Are you open to making mistakes or are you driven by the fear that you will make a mistake? Do you seek out new experiences?
Do you question conventional wisdom or authority?
If you remember being a child, you might remember how you were constantly trying out new things or wandering about, curious what something looked like up close, felt like or tasted. You might also remember, however, being scolded for wandering off on your own, putting something in your mouth, going the wrong way, doing the wrong thing or asking too many questions. You might remember, in other words, being rewarded for doing as you were told and punished for doing as your heart desired, so that you stopped asking so many questions, and you became more concerned about being right than having a deeper understanding or experience.
Alas, perhaps you have had glimpses of this child-like experience of being curious and finding out how something feels, looks, or works. But can you recall the last time it happened?
If you are like most, it likely happened at a time when you felt relaxed, happy or carefree. And if you are like most and spend the majority of your time stressed or in fear that you might make a mistake, the experience of feeling happy and relaxed is a rarity.
Thing is that we all have the ability to tap into our creative genius. It is just really difficult to access when we are stressed, especially about a specific problem where we believe we have a lot riding on the possible outcome.
When the stress response is active, as I mentioned in my previous article, the ability to think creatively and openly is hindered. Negative emotions usually trigger the stress response and fear-like behaviors, causing the mind to focus on getting a job done, rather than having a meaningful experience.
In contrast, when the stress response is calmed, the mind can be quiet, the body relaxed and emotions positive as levels of neurotransmitters and endorphins circulating in the brain are increased. This then enables you to access your higher, more creative thoughts and child-like desires to know, “Why?”
Leonardo’s creative genius never seemed to succumb to stress.
As Michael Gelb points out in his book, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, even though Leonardo da Vinci had setbacks and was faced with the stress of wars, having to leave jobs unfinished, and finding new benefactors, his quest for knowledge and experience was never hindered. “Yes” was never an acceptable answer as he always wanted to know first, “Why?” He never took anything at face value and questioned everything. He not only made mistakes, but he also used them to learn from. He knew that to be an inventor and a true creator, he had to experiment, observe and critically examine all his work, including his mistakes, in order to maintain objectivity and refine his understanding. He referred to himself as “man of experience” and questioned propaganda and dogma, while still honoring scholastic studies, keeping a library of books and teaching himself new things, like Latin. He took care of his emotions, meditated often, and spent time in nature, as he knew that keeping a positive mindset was as important as eating healthy food.
How can you be more like Leonardo?
Gelb says you can follow the second da Vinci principle, Dimonstratzione: By “committing to test your knowledge through experience, persistence and a willingness to learn from mistakes.”
Your goal is to not just have a desire to change how you go about thinking or learning, but to also learn to align your mind with positive feelings, positive expectation and a positive physiology.
Here are five steps to get you to Dimonstratzione:
1. Examine the stress or a particular problem in your life and start asking questions like:
• What role is fear playing?
• Would I handle this situation differently if I were not afraid to make a mistake?
• Where did I develop my attitude or perception to difficult situations like the ones I face?
• What is the story that I always seem to tell myself that is wrapped up in fear?
• Is it possible for me to draw a new conclusion from my past experiences based on my strengths, values, victories and my capabilities? Can I allow change?
2. Power breaths to quiet the mind and relax the body with the addition of a positive memory:
• Breathe in and count 1-2-3.
• Breathe out and count 1-2-3-4-5.
• As you breathe out, allow all thoughts and tension to be released (you can imagine they are flowing out into the wind, down a river or into the earth).
• As you breathe I, breathe in peace.
• Breathe in and out for 10 cycles.
• Then allow your mind to wander to a memory when you felt relaxed, happy, and carefree, like perhaps you were out in nature, laughing, playing, relaxing or enjoying a beautiful sunset.
3. Write down affirmations in your notebook that will help inspire you to conquer challenges and remember your strengths, values, victories and capabilities, like:
• I embody the feeling of being a creative genius.
• I enjoy feeling open minded and curious.
• I feel like a child with an open heart and an even more open mind.
• I embody the feeling of being an independent thinker.
4. Employ Leonardo’s style of critical thinking:
• Examine any problem from three perspectives.
• Step back for an objective view.
• Sleep on a thought, idea or problem and address it after you are rested.
• Ask your harshest critic for critique.
5. Examine and learn from your mistakes and write about it in your notebook.
• Look at your past or present and think about mistakes you may have made.
• Make a list of the mistakes you tend to repeat.
• Look at the role fear plays in your tendency to repeat these mistakes.
• Examine what you have learned from these mistakes and see if you can find positive attributes to the experiences that have made you wiser, stronger and capable.
• Ask yourself how you might do things differently if you were to learn from your patterns, let go of the fear and not fear making a mistake.