By Laurie Stone, L.Ac.
Are you comparing your chapter 1? It’s okay to be new.
I’ve been teaching regular Zentangle classes for about 8 months now and I am picking up on a recurring theme among my students (and I fall into this trap sometimes too!). I’m going to talk about this specifically with Zentangle, but I think you’ll see how it can really apply to anything in life…
As adults, we often don’t like to be new at something.
It makes me think of a quote I found really helpful in the beginning of my Zentangle practice and even to this day:
Don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20.
Many of my students are eager to simply dive in. But quite a few of my students are really interested, curious, and excited about the idea of Zentangle, then as we get started, the comparison monster shows up. This might appear in my classroom in different ways…
- Eyebrow furrows, sighs of frustration
- Outright statements like “I don’t like mine!”
- When glancing at a fellow classmate’s tile, a little frown of disappointment when looking back at their own work.
As adults, it’s an ingrained habit for us to compare – we’ve all be doing it since our non-verbal baby days – “her toy looks more fun than mine”. But think about this…
When you were a baby, did you know how to walk perfectly the first time?
When you were a toddler, did you grasp the concept of tying a bow in your shoelaces the first time?
When you were a grade-schooler, did you know right away that 6×7 = 42?
When you swung a baseball or softball bat for the first time, did you hit a home run?
You see where I’m going with this…
Why have we lost the ability to be a beginner?
Why do we judge ourselves so harshly when we are brand new to something?
One possible reason is that as adults, with all we see around us, we have raised our standards and expectations. We have the ability to google Zentangle and see all these beautiful patterns on the images that appear, but what we don’t see is all the practice pieces that came before that beautiful one. So, naturally, we want ours to look like theirs. Right away.
Also, we often don’t allow ourselves to be new at things often enough. We’ve gotten used to being good at the things we’ve already chosen. By the time we are adults, we have filtered out many hobbies, careers, daily tasks that we aren’t good at, to be able to feel confident in the ones we are good at.
Thirdly, we are horribly cruel judges of ourselves in our own heads.
Zentangle has helped me learn to be kind to myself.
This kindness is something I still continue to practice.
The two Zentangle images above are my own creations. And I do think the one on the right is much, much better. Both are freehand (we don’t use rulers in Zentangle), and clearly my lines are straighter in the righthand one.
But what’s the real difference between the two? About six years time and LOTS of practice.
I tangle a lot – it’s the way I de-stress, and the side benefit is that it gives me a lot of practice while having fun doing it. But I am just as fond of both of these tiles. And I’m not the least bit embarrassed to show you my not-as-pretty one.
I remember when I did that one – it was the first time I drew the pattern Aura-Knot and I thought it would be so hard, but I did it. Not perfect, not great, but I did it, by golly!
Here’s the rub about comparison: it doesn’t matter what level of competence you’re at. If you aren’t mindful, the comparison monster can still sneak in. There will always be someone better at something.
I’m in a Facebook group for Zentangle teachers and some of the work that my fellow teachers post just blows me out the water. Sooooo beautiful that sometimes I feel like I’m now comparing my Chapter 20 to their Chapter 50.
What would happen if I started letting that get to me? I would stop posting my own pictures to the group, feeling insecure, or I would turn an enjoyable process of flow into a harsh better-get-it-perfect-this-time activity, ugh, or worst of all, I would just quit. Yikes!
So I continue to practice kindness to myself and lighten up my expectations.
Here are some tips to help you through comparison monster moments:
- Keep your first tiles – don’t throw them away. You will be able to see how far you’ve come in a short time.
- Tangle regularly, even in little ways – a little doodle on the side of your paper. Grab a sticky note at lunch and just tangle something.
- Write yourself a permission slip to be new at this.
- If you get overwhelmed by a pattern or a composition you are trying to do, go back to the basics. Re-draw some of your very first patterns as a confidence boost.
- If you are getting frustrated, wanting to throw in the towel, go back to one of your comfort tangles (one of your favorites) and let yourself make it easy to do – draw a single pattern or draw a smaller tile. Pull out your favorite color pen and just draw spirals, for example.
Zentangle makes it very easy to be a beginner IF!! you let it be easy.
Remember this applies to everything in life – so just substitute the word Zentangle for whatever it is you are wanting to begin.
If you would like to experience Zentangle, please check my calendar for upcoming classes.