One of my textbooks cites a study on hysicians and their initial assessment of their patients - The young and unexperienced physicians did it "by the book", using their textbook theories. The more experienced physicians started out by just getting a feel for the patient, working by intuition, then switching to theoretical knowledge and deduction, and back to intuition and so forth. When asked to describe what they're actually doing, experienced practicers of all kinds have trouble putting words to it - It's like second nature to them now.
When you know something so well it's automatic, so well you don't have to think about it, that's when you perform best. Actually, asking an expert to describe what hir is doing while hir is doing it, will reduce hir performance significantly. It's a flow state.
So, paradoxal in a way, those who have mastered the conventions, the theory and the structure of how to perform a task, are those who have the easiest time deviating from convention and structure - To improvise and be creative. When your skills are so ingrained you don't have to spend cognitive resources on them, the task in itself is routine, you can use your resources to experiment and improv.
But there is also a sense of security in this: When you know you can do this task, when you feel you have it under control, that's when you dare leave your foundation. You stop using your resources to protect against failure, and start using them to reach beyond, reach something higher and novel.
Imagine an acrobat balancing on a chair. He has practiced falling in the right way, so doesn't have to fear hurting himself. He's practiced balancing on a chair until he's mastered it, so he doesn't even have to concentrate to do it. Now, he can get creative, juggling and balancing the chair at the same time, making little jumps with the chair, balancing another chair on the tip of his nose...
Sense of security
What is interesting is that developing a skill follows the same path as finding a sense of security in a life issue. Let's compare the model for mental health...
(Maybe "Borders" and "Process depth" should be replaced with "External" and "Internal")
With a model for mastering a task:
Panic: Confronted with a task where you don't even know in or out, you probably feel lost and anxious, panicked and out of control. You are occupied with defending against catastrophy.
Control: A task where you know the basics, there is a sense of control. You know what to expect and what to do. You are occupied with working with the tools you've been given.
Creativity: When working a task which you know by heart, you transcend the simple know-how. You do not need to fix your attention and problem-solving to handling the tools at hand, you fix your attention to a vision of creativity, and use these tools to reach it. You are occupied with creating beyond the borders.
So, just as a Bowlby described how a child needs a foundation of security to be brave, to build a secure base with hir parents before sie dares to explore around said base...
Just as Maslow describes how you need to find a basic sense of security in the domains of life to start realizing your higher creative potential...
So too need you build your foundation of theory and knowledge before you can leave it, venturing into creativity. Hell, I've read huge improv books on how to be more spontaneous!
Does mastery underlie mental health?
Let's go back to the model of mental health. What makes me excited here, is that we may take what we know about skill and mastery, and view life's issues as nothing more than tasks to be mastered and worked out correctly.
- The one who haven't been given the tools and the confidence to handle a life issue doesn't even feel in control of the situation. Sie is occupied with defending oneself against the threat of catastrophy (real or imagined), and these defenses take the shape of symptoms of mental illness. (Abnormal)
- The one who knows how sie should act in response to a given situation can handle hirself well, feels safe and in control. Sie knows socially accepted ways of resolving these life issues. (Normality)
- The one who feels mastery of the life issue, who feels secure in it, can go beyond it, explore it, handle these life issues in any way sie wishes, choosing the most optimal answers for hirself. (Health)
Hmm, I should really check out the Control-Mastery theory.