We all draw when we’re little kids. If we don’t have paper, our crayons just decorate the walls, instead. At some point, though, most of us start to judge our drawings. The natural progression from there is to become frustrated and, often, give up completely. Once we get to that point and stop trying, we say that we “can’t draw.”
“Where does that belief come from? When you were a child, you drew a lot. And you were able to do it, there was never any doubt. At least until you noticed that some children were praised more often than you. You understood that for a drawing to have any value it must resemble something from reality. Your drawings didn’t, no matter how hard you tried, so with time you came to the conclusion that you couldn’t draw.”
This process also happens with many other skills and forms of expression. People often tell me they’re “not creative,” or lament that they “can’t do math.” But they create something for dinner on a daily basis, and add and subtract numbers all the time in the course of daily life.
The problem is that they’re using a singular, all-or-nothing scale to measure ability, and they feel that they don’t measure up.
As Emilie recently reminded us, there’s value in pursuing things we’re bad at and don’t get paid for. But even if you’re on board with that idea, you might still be wondering: How the heck do I motivate myself to actually try something I might be bad at? What if I embarrass myself?
1. Embrace mistakes
Young children communicate to the best of their ability with whatever combination of words they can string together. Adults are usually patient with them, taking time to repeat their words back until they can understand what the child is saying. We aren’t self-conscious about mistakes in our early years; we take them in stride, incorporate corrections, and move on. That’s one reason it seems as if children learn languages—and other information—easily.
The truth is, mistakes are natural. And if no one ever shamed us for what we didn’t know, we wouldn’t have a reason to get defensive about exercising abilities we haven’t yet mastered.
2. Set aside your fear
When we’re afraid, we tend to make a giant and debilitating assumption. It’s an assumption so obvious that we rarely notice that we’re making it. We assume that the fear means something about what we want to do.
Instead of I can’t play the trumpet because I’m afraid or even I’m afraid to play the trumpet, but I’m going to do it anyway, what about, I want to play the trumpet and I’m afraid? They’re two independent pieces of information. One does not have to affect the other.
You can even choose a visualization technique to reduce the impact of your fear. Here’s one that I like: Imagine that you are blowing bubbles, and that each bubble represents one of your fears. One by one, take a moment to delight in the pop as you poke each bubble. This type of visualization can help you remember that fear will come and go—and that it doesn’t have to control your actions.
3. Try it for 5 minutes
Maybe saying to yourself I’m going to draw a comic for the Puttycomp still feels like too big a challenge. That’s ok! Gather your materials, set a timer for five minutes, and give yourself permission to just give it a try. When the five minutes are up, stop and assess:
- How did it feel?
- What do you notice about what you’ve done?
- Do you want to keep going? Why or why not?
Finally, give yourself a reward just for trying.
Schedule another five minutes—for now, tomorrow, or next week—and give it another go. If I’ll work on this until I finish it or I’ll spend the next hour on this project sound overwhelming, committing to five minutes at a time might feel a lot more manageable.
Remember that what you choose to do with your time is your choice. If you want to call it quits, that’s okay too!
Giving yourself permission not to finish can be liberating. Just be clear with yourself about why you want to give up. If any part of you doubts the decision, come back to the project tomorrow and give it another five minutes. You might create something wonderful—and learn something about yourself while you’re at it!
What’s helped you attempt a new skill? What resources do you recommend for people who are feeling scared or paralyzed about trying something new?