Every creative has heard, and maybe at some point spoken these words at some point: trust the process. I surely have. I still do. It’s beautiful, and it feels deeply true to me.
But there’s also the flipside to that coin: is this the artist’s equivalent of believing in Santa Claus? Maybe it’s beautiful and feels true because we want it to be true?
It’s easy to trust the process when things go well. But when you fail, again and again? When you seem stuck, when you’re not progressing, when you’re doubting your own abilities and potential? In those times it’s much harder to trust the process.
I can relate to this because I find myself in a place like this. I feel I have failed at many things. I feel like I had potential, but squandered it, wasted time on the wrong things for too long. It’s one thing to be a failure when you’re young. The world seems filled with opportunities. But as you’re getting older, as you feel your energies dwindling, your perspective can shift too from one of boundless long-term faith, into one of doubt and regret.
I found these words interesting, where Rick Rubin talked about what trusting the process means:
This isn’t a matter of blind belief in yourself. It’s a matter of experimental faith. You work not as an evangelist, expecting miracles, but as a scientist, testing and adjusting and testing again. Experimenting and building on the results. Faith is rewarded, perhaps even more than talent or ability. — Rick Rubin, The Creative Act
I like this approach, because it’s so practical. There’s a deep philosophical wisdom in it, but it’s also rooted firmly in the real world. It’s not just self-help platitudes, it actually tells you how to apply it in your practice.
Even right now, as I am writing this, I feel like this isn’t good enough. (You, the reader, might agree.) But I keep writing, because this is what trusting the process means.
And here too, Rubin offers wise guidance:
When we don’t yet know where we’re going, we don’t wait. We move forward in the dark. If nothing we attempt yields progress, we rely on belief and will. We may take several steps backward in the sequence to move ahead. If we try ten experiments and none of them work, we have a choice. We can take it personally, and think of ourselves as a failure and question our ability to solve the problem. Or we can recognize we’ve ruled out ten ways that don’t work, bringing us that much closer to a solution.
It requires a kind of creative resilience rooted in faith. Sometimes that’s all we have: belief. And maybe it truly is all we need, because it’s what compels us forward, keeps us going in what at times might seem like a futile attempt.
For the artist, whose job is testing possibilities, success is as much ruling out a solution as finding one that works. In the process of experimentation, we allow ourselves to make mistakes, to go too far, to go even further, to be inept. There is no failure, as every step we take is necessary to reach our destination, including the missteps. Each experiment is valuable in its own way if we learn something from it. Even if we can’t comprehend its worth, we are still practicing our craft, moving ever so much closer to mastery.
We need to overcome our need for short-term success or immediate validation. Sometimes it takes countless hours of laboring with love before we ever get to taste its fruit.
Sometimes, the artist can’t help it. Vincent Van Gogh probably was so obsessed with his art that despite all his setbacks, and any lack of validation, he kept going. Sure, he was a deeply tormented genius, but had he not possessed within himself some spark of faith in the value of his art, he’d have given up much earlier, and we might never have gotten to enjoy his masterpieces. He expressed this beautifully in his writing: “A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke.”
It’s helpful to familiarize yourself with the lives and struggles of those who created great art—because once you see that even they wrestled with doubt and questioned the worth of their dedication, it helps you face your own inner demons of doubt with trust and faith.
But what are some other practical things you and I can do to learn to trust the process?
7 ways to strengthen your trust in the process
Yes, I know, I know. You’ve heard it a thousand times, you’ve done it a thousand times, and yet, insecurity is still chewing away at you. But it’s a practice that needs to be maintained with focus and sincerity. Pause every once in a while and be grateful for something you experience, for your ability to create something—even if the gap between your creation and what you envision in your mind is wide.
It’s a blessing that you’re here on this earth, as a human being, with the ability to express yourself creatively.
Feel the connection to the great creative force
Whether you believe that creativity is simply a function of your brain activity, or a field, or an entity, it ultimately is a great force: the ability to create something that didn’t exist before.
Take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and feel this creative force, and how you’re connected with it. It’s always there, always present, always accessible to all of us if only we’re open to it.
Shift your focus on what is, not on what isn’t
When you trust the process, you’re fully present. When you lack trust, you’re not; instead, you pay attention to what’s not there. When you focus on what’s missing, you practice a mindset of scarcity, and rather than trust, you nurture self-doubt.
