You’ve Made a Mess? Excellent!

As a transformative coach, I’ve found that many if not all of the limiting beliefs we impose on ourselves are the same across circumstances and professions. Many of the challenges that artists face in expressing themselves are the same challenges that everyone else faces.

A while ago I took an abstract painting workshop with Jane Davies, a well known collage artist. She encouraged us to make a mess with our paints and papers. Let it get “ugly,” she said.

If your first response to this suggestion is surprise mixed with disbelief and a touch of resistance, join the club. But Jane persevered: do it with a sense of curiosity, exploration, a “I wonder what can come out of this” attitude. And she had a big grin on her face.

For most of us, the last thing we want to do is make a mess. We (and I’m including myself in this), usually want things to go smoothly, look good, and require minimal effort.

Can you relate to the desire to just stay safe?

You’d be amazed at how many experienced artists, when they’re first learning a new technique or process, have an initial reaction that their own work is crap and everyone else’s work is fantastic.

Jane, in her inimitable style, showed us how to look at what we were doing in a nonjudgmental and open way.

It became really fun to throw caution to the wind by doing a mental “reframe”. In case you’re not familiar with the term, a reframe is a way of changing how you think about what you’re doing by changing the meaning of it.

That might sound a bit confusing but that’s what you do. Using a reframe is common in NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP), where the value of anything you do depends on your point of view.

And this is true for every circumstance we find ourselves in.

As you approach a dicey situation, turn it into a creative project: take a situation that evokes discomfort or resistance, and put a new spin on it so you can get entirely different (meaning, better) results.

This is where inspiration can get in and transform everything.

I love this approach, not only because it enables us to have a much better time in creating work that surprises and delights us, but because this advice is relevant both to the artistic process and as an excellent way to live our lives on a daily basis.

When we’re willing to make a mess, either deliberately or by accident, and we manage not to freak out or try to hide it, we discover something new. Every single time.

What exactly is a “mess,” anyway? It’s our personal opinion , not an absolute truth .

A “mess” is associated with other yucky states of being, including dirty, untidy, shambles, chaos, confusion — and who among us wants to let the world see us in that situation? Everyone would see that we were really incompetent failures and no one would want anything to do with us.

Maybe that’s a bit on the extreme side, but I’m guessing you can relate to what I’m talking about. Degrees of resistance to making a mess run from mild discomfort to out and out panic.

Years ago when I was taking art classes using techniques I’d never used before, I’d actually start to feel nauseous and would go into a panic. I didn’t want to look like a non-artist.

Looking back on my life, I could see a lot of situations where not wanting to look foolish or incompetent prevented me from learning and growing. What we can see in hindsight, if we’re lucky, can inspire us to new behaviors going forward.

When we’re willing to make a “mess,” we can see what we’re doing as an experiment: it’s not the final outcome, it’s simply a stage in the process that we’re engaged in.

It’s in that “mess” that new possibilities exist. There’s a saying that goes like this: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end”.

If you’re brave enough to not let your “mess” be the end, if you’re willing to make it even messier, you’ll be able to see new possibilities — and take action on them — that will make you feel alive and inspired.

So, it all comes down to a matter of interpretation. We can change how we interpret what we do or what we’re faced with. Most of us already know we’d be better off if we did.

If you’re feeling that your reaction to making a mess (or even being a mess) is no longer helpful, that it’s keeping you small and well, boring, then you’re one step closer to having fun in ways you can’t yet imagine.

What areas in your life are you willing to make a mess of?

Nina Lockwood is a transformative coach, author and artist. She is the creator of Redesign Your Life: an invitation is to discover your true nature and live free. Visit her at, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram (@ninalockwood.nilo).



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Nina Lockwood

Nina Lockwood

Coach/writer/artist. I help others find peace of mind, fulfillment, spiritual understanding and how to live consciously.