It’s time to quench your creativity thirst with another good swig of Notion Potion and get those creative juices flowing. This month, let’s explore the pros and cons of habits!
Yea or Nay?
Many creativity blogs and lists encourage us to make small changes. Try a new food. Shop at a different store. Leave your house via the back door rather than the front. By doing something small and out of the ordinary, the theory goes, we shake up our creative thinking. We begin looking at old things new ways. We make new and exciting connections that spark our creativity.
Since I’ve spent a lot of time traveling lately, the idea of doing something different to spark the creative process seemed like the perfect thing to blog about. But once I started digging deeper into the topic, I searched for hours and couldn’t come up with a single scientific study that supported the anecdotal evidence that doing small mundane things differently is inspirational. Does turning your socks inside out and putting on a foreign radio station make you more creative? Plenty of bloggers would have you think so…but all the scientific studies I can find suggests otherwise.
Choose your Focus
Habits are a necessary part of day-to-day life. Without habitual practices, we would need to pay an inordinate amount of attention to every little thing we did. Could you imagine being required to apply the same amount of focus to making coffee or brushing your teeth that you would to navigating a winding road on a dark and stormy night? Not only would it be harrowing, it would be exhausting!
Many common tasks simply don’t merit intense focus. In her article Routines Don’t Stifle Creativity, Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson points out that developing a level automatic efficiency on mundane tasks such as vacuuming the carpet leaves one’s mind free to explore more interesting creative concerns.
The idea that artists are comforted by routines is explored in Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields. He claims that eating the same thing for breakfast every day or taking the same road to work can function as something he calls a “certainty anchor,” a reliable touchstone that will allow creative types to feel safe among the mundane aspects of their lives, thereby freeing them to navigate the uncertainty of their creative pursuits.
If routine and habits are comforting and necessary, what’s with all the advice out there in the blogosphere about switching things up just for the sake of doing something new?
My guess is that your mileage may vary. If you’re a creature of habit, finding a new route to work may stress you out rather than causing an idea for a new painting to pop into your head. But if you’ve decided you’re having a “creative day” where you’re approaching your day with an attitude of play and exploration, and at the end of that day you’re going to journal about new ideas for an upcoming project, then taking a side-street and seeing where it leads might be just what you need.
The entire point of doing something different is to shift to a state of mindfulness. We’re much less likely to zone out while we’re looking for the turnoff on an unfamiliar road than we are pulling into our own driveways. It’s up to use to choose the most effective places in our lives to try those new things. Sure, you could change a random part of your routine in an effort to get the creative juices flowing. But it seems to me there is only so much mileage you can get from mowing your lawn in a funny hat.
Why not focus your changes and explorations on the things that will actually benefit from experimentation: your writing, your artwork, or your music?
When we explore creative outlets, efficiency is not the point, and habits no longer serve us. We don’t work on our creative projects simply for the outcome. If we did, wouldn’t spend hours choosing fabric, cutting out patterns, and sewing the perfect seam. We’d grab a new blouse off the rack. We wouldn’t brew up a batch of lye, blend a bunch of expensive oils, mix them together and mold them into loaves. We’d swing by Walgreens and pick up some soap.
This month, I do encourage you do try something new—but not just any old thing. If you’re going to make the effort to step out of your comfort zone, do it with one of your creative projects. Give yourself permission to be outrageous. To stretch your boundaries. And if you’ve got a whole day (or even half a day, or a few hours) consider doing a play-day where you try a bunch of new and random stuff. But do it mindfully, and once you’re safely ensconced in the comfort of your routine again, take some time to reflect on new approaches you might bring to any stagnant or thorny parts of your creative projects.
Author and artist Jordan Castillo Price is the owner of JCP Books and the author of many award-winning gay paranormal thrillers, including PsyCop and Magic Mansion. Her latest series, Turbulence, is a twisted foray into the Bermuda Triangle. Check it out at JCPbooks.com