“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.”
— Steve Jobs
Over the past 15 years, through our coaching practice and live events, Angel and I have spoken with hundreds of entrepreneurs, artists, and creative types about their unique daily rituals and routines. The truly 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 help them fine-tune the process of getting from where they are to where they want to be. A good coach-client relationship is truly win-win.
Today, I want to share seven of the most common and prolific rituals and routines we’ve seen repeated by the most creative people we’ve worked with over the years…
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 to an extent, 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 and routines 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 that quote to my attention about a decade ago. Today I have it pinned to the bulletin board in my home 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 doing hour-long weight training sessions immediately prior to working on their creative projects. For example, take a look at our client Fay’s morning routine which she says was inspired by the renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp’s morning routine. Here’s what she recently told us:
“I begin every weekday with one simple ritual: I wake up at 6 a.m., put on my workout clothes, call an Uber, walk outside my home, and the Uber driver takes me to my gym. I workout for an hour and fifteen 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 or the jog; what’s important is getting in that Uber 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 these triggers 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’s triggered automatically every day, 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. Use daily downtime for 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 co-authored an interesting research paper titled Ode To Positive Constructive Daydreaming, daydreaming can actively 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 often begins at the end of a comfort zone.
Of course a big part of this process happens parallel to being “in rhythm,” working hard to stretch your creative and intellectual muscles. But new little experiences help balance out the consistency of effective routines — they give perspective and 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 you can’t even see 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, it 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 is an essential building block for mastering your craft and cultivating your creativity at the same time.
In his bestselling book “Mastery”, Robert Greene emphasizes the importance of studying the work of others using Mozart as an example. Here’s an excerpt:
“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 musical 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 style for nearly a year and absorbing it into his own vocabulary. This gave Mozart’s newest music a fresh and surprising creative quality.”
The bottom line is that studying mentors and other masters can help you diversify your own creative output, cross-pollinate ideas and strategies, and introduce 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 on and trust your intuition.
Intuition is very real and something that is never wise to ignore; it comes from deep within your subconscious and is derived from a combination of your previous life experiences and your instinctive snap judgements 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 over 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 significant life challenges. Therefore the silver lining of these challenges is that they were the catalyst to the creation of some pretty epic masterpieces. In fact, an emerging field of psychology called Post-Traumatic Growth has suggested that many people are able to use their hardships and limitations for substantial creative and intellectual development. Specifically, researchers have found that hard times can actually help people grow their long-term contentment, emotional strength, and resourcefulness.
The bottom line is that life’s problems and obstacles often force us to be creative with solutions. 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 can be extremely beneficial to creativity and personal growth. (Note: Angel and I discuss this in detail in the Adversity chapter of “1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently”.)
Let’s keep moving forward, creatively.
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.”
That’s 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 a decade and a half, Angel and I have been publishing new articles every week on Marc and Angel Hack Life. 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 social media. Regardless of which outcome I’m dealing with, I’ve come to realize one thing: As human beings, we are often terrible judges of our own creative 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 creative 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 usually no point 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 gifts with the world.
Just like Walt said, the key is to “keep moving forward.”
Now, it’s your turn…
Yes, it’s your turn to exercise your creative genius today! But before you go, please leave Angel and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this essay. Your feedback is important to us. 🙂
Which creative ritual or routine above resonated the most?
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Photo by: Anthony Sigalas