Most of us have embarked on new diets or exercise regimes in an effort to be more healthy, lose weight and get our bodies in better physical shape.
Here’s what usually happens:
We start with huge motivation and the best of intentions, and for a few days or weeks, all goes fantastically well. The weight comes off, our fitness noticeable improves, and we start to feel a little healthier.
But then, a few weeks, or even days in, almost inevitably we begin to falter. We start to miss how we were before. The extreme structure of the diet plan, so different to how we exercised, ate and lived before, starts to feel too demanding, too much of a strain and too much to maintain.
In short, the radical plan we began on may have helped us to gain some very short term benefits, but it’s simply not sustainable. Because most diets are aimed at short term weight loss or an increase in fitness, not at a long term new way of healthy living.
How does this relate to our creative lives?
Similarly in our creative lives, we may have an idea for a new creative project, begin it with huge enthusiasm, commit hours a day to it for a few weeks then realise that this too is not sustainable.
We see other things in our lives start to slide, the motivation we had when we began the new project starts to falter, our creative resistance notches up a few gears, and before long, the new project is resigned to a dusty shelf in a dark cupboard along with the dozens of others we’ve begun equally enthusiastically in the past.
Sound at all familiar to you?
And, in that same forgotten cupboard, take a look at the shelf below. Yep, there’s all those crash diet plan books. . .
Why don't these crash diets work?
So what can we do? How can we maintain the impetus and momentum we gain from those first few days of a new project, or a new diet?
We need to first understand why the quick fixes and crash schemes DON’T work, and why we have this cupboard full of aborted efforts.
And the reason is surprisingly simple. The new regime we took on was just too different to the habits and routines we’d been used to before.
The habits and routines that we’d grown into and been comfortable with for years, maybe decades – however good or bad for our creative health they may be - just can’t be changed overnight.
It’s unrealistic to expect to be able to drastically change a vast number of elements in our lives at once and be able to maintain those changes.
Sounds a bit negative. So what CAN we do?
There is hope! The alternative, the way that CAN work, is to realise that a healthy creative life comes from putting into place little habits, taking it step by step, building up a long term plan for how we want to live, and how we want to create.
So if you want to write a new novel but haven’t written more than a few sentences for months, how realistic is it to expect to be able to write a chapter a night for the next 60 days?
Instead, start by setting yourself an aim that’s achievable but still slightly stretches you beyond where you are right now. For example, every day before breakfast, set aside 15 minutes to write 50 words.
Once you’ve developed this habit, increase it steadily to 100, 500 or 1000 words, and/or 30, 60, 90 minutes as you build your creative muscles and stamina.
If you want to create a new photography exhibition, but haven’t taken your camera out of its case for a year, do you give yourself a fair chance of achieving this by expecting to shoot 3 rolls of film every day for the next month?
Instead, again begin with an achievable aim like taking your camera out of its case and taking 3 pictures each morning, regardless of how the pictures come out. This too you can build upon as you strengthen your creative discipline and habits, working up towards the levels of creativity you want to be at.
Remember, “being creative” is not something we just do, it’s something we ARE. Creativity is a way of life, a part of our identity.
To get the most from ourselves creatively, we need to develop sustainable long term habits, not just quick bursts of unsustainable creativity that ultimately only end up adding to that dusty collection of part finished projects in our cupboards. . .
© Copyright 2006 Dan Goodwin
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