Scratchy wool socks and a worn old sweatshirt don’t seem to be enough to warm my chilled body this morning. We had a temperature drop from our unseasonably warm winter last night as clouds billowed through the sky at the speed of a freight train bringing carloads of cold as its cargo. Yet tradition is a must, and unless it’s unbearably cold or hot, writing you from this long old covered porch overlooking the 40 acres behind me is my one superstition. Coffee and thoughts are always better here, in the secure comfort of my special spot on the squeaky wicker couch.
Walking Under Ladders
Superstitions are kind of weird to me. Yet, though I put my trust in God, I still think twice before walking under a ladder or opening an umbrella indoors. It seems powerfully odd to me that a well educated, perfectly intelligent being like you or me would think these old wives’ tales have some power to change our lives.
Telling Your Fortune
I feel the same way about horoscopes. Things come true — not because some writer at a newspaper somewhere sees it in the stars, but because the power of suggestion makes things happen. A horoscope predicts nothing, yet they make us look for those things to happen. I refuse to read horoscopes, even for entertainment, because suggestion is so powerful. (Plus, I don’t need to meet a dark handsome stranger.)
Your Future Is Bright
Our minds are so powerful that carefully implanted suggestions can control us. Recently, I was reading a book about sales that revealed a technique called “future pacing,” where you make a suggestion early on about something that is going to occur in someone’s future, and then, later on in the process, it becomes their idea. I for one don’t want anything so badly that I have to manipulate someone into buying something with some subtle technique.
Suggestion happens in our lives, no matter how much we think we have control over ourselves. It starts with how strong the credibility is of the person suggesting something. If I trust someone, respect them, and think they have lots of answers, I’m more likely to listen to their suggestion and make it happen.
Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid™
Suggestion can be used for evil or for good. Though hypnotists say you cannot be controlled and won’t do anything you don’t want to do, I suppose I’d say that too if I were trying to make a group of people feel comfortable with what was about to happen to them. Of course we’ve seen historical examples of mass hypnosis, such as the tragedy of Jim Jones’s followers and their mass suicide.
Walking on Fire
On the good side, someone implanting positive ideas, perhaps helping you overcome years of bad behavior, can be a benefit. Tony Robbins comes to mind. I was reluctant to attend one of his events because I didn’t want a dose of positive thinking alone. Convinced by a friend, I went anyway, and as a result overcame some things in my head that were controlling me. Now I recommend him. I’ve watched Robbins change people’s stories in about 10 minutes, unsticking them from stories that had controlled them all their lives.
Overcoming Bad Habits
We need suggestion. We need guidance. And usually we don’t know we need it. For instance, I just returned from a weeklong painting workshop with David Leffel and Sherrie McGraw, two amazing master painters. I knew they could teach me something, but I had no idea that they would implant new concepts into my brain that overcame years of bad habits. Interestingly enough, their teaching technique, which I was initially bothered by, turned out to be the best possible thing for me. They made me struggle before showing me how to fix things, so when the fix was revealed, I understood it more deeply. The result was a shift of thinking, helping me let go of things I thought I was doing right. And I fought it, I didn’t want to let go — yet with their leadership and suggestions, I embraced what I originally resisted.
There are four stages of awareness:
Unconscious Incompetence: This means you are unaware of your lack of skill and proficiency. For instance, maybe you’re a terrible driver and totally unaware of it.
Conscious Incompetence: You are aware of your lack of skill, yet still don’t become proficient. You know you’re a bad driver, but you keep being a bad driver.
Conscious Competence: You are able to use a skill, but it takes a lot of effort. You’re now a good driver, but you have to think about it at every step to make sure you’re driving well.
Unconscious Competence: Performing the skill becomes automatic. You’re now a good driver and you don’t have to think about it.
Many of us spend the better parts of our lives in a state of unconscious incompetence. We’re unaware of our shortcomings. Yet the goal is to become aware and make the necessary changes to go through the stages. First, find out you have a problem, then work to fix it. Practice it, even if it’s uncomfortable, and then master it.
In the workshop I went from Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence. And if I keep practicing, maybe I’ll get to the level of taking the principles I learned into every painting I do until I can do it in my sleep.
Rather than living my life unaware of my shortcomings, I want to know I have them. I want to become aware, and then fix them to the point that they are no longer problems. This is why I am continually suggesting people push themselves out of their comfort zone to learn new things. The result is learning about yourself. It’s also why, in spite of being a fairly busy guy, I took a week out of my year and away from my business to improve, and it’s why I created things like the Plein Air Convention and the Figurative Art Convention so people can be exposed to things they don’t know.
Have you ever heard someone boasting about something, and you’re internally shaking your head and thinking, “They have no idea how wrong they are.” That’s because you’re consciously competent and they are unconsciously incompetent.
That’s why suggestion is so powerful. We turn to others to give us guidance and direction, hoping they can offer something that will change our lives. Sometimes we turn to evil not knowing it’s evil, and sometimes we turn to something with the hope that it’s good.
The Power of Discomfort
The best thing we can do with our lives is to get uncomfortable, and to spend our lives staying uncomfortable. I was really intimidated the first time I went to Russia. I was afraid because of things I’d heard or seen in movies and on the news, yet I did it anyway, and it opened doors to a whole new understanding of art, the world, and so much more. It resulted in new lifelong friendships, and exposure to things I’d never otherwise have seen.
You don’t know what you don’t know. But you have to know there are so many things you don’t know that could be life-altering for you. The key is to try things that make you nervous, and things that take you out of your comfort zone. It’s amazingly freeing, and it will truly enrich your life.
Stop Being Stuck
We all get stuck, but we are unconsciously stuck. I’m stuck in areas where I don’t know I’m stuck. I go online and buy random courses I have no interest in and knew nothing about, and I watch them on the treadmill in the morning. I also listen to random podcasts, and I find myself learning things I didn’t know I needed to know.
Be random. Try new things.
Be adventurous. Try things that make you uncomfortable.
A life of adventure awaits those who embrace discomfort.
PS: I’m putting myself way out of my comfort zone this year, working on projects I never believed could happen. I’m making my first trip to China, on a seven-city speaking tour, meeting with top artists, visiting top art schools, and doing a little painting along the way. I’m excited but also intimidated. Yet I’m sure I’ll be more worldly as a result, and I’ll meet some amazing new friends.
In the interest of awareness, I should let you know that our May Plein Air Convention & Expo is the biggest and most popular ever. We’re almost out of seats already — I think when I last looked we had 125 seats left, which is not very many. (Last year at this time we had 300 seats left.) I met some people this week who said, “I want to go, but I don’t think I’m good enough.” Please know that we all embrace new painters because we were all new at one time. We have people who will work with you, and you can sign up for our pre-convention Basics Course, headed by Carrie Curran and several instructors who will walk you through everything you need to know to join the plein air movement. Get out of your comfort zone, put the ego aside, and do something for yourself.