Everything you will read below has been verified by me over the last 40 days.
So I can say with near complete confidence that the following habits will help increase your productivity and creativity. I saw my mood improve, and my productivity as well creative output increase in about a week. The most curious benefit by far was that my nails grew longer.
One of the unfortunate habits brought on by my anxiety is a compulsive need to devour my fingers. So it was a pleasant surprise to notice the change (pointed by my ever observant mother).
The diversity of those who read this blog prohibits me from claiming that this is guaranteed to work for anyone. Neither can I guarantee that results will arrive on schedule. I do know for a fact that what I recommend will be difficult for some.
Because when I say “improve creativity by doing just the basics” I am talking about basic self-care. Things some of us do routinely and maybe even take for granted but are a very real challenge for others.
My hope is to provide a well investigated perspective on the reason we will never be without music, art or stories. My hope it is that my experience will help other creative’s lives a little bit easier.
Which is probably why the following thoughts have been floating around in my head.
- You don’t have the credibility to write about this.
- These are things people already know.
- This will not make a difference.
These are not the sort of thoughts that are typically good idea to share with your audience when you are giving out advice. But the truth is I, like many others, have these sort of thoughts all the time. And if you decide to start practicing self-care you will encounter these sort of thoughts too.
They may sound something like this:
- No Duh.
- I get that it works for others but it’s not for me.
- Let’s get the main takeaways, that should be enough.
I am not an expert on this subject, but I do know that each of those statements has that essential grain of truth that makes them tempting to believe. So a part of us will always believe these thoughts. Something that has guided me the last few years have been the following excerpt.
“A part of you does not want to be disciplined, and that part is not your enemy.”
–Self-discipline in Ten Days
Unfortunately, to offer any nuanced advice on such complex topics as self-care would require writing a book or doing a seminar. Lucky for us such a book exists, and it is recommended companion for this post.
It currently has a 4.4 stars rating on Amazon and I naturally give it 5/5 stars for being–practical, easy to read, and insightful. Which is why it is one of the select few products that are recommended by this blog.
So without further adieu, let’s start.
1. Exercising Helps You Get More Out of Your Time and Work. (Source)
You, me and everyone we know about the benefits of exercise. Yet the social life of many creatives often involve: drinking, unhealthy foods, gorging on media and little to no exercise.
Though this may be a symptom of the economics of being a ‘starving artist’. We as a society, and creatives themselves, seem to make a culture out of dreading it. Let me be clear about what I am saying.
The expectation of artists to be cigarette smoking unhealthy eccentrics hurts their creativity and productivity.
The problem is that the creative field idolizes ‘outside of the box’ thinking. It then treats focus, concentration, and determination as the redheaded stepchild. The popular opinion of many artists seem to be that these are secondary and creativity is king.
Yet these secondary attributes are what makes art happen. Ideas are great, but finished products are what’s expected if you are an artist.
When it comes to that, convergent thinking is as important as divergent thinking. It is the ability to give the “correct” answer to standard questions that do not require significant creativity. Like it or not, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel for most of the decisions you make on a creative project.
A painting is a billion practiced brush strokes. A novel is a few hundred hours of sitting down and writing. A guitar solo is hitting every note exactly the way you practiced it.
It may be a hard pill to swallow for some, but science has my back on this.
Studies have shown that aerobic exercise can actually help during creative blocks. It is also well-known that many authors we know and love use walking to bolster their creativity. The best explanation for this seems to be that exercise improves mood, quality of sleep, reduces stress and anxiety. All of which help us be more creative.
Mismanaging these areas can cause or exacerbate problems related to:
As you might guess all of these affect your ability to come up with an idea, plan it and see it through.
For a great resource on health and fitness check out: Marley’s Health and Fitness.
2. A Full Night’s Rest Can Help You Spot Opportunities (Source, Source Two)
In the linked study, the participants were split into two groups and given a task to complete. Unknown to the participants was that there was a secret (ultra fast) way of completing the task. The test was to see which groups were better at identifying this strategy. Here’s the thing, only 23% of participants from one group found the secret strategy compared to 60% of the other group.
So why did one group perform better? Because the other group was kept awake the night before.
Artists, especially young artists, are borderline expected to stay up late and work. This may yield short-term benefits, but it is hardly worth the sacrifice of good health and good sex.
Here are some general facts about sleep loss that I personally found pretty motivating:
- It’s used for torture.
- It’s associated with erectile dysfunction and diminishing sex drive.
- It causes memory issues.
- It makes it difficult to concentrate.
3. Music Makes You Happier and More Productive (Source)
First of all I love the following quote from Parag Chordia who is the director of the Music Intelligence Lab at Georgia Tech.
We’ve never found a culture that has no language–we’ve never found a culture that has no music. So, music seems to be universal.
Music’s ability to improve cognition, learning and memory has been proven again and again. So it stands to reason that this should also be true for creativity. Creating a playlist for my morning block (my morning routine) helped me get started each day, but something very interesting happened over time. Not only did it get easier to get up at 5AM but I began looking forward to it.
As luck would have it there was an explanation for this.
In particular, dopamine release in the ventral striatum seems to play a major role in the rewarding aspect of music listening. Striatal dopamine also influences reinforcement learning, such that subjects with greater dopamine efficacy learn better to approach rewards while those with lesser dopamine efficacy learn better to avoid punishments.
Creativity was higher for participants who listened to ‘happy music’ (i.e., classical music high on arousal and positive mood) while performing the divergent creativity task, than for participants who performed the task in silence.
So what kind of music should you listen to while working?
Whatever makes you happy.
“The key to it is that you have to enjoy the music,” Frankcis Rauscher, who studied the Mozart effect in 1993. “If you hate Mozart you’re not going to find a Mozart Effect. If you love Pearl Jam, you’re going to find a Pearl Jam effect.” [source]
If you’re curious about the playlist I built for my morning sessions, you can check it out here.
4.Challenging Yourself Makes You More Confident And Capable
Human beings can learn to live under most non-life threatening environments. Unfortunately this includes living with depression, anxiety and stress. We are as remarkable in our ability to hold on to habits as we are at challenging them with new knowledge and new methods.
The secret to challenge ourselves, I think, is to take a moment and consider what we envision when we think of challenge.
Is it massive? Is it ominous and terrifying?
Our brain is good at avoiding danger which also makes it good at avoiding things that we perceive as danger. So what happens if we imagine a challenge as a series of small and manageable steps.
I started promising myself to keep three promises to myself. Mostly because I was starting to my existing my way organizing my goals were suffocating. So instead I made small promises that grew into larger commitments and habits.
- Count Number of cigarettes you have.
- Have one less cigarette than yesterday.
- Have one less cigarette.
- Drink A full bottle of water before work ends.
- Drink two bottles of water before work ends.
- Write for an hour a day.
- Write a blog post day.
The ‘promise system’ worