“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it; they just saw something and connected the dots. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”
Over the years, through our coaching practice and premium course, Angel and I have spoken with dozens of entrepreneurs, artists, and creative types about their unique rituals and routines. The really nice thing is that we often learn just as much from our clients as they do from us. They tell us about some of the most incredibly creative ideas and projects imaginable, and we teach them how to fine-tune the process of getting from where they are to where they want to be. A good coach/client relationship is truly a win-win.
Today, I want to share seven of the most common rituals we’ve seen repeated by the most creative people we’ve worked with.
It’s often said that creativity can’t be contained. That creative inspiration and ideas arise suddenly out of nowhere and then fail to show up when we need them most. And while that may be true for a specific idea, when you look at the broader picture, you realize that sustained creativity – having lots of creative ideas over time – doesn’t come from a flash of brilliance or a single moment of inspiration. It comes from a consistent set of rituals that serve as the bedrock for getting remarkable things done.
1. Engage deeply in meaningful pursuits.
Marcus Aurelius once said, “Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?”
One of our coaching clients brought this quote to my attention about a decade ago. Today I have it pinned to the bulletin board in my office. It stops me from squandering my most precious resource: my time.
Creativity as both a lifestyle and a profession is a daring adventure, and a truly rewarding one. To thoroughly love what you do while also being fulfilled financially and emotionally is an aspiration and a challenge. That aspiration can become a reality, but it takes lots of hard work, dedication, and some luck that eventually comes from persistently doing the right things. Which is why you must remind yourself on a daily basis of what’s actually meaningful to you, and fully commit to the actions that yield progress in that area of your life.
2. Set up triggers that get you into the rhythm for a routine of creating.
Maya Angelou only wrote in small hotel rooms. Jack Kerouac made sure to touch the ground nine times before sitting down to write. And many of the artistic clients we’ve worked with over the years have done everything from meditating, to singing, to running, to even doing two-hour long workouts immediately prior to working on their creative projects. For example, take a look at our client Fay’s morning routine. Here’s what she recently told us:
“I begin every day with one simple ritual: I wake up at 6 a.m., put on workout clothes, walk outside my downtown San Francisco home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to my gym. I workout for an hour and forty-five minutes, and then I take a leisurely fifteen-minute jog back home. The important part of the ritual is not the training I do at the gym; what’s important is getting in that cab every morning and getting the day started in the right direction. The rest just falls into place. I get home feeling good and ready to work.”
Think about your days. How are they structured? What triggers your creative (and productive) mind? Are you consciously structuring your days with this trigger in mind?
Whether it’s waking up early, working in a specific location, or hitting the weights first thing in the morning, you need to find a trigger that gets you into rhythm – your rhythm. When you design a healthy daily routine that starts automatically every morning, you save lots of mental energy for the creative thinking that comes naturally when you find yourself in your rhythm. Through this personalized routine you will bring out your most intuitive work.
Of course, your routine will change occasionally due to evolving circumstances. The idea is that you make the necessary adjustments and maintain a routine that works – one that maintains the necessary triggers and rituals to develop and nurture your creative mind, and to ultimately do the work necessary to get you from where you are to where you want to be. (Read The War of Art.)
3. Spend daily downtime daydreaming.
Creative types know that, despite what their grade school teachers likely told them, daydreaming is anything but a waste of their time. While structured routines are important for the actual process of creating, our minds need downtime filled with the freedom to wander.
Neuroscientists have found that daydreaming involves the same brain processes associated with imagination and creative thinking. According to psychologist Rebecca L. McMillan, who recently co-authored a research paper titled Ode To Positive Constructive Daydreaming, daydreaming can aid in the “creative incubation” of ideas and solutions to complex problems.
Perhaps that’s why we sometimes get our best ideas while taking a long, hot shower.
4. Schedule in new experiences.
When they’re not daydreaming in their downtime, creative types love to expose themselves to new experiences, sensations and states of mind. This willingness to stretch themselves is a significant predictor of their creative output. Because creative growth always begins at the end of your comfort zone.
