Garbage and Gold

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This is my best idea.

My work is special.

I’ve worked so hard on this.

I hope people like what I’ve done.

This piece of art is meaningful.

If you’re a creator in any way, these are the thoughts that will destroy you. If you’ve ever heard the term limiting beliefs, then you know a little about how our brains work against us sometimes. As an artist of any medium, there is an insurmountable number of these ways that our brain limits our creativity. This post is about a few of those sneakier limiting beliefs and the best mindset in overcoming them.

Your work only has as much weight as you place on it. When I say weight, I mean it in terms of value. A beautiful painting is as emotionally valuable to you as you want it to be. If you think it’s your life’s work, then it is. If you believe it’s your heart and soul embodied in colors and strokes, then it is. Giving a project this kind of weight can sink your ship, so to speak. It can lead to hindering habits such as perfectionism, self-doubt, need for approval etc… Really unhealthy shit. Especially when you’re trying to push forward with an unthankful career in art.

Imagine this scenario: you’ve got a good idea for a screenplay. It’s a great idea, you think. The best you’ve ever had. When you sit down to write it, however, you make it a few pages in and realize that the plot is already falling apart. So, you work and work and work to make the idea come to life, but still, something isn’t clicking. Now, if you’re under the impression that this is your greatest idea ever, you’ll likely hold on to it for years. Working hard to make the plot or characters bend and fit into this rigid, ungiving mold of the idea you’ve created in your mind. This scenario will end with you working on the trying to make the perfect screenplay for five years, then eventually give up on it.

I don’t want that to happen to you. So here are the two mentalities that will help you be a person who chronically finishes projects.

Mentality number one: The last project is garbage.

The first thing you have to realize is that the last project you work on will become garbage once you finish. It’s the in-the-moment equivalent of re-reading an essay you did in 7th grade. You ask yourself, “how was I that stupid and bad at writing? I didn’t even spell cabbage correctly.” Human’s are creatures of progress. We learn something new every day and then we die. So as you work on something, keep in mind that by the time you finish your current project, you’ll be a more learned person and this project won’t reflect that. Once you understand that, it takes the judgment out of the process. It’s freeing!

This mindset helps you in two ways: for one, it will flip your need for validation into a need for feedback. You’ll be dying for people to tell you exactly what they didn’t like about your art! And second, in turn, this will flip your need for perfection into a need to finish. You’ll want nothing more than to be done with this stupid project. After all, it’s just going to be garbage, anyway.

Mentality number two: The next project is gold.

It’s very easy to think that a good idea may be your last good idea. I don’t know why we think that, but it’s stupid. That’s why you should assume your next idea will be better. Not the idea you just had. The next one. Give yourself some creative credit. If you’re a painter, then you don’t just have one good painting in you. If you’re a journalist, you don’t have just one good story in you. Novelists have more than one good book in them. Always. So, yes, it’s good to think that the last idea isn’t anything special, but that’s only half of the equation. If you want to be a chronic completer of projects, you also need to trust that your next idea will be the best one yet.

Remember, we grow through every project we work on. Realizing this will help you realize that by the start of your next project, you’ll be a smarter, better person. Reason would have it, then, that your next idea will be miles above your last one, in terms of quality. Viewing your artistic thoughts from this perspective will set up a carrot on a stick. One propelling you through your current project and on to the next one.

This is the path to ultimate productivity. I promise. But to end, let me point out the most important gift that this way of thinking will bring you: Freedom from judgment. Even though these two mentalities have to do with the future and the past, keeping them both in mind will distract you from judging anything in the present. In simpler terms, it leaves you with a clear head. One that’s been granted permission to work free of oversight. It gets rid of the boss in your mind trying to micromanage every detail of the process. Thus making it a much happier workplace inside that noggin of yours.

So remember, the last things garbage and the next is gold.

Happy creating,

Dayton O’Donnell

P.S. The Artist’s Way is an amazing book that helps unlock you’re creativity! Highly recommend!