Is your painting progress a little fragile?
Do you get really deflated when you find it hard and don’t get the results you were hoping for?
If so, it’s a good idea to start cultivating a ‘growth mindset’. A ‘growth mindset’ is a concept developed by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. People with a growth mindset recognise a truth now backed up by science:
that every time you work outside of your comfort zone, making a big effort and finding things difficult, neurons in your brain build better connections and your skills and abilities develop and improve.
Thus with a growth mindset you can start to interpret effort, difficulty and even errors, as a sign that you’re improving, NOT a sign that you should give up.
The opposite of this would be a ‘fixed mindset’ – one that’s especially prevalent in the world of painting and drawing. That is to say that we have a level of talent or skill that’s fixed (we’re born with) and that it’s very hard or impossible to significantly improve.
Dweck’s research has shown that if you cultivate a growth mindset you’re able to learn from your errors, engaging fully with them, rather than fleeing from them (ie throwing your ‘bad’ painting in the bin).
In short, your errors stop having such an emotional hold over you and can be seen for what they are – a vital part of the process of improving.
Instead of thinking you failed, you think of yourself as not succeeding… yet.
I feel very lucky that I’ve not experienced a fixed mindset about my painting but I put that down to the fact that I learned to paint as a child, when it’s much more normal to expect yourself to be able to pick up new skills.
Learning as an adult can be tougher because we often have ourselves a much more vocal inner critic, ready to jump in and criticise our efforts.
So how can you cultivate a growth mindset?
Focus on the process, not the end result.
And praise yourself for the effort and perseverance you’ve shown, as well as on any improvements, even when they seem really small.
I recommend keeping a ‘Learning Log’ – a notebook or journal where you actually keep a track of any improvements you can perceive in your paintings, and your experience of painting them, as you go. After each painting session, add an entry to your log, focusing on the positive and, if you are aware of errors you’ve made, focusing on how you’re going to try to avoid making the same ones in future. It’s also amazing to look back over to chart how far you’ve come!
This can make a HUGE difference, and I hope you’ll give it a go after your next painting practice session.
For those of you who’d like to learn more, here’s a 10 minute TED talk from Carol Dweck on the subject:
Do you feel you need to make a shift to a growth mindset? Or is it something you’ve already managed to cultivate? Feel inspired to keep a ‘Learning Log’? I’d love to hear from you about it in the comments.