A recent trip away gave me a new perspective on my day to day life, and how easily we become embedded in routine without question.
I’ve written much lately on the benefits of habits, stacks and routines and how powerful they can be, and I completely stand by that.
By having creative, healthy routines stacked together in a set sequence each day, we can achieve amazing progress, bypassing the almost endless kind of debate and struggle we face when we start afresh each day with a completely blank canvas.
Being in a situation and location unfamiliar to me, and with the removal of some of the comforts of home most of us take for granted (electricity, virtually unlimited hot water, refrigerated food, a warm dry bed) I found that I quickly adapted and found new routines to help me be more comfortable.
I learned what worked as I went, and built upon it each day.
Which brings us to the two sides of our ability as creative people, when it comes to routines and habits.
On the one hand, we can readily and quickly come up with new ideas, and new ways of thinking and working. We draw on our creativity and resourcefulness to find patterns that make our lives easier, more productive, more enjoyable.
Which is all good, and a huge benefit.
On the flip side, when we become comfortable in these new routines for a while, we chug along happily in the knowledge that they work well for us, and allow us to do things we would otherwise endlessly debate and struggle over. We make wonderful progress, we get stuff done in days and weeks that might otherwise take us somewhere between months, years and never.
Which is of course still good.
But it’s easy to blindly repeat these routines without questioning their continuing effectiveness for us.
Even when they aren’t working anywhere near as well as they were when we first introduced them.
What habits and routines might you have in your creative life that you never question as to whether they are still working well for you? Even if you’ve evolved long past them as an artist and as a person?
To stay vigilant to this dangerous dark side of creative habits and routines, there are two questions we can ask ourselves:
1. Ask: “Does this habit still work for me?”
Does it help you be more creative in the way you want to be, in the way it did when you first introduced it?
Does it still serve its original purpose?
If it does, then that’s excellent, and of course it makes sense to continue having it in your life as it is.
If it doesn’t still work, and if you find you’re following this routine simply because you haven’t stopped to question its effectiveness, then we can ask a further question.
2. Ask: “What small adjustments can I make, so it’s more effective for me, as I am right now?”
There are two crucial parts to this question.
First, “small adjustments”. It’s pretty likely that even if you have a daily creative habit and routine that maybe doesn’t work quite so well as it once did, in principle it’s still a powerful habit for you.
So rather than dismiss it entirely, a better approach might be to look at how you can tweak and tune it a little, so it’s more relevant to the person you are, and the kind of results you want from it now.
Which brings us to the second vital element of this question – “as I am right now.”
You’re not going to be exactly the same as you were three months, three years, three decades ago. None of us are.
We evolve as artists and as people, and whilst our past body of work is of course important and helped us get where we are today, it’s the current work that matters to us that we need to focus on.
For example, routines that worked like a dream when your main creative outlet was writing may now not be as useful for your painting. Three sessions of 20 minutes of writing each day might, for painting, be better chunked together as one continuous hour a day.
Take a look at each element of your routine – how, where, how often, how long, and so on – and ask which might benefit from being adjusted a little.
Again, don’t throw out the entire habit and start again. Unless it’s not working for you in any way whatsoever, which is unlikely.
Just adjust a little part of it at a time.
The reasoning is simple. If you were baking a cake, for example, that was turning out slightly more gooey in the middle than you wanted, you wouldn’t adjust the amount of eggs, flour, butter, the size of cake tin, the cooking temperature and the cooking time all at once to try to improve it.
Because then, whether you had a better cake, or a worse cake, you wouldn’t be able to trace the element that made it better, or worse.
Much more effective is to alter just the amount of eggs, or just the cooking time, or any other single element one at a time, and then see what the outcome is. Then adjust with the benefit of that new knowledge, and try again.
Let’s take a look at your life for a moment.
If I asked you right now, which of your creative habits are working well for you, how would you answer?
If I asked which of them might use a little tweaking to make them more relevant and effective for the person and the artist you are now, again how would you answer?
Creative habits and routines are amongst our most powerful allies as artists.
But don’t let yourself get drawn to the dangerous dark side, and end up going through the motions with habits that are no longer as effective, or worse, are actually damaging your ability to be at your most freely creative.
Every month or two, ask, and answer, the two questions:
1. “Does this habit still work for me?”
2. “What small adjustments can I make, so it’s more effective for me, as I am right now?”
Then you’ll ensure your own unique habits and routines remain as wonderfully supportive and enabling as they can be.
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