Context is key [Tess, week two]

Written on June 21, 2011 by in Artistry & inspiration, Guest bloggers

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Tess, the second in her series about the Art Aligned Workshop.

I’m sure most of us have been here, right in the midst of it.  Unexpected traffic. The trick is keeping your wits about you and quickly responding by moving lanes to the off ramp.  Moving quickly toward a different path. When I’m driving my car, this is instinctive behavior for me.  Not so much in my business however.

This brings me to session two of the Art Aligned workshop.

Kate started off with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which I haven’t seen since the psych classes I took in college. For those of you who haven’t taken a psychology course, it’s a colorful pyramid divided into 5 horizontal layers. The theory goes that the lower level needs must be satisfied before the upper level needs, and if there is a conflict between the two, the higher stuff goes poof, and then we are controlled by our fears about the low level needs.

Not surprising, really, that I forgot all about this. It was over twenty years ago, and honestly, what part of your college education did you ever dream would be useful in your day-to-day life? Quadratic equations maybe, but Maslow?

With the recent economic downturn and recession and $$$ and business and clients, some of my high level needs for creativity and spontaneity and freedom and fun were in conflict with my lower level needs for safety and security and plenty of resources and employment. And so, with my lower level needs threatened, I let go of my higher level needs, without a fight, without a whimper, without even really realizing I gave them up.

Well, mostly without a whimper.

Once that happened, all those crazy fears we all have—that are completely dismissed when the lower level needs are taken care of—took over my rational brain and ran it.  Will we have enough $$$$ for the bills? Maybe I should get a job for a steady paycheck.  I mean one of us should have steady income, right? Maybe I’m not a good businesswoman and shouldn’t be running a business. Was I really cut out for this? BTW, I’m not calling them low level fears anymore. I’m calling them crap level fears.

Getting back to the picture above: this was the traffic jam in my business that I never saw coming.

I’m cruising along, all go.  Suddenly, I come around a corner or top a hill and something completely unexpected is blocking my way: it’s a low level fear! It’s gridlock time. I stay in the lane that’s blocked. I squirm, I complain, I moan and yes, I groan. Why am I so set on that one route for my business? It’s clear that way is at a dead stop and only frustration and exhaust fumes lay ahead. Why insist? Why dig my heels in and insist it’s this way or nothing? Oh, I get nothing? Let me waste some more time emoting about it!

What’s really going on here? Is it maybe I don’t know the fast exit to take to get to a new route? Maybe by the time I realize I’m in a jam, I’ve missed or passed the exit? Maybe a little of both? Maybe an unexpected fear out of context feels and looks bigger than it actually is? And looks unsolvable to boot? And has stopped me and locked me in?

Well, let’s put it in context then.  Am I afraid of something? What is it? It’s not the end of the world, or even the beginning of the end of the world. It’s just a fear about something. Great. Take it out of my head and write a list about how I can deal with it, fulfill the need so the fear goes away, and then move around it once it has been taken care of. Simple. Really obvious now it’s in black and white isn’t it?

Context. Context is key.

Studies show the easiest way to learn and retain the most is when we add what we are currently learning to something we already learned. That way, it’s not completely new at all, and it’s processed differently by the brain. When I’m driving I know to keep my head and check lanes and look for a fast exit when I come up on traffic. Now, I’ll just add the new bit about low level needs not being fulfilled and causing unusual fears to that old info: look out and watch for weird thinking and unexpected fears and make a quick lane change if I need to, right into looking at the context and making a list to get it out of my head, dealing with the fear and fulfilling the need.

Now that I’ve realized I already know how to do this (!) and already do it in one aspect of my life, it’s no problem to use this trick in another area of my life, my photography business. Put the fear into context, take care of it, and voila! I am making a quick change into another lane and moving past and around the backup. I get off the freeway, skip that backup, and take the scenic route. It’s prettier anyway.

So make the lane change. Go ahead and make a plan, and then get ready to modify it change it rewrite it redo it. Business is a living thing, sort of like life itself. It changes and it moves, sometimes so fast we barely have time to react, sometimes so slow we are sort of bored and fooling around with the buttons on the radio. The only sure thing is change, so get ready as you top that next hill or round that corner. And remember: context.

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