|Posted on 25 May, 2022 at 4:10|
“Getting an audience is hard. Sustaining an audience is hard.
It demands a consistency of thought, of purpose and of action over a long period of time.”
Consistency in your creative practice (and indeed in your life) is a valuable mindset. Building supportive habits can pull you through the days when the spark isn’t there; be the jump off point for new ideas; help you to develop.
However, being consistent in our behaviour and habits can be a challenge. This is understandable if the project or job is something we don’t enjoy doing (social media, accounts and marketing often come up in this area). But what about when the thing we are consistently not doing is the thing we most want to do, such as our creative practice? Or something which enhances our wellbeing?
The reasons we aren’t consistent can be numerous, such as:
- we forget why we are doing it
- we feel we don’t deserve it
- we don’t put ourselves first
- we think short term and forget the long game
These aren’t all the reasons by any means. However, here are some ideas which may help you be consistent with both the activities you love and those not so much.
1. Remember your “why?”
What is it you want to do consistently? Where does it fit in with the bigger picture of your life / practice / career? What is important about that bigger picture? What does it give you now / what will it give you in the future? (This as much about the emotional reasons as the practical.) Depending what works for you, write a short paragraph, make a sketch, find a photo, get a piece of music that you can refer to when you are feeling less than inspired. (See my video “Waterloo Sunset and the Power of Visioning” as an illustration of how I used a song to keep me going.)
2. What’s the alternative?
I am always more interested in positive imagery, but let’s be radical. Just imagine someone said that you weren’t allowed to paint anymore? Or to write? Or to sing? Or to dance? How would that make you feel? (Indeed, in the COVID-19 world, this is what happened with actors and musicians in particular who were not been able to perform.) Would you just shrug your shoulders and give up? Or fight for the chance to do what you love?
(I include both 1 and 2 in here because we are all motivated differently. On a day to day level if you think about brushing your teeth, do you do it because you want 1: a lovely smile or 2: don’t want horrible trips to the dentist?!)
3. Where are you consistent?
I mentioned teeth brushing which is a small, everyday example where most of us have fairly regular habits. Think about other things which you do consistently – in any area of your life – and what/why makes you do them? List the reasons and also any tools / methods that you use to keep the habits going. What can you learn from that to use elsewhere?
4. ‘Bundle’ activities
With activities which you do habitually, can you add another to create a sequence which becomes automatic? For example, with me every work morning, I go into my office, take out my laptop, plug in the external back up drive, open up mail, calendar and to do list. If there was a morning habit I wanted to adopt, I would probably think of tacking it onto the end of this sequence. You can also bundle jobs together. Whilst multi-tasking is not always a good thing (you can end up doing several things averagely rather than one thing well), there can be exceptions. I dislike exercising, but I do half an hour on an exercise bike every morning whilst reading novels on my Kindle. I also watch some webinars on my phone whilst walking around my flat, to counter sitting all day.
5. Make a schedule.
Often we can put all the other things in the diary and completely forget to schedule our own projects. In family situations, I have often seen everyone else’s calendars getting prioritised, but not our own. Begin by scheduling in your priorities and build around those rather than trying to fit them in after everything else. This can be for daily activities or for things like a monthly self development session or an exhibition afternoon. Julia Cameron in ‘The Artist’s Way’ advocates a weekly date with yourself, and I wholeheartedly agree with her! (How do you decide if something is a priority? Does it make you feel happy? Does it make you feel fulfilled? Does it spark and /or soothe your soul? Then it is a priority.) When you put things in your schedule, remember to tell people about it so they can leave you alone.
6. Give yourself a goal.
In this instance, I am not looking at the big picture you might have in your “why”. This is in part because I have found that peoples’ big “why” is often more a way of being than anything numerical. Also, if you are feeling a bit ‘meh’, the last thing you want is to be overwhelmed by some huge target. But what if you had a small goal which was achievable every day?
It might not be feasible to spend all day in your studio and so easy to think it’s hardly worth picking up a pencil. But what if you aim to do a 5 minute sketch a day? If you have a whole morning in front of you, a 5 minute sketch is nothing, but it gets you started. If you have a day full of children, chores, business admin, then the 5 minute sketch is actually a major achievement in itself and a great marker for consistency.
By having small, achievable goals like this, or 10 minutes a day on social media or writing, you can give yourself ‘easy’ wins, which lead to a sense of achievement. Your 10 minutes can often lead into a longer session, as you get in the flow. I had a client who wanted to meditate for 30 minutes a day and kept failing miserably. Then we brought it down to 5 minutes a day. By the end of the year, he was often meditated for up to an hour a day - but his goal was still 5 minutes.
(You could marry this with 4 - bundle your sketch with your morning cup of coffee?)
7. Pick your battle.
If you have several areas of your life where you want to be consistent, trying to sort them all at once could become overwhelming. Begin by picking one thing to concentrate on and stick with it. When that becomes a habit, pick your next priority and begin working on that. This could be another way to gradually bundle activities.
8. Change how you feel.
This is not something that I often say, but on this occasion I would say if you are about to skip your habit, ignore your initial feelings. When I get up in the morning to do my half hour on my exercise bike, my first feeling is very often “I don’t feel like it…”. However, I remind myself how good I will feel afterwards both physically and mentally for having done it. This is also where reminding yourself why you are doing it is very important. In my case of riding the bike, I do it for the long game, to keep me fit and healthy into old age so that I can continue coaching people for another decade (or two). Ultimately those are the feelings which keep me going.
9. Keep track of progress.
Keeping track of your little wins is a great motivator. This can be an entry on a diary page, filling in a box on a grid, a tick on a to do list, using an app… This is a really useful thing to do when you are building a habit as it provides a reminder and a record of your progress. There is also a great sense of satisfaction when you realise you can stop tracking the activity because it has become so automatic.
10. It’s not the end of the world
Okay, this may be where I undo all the good work above! But if you miss your daily sketch, your writing session, etc., don’t beat yourself up about it. We are human and sometimes even with every best intention, stuff gets in the way. It can be easy to think, “oh well, I’ve broken the habit, so therefore it’s all been a waste of time”. But the truth is you have only missed one session. Remind yourself how far you have come, acknowledge the missed session and continue the work again the next day.
These are just a few tips and as always with any ideas that I offer, play with them, try them out, throw out the ones which don’t work, adapt them to work for you. This isn’t about getting all the tips ‘right’ but finding ways to support yourself.