How Routines Make You Creative

Many well-known creatives including Tim Ferriss, Steven Pressfield and Ed Catmull have spoken highly of the positive influence that routine has on creativity. That is to to say, if you want the highest creative output, you must schedule when you’re going to be creative.

This might strike you as odd and counterintuitive, but the fact of the matter is, that if you want the highest creative output, you must condition your mind, in the same way you’d condition your body to lift heavy weights. What I mean by this is, is that inspiration rarely strikes a random person on the street, who is then possessed to write a masterpiece. Much more often – not to say always – creative output is a result of years of prolonged effort and hard work.

To illustrate this, let me tell you about the time I went to visit the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. There is no doubt that the man is a creative genius, and he has produced a number of masterpieces which are absolutely astonishing. He also started out however, as a terrible painter, who painted some of the most uninspiring pieces I’ve ever seen, like his painting of Potato Eaters:

Image result for van gogh potato eaters

I’m not sure what to say about this painting except for the fact, that it is a far way away from some of his later masterpieces like Starry Night

Image result for van gogh starry night original

What I’m getting at here is that creativity takes time to develop. It doesn’t happen overnight – not even for Van Gogh.

This means that if any of us are going to have a fighting chance at anything close to the creative output of a Van Gogh, we’re going to make a habit of being creative. We’re going to have to routinely exercise our creative muscles. Aristotle rightly phrased that excellence is a habit more than anything, and excellence in creativity is a habit as well. If we have creative aspirations, such as writing, creating a podcast or painting, we must schedule our efforts and optimally exercise our creativity on a daily basis.

Another thing to consider, is that you don’t have to schedule hours and hours of work every day. In fact, I don’t believe that is the best use of your time, because if you do that, then you risk burning out quickly. What has worked for me, is to break creativity – or any other matter really – down into its smallest constituent parts. What this means is that because I want to write, I make a habit to write 300 words every day, which takes around 30 minutes. This habit is small enough to ensure that I continue, and stick to it every day, and it is big enough to ensure that the output is worthwhile. Obviously, there is nothing to say that I am not allowed to write more than 300 words, but 300 words is the minimum.

What I’ve found is that writing this little bit every day is more than manageable. Most days I go over, and I’d say that I usually average between 750-1250 words per day – let’s call it an average of 1000 words per day to ease the math. That’s 365.000 words per year. That’s around four full length non-fiction books, or three very long novels. Now obviously, not every single one of those 365.000 words are going to be superb, top notch quality, but I’d be surprised if at least some of it wasn’t at least halfway decent.

The point here is that all of us can be creative, and produce content for others which is worth consuming, if only we’d make it a habit, and I’d love to know more about you and your creative habits.

What are your thoughts on how to become more creative, create better content and getting into the habit of creativity?

 

 

What two epileptic seizures in a week taught me about gratitude

As I’ve recently blogged about, I live by the belief that everything is transitory. We live in an impermanent world, and whenever we think we are in control of everything, fate has a way of throwing a monkey wrench in our otherwise perfect cogs.

Most of the time, I feel like I have a pretty firm handle on things. I’m in a career that I love, surrounded by colleagues I appreciate and look up to for the most part. My fiancée is incredible, and by all measures I feel like I’m doing pretty well.

But then last week, after a night of heavy drinking, I got an epileptic seizure for the first time in my life. Not a pleasant experience, but I figured it was a one off, and as soon as the weekend rolled back around I went out for a few more beers with some friends. Nothing crazy, but apparently still sufficient because by the time Friday night turned to Saturday morning I seized up again. This time it lasted for a shorter while, but I bit my tongue like a motherfucker and doing all things tongue-related (insert dirty joke) still hurts pretty badly.

My point is…

… that everything changes, and there’s no point in getting too comfortable or getting too used to things being a certain way, because the only guarantee in life is that things change constantly. This is not a bad thing however, simply because the very reminder can help pull us back into a better state and make us more appreciative of what we have, and focus on all the things which are already good in our lives as opposed to what we want to achieve in the future.

If having two epileptic seizures in a week taught me anything it is to be super grateful for everything that is good in our lives, and that there are many more people who care about our well-being than we might believe at first glance, and we all have much more to be grateful for than we give ourselves credit for in everyday life.

Lessons from that one time I made a true enemy

When I was in university, I decided I would write one of assignments with a person I knew – sort of. We got along pretty well, and we both liked the football (round ball) so what could possibly go wrong? A whole lot as it turned out.

We clashed on almost every front, and we really clashed on the direction of the assignment. We basically wanted to take it in opposite directions, and the direction we ended up going cost us a D. Not the end of the world for either of us, but enough to make us both feel annoyed at the other person.

I blamed him for our bad grade and I told him as much.

Ladies and gentlemen, let this be the first lesson on how to make an enemy. If you want to make other people angry at you blame them for your shortcomings.

Anyways, I soon came to my senses and realized that I’d at the very least been an accomplice in this whole debacle but it was too late.

But whatever, I figured I’d never have to see him again, so who cares right?

Wrong.

We literally work in the same department at a large consulting company and run in to each other every so often. It’s never pleasant, but it’s always a reminder of how to make enemies.

Which is highly counterproductive. I literally cannot think of a single positive aspect of having a enemy, so take it from me and let me advise against it. If you can avoid it, then don’t do it. Don’t make enemies.

It’s not worth it.

This too shall pass

Sometimes life gets in our face. Sometimes we have to face up to a challenge not of our own making. Sometimes we have to battle discomfort, disease and adversity. That’s how it goes, and we all have battles to fight from time to time. Your battle might feel insurmountable, but I’m here to tell you that even the hardest battles can be won. Even the hardest opponents can be conquered. But sometimes they can’t. And that’s okay too.

The Stoics have a saying: “Memento Mori” remember that you are mortal. Remember that you will die eventually. This means that there are very few things which we should take gravely serious, and when our time has come, the best thing we can do is to accept it with grace, and become like the ripe olive which drops from the tree after a long and satisfying life in the sun in the words of the great emperor and stoic Marcus Aurelius.

The point of this short essay is simply to remind you that whatever you are facing in the moment, keep in mind that this too shall pass. The very nature of life is transitory – nothing lasts forever. Don’t grasp on to things which are bound to pass or wish for things to pass faster than is their nature. Don’t wish for things to be what they are not.

Let things happen as they must, and be fully in the moment while it lasts. This way you can enjoy the moment, and gain strength for the battles you must face.

Human Beings’ superpower

One of the strongest super powers that humans have is the power of empathy. I don’t mean this in a wishy-washy way, but I do mean it in the sense that our powers of empathy is what allows us to sense what others are feeling at the time, which fosters cooperation. Cooperation in turn, is what has allowed us more than anything to succeed as a species.

Cooperation has allowed us to adapt to new environments and survive in the areas as diverse as the frozen tundras of Siberia and the scorching deserts of the Sahara. No other species in the animal kingdom can claim this ability to live in areas which span over this much diversity. Could you imagine a polar bear living in the Sahara? Yeah, me neither.

What I’m getting at, is the fact that because of our mental abilities we have been able to climb to the top of the food chain and get to a point where our biggest threat is ourselves and each other as opposed to other species.

So what is the point of this post?

It is to highlight what makes us uniquely human as well as to give you an appreciation of your own superpower, so that you might better understand how to use them in everyday life to better your own circumstances as well as the circumstances of the people around you

The gift of turning everything into a positive

The mind is a fragile and fickle thing, and without sounding too esoteric, it’s remarkable how much impact our thoughts have on our lives.

For instance, I have just had my second epileptic seizure in two weeks, and the reason I share this is because this is something I can choose to look at in a number of different ways. One way is to be super bummed out about it, and be sad that now I have to go on medication,

Another way to look it is to say that now I’ll be free from the large seizures as well as the smaller absence tics that I’ve had for the last 15 years, which has severely impacted my life, and that I now get to be rid of which is a massive positive.

The idea that we can look at things any way we choose is true for everything that happens at work, in our relationship, and with our children and family.

In Ryan Holidays masterpiece The Obstacle Is The Way he writes about how much we can change our lives by changing how we look at the events that shape our lives, and the point at which I’ve been able to use it most succinctly is with my condition.

I honestly feel happy that now I have a tangible diagnosis as opposed to a general, less treatable form of neurological condition which is simply a disturbance in everyday life.

The reason I write about this is because you and I can use this in all aspects of our lives. For instance – if you have bad things happen at work, you might use that as an opportunity to evaluate your work situation and find a job that is better suited to your skills and desires. Likewise if your relationship has become derailed it might be time to take a long, hard look at that aspect of your life.

This is far from easy, but that is exactly the reason why so few people do it, and why it is so valuable.

At the end of the day we all get to choose our reaction to the events that happen in our lives, and this realization is one of the most profound ideas I’ve come across.

If we make an effort to implement this in our lives, we can change almost anything we want for the better.

A curious mind is the best mind

When we are children, we question the world around us constantly, because it is new and exciting. As we get older we tend to ask fewer questions, because we start taking the world around us for granted.

This is a shame, because the world is an incredibly beautiful and interesting place if we care to look a little closer. This goes for everything in everyday life – even things that might seem mundane, like work.

If we stop to notice how things work and ask questions when we don’t understand, we will learn so much more about how the world works and how we fit into this beautiful place that we are living in.

Marcus Aurelius continuously makes a point in Meditations to point out the fact that we are simply traveling through the world. We come with nothing and we will leave with nothing – everything is simply borrowed.

If we accept this argument then we can look at things with less gravity and more detached curiosity – a curiosity which can cause us to ask more and better questions – more thoughtful questions.

The better questions we ask, the more we will be able to understand.

Ask more questions.

Ask better questions.

Stay curious.

Keep learning.