Building Your Beautiful Creative Life, One Habit At A Time

Stacking Stones
image: JPhilipson

How creative is your life right now?

At a guess, what proportion of your day is spent on focused creative activity, where your imagination and ideas and being given the encouragement and nurturing they need to evolve into your art, your projects, your work?

It’s likely you feel that not nearly enough of your days and nights are devoted to creative activity, and that far too much time is lost or wasted.

If I told you that you could build a beautiful, rewarding, creative life, then, like most of us, you would probably have a snapshot vision in your mind of how that might look, compare it with where you are now, and because of the chasm between the two, dismiss my remark as fanciful, and a nice dream.

Two things are going on here, and both contribute to you not giving yourself the chance to see the true picture, and the chance to make your creative life even better. Let’s look at each in turn.

1. First, you’re not acknowledging how creative you are already.

The main reason this occurs is we feel our lives don’t qualify, that as artists we don’t meet the requirements. We tend to develop a very narrow definition of what creative activity is, and disregard everything else.

This like saying you’re only really in a car if you’re in a Porsche.

The majority of time, we’re not travelling in a Porsche. But we still ride around in cars every day. We still walk different places. We still use the train or the bus or a plane or a bicycle sometimes. If you added up all the miles you travel in say, a month, it would be far more than you’d think.

If you translated that mileage into footsteps, it would be thousands, maybe tens or hundreds of thousands. With each step, you travel a little further, you keep that momentum.

With each creative thought, idea and moment, you keep your creativity bubbling away. You can’t switch it off.

As you’re reading this right now, you’re being creative. There are ideas and images forming in your mind. Some might be about the different ways you travel. Some might be about just how many different art projects you do have on the go at any one time. Some might be about random and seemingly unconnected new ideas. And some might be about driving a Porsche.

You’re constantly creating, constantly evolving, constantly travelling.

Once you see and embrace this, it gives you so much more confidence and momentum to continue and to expand into being even more creative.

Which leads us to the second reason why, up until now, you haven’t believed you could have, and were already enjoying, a beautiful creative life.

2. You see the gap between where you are now and where your ideal creative life is, and think it’s too vast to ever bridge.

You think that because there’s no way you could make that happen today or tomorrow, or even within a week or two, that it’s not possible at all.

This is where the magic of creative habits comes in.

By building powerful, simple habits we can do anything we want.

We can, habit by habit, evolve our lives into ones we’re in love with, ones we’re proud of, ones that feel like the lives we’ve waiting to live for decades.

The basic premise of a habit is this: Pick one thing and do it for a short period of time each day until it becomes second nature.

Then, add another habit on top of the first, and repeat the process.

Some call this stacking habits, and an artist friend of mine calls it making creative sandwiches. What you call it is not so important, the process is.

What’s also crucial is that not every habit will be completely about making artwork.

No artist makes art all day everyday. We all have surrounding needs that together support us in developing and maintaining a healthy creative life.

Food. Sleep. Friends. Exercise. Relaxation…

These are some of the most basic, and for each of them, we can build habits and put them into our stacks.

For example, here’s how someone’s creative day might begin. Let’s call her Elena.

Sleep for 8 hours.

Wake, drink a glass of water.

Write for 30 minutes.

Meditation for 15 minutes.

Breakfast for 15 minutes.

Wash, dress – 15 minutes.

Walk for 15 minutes…

Since waking up from a good night’s sleep, at this point at the end of her walk, Elena’s day is still only 90 minutes old.

But she’s already served many of her essential needs with a stack of simple habits.

Assuming Elena’s likes an average of 8 hours sleep, that leaves 16 hours of awake time each day. 90 minutes of that is not even 10%.

So although her day has barely begun, she’s got off to a wonderful, creative start and is likely to be feeling ready to conquer the world.

Even if she did little else that was creative all day (which is impossible anyway – she might not hop in a Porsche, but she will still be travelling remember) she’s already got that creative, nourishing, inspiring start, and can count this day as a significant one in her ever evolving creative life.

With a beginning like this, she’s in a much more creative and energised frame of mind, so it’s inevitable that the rest of her day will be better than if she’d have stumbled out of bed still half asleep and not followed that little routine.

What helps this become even more powerful is putting the habits together in combination. The stacking.

After waking, Elena knows she’s almost immediately going to be doing some writing. So on some level, she’s already switched on, already in that state, and the ideas are bubbling.

