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The Creative Spiral: Routines

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

Happy May (how'd that happen so fast)! We're already over 1/3rd of the way through 2023, which means it's time for another installment of Cultivating Creativity!


I recommend reading chapter 1 before continuing, as this is a continuation of the first "Cultivating Creativity" post.



If you were to base your creative practice off the Hollywood archetype, you’d become a reclusive half-starved abstract painter with messy hair, no sense of personal hygiene, a gripping addiction, and a severe case of pessimism.

The movies’ depiction of the “creative type” is a character experiencing bursts of ex-nihilo creation, existing solely in a world of their own. They don unorthodox clothing, a dazed look in their eyes, and have a completely dysfunctional relationship with money (further fueling their pessimism).

This is not creativity. It’s the wrappings of a few prominent historical artists that happen to look great on-screen, and over time became the precedent for depicting creative people.

Don’t get me wrong. In the history of art-making, there have undoubtedly lived some eccentrics. Salvador Dali once suffocated while delivering a lecture because he was dressed in an antique diving suit. The audience thought it was all part of the show. (Brennan, 2016) He also had a habit of stealing his fans’ pens who asked for autographs (the list goes on with this guy). (Mach, 2022) If that wasn’t enough, Michelangelo never actually took a bath during his lifetime. “His biographer reveals that the renowned artist never even bothered to take off his shoes, and would go to sleep with his boots and clothes on. When he died at the age of 89, his clothing had to be peeled off his body” (Mental Itch, 2021).

Though these quirks make great Hollywood tropes, let’s not try them on like a costume and wait for the next pioneering invention to materialize in our heads.



Many people think creativity is an immutable trait you’re either born with or without. While it’s true everyone’s born with a unique temperament– open-mindedness, aggression, etc– we all contain the seeds of the personality traits we wish for ourselves, however small. (Soldz & Vaillant, 1999)

This means if we water the right seed, we can grow what we choose. We aren’t slaves to our genetics- though they do play a role. We can intentionally become the person we want to be through our actions and thoughts. This includes becoming more creative.



We are the product of our daily routines. Without them, it’s dangerously easy to slip into a comfortable state of stagnation. Many of us found this during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the absence of our normal systems, our social lives, fitness, careers, meal-preparation, and lifestyle came to a halt. Routines are the structure off which we hang our lives.

Researchers found that “having a daily routine and regular habits supports cognitive function and may even free people up to be more creative.” (Queen’s Gazette, 2022) When we free up cognitive energy, we can then channel it towards more complex tasks. This may explain the appeal of wearing the same outfit every day, eating the same breakfast, or following the same route for your morning walk. When more of your life’s tasks are automatic, your mind can go to work on more interesting things. What can you simplify in your life to free up your cognition?

In my life, my morning routine has become more-or-less automatic. On a work day, I wake up at 6:30, read a chapter of scripture, check my email, and say a prayer. I then get dressed, make a collagen shake, and do any dishes leftover from dinner. When my husband wakes up we bike to the gym, eat breakfast, and start working.

I don’t have to think in the morning. I don’t have to wonder if I’ll take care of my body, or get outside, or if I’ll eat a healthy meal. I bike to the gym following the same route, wearing the same shoes, coat, and helmet, where my husband and I work out following a weekly schedule.

If not carefully adapted, our routines can feel like shackles. This doesn’t mean they should be abandoned– merely modified. Sometimes I’ll walk (not bike) to the gym, or switch up my breakfast. Routines aren’t an end in themselves, so if yours isn’t working, change it.

Twyla Tharp– renowned choreographer– is a staunch believer that the most important way to become more creative is to make creating a reliable routine. She says in her book The Creative Habit:

"After so many years, I've learned that being creative is a full-time job with its own daily patterns. That's why writers, for example, like to establish routines for themselves. The most productive ones get started early in the morning, when the world is quiet, the phones aren't ringing, and their minds are rested, alert, and not yet polluted by other people's words. They might set a goal for themselves--write fifteen hundred words, or stay at their desk until noon- but the real secret is that they do this every day. In other words, they are disciplined. Over time, as the daily routines become second nature, discipline morphs into habit.” (Tharp et al., 2003)

I once had an Entreprenuership professor who had a habit of recording his business and product ideas. He kept this habit for years, compiling an extensive list of them on his phone. Some were good, most were bad– but a few were amazing. And a handful he pursued. All of his companies started out as ideas on his list. Habits are powerful.

Have you ever had big plans for a creative project that fell through? Maybe Christmas Break arrived and you thought: Perfect. With no school or work, I’m going to use this uninterrupted time to make the things I really want. Did you ever use that time to create your dream project? Chances are in the absence of your normal routines you fell into stagnation, and when the end of Christmas Break arrived, you wondered how the time slipped by so fast. “Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits. That’s it in a nutshell.” (Tharp et al., 2003)

Try analyzing your own habits. Are they sporadic and patchy? Or steady and solid? Do you wait for an idea to carry you to your desk, hand you a pen, and guide you lovingly to its flawless finish? Or do you show up and put in your time, regardless of the circumstances?


Citations:


Brennan, A. (2016) 11 seriously strange things you didn't know about Salvador Dali, British GQ. Available at: https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/salvador-dali-facts#:~:text=Dali's%20surreal%20exploits%20didn't,as%20endless%20as%20his%20creativity%E2%80%A6 (Accessed: March 2, 2023).


Mach, K. (2022) Weird personal quirks of historical artists, Ranker. Ranker. Available at: https://www.ranker.com/list/quirks-of-famous-artists/machk (Accessed: March 2, 2023).


The strange habits and quirks of famous artists (2021) Mental Itch. Available at: https://mentalitch.com/the-strange-habits-and-quirks-of-famous-artists/ (Accessed: March 2, 2023).


Soldz, S. and Vaillant, G.E. (1999) “The big five personality traits and the life course: A 45-year Longitudinal Study,” Journal of Research in Personality, 33(2), pp. 208–232. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1006/jrpe.1999.2243.


What you do every day matters: The power of routines (2022) Queen's Gazette | Queen's University. Available at: https://www.queensu.ca/gazette/stories/what-you-do-every-day-matters-power-routines#:~:text=Routines%20can%20support%20creativity%2C%20boost,provide%20meaningful%20activities%20and%20opportunities.&text=The%20word%20%E2%80%9Croutine%E2%80%9D%20can%20bring,have%20felt%20boring%20and%20restrictive. (Accessed: March 10, 2023).


Tharp, T. (2003) “Chapter 1: I Walk Into a White Room,” in The creative habit. Simon and Schuster, p. 6.



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