Creative Habits, Stacks, The Substance And The Switch

car switch
image: Garret Voight

Recently we spoke about the power of using habits and stacks of habits each day to build yourself a beautiful creative life.

A vital factor in how effective these creative stacks are, is what we can call the substance and the switch, and the connection between them.

So let’s look a little more closely at what these terms mean, and how you can use them yourself to develop virtually indestructible creative habits, freeing your creativity for your most important, meaningful, and enjoyable work.

The Substance

This is the actual content of your creative stack – a collection of connected habits that individually are powerful, and in combination are even more so.

The most effective way to build these is one at a time. Start with a single habit, for example writing for 10 minutes each day.

This then becomes the anchor habit, the one which others are built upon and around.

I would recommend that you begin with something simple, and short, at least at first.

Don’t try to go from sporadic creativity to attempting to create for two or three hours every morning. It’s likely to be too much, too soon, and will increase the likelihood of the habit not working, not sticking.

You’ll probably end up frustrated and feeling like you’ve failed before you’ve even really begun.

And of course if you don’t develop your anchor habit, there’s no foundation to build any others around.

When you start with something bite sized though, you can get yourself used to the habit, and, more crucially, tuned in to the practice of showing up each day and creating for a minimum amount of time.

Then, as you gain more confidence, extend the time a little, and repeat that for a few weeks, or however long you need. All the time, you’re strengthening that anchor habit.

After this, you can start to add other habits to your daily stack. Again, I’d suggest one at a time, then letting them bed in and settle for a few weeks, before adding more, if you wish to.

Showing up and getting started is the hardest part here.

From my experience in my own creative life, and with many clients and members of our creative community CCS, once you’re committed to that initial 10 or 15 minutes a day, you’ll more than likely find that many days you’ll actually create for 20, 30 minutes or more.

It’s hard to stop when you’re immersed in that warm flow.

It’s even harder to take the huge smile off your face afterwards when you realise you’re consistently, almost effortlessly, reconnecting with an abundant inner creativity in a way you haven’t experienced in a very long time.

So that’s the substance of the stack, but you need to get into that state first. You need a way to start the flow. This is where the switch comes in.

The Switch

Some years ago, I went to classes for a form of meditation practice called Autogenics.

This was a technique to combat anxiety and panic attacks, and help one stay calm and confident in potentially uncomfortable situations.

The basic premise was to practice each day a series of commands, or suggestions, to yourself, to help relax you into a deeper, calmer state. Which not only benefitted you whilst in the practice, but also had a knock on effect of relaxing and reduce feelings stress in life overall.

The initial suggestion was always “My right arm is heavy”, which you repeated three or five times, and it continued through with “My left arm is heavy”, “My right leg is heavy”, “My left leg is heavy”, “Both of my arms and legs are heavy”, and others you could add to suit your needs.

The key point here with the Autogenics was that you were training your mind and body to sink into a relaxed state far more easily and quickly.

At the end of the practice, which lasted maybe 10 or 15 minutes, you would feel very calm and centred, and far more able to deal with a situation that could possibly bring feelings of anxiety or panic.

It all begin with that initial command – “My right arm is heavy” – and in time we found that just by saying that first line, our bodies, and minds, would begin to slide towards the final state of deep relaxation, before we actually went through the other five or six or more suggestions.

In other words, that first command was a trigger for a particular associated, and desired, state.

It was the switch that sent a message to our minds and bodies that this is a relaxation time, so get yourself in position and begin that slide.

Back with our daily creative stacks then, we can use a very similar technique.

By finding, and triggering, an initial switch for our creativity, we can send a strong message to ourselves that this is creative time.

We can wake up our creativity, and ensure it’s alert, excited and ready to give us its best.

How do we find the switch?

The answer is experiment, and see what works best for you.

If I could give a couple of examples in my life.

Each morning when I first rise I have a morning stack that consists of yoga, press ups, daily gratitudes and meditation. I’m tracking my experiments in my Thirty Days of Creating thread on CCS.

The anchor habit in this stack is the yoga, which I’ve been doing every morning for 343 days as I write this. I’m aiming for 1000 consecutive days, which I’ll reach in the summer of 2013.

The switch for this stack is simply unrolling my yoga mat.

Usually, I light a candle first, and put some relaxing music on, but not always, these aren’t essential. The switch is always the same though, and once the mat is unrolled, that’s it, I know it’s time for the yoga stack to begin.

I don’t look at the mat and think: “Hmm, do I fancy doing any yoga today? I could go back to bed, or go and write a bit, or get some breakfast, rearrange my books, watch some TV. What shall I do?”

Having the switch eliminates all that dithering, and all that procrastination potential.

There’s no other option in my mind once the mat is there beckoning me, and it’s as if I’m already feeling the benefits of the yoga (and the pride of being committed and disciplined and showing up) before I’ve even begun.

Just like the way the switch phrase “My right arm is heavy” in Autogenics instantly started to bring feelings of deep relaxation.

And so the stack begins, without fuss or distraction.

Another example is when I write. The switch is waking my laptop from its sleep, turning off the notifications or completely closing any apps that connect me to the outside world, opening OmmWriter and starting to write.

Once OmmWriter opens, and that blank grey screen beckons, the switch is flicked and the writing begins.

(I’ll already have an idea or title to work with before I begin, so I’m not staring at a blank screen not knowing where to begin, but that’s a topic for a different article.)

If I’m limited in time, or if I want to be more focused, I’ll use a timer and set it to 20 or 30 or 60 minutes.

This means I’m not going to be distracted from writing by constantly glancing at a clock. I just write until the timer goes. Then I usually set it again for another 20 or 30 or 60 minutes and write some more.

I hope these two examples give you an idea of how we can use daily creative stacks of habits, with the power of their substance, triggered by a switch, to get us into a state of flow far more quickly and deeply than we could otherwise.

What daily creative habits could you introduce into your life? Which ones do you have already?

What would be an effective switch for you? What would be a clear, strong signal to your inner creativity that it was game on, time to create, and time to focus?

Again, what switches do you have in place already?

This simple technique can be the steady beating heart of a life of abundant creating.

I’d encourage you to experiment with stacks and switches in the coming days and weeks and let me know how it’s helped you be more creative.


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