Of course, a big part of this happens inside a routine when you’re “in rhythm” and working hard to stretch your creative and intellectual muscles. But new experiences help balance out your routines. They force you to think differently. So make an effort to try something new at least once a week. It can be a whole new activity or just a small experience, such as talking to a stranger. Once you get the ball rolling, many of these new experiences will open doors to life-changing perspectives you can’t even fathom right now.
And with a strategy of continuous small, scheduled steps into new experiences, you are able to sidestep the biggest barrier to thinking outside the box: Fear.
5. Observe your mentors and study the work of other masters.
If you study the lives of enough successful creators, it becomes obvious that most world-class performers in all fields – musicians, entrepreneurs, artists, dancers, etc. – had incredible mentors, coaches or role models who made the activity of practice worthwhile and rewarding.
If you can speak with a mentor face to face, that’s incredible – do so! But keep in mind that just observing a mentor works wonders too. When we observe someone we want to learn from, and we have a crystal clear idea of what we want to create for ourselves, it unlocks a tremendous amount of motivation. Human beings are socially inclined, and when we get the idea that we want to join some elite circle up above us, that is what really motivates us to achieve greatness. “Look, they did it. I can do it too!” It may sound overly simplistic, but spending time studying people who are great can be one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself.
In his book Mastery, Robert Greene emphasizes the importance of studying the work of others using Mozart as an example. This is an essential building block for mastering your craft and cultivating your creativity at the same time:
“Throughout his career, Mozart never asserted any particular opinions about music. Instead, he absorbed the styles he heard around himself and incorporated them into his own voice. Late in his career, he encountered for the first time the music of Johann Sebastian Bach – a kind of music very different from his own, and in some ways more complex. Most artists would grow defensive and dismissive of something that challenged their own principles. Instead, Mozart opened his mind up to new possibilities, studying Bach’s use of counterpoint for nearly a year and absorbing it into his own vocabulary. This gave his music a new and surprising creative quality.”
The bottom line is that studying mentors and other masters can help you diversify your own creative output. Doing so facilitates the process of cross-pollinating ideas and strategies, introducing you to new approaches and ways of thinking. Not everything others do will be relevant to you, of course, but it will help refine and develop your style and tailor it to your own unique creative goals.
6. Lean heavily on your intuition.
Intuition is very real and something that is never wise to ignore, because it comes from deep within your subconscious and is derived from a combination of your previous life experiences and core perceptions about the present. If everyone else is telling you “yes” but your gut is telling you otherwise, it’s usually for a good reason. When faced with difficult decisions, seek out all the information you can find, become as knowledgeable as you possibly can, and then listen to your God-given instincts.
Creative people know that trusting your intuition is equivalent to trusting your true self; and the more you trust your true self, the more control you have of making your biggest goals and wildest dreams come true, just the way you envision.
7. Gradually turn life’s obstacles around.
Many of the most iconic novels, songs, and inventions of all time were inspired by gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak. Therefore, the silver lining of these great challenges is that they were the catalyst to the creation of epic masterpieces.
An emerging field of psychology called Post-Traumatic Growth has suggested that most people are able to use their hardships and traumas for substantial creative and intellectual development. Specifically, researchers have found that trauma can help people grow their long-term contentment, emotional strength, and resourcefulness.
When our view of the world as a safe place, or as a certain type of place, has been shattered, we are forced to reboot our perspective on things. We suddenly have the opportunity to look out to the periphery and see things with a new, fresh set of beginner’s eyes, which is extremely beneficial to creativity and personal growth. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
Walt Disney once said, “Around here, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious – and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
This is one of my favorite quotes. It inspires me to write and create. And to move on to my next piece of work, even when I catch myself judging my last piece of work as “not good enough.”
For nearly a decade, I have been publishing new articles every week on www.marcandangel.com. Sometimes the ideas and words come easier than others, and there have been plenty of times when I’ve felt like my work was sub-par.
“I thought this was a great article. Why aren’t people reading and sharing it?” Or I’ll feel like I fumbled through an article only to watch it receive 25,000+ shares on Facebook. Regardless of which outcome I’m dealing with, I’ve realized one thing: As human beings, we are often terrible judges of our own work. We are just too self-critical to see the truth most of the time.
