Tag Archives: Choosing priorities

Building Habits for Creativity Requires Time

On the wall of my gym is a painting that says, “Motivation gets you started. Habit keeps you going.” People often join gyms or start other health plans with good intentions and enthusiasm, but unless they persist in their efforts, they probably won’t create a habit and likely will abandon the plan.

It was easy for me to build a habit of going to the gym. I started after injuring a knee in 2016. Soon I injured the other, as well. Between working with a physical therapist and also with a personal trainer for several weeks, I used the gym four days a week. Once I was done with PT, I continued with the trainer for a few months. Since I paid for the privilege, I made sure I got there. I still go three times a week when I’m in town.

Most of our behavior is habitual, or part of a well-established routine. And if we want to change our behavior, we need to change the routine and persist in it long enough to create a new habit. I wonder if it’s like striving for the opposite of mindfulness, trying to do something often enough that we don’t need to think about it. hmm… 

When it comes to quilting and good habits, most of my habits of technical proficiency — seam allowance accuracy or pressing or how I prep my fabric — are pretty well ingrained. The bigger issue is the habits that lead to increased “production” and creativity. If you look for tips on improvements in these areas, you can find all kinds of things: focus more, focus less, spend more time working, spend more time having fun.

I would like to be both more productive and more creative. For me, those two concepts can be in conflict. To be more productive (have more quilts finished,) I could reduce the time I spend on planning and design, and choose options that are easy/quick to execute. Doing that I could finish multiple quilts a week. Some people get great joy from that, but I would not. Or, I could be more “creative,” chewing over lots of possibilities, brainstorming endlessly, drawing and redrawing designs, looking up strategies and techniques, taking classes, endlessly gazing at fabric choices online, searching for inspiration. That would take up a lot of head space and boy howdy, I’d have a lot of creative ideas going. But they wouldn’t get made. Well, that’s no good, either.

There is only a conflict or tradeoff because resources are finite. In particular, time is limited. Choosing to do anything necessarily means not doing something else. To spend more time in both creative thinking and execution, I need to do less of something else. Less computer time would help me. I spend a lot of time clicking from news site to news site. It doesn’t always make my life better. 

Once we’ve intellectually decided our priorities (found the motivation,) we need to establish a habit of behavior to keep going. I read an interesting article about habit formation at brainpickings.org. It suggests that to create a simple habit, like drinking a glass of water after breakfast, it takes about 21 days. More complex acts don’t become routine for many more days, and sometimes as much as a year.

Late last year I tried blogging every day for 30 days. I abandoned the effort after about 20 days. Apparently I didn’t stick with it long enough. Or it wasn’t very important to me in the first place. 

This is actually a different issue than how long it takes to create proficiency at a skill. However, persisting with a behavior long enough to improve would certainly help motivate continuing the effort. Four years ago I wrote a post called “(Don’t) Stop Acting Like a Two-Year-Old.” In it I cite sources that claim you can learn a new skill in anywhere between 20 hours (Josh Kaufman) and 10,000 hours (Malcolm Gladwell.) That’s a pretty wide range!

How long can you persevere? At least 20 hours? How many days are you willing to put in to create a new habit? An hour a day for 20 days? Is that enough to change your life?

You may have been in on the Instagram #IGquiltfest, a challenge of sorts to post particular kinds of quilting photos on Instagram every day for the month of March. That might create a habit of posting on Instagram. And certainly it’s fun to see what other people post. I haven’t figured out what else it does to spur creativity or production in quilting. (Not meaning to be snarky here. I just literally don’t know what it’s for. If you can explain, feel free to do so in comments.)

There are “challenges” galore, including various ones that show up on WordPress, the famous NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month,) and others. I love the idea of NaNoWriMo. It takes the intention to create and allows you to commit to that intention for a limited amount of time. You don’t have to finish a novel, you don’t have to show it to anyone. You do have to be motivated enough to commit the time every day to write 50,000 words in a month. That’s it! And for some people, that might be enough to create a habit of writing daily.

As discussed earlier, though, for complex behaviors, it usually takes longer to make a habit. Another project that could push through that barrier is #The100DayProject. Here again, the challenge leaders want you to post everyday on Instagram. That, I think, is both to market the program itself, as well as to continue to affirm your own commitment to the project you’ve chosen. You can choose anything. You could make a health commitment for 100 days, or decide to put a dollar aside every day for 100 days with the ending pot of money given to a charity, or create a 12″ x 12″ painting every day for 100 days. Obviously some things are more visual than others, in terms of recording your progress in photos, but the idea is flexible enough to be appealing.

If I want to make more, and make more interesting things, I need to spend more time on both of those intentions. I’m considering joining The100DayProject as a challenge to myself, to focus my attention and energy on my quilting, and less on doing something else. Because the start date is April 3, I still have a few days to define a project.

What tips do you have for developing a creative habit? Have you found something that works especially well, like paying for in-person classes or forcing deadlines or other motivators? Do you commit a minimum amount of time each day to your creative life? Do you have space devoted to your creative work? Tell us in comments about your creative habits.