In fact, because this is a daily habit of hers, her creative mind already knew when she laid her head on the pillow the night before that she’d be writing as soon as she woke. So it had those eight hours to subconsciously work away at some new ideas in readiness.

If you know you’ve got a willing audience, you’re far more likely to open up and talk. And not just small talk, you can talk about all the things that really matter to you, because someone is genuinely willing to listen, to give you that space and attention. Same with Elena’s ideas – they know they’re going to be given the chance to develop, so they’re lining up excited and ready.

This effect is enhanced because these two activities – sleep and writing – are stacked one after the other. They develop a glue that binds them.

Elena’s developed an instinct that says: “I sleep, I wake, I write.”

It flows without her thinking.

Plus, when Elena is writing, she’s unlikely to be thinking: “I really shouldn’t be writing, I should be doing some exercise, or I should be eating” because she already knows those activities – those layers – are coming up a little later in her stack of habits anyway.

What you might be thinking is: “Yes this all sounds very effective and organised, but I’m an artist. I have an active imagination. I need stimulation and variety and freedom, I can’t be chained to the same predictable routine every day.”

This kind of routine is as, um, routine, as you make it.

You can add all the variety you like within the framework of each of those habits.

For example – Eating breakfast. One day you might have fresh fruit, another you might have cereal, another you might have yogurt, another still, you might have toast. One day you might have all of them.

If you choose fruit, you might have pineapple, or grapefruit, or melon, or strawberries, or raspberries, or apricots, or bananas and so on.

This is a fairly trivial example, but Im sure that you can see that with that basic little habit of “Eat breakfast” there’s a whole world of variety there. You needn’t have the same breakfast two days running for the rest of your life if you don’t want to. But you’ll still be having a good breakfast every day.

The same with Elena’s writing. Writing might not be one of your favoured ways to create, but let’s go with it for now as an example.

One day you might write a short story. Another day a few haikus. The next day half a chapter of a novel. Another day you might try a few playful writing exercises. Another day still you might journal.

It’s just the same as the Eat breakfast habit.

The outline is the same – that’s what gives the habit its power – but within that there’s an infinite variety available to you.

You needn’t ever write the same kind of writing for two days running for the rest of your life, if you didn’t want to.

Or, you might commit the next 30, or 60 or 160 days of writing to one single project, like a novel, so you became totally immersed in it and focused on it.

Building these stacks of habits gives you that flexibility.

I hope this has given you enough of a taste to see how you can build a beautiful creative life, one habit at a time.

I could write a book on it (and maybe I will.)

For now though, here are the key points to remember:

1. You’re already more creative, more often, than you think.

Recognise that. Applaud that. Just because you’re not in a Porsche it doesn’t mean you’re not travelling, and it doesn’t mean the journey’s not exciting, stimulating and rewarding. You create constantly, you can’t turn it off.

2. You can build a wonderful creative life one habit at a time.

Pick a habit, start small, do it for five or 10 or 15 minutes a day at first. Then after a few weeks extend if you wish, or add a new habit to the stack. Remember a creative life is not about making art 24/7. There are many other essential activities (creative in themselves) that we need to support and enable us to be our most creative in our work. Make time and space for those too. Make them into habits, add them to your stacks.

3. Single habits are brilliantly powerful. Stacking two or three or four together makes them virtually indestructible.

Do them at the start of the say and you set yourself up for a fantastic day. Get up earlier if you need to. This is important, this is your creativity and your happiness we’re investing in. The more creative and happy you are, the more inspiring and good to be around you are for those close to you.

I’ve said enough. Over to you.

Let’s start building the creative life you deserve.

 

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13 thoughts on “Building Your Beautiful Creative Life, One Habit At A Time”

  1. (Stunning photo!)
    Reading your post made me wonder how many of us don’t already have a morning routine that involves some sequence of waking, eating or drinking something, washing and dressing, and thinking about things along the way, and perhaps walking or driving.As a wild guess, I’d say over 80% do and probably more.

    In the morning in particular, we are creatures of habit in this way, I think.

    Anyone who wants to have a set of habits that gets the day off to a good start could consider whether he is eating or drinking what makes most sense for him and thinking about what he would most like to be thinking about to start the day off right.

    In the old days people used to call this “getting up on the right side of the bed.”