And not only that, it’s not our job to judge our own work. It’s not our job to compare it to everyone else’s work, or to how we thought others would perceive it. There’s no use in doing that.
Instead, it’s our job to create. Our job is to share what we have right now in this moment. Our job is to come as we are and give it our best shot.
There are people in nearly every career field who make each day a work of art simply by the way they have mastered their craft. In other words, almost everyone is an artist in some way. And every artist will have the tendency to judge their own work. The important thing is to not let your self-judgment keep you from doing your thing and sharing your creative gift with the world.
Just like Walt said, the key is to “keep moving forward.”
The floor is yours…
What else would you add to the list? What rituals, routines and lifestyle choices help you think more creatively and work more resourcefully?
Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Photo by: Anthony Sigalas
Fay Daliva says
Excellent thoughts on the rituals that actually help people be productively creative. Along with this, I would add that creative people expose themselves to other points of view. It’s about getting out of your own head sometimes. To be able to see the world through a different lens, to experience things differently, doesn’t come from nowhere. Exposure to other people’s ideas, other possible world-views, provides the extra material one needs to put together something truly remarkable.
As the old quote goes, “Only God creates out of nothing. The rest of us create out of something.”
This is a really eye-opening post, Marc. There are so many watered-down self-help articles out there that feel like we’ve all read a million times before, but these simple and poignant points really drill past all of that. We are all creative creatures, and we can master our creative output with the right mindset and tools.
For me, I’ve found that actually scheduling in time to daydream and think truly works wonders for me. I do this for 10 minutes every morning. Gets my creative juices flowing.
Thank you for sharing all of this; I’ll be sharing it with several close friends. (PS: These friends are the same friends I just bought your book for as Christmas gifts.)
I appreciate this entire post, but especially your example on the mindset and rituals of Mozart. Studying the work of other successful individuals for our own benefit is a brilliant example of how to use other experts to perfect your own unique expertise. In real life, imitation starts from childhood and is an endless phenomenon. The crucial key to imitation, though, is asking yourself: “Who are the right people to imitate and learn from?”
Thank you, these are great suggestions. It always helps to have someone remind you of these things! I’ve also been reading your book lately and I really enjoy it! Thank you so much!
Super spot on! Thanks for sharing this!
I especially agree that we need a routine of some kind to maximize the output of our creativity. I think some people get confused and believe creativity is all just daydreaming and playing.
I’ve discovered I absolutely must have uninterrupted quiet time to let ideas come into my head. The craziness of every day and the “must do” list and phones and tweets suck the space from my brain. So I shut everything off to allow the space.
OMG! What a post! It made my day! Thank you!
Rose Costas says
Thanks Marc for a another great post. Like everyone else you question your ability sometimes and that is normal but one thing I want you to know today is that you are my mentor. I am not a writer but after reading your post weekly for a while now along with others I always come back to yours.
For me your writing is more than just a way of expressing yourself and making a living, it is something you do because you love it and love people. Every time I read a piece from you I feel as though you are sitting right in front of me and speaking to me directly. Like so many of the great writers you have mentioned who have inspired our lives, you have impacted so many for the years you have been writing on line as well.
I am trying to put the suggestions and ideas you recommend in practice and my life is getting better and I am feeling stronger and confident and grateful. I am a work in progress and thanks to people like you I believe I too can achieve my dreams.
Thanks again for another great post.
Wonderful post. I especially love the Post-Traumatic Growth concept. Never give up.
Wow! This is exactly what I needed to hear this morning. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
These tips are invaluable! A great collection of creative habits!
Nice article, for me I daydream everyday and anytime I’m free, but don’t know if I have to schedule my daydreaming because for now I have no schedule for that and it works.
Thank you for this. While I know it will speak to many, it feels like a gift written specifically for me, for today.
One has to but be willing to open the door to ones own mind to let these thoughts in and they seem to just grow and flower, thank you for putting the seeds there, I must thank myself for allowing them to grow.
Sandy Peckinpah says
Such an insightful post! My husband was a prolific writer for television and he used to start every work day by handwriting a letter to someone. He’s in heaven now, but I still use his letter trigger to start my own writing process. Works every time, and often my letters are to him.
