process with a child-like curiosity and wonder. See what you can come up with! Anticipate a sense of surprise! Play around! Experiment! Don't worry about the outcome, just make sure to have fun with the process and you'll be able to enter your flow state a lot easier. You might just get amazed by what comes out of you.

Although these are fairly simple concepts, most people don’t follow through. Do not confuse “simple” with “easy”. If it was easy, all of us would already be feeling content, loved and happy all of the time. Make these practices your new religion! Adopt them as an absolute necessary part of your life. Approach them with same curiosity and wonder as your creative process. Don’t fool yourself into thinking these techniques are a panacea in and of itself, or you risk falling into the same Learning Trap we were trying to avoid in the first place.

The only question you need to ask yourself is: "Do I want to be the best version of myself and live fully?" The answer has to be a definitive “YES”. If there is any “buts”, “ifs”, and “maybes”, then you are not going to change. To sustain even the simplest effort, you need to rely on a massive desire and embody that change. Anything less is not going to cut it. Consistency is what breads change. If your thinking is: “Well, let me try this, and see how I feel about it”, you have already failed before you began.

Try this for a month, ideally at least 40 days, and just observe the mental shift happening. I promise, you will thank yourself later for it.

Hope this helps, and until next time, give yourself permission to live fully, because you owe it to yourself!