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    1. Thanks Fritzie, yes this is all part of getting to know how each element of our life supports the others, and how we function as a whole.

      What you say about food and thoughts are great examples – we can exercise plenty for example but if we eat junk food all the time, it’s going to sabotage our health. With our thoughts, two additional little blocks we could add to our stack are daily affirmations, either ones specifically about creating, or about our whole lives, and some form of daily gratitude.

      Taking five minutes a day to repeat five affirmations (“Creative ideas flow to me with ease”, “I am focused and determined”, “Being creative is central to my life and who I am”, add your own) and another five minutes to write five things your grateful for would be a great addition. These might even form the beginnings of a bedtime stack, so we round off the day in a good frame of mind and enter sleep peacefully.

      Thanks for prompting some extra ideas!

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      1. I don’t do the affirmation thing myself, but I know it is a big part of what Julia Cameron suggests in the Artists Way. She likes them posted in various places in the work area- maybe even not in the work area. She also suggests picking an idea to sleep on at night.

        I wasn’t in my comment above meaning self-pep-talks at all. It could be that one starts the day by thinking of someone one loves or an image of a place one loves or the most important activities in which one means to engage that day…

        I was only saying we can decide what we want to think about along with whatever our morning routine usually is. I would want people to decide really on their own what they would like to think about then rather than suggesting anything in particular. Different things for different people- a free choice.

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  2. This was very helpful! For six years before I had my daughter every day I would get up, do the Morning Pages, meditate, then do tai chi chih. Even when I travelled. I also didn’t drink caffeine either. 🙂 Now my daughter’s 7, I’m long out of the abusive relationship with her dad AND doing more and more to get myself back. 🙂 Your awesome article helps validate these good practices we do for ourselves. Sometimes when you’re in life and do them you don’t see the importance, but looking back I see they helped make life better. 🙂 I also like how you pointed out doing things consistently helps your entire being know and trust the other things are coming. Thank you for this post and for all your posts! They are immensely helpful to me right now 🙂

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    1. Thanks for the kind words Marina.

      Yes, as with many things, it’s to overlook how much we do, even when we feel we’re doing nothing. Having a few core blocks in our daily stacks will help us get through the more difficult times. And like you say, just the consistency of doing anything positive every day does add up, and will naturally encourage more discipline and confidence and make things easier in other parts of life.

      I’m not sure what happens on a psychological level when we consistently stack the same few habits together, but I do know it makes them as unit more powerful than any of them in isolation. They somehow fuse together with an invisible (and incredibly strong) glue.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting.

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  3. I absolutely love this post. I have already started doing a morning routine but am hoping to add a nighttime and perhaps a lunchtime routine as well. I would never have considered adding each thing individually and perhaps that’s where I’ve been falling down. Thanks for the motivation (and I totally think you should write a book on it).

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    1. Thanks Tamara. We’re mostly like to fall down when we try to either stack too many habits too quickly, or try to cram too much into each one. A morning stack of maybe three, and similar in the evening would be an excellent plan, but start with the first habit first, make sure that one is embedded in your daily routine and you do it without thinking, before you try to add any more. Built slowly and surely over time, these habits can last for years, or even a lifetime.

      Thanks re the book too, it’s on my “books to write” list…

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  4. Affirmations are a great idea. I have used them in my life from time to time with great success though I have not used them much recently. Thank you for the suggestion. The same goes for meditation. Visualizations are great too. I know I used a visualization in high school to help me play volley ball because I was not very athletic. It really did help and the girls on my team were so surprised that I started doing well at volleyball. LOL.

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  5. Thank you for this, Dan. It’s a truly beautiful post and just the reminder I needed. I am trying to create some morning rituals, but I think I’m tackling too much at once. Your suggestion of starting smaller and with fewer habits is a good one.

    Laura Lee

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    1. Thanks Laura Lee, glad you gained something from it. It’s similar with the early rising. Someone the other week was saying they were trying to go to bed a couple of hours earlier so they could get up a couple of hours earlier. But they couldn’t sleep for hours, and ended up exhausted in the mornings and creating less than before. I said this too has to be approached gradually, the strength of the habit built over time. Setting an alarm say just one minute earlier each morning, equates to half an hour earlier over a month, and it’s likely by that time you’ll be going to bed earlier by the same amount anyway, as you’ll naturally be ready.

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