Why ignorance can be helpful and Learned Helplessness

Posted on September 26, 2012


I’ve had a bit of a problem for the past few months. I couldn’t seem to finish and write about any of my personal projects. I felt blocked. I’d sit at my desk, staring at a mostly blank draft post, stumbling over the words to describe what I was working on, whether it was a pen plotter made from a couple of old DVD drives, my long delayed posts about some of my proof of concepts or even just a post on what I am up to with my 3d printer.

I keep seeing people churn out new and interesting things, well-written and attractively photographed. They made it look so easy, so effortless and to be honest, I really believe that it is that effortless to them. I saw Leila Johnston and Tom Armitage talk at the Brighton MiniMaker Faire a few weeks ago, talking about how to make things fast and to ‘put a box on it’; to finish a project properly. As good as their talks were, I felt they only depressed me further and didn’t know why. Leila’s advice to stop caring about it, ship it and “forget” about it should be helpful, but they weren’t to me. What gives?

I’ve tried to avoid making excuses, blaming something external when the problem is my motivation, an internal problem. It is internal, I know what the problem is but being told to stop caring isn’t helping. The speed at which people are putting stuff out there makes me feel useless, slow and to be honest, stupid. These thoughts keep running through my mind every time I tried to write, every time I attempted to capture online the things I make.

I think my problem is made worse simply by knowing prolific makers, by following what they are doing and interacting with them and reading about their works, I am digging myself a deeper hole.

The more I read, the more reluctant I am to publish anything of my own.

Learned Helplessness.

I am abusing this term perhaps, but I really do think it applies to what I am feeling right now. I feel stupid, frustrated and helpless to change myself when compared to the work put out by the people on the cutting edge. The following video shows a great example of this concept in practice with a class of students and is worth your time:

What am I going to do about it?

If this really is what is exacerbating my problem and making my block worse, what am I going to do? Well, I’m going to try the following:

  • Stop following interesting links – especially ones from Makers and Doers – for a short time.
  • Write small posts (like this one) about anything other than the things I am making and just publish it.
  • Break up my projects into tiny tasks and post about them once I have got back into the rhythm of posting.

That’s it really, a schedule of planned ignorance followed by blind publishing of stuff that interests me.

Posted in: opinion