Recently I asked people what the number one thing was they could do to help their creativity right now. A lot of them replied, “I just need to be more disciplined.”
I notice that often we use ‘virtue words’ to try to motivate ourselves. We tell ourselves to ‘stop being so lazy’ or to ‘just be brave’. But these words are a trap because they suggest that the problem and answer lie deep within our (not-very-easy-to-work-on) character. And they are kind of an excuse, because changing ourselves like that is a huge mission.
But here is a surprising truth: A person who gets to their creative practice regularly may not be more ‘disciplined’ than someone who avoids their work.
They may just have some powerful structures set up in their lives to help them out.
Rather than worrying about how good or bad a person your are, or telling yourself to BE more disciplined, you can arrange your life so that it’s easier to do the creative things you want to.
Here are some of the kinds of structure that can help…
For many people, accountability is extremely motivating. A weekly group, a course, a creative buddy, or even just being part of a scene can help you feel a sense of excitement and urgency about getting to work.
Habits are gold. Activities that lead into each other make it easy to get to your creativity without having to DECIDE to each time. It might be as simple as ‘Morning coffee = drawing time”. You can also try scheduling appointments for your creativity.
‘No Netflix till I do 15 minutes of anything creative.’
‘Put things away at the end of every sesion.’
‘Post about my process on Instagram daily.’
It is easy to take seriously a handful of rules. If you choose them wisely and stick to them earnestly, you can give yourself a huge amount of structure and drive. (Hint: the less rules, the more strict you’re likely to be able to be about them.)
You can make activities easier and harder depending on how you store the things associated with them. (If you’ve ever hidden chocolate from yourself, you know it works a lot of the time - enough to make a difference.) Things that you want to do more of, you can put in places that are extremely accessible and visible.
Having your systems running smoothly makes your work so much more fun. When you can’t find stuff (like where did you save the last bio you wrote again?), it associates a bad feeling with your creative practice; over time, this can become off-putting.
It does take effort to find (and train yourself in) systems that you’ll actually stick to over time. Once they’re in place, so much energy is freed up. People often find that they can then take their work to new levels as well.
Deadlines, goals, ‘challenges’ and reaching new levels is extremely motivating for many people. Short-term and specific works a treat.
You might commit to practicing a new skill for 30 minutes each day for 21 days (with accountability via social media if that helps you). You might decide to complete a painting by the winter solstice, or be able to play Norwegian Wood on guitar by your birthday…
Now you know
Whatever you’re tempted to try, the idea is to put in a bit of work now to set up a structure that will MAKE IT EASY in the long run. No discipline required! (But, strangely, people may start to call you disciplined. You can smile mysteriously or tell them the secret…)