I have been thinking about habits lately. Over the last four months, I have been building the habit of getting to the gym. After four months of conscious effort, my car now seems to effortlessly drive right past my street, and head for the gym after I drop off my daughter in the morning. Before I am fully thinking about it, I am on my way to the gym.
When I began this struggle to build this habit, I would have to have these conversations with myself...."Don't head home. You need to go straight to the gym. Don't turn down our street.".....It took effort. Effort to get out of my usual habits and build new ones. Now, going to the gym is nearly as effortless as not going once was. And for me, just getting there is the biggest hurdle. Once I am there, I am there to exercise. There are no distractions. I do what I need to do, and I leave feeling better than when I got there. Tired, a little achy, but my head is clear, and maybe some endorphins have kicked into gear.
On the other hand, when I get home, it is easy to get on the computer and "check my e-mail." "Check my e-mail", is really code for; check my e-mail, read a few blogs, check the e-mail, check stats, do a search, check e-mail,.....and down into the hole that can be the internet. An hour or more can pass before I emerge from the internet stupor.
"Who am I, and where have I been? What was I going to do today?"
Maybe the internet doesn't have this effect on you, but I can easily fall down the Internet Rabbit Hole. So, here we have it. In my morning I am finding a habit that is helping me have more energy and feel better overall, and another that is sapping my energy and making me less productive. Distracting me from the work that I really want to do in my day.
It would be easy for me to rationalize this distracting behavior, or even avoiding the healthful behavior. I could skip the exercise, because I am too busy. I just don't have time for it in my schedule. And, I am doing work when I am on the computer. I can tell myself I need to be on the computer.
But these rationalizations don't move me closer to the life I would prefer to be living. I want to be healthier and more fit. That means I need to invest the time into getting to the gym. Time spent on the computer and the internet is something that cannot be avoided, and can help make connections, find out important information, and much more. But it can also leave me less time, energy and focus for the work that is more essential to me as an artist....time in my studio. The rationalization doesn't take into account what my priorities are; what it is that I want to be accomplishing in this life of mine.
The thing about these habits of distraction is that they can be sneaky. They can masquerade as being productive.
- Do you have to straighten out your studio before you sit down to work?
- Do you have to make sure the dishes are done and the beds made, etc., before heading for your studio?
- Do you have to add ten more galleries to your mailing list before you do that mailing?
- Do you have to write a post for your blog, even though you don't have anything on your mind that you want to say, but you need to write something everyday.
All these things can seem like the right thing to do. This list is by no means comprehensive. But, if you recognize yourself in any way in any of these activities, ask yourself, are those activities helping you be a more productive artist, or are they just making you feel more comfortable, and busy?....and helping you avoid the act of creating?
Let's look at one of the items; cleaning the studio. Perhaps I am trying to rationalize the mess that is my studio....but let's just go down the path a bit further before we question that motivation! I know that some people need to have order before they can begin to sit down to work. I will not question this desire. If a chaotic studio causes too much stress for you to be productive, then you need to honor that desire. But, does the activity of restoring order, give you a sense of accomplishment, without really having done any "work". Does the process of creating order shift your brain to a different place than where your true creativity arises? In the process of trying to create an environment to be creative, are you squelching your creative energy?
But you need that order.
What if,.... you developed the habit of cleaning and re-ordering your studio each day, after you are done creating. Going to that restful place of putting everything in it's place, and cleaning surfaces after the real work is done. Then in the morning, when you go into your studio, you are ready to work. You are not distracted or stressed by the mess.
For me, I find that having a bit of chaos makes it easier for me to go into the studio and get to work. It is less intimidating and scary than the blank canvas of a spotless studio. I can jump right in something that might already be in progress. I like some degree of order so I have room to work, and know where to find things, but the studio where work is always partly done feels more productive to me.
My distraction is that computer. I am not being truly productive by getting on the computer before I get into the studio. I need to shift that energy and time drain to later in the day. After I have exercised, and spent a good chunk of time in the studio.
Finding these sorts of distractions can be difficult. We have to be uncomfortably honest with ourselves, and our priorities. If your art is important to you, you have to make it a priority. If the dishes get done at the end of the day, rather than after each meal, they still get done. And if you are in your studio working, you won't see them! You can go ahead and do that mailing to the list you have, and send out more later as you add to the list.
I find I need to reassess my routine every few months. How am I spending my time? Is it moving me toward what is most important to me, or is it pulling me away? Today, I am glad to say, I stopped myself from heading for the computer after getting home and making my cup of coffee. Instead, I went into the studio, and go some work done, and enjoyed it more than I would have enjoyed that same amount of time on the computer.
Do you have any habits that need re-evaluating? What are your priorities, and are your actions supporting them?