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What habits help you be creative? 3 Strategies

Today’s Q&A Monday explores creative habits:

“What habits help you be more creative?”
Anonymous (via Quora)

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin, a book on habit change
Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

To focus on creativity I have several habit strategies including:

  1. Act creatively now or as soon as possible
  2. Make habits convenient helps
  3. Change the external circumstances.

I find audiobooks and podcasts to be an incredibly inspiring habit. Listening to other creatives and being exposed to their work. That helps me want to create work of my own. Many audiobooks are free online via my local library. If your library offers this, I can’t recommend it enough.

I recently listened to the “Happier at Home” by researcher Gretchen Rubin in which she focuses on changing her habits one step at a time. She makes her decisions based on her research into the science of human behavior.

1. Act creatively now

Don’t let life get in the way or life will always be in the way. Learn to face the fears that keep you from acting. In  Happier at Home, Rubin discusses how easy it is to plan and difficult it can be to act. If we let it be difficult. “It’s so easy to wish that we’d made an effort in the past, so that we’d happily be enjoying the benefit now, but when now is the time when that effort must be made, as it always is, that prospect is much less inviting.”

“The future depends on what you do today.”
Mahatma Gandhi

So having a habit of focus on how can I be my most creative self right now in this moment. We’ll imagine that after if we clean our house, do our errands, and plan our project that at that point we’ll finally have energy. Of course, after that’s all done we just want to rest. New errands will prop up and we’ll be on a never-ending cycle.

“You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.”
C.G. Jung

One procrastination study found that people creating retirement plans in terms of DAYS plan to start saving 4 times sooner compared to when thinking in months or years.We tend to attend to our present. We trust that we will handle needs in the future. This is demonstrated by a procrastination study published in Psychological Science. By framing future events as days instead of months or years, they helped participants perceive future events as more imminent. Those studied who were presented retirement in terms of days would estimate planning 4 times sooner.

2. Make your habits convenient

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, has a solution. Make creativity a priority for right now by setting smaller activities and sticking to them. Rather than “cleaning” and “drawing”, decide that you’ll do a specific small tasks:

  • “I’ll fill a piece of paper thumbnails in 30 minutes.”
  • “I’ll load the dishwasher.”
  • “Pick a thumbnail to draw a more detailed piece.”
  • “I’ll run to the store and pick up a specific list of items.”

Note how each task is as specific and least sprawling as possible. I’ve found this method useful and less stressful for many situations. Small tasks are less overwhelming and more convenient. Gretchen Rubin refers to this as the “Strategy of Convenience”: “70 percent of long-term gym memberships are mostly unused, but a dog needs walking every day.”

Setting priorities is key here for me. It is important that I get that dishwasher loaded. It’s very important that I make it to the store. It’s also important that I find ways to be creative as often as possible. Breaking life into small and manageable tasks makes finding balance that much easier.

“I firmly believe that everyone deserves to live within walking distance of either beauty or convenience, if not both.” Victoria Moran

Living within Baltimore City makes many errands and event very convenient. My gym is even close by and I stick with the group classes because that let’s them determine the schedule. Letting go and allowing external forces to control certain aspects of my life is just embracing the inevitable. I can’t control many or most things, so I might as well make a conscious choice to focus on what to let go of.

I have a Choose Your Own Adventure-style free downloadable flowchart based on the Getting Things Done principles. With a little preparation, you can set yourself up for conveniece

3. Change the external circumstances

Most of our current behaviors are incredibly well-practiced and fairly automatic, according to a study on intentions published in Psychological Bulletin. Students were most likely to change their daily habits by transferring to a different university compared to a control group.

“There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment.” Dr. B.J. Fogg, Director of Stanford Persuasive Lab

If you’re the kind of person who is motivated by external goals, then find ways to set them. Explore and test ways to collaborate, interact, and include others. Create your best work and share what you create. You might figure out all of your friends birthdays and plan make birthday cards.

If you need something more concrete, take a class. Craigslist is useful for finding art shows, classes and related events. I’ve found many free events related to art and culture on in the events sections of Yelp and Facebook.

Make a habit of volunteering

Volunteering also presents excellent opportunities to both be creative and to be inspired. You’ll meet other artists and creatives, see their work and hopefully do something good for your community.

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” Barack Obama

Putting yourself in the position to really have to tackle your goals. Volunteering whether directly related to my work also helps me structure my time and creates a feeling of overall well being, which is always a good thing!

Sites like volunteermatch.org will help you get involved in local arts programs. Research by the University of Exeter Medical School reported on WebMD used data from over 40 published papers related to volunteering and happiness. They found that volunteers were less susceptible to depression and more satisfied with their lives. Volunteers were also at a 20% less risk of death than non-volunteers.

Readers, what habits help you be more creative? Add your answer in the comments.

What habits help you be creative? 3 Strategies

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Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

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Brian E. Young

I'm a graphic designer (portfolio), classical pianist and artist in Baltimore, MD. I host the Uncanny Creativity Podcast helping to demystify the creative process and creator of Funlooksfun.com, an online shop for apparel and games. Twitter: @sketchee

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