Trader Joe's and Practice Paralysis

March 11, 2020


Have you ever gone to Trader Joe’s without a shopping list?

I have.

And as a result, I’ve either walked out of the store with nothing to live on or walked out of the store having spent my entire life’s savings.



For the past year, I’ve been itching to create what Mark Fisher calls “Magic Time” or what others call “Golden Afternoons”. Either one signals a carved-out chunk of dedicated time wherein one has nothing structured, nothing planned, and they are simply supposed to follow their impulses to stretch their artistry and get creative.


What I’ve come to find is that, despite my saying I want this in my schedule, I never prioritize making Magic Time or Golden Afternoons a reality. I think it’s because subconsciously, seeing a three-hour open chunk on my calendar where I can do “whatever I want” creatively, gives me a panic attack. It’s like standing in the cereal aisle and being told I can only choose one box. HOW IS ONE SUPPOSED TO DECIDE BETWEEN THE KNOCK OFF TRADER JOE’S CINNAMON TOAST CRUNCH AND FROSTED MINI WHEATS!? If I can only pick one, then forget it.


A Beautiful Constraint explains, “Previous studies showed that giving people too much choice limits creativity, just as giving them no choice at all does.”

If the possibilities are endless, then we actually fail to meet any of them because we are either paralyzed by choice or stick to the status quo. If we don’t have boundaries, it’s hard to solve problems because you don’t know what you’re really trying to solve. Without boundaries, we don’t know where to direct our energy.

This idea explains why we’re not good at “practicing” outside of a voice lesson or acting class setting. Practicing without structure feels too vast, too limitless. And when there are no limits (like the limit of a coach giving you a specific exercise to do, or the limit of time constraint on the class, or the limit of a ship date for the next assignment/audition/performance, etc.), we feel lost about where to spend our energy and thus end up spending it other places where we can really see the results of our problem solving efforts (like washing dishes and making spreadsheets and crafting To Do Lists) or spending it doing something mindless like scrolling social media.

So, the next time I sit down to practice or rehearse, I’m going to set an intention:

To create an itinerary of events that will happen during the Magic rehearsal Time; Play a game while running cuts; Tell the scene partner the goal for the next run through or ask them if they’ll give a specific thing to focus on; To focus on feeling my feet on the floor, etc.


If we give ourselves our own creative limitations, we may feel more adept and engaged. We may begin to feel like we’re holding a shopping list and have some control. When we leave the store, we’ll leave feeling excited about both the items we intentionally put in our cart and the ones that “accidentally” ended up in there

(like these).


Happy shopping (I mean practicing), y'all. 




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