If you look at any great artist, writer, thinker, dancer, or even athlete – you will see that they have one thing in common: A routine. Most (if not all) highly creative people have a routine, or “a process” in which they traverse in order to create. Just look in the “self help” section of your local bookstore and you will see shelves dedicated to the idea of creating habits – “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work”, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” – just to name a few.
Humans love the idea of a short cut. We love thinking that if we take a pill we won’t have to watch what we eat, or exercise. If we eat this kind of food but not the other, we will be thin. We think that if we adapt the same habits as ‘great minds’ we might ourselves become great. The trick is to find a routine that works for you.
Mark Twain would wake up and eat a huge breakfast, after-which he would retire to his study until five o’clock in the evening. He would work uninterrupted for hours on end, and after dinner he would share his work with his family. While that might have worked for Mr. Clemens, it would be hell for me. I like to work alone, but I don’t know about locking myself in one room until supper. It would drive me crazy! And reading my work out-loud to family? No freaking way. Find a routine that works for YOU, not a famous person you admire. Having role models is great, but admiring someone doesn’t get you any closer to “being” that person. Know who YOU are and what YOU need.
Oh, and speaking of things you need… let me quickly rundown some things you DON’T need. Sometimes habits need to be broken. Here are 3 habits to BREAK:
- SMOKING – really? Stop it. You know it’s bad for you. You know it makes you look like shit. It costs a LOT of money over the year. Really, just stop it.
- DRINKING – As someone who used to drink “like a man”, I know how fun it is. But, I am a lot happier now that I am sober. I’m alert. I’m hangover free. I’m healthy, thinner, happier… Yeah, I have a glass of wine here or there, but I couldn’t place in a drinking competition any longer. And I’m damn proud of it.
- COMPLAINING – Ugh. The worst. Guess what? Everybody has something to complain about. Everybody is as wrapped up in their lives as you are in yours. What makes you think folks want to hear how annoyed you are at the asshole who cut you off, or the clerk who had the audacity to take a phone call in front of YOU? Trust me – if you stop complaining the world will be nicer to you.
My personal habits are pretty basic. I try to keep a flexible attitude, and a flexible day so that I can take advantage of what the day may bring. Here is what I try to keep in mind, what I try to accomplish each day. Some days I do better than others.
- Clean something – I don’t have a regimented cleaning schedule. I do work as needed and since I don’t have a lot of “stuff” I don’t need to work as much. Again, the more shit you own, the more time you have to spend on it. In order to keep a loose schedule AND a clean flat I have a “One a day” rule. I need to do (at least) one chore a day. Whether it’s doing the dishes, the laundry, the tub… whatever. I do one chore a day.
- Read & Write – I read every day. I write every day. No exceptions. I think it was Stephen King who said, if you want to be a great writer you need to read every day. So I do. I write too. Practice your art. Daily.
- Play! – I do something fun every day. It might be crossword puzzles, and it might be going to Disneyland. It doesn’t matter as long as it was fun. The standard of “fun” is in my head, so I know if it counts. Even if I had fun at work, I try to do something fun for myself. It’s important to keep happy.
- Take stock – Sometime before I hit the hay, I take stock of myself. How am I feeling? Did I have a good day, or a bad day? Why? Doing this let’s me reflect on my day in a positive way, and also helps me leave it behind before I go to bed. When I wake up in the morning, yesterday doesn’t matter – it’s in the past. All that matters is today and making today a great day.
- Embrace mistakes – Everybody makes mistakes. Half of my day as a teacher is convincing kids that there isn’t anything wrong with making mistakes. Some of my best work has come from what I thought were mistakes. It’s funny, I notice “mistakes” in my paintings right away but nobody else seems to. Mistakes are something we learn from and move on. You might know some stubborn folks who keep making the same mistakes over and over and over, yet never seem to learn from their own missteps. Don’t be that guy. Own your mistakes and grow from them. A mistake doesn’t have to ruin your whole day. Deal with it and let it go. Remember, each time you tell “your story” your ego is getting just what it wants – attention.
The best advice I have is: Do what is right for you. You know what makes you happy, and what you need to succeed. You can design a set of “Commandments” for yourself that will allow you to flourish and be happy while keeping you on the right track. YOUR TRACK. It doesn’t matter what your best friend does, or what the celebrity on the cover of “People” does. All that really matters is what YOU do. And what you don’t do.