Shift your focus instead on what’s there:
You’re writing a story but it’s not coming together the way you imagined? Appreciate what you have in front of you, and that you have the sense of judgment to realize that it still needs more work.
You’re recording a song but it doesn’t take you emotionally where you want it to take you? You now got something specific to work with, and you have an emotional reference point.
The tree of trust can’t grow when you’re tense. Relaxation is the right soil for it to blossom. When you’re relaxed things are easier. Take a few deep breaths. Practice effortlessness when doing your creative work. Sometimes we get into a rigid pattern of doing things a certain way, and the best thing we can do is to break free from that pattern, and experiment with new ways of playfulness. This can mean that the end product of your work might not live up to the same standard, but that’s ok—trusting the process also means that you sometimes take one step back so that you can do two steps forward in a new direction.
Let it go
What you created is not what you wanted it to be. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Let go of your expectations. Rather than trying to force it into what you wanted it to be, let it guide you to where it should be. Sometimes we set out on a creative journey that takes us not to our planned destination, but on a path of discovery to something even more beautiful. But we can only discover this if we follow the path with an open heart.
Create your own trust the process playlist
Ever listened to a song and it just invoked that feeling of “yeah, this is pure creativity” in you? Or maybe you know a song that has a backstory which represents having faith in creative dedication?
Collect these songs in a playlist and listen when you want to summon your faith in yourself. Music is a very powerful way of changing our mental and emotional state, so make use of it. Studies have shown that listening to music is an effective way to regulate your emotions.
Nurture the seed of patience
Things might not progress as fast as you like. But everything has its own time, and just because we want things to happen right now doesn’t mean that now is the right time. There’s a time and season for everything.
If you plant a seed, it won’t grow any faster just because you really want it to be a tree already. In fact, if you are too eager and try to break the shell open a little bit before the time is right, it will never sprout. If you simply plant the seed in the right environment and give it time, it will sprout on its own, in its own time. If you need try to pull the sprout in an effort to make it grow faster, you will kill it. Or if you water it too eagerly, you will drown it.
Things happen at their own time, not on your or mine. Be there, present, aware, with patience.
Use the power of affirmations and mantras
Affirmations are a simple way to direct your mind, to tell it what you want it to focus on, you’re essentially using words to reprogram your mind on a positive outcome. Mantras are similar, but they’re actually sounds you make to get into a certain state. You can use either to help you get into a state where you trust the process.
Here are some trust the process affirmations:
- I trust the process.
- I believe in my creative potential.
- I do my best, and know that it will lead me to the best.
- I surrender to what is so that I can create what’s meant to be.
- With an open heart and mind, I trust the process.
- I surrender and trust.
- I have faith in my path.
- I believe what I’m doing will lead to beautiful things.
- The struggles I face are the guides that lead me to my greatest growth opportunities.
- My creative challenges are blessings in disguise, and through my unrelenting dedication they will reveal themselves as such.
- The creative force flows through my trust in the process.
- I’m exactly who I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to do, going where I am supposed to go.
You can create your own affirmations. Experiment with different versions, play with them. Say them out loud again and again—their power really lies in the repetition. And sometimes you will use one affirmation and after you say it for so many times, you feel that you want to change it a certain way, and if so: do it. These aren’t set in stone. It’s about finding the one that resonates with you right now.
Let’s also look at what we can learn from accomplished artists about trusting the process.
Quotes on trusting the process
Here are some quotes by famous artists on trusting the process:
- “The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” – Pablo Picasso
- “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” — Michelangelo
- “Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” – Henry Ward Beecher
- “Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.” – Andre Gide
- “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” — Leonardo da Vinci
- “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” – Steve Jobs
- “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” – Edgar Degas
- “The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.” – Michelangelo
- “The only thing that separates successful artists from the rest is the willingness to fail in public.” – Seth Godin
- “Art is not a thing, it is a way.” – Elbert Hubbard
- “Trust the process and be patient. The outcome will be worth the wait.” – Unknown
- “The only way to do great work is to be passionate about what you do.” – Steve Jobs
- “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” – Vincent Van Gogh
Process over outcome
I hope that this piece helped you in trusting the process, and that something kindled your faith that things will work out. The way to create great work is not to be a control freak; it’s to be open and to surrender to what the universe offers you in this very moment.
Trust the process and see where it will take you.