You are not alone.
There is no secret that you need to practice your craft as a photographer. If you want to be at the top of your class, you need to practice every day. You probably heard the speech a thousand times before, and it is true. But the world is not black and white, and sometimes we need to practice differently. Break out of the system, and think differently.
Eduardo Briceño from Mindset Works talks about being able to alternate between the “learning zone” and the “performance zone”. And it truly inspired me. Most of us spent all of our time in the “performance zone”. Here we get things done as best as we can. Does it sound familiar? Now, the problem is that if you spend all of your time in the performance zone, eventually you will plan out, becoming inadequate. And this winter, that has been where I was at.
Let me explain.
What Briceño talks about is becoming brave enough to spend more time in the learning zone. Watching his graphics I would say spending up to 70 percent of your time learning. The alternate between those two zones is a spiral to increase possibilities and innovation. To become better at your craft. But you need to be able to identify when you are set out to learn, and when you are performing. We all know that working within the media is high pressure and that there is not always time set aside for learning. But there are ways to learn, and still be in the “performance zone”.
But we will come back to that.
I must be completely honest with you guys: the last couple of years I have spent too much time in the performance zone. So much, that I have started to doubt that I ever will be capable to do more. To think bigger, to go bigger. And it has made me older, more afraid. And not in a good way. Photography and storytelling have been my main focus the last ten years, and after finishing college I hit the performance zone hard. Maybe too hard. I know some of you are the same. Photography is constantly surrounding me. Whenever I see the light shifts, a small moment no one else notices or just when I need to breathe. It is such a big part of who I am. And the fact that a path towards over-performing and over-thinking was about to kill that deep passion scares the living scrap out of me.
Now, let us get back to business.
Dr Anders Ericsson talks about deliberate practice. You break down your abilities within your skill. Which sub-skill do you need to focus on improving? I am a beast photographing at f.2,8. It has become as natural as cracking my bones. I know how everything will react working in that f-number. Working on f.5,6 on the other hand. Holy hell. It is like my entire body needs to work ten times harder, and I am sure it does too. In order to improve your sub-skills, you need frequent feedback, repetition and adjustments. Not just working on performance-tasks, but the skills beyond those tasks.
Identifying your weaknesses and working with them is the essence of deliberate practice.
As I mentioned, we do not always have the possibility to spend too much time in the learning zone. And learning in the performance zone takes (in my opinion) way more work. But you need to stay focused. Learn from every single mistake, keep moving forward and reflect on the choices you make. Briceño talks about low stakes islands, a safety net if you will. You pair up with trustworthy people you can talk to, read, sign up for online courses and be inspired. You need to do what is expected of you, but you also need to take the time to analyze, even though you have to do it in your spare time.
I love how Briceño brings up the example that by executing learning in the performance zone, you also open a path for others to follow. “Real confidence is ongoing learning”. I love it. Love, love, love. Leading by that example tells other that you want to become better. That you want to be better. That inspires others to do so as well.
Never give up.
I absolutely recommend you to spend ten minutes listening to Eduardo Briceños TEDtalk. Even though you are not into photography. The essence of what he is teaching can be included in every part of your life.