Mary Lou Green says
Thanks for this incredible reminder to look inward and pay attention to what’s in the nooks and crannies of my brain. Lately I’m feeling the need to speed through my writing because there is so much to do that the pressure is building. I read the research paper titled “Ode To Positive Constructive Daydreaming” (thanks for the link), and I was reassured that my “inattention” can actually be my creative side trying to get my attention. I also appreciate the reminder to create a ritual for starting the day. I have let that slide, and I don’t feel as balanced without it. Part of that ritual is checking my Inbox in the morning, and reading anything I find from you in there. I agree with Rose Costas that your writing makes me feel like you are sitting with me, and we’re having a conversation. You and Angel are part of my Step 5 (Observe your mentors and study the work of other masters). Thanks so much for your information and inspiration.
Terry Jorden says
Just before reading this post, I was watching this 2010 video of Carlos Santana playing George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps. It seems to me that this is an example of the creative “connecting the dots”. Thank you very much for your blog today. It includes so many things that I have always found to be true.
Thank you. Please don’t ever stop sharing. This article has inspired me today and I really needed to be inspired today!
Sometimes, after holding on for so long, it’s necessary to throw it all in the air…Let it fall where it will and begin again. A fresh start.
The fear we often feel is us thinking about the doing. Once you’re in “the doing” there ain’t no going back and that’s usually when the magic happens.
This is a great post! Thanks for the tips 🙂
Larry Hochman says
What “triggered” me was the section on triggers, although I call them anchor behaviors. Those things that we associate with powerful emotions, preferably good ones. It takes a bit to consciously create that neural pathway, but once we do, it can be our best friend.
Thanks for a fun read!
Bella Seib says
What a spot on article. Thankyou for your work. Very inspirational and uplifting. You have a beautiful gift to give. A lot of these same thoughts were bubbling up for me today whilst wishing to dream up some amazing new beginnings. I will put your words up on the wall to remind me! Thanks again. 🙂
Excellent article! I’ve learned some great tips from your website!
This is fantastic! I can realate to #7 and will have to give our future ex business partners a big hug and thank them for not believing in our dream and doing everything in their power to keep it from coming true. The post traumatic growth enabled us to go out on our own and make our dream a reality … a very successful reality. 🙂
Amy Israel says
Thank you for this wonderful post!
Many Happy Returns
Agreed. Creativity can be crafted with practice. We are all creative. It’s about getting ourselves in the right mindset, and using our tools of choice to express ourselves.
Marc Chernoff says
I’m glad so many of you resonated with this post. Creativity, for all of us, is vitally important, and I think it’s not talked about enough on a broader scale.
Anyway, thanks for all the wonderful replies. 🙂 I hope you all are having a wonderful week.
And remember that the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. Keep believing in yourself and doing your thing.
Sherry Walker-Taylor says
So glad that I checked your website. I feel like I’ve finally met people who understand me. The 7 Rituals really hit home. Thank you!
Sally Gardner says
declan ryan says
Thank you Marc and Angel. 🙂
Wonderful insights here.
I also add to scheduling in new experiences–schedule in things you fear doing. It can be anything: Driving long distances; going to a movie alone; inviting an acquaintance to lunch to see if you can make a new friend; taking a class in a subject you feel you are “weak” in; being a beginner at anything…
To keep my creative juices going, I go to a monthly “Artist’s Way” group that members of a class based on that book started after the class was over.
We have all kinds of different artists from film-makers, to poets, writers, textile arts, actors, so many creative people. We share our work & oftentimes bring a project in our “field” to introduce the others to a medium they have never experienced. That is a new (& scary for me) experience.
We appreciate each other so much & spur each other on & model artistic work.
Kush Kulshrestha says
I really believe your point 7, that the time when we are down can be one of the most creative and productive time we experience.
Good article, got me thinking. Thank you.
Thank you for great tips. I wrote down the Marcus Aurelius quote to put up on my wall. “Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?”. Great for time management and focusing on less.
I believe in learning from mentors and observing great artists. I don’t learn much in school. I learn from my mentors and inspirations.
I have learned that new experiences really sets a spark on my creative side. This is why I am not afraid to expose myself to things of the unknown.