Learning from Leonardo

Da Vinci's Genius Habits

Leonardo da Vinci's Dimostrazione: Leaping into Your Experiences

By Linda Dessau | Posted 2/6/06 | Updated 4/6/23

Da Vinci's Genius Habits

Da Vinci jumped right into the moment of his experiences, challenging long-standing beliefs and opinions.

Michael Gelb explores seven concepts that allowed da Vinci to achieve his extraordinary accomplishments in How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci.

One concept is called Dimostrazione. Dimostrazione is about learning from our mistakes. It's about being willing to be right in the moment of an experience, and to challenge long-standing beliefs and opinions in favour of what you're actually experiencing.

You know you're truly living in the present moment when you're lost in what you're doing, when time passes without you noticing, when you're in a trance-like state of concentration or when you're completely immersed in concentration on your task. Does that sound familiar? That's what most of us experience when we're in the state of creative flow.

Getting to the point of fully experiencing the present moment is something that takes practice. Usually we're caught up in our thoughts; worrying, “What is he/she thinking about me?”, rewinding, “I blew it, how could I have done that!”, or analyzing, “What do I make of this, and how does it fit in with my established beliefs and opinions?”

When we give into our fears and keep our creativity inside, we're upholding our longstanding beliefs, such as, “I'm no good”, or, “It will be too hard to make it as an artist.” And, by avoiding any experience at all, we can stay comfortable and secure in these beliefs because they're not being challenged.

However, if we strike out and actually take some steps towards testing those beliefs with real-life experience, we might just prove ourselves wrong. And that might mean stepping further out of our comfort zone to try even scarier things.

So, why do it, then? True fulfillment, transcendental, passionate, exuberant, joyful aliveness — like many of us once experienced with our art form and have been chasing ever since — is only available to us when we give up our tight grip on what we KNOW. We need to open ourselves up to be surprised and amazed by what we don't know yet.

As creative artists, our work insists that we have the courage to express our own unique thoughts, experiences and feelings through our chosen art form. We can start out learning from and emulating others, but our work becomes hollow if we don't find and express OUR true voice. We wouldn't have the desire to be artists if we didn't also have something unique to express.

In The Science of Getting Rich Wallace Wattles writes, “To think according to appearances is easy; to think truth regardless of appearances is laborious and requires the expenditure of more power than any other work we are called upon to perform” (13).

In the face of advertising, celebrity endorsements, self-help gurus and what we've taken from childhood, independent thinking based on what we have actually experienced is a foreign concept. It's quite possible to float through life never venturing forth an independent thought.

It's really scary and really admirable to be an independent thinker, to challenge what we've always known to be “true.” Much more often we ignore our experiential evidence or avoid experiencing things that have the slightest chance of proving our belief wrong.

We can use the suggestions of others to try out new beliefs — for example, I enjoy challenging my readers to try out some of my new ideas about self-care and creativity. And I hope these provide an alternative to long-standing beliefs that may be harmful or negative for you.

When others have summed up their experiences for us in a concise, meaningful and appealing way, and if they're able to express the beliefs they've formed based on THEIR real-life experience, it can motivate us to try similar things.

But adopting these blindly gets you no further ahead in terms of independent thinking. The most meaningful and long-lasting shifts to behaviour and belief need to occur through the actual experience of benefits, however small.

For example, a self-care change that had a big impact on me was shifting from letting dishes pile up in the sink (cluttering my kitchen, mind and heart), to doing them more regularly, and eventually after every meal (usually — I'm not perfect!).

I had to see for myself that keeping up with the dishes daily made me feel better and more productive, and had a huge impact on how I felt in my space. If someone had told me, “do your dishes after every meal — you'll feel better”, that wouldn't have had the same impact and I probably wouldn't have done it anyway.

I had to take the leap and try something different from my habitual behaviour, even though it challenged my beliefs that, “it can wait till tomorrow”, and, “it doesn't really matter anyway.”

Wattles also says, “Do not wait for an opportunity to be all that you want to be. When an opportunity to be more than you are now is presented and you feel impelled toward it, take it. It will be the first step toward a greater opportunity" (57).

And it will also be a step towards gaining some new experiences, and some new evidence that maybe your long-standing beliefs aren't what you believe in anymore.

Copyright ©2006 Linda Dessau. All rights reserved.

How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day

Da Vinci's Art and Science

Using both sides of your brain.

Da Vinci's Sfumato

Opening to experience.

Da Vinci's Dimostrazione

Learning from your mistakes.

Da Vinci's Corporalita

Taking care of your body

Da Vinci's Sensazione

Awakening your senses.

Da Vinci's Connessione

Seeing the connection in everything.

Da Vinci's Curiosity

Being curious about everything.