How to Build a Creative Habit

The Artist’s Job

My mother is a professional artist. She has been making art, paintings and mezzotints, for more than 40 years. Every day, for my entire life, I’ve watched my mother get up, go out to her studio, and paint. That’s her work: to put brush to canvas and create.

But when I compare my own creative habits to the clockwork regularity of my mother’s practice, I realize that I’ll go to great lengths to avoid my own creative work.

A painter paints. A writer writes. An entrepreneur builds a business. That’s the job.

Start Small

I’ve been intending to write regularly since I published Responsive: What It Takes To Create a Thriving Organization. But I’ve been avoiding writing, because writing is really hard work. Creating feels risky, my inner critic is loud, and a new project can be hard to fit into my already busy days. To combat this, I started small, tiny even—writing just a few minutes every day to build up my confidence.

The process of creating, whether a cafe, YouTube channel, or new musical instrument, begins by putting one foot in front of the other. Start smaller than you currently think possible. As an old teacher of mine used to say: “Decrease your ambition.”

Trust you will eventually grow your tiny habit, but don’t set yourself up for failure by setting the bar too high. Make your creative habit so small that today’s success feels almost inevitable.

Manage the Inner Critic

One reason you aren’t starting might be, as Ira Glass explains, that you have taste. Having a strong aesthetic sense or creative vision is great. But don’t let your taste stop you from getting started. High standards make for a mean inner critic and you censor yourself before you even begin.

If you have something that you want to express, but you aren’t sure how to convey it, don’t let perfection hold you back from starting. The best way to overcome the inner critic is just to begin.

What Feels Good After?

When something is hard, that’s a sign that it might be worth doing.

I’ve been moving every day for 20 years, and there are still days that I don’t want to exercise. I never get up in the morning eager to get into my 39 degree cold plunge. Fasting for 5 days is as difficult a project as I’ve ever undertaken.

I don’t do these things because they feel good in the moment. I do them because I feel great after I’m done.

Habits, even uncomfortable ones, are an investment in your future. The feel-good results aren’t always immediate, but remembering those results will come is one way to motivate yourself to get started.

Further Reading

There has been a lot written about Creative Habits and getting unstuck. Here are a few more books to get started:

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. Twyla is one of the most famous modern dance choreographers, but this book is about much more than dance. She outlines her creative process, and tactics for anyone to create, consistently, over a lifetime.

The Dip by Seth Godin. I’ve never regretted reading a book by Seth Godin, but The Dip stands out as a must-read for anyone attempting something difficult. It is important to know when to quit and when to persist, and this book shows the way.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I’m a raving fan of Steven Pressfield, and I’ve given this book as a gift dozens of times. Steve coined the term “Resistance,” giving the enemy of creativity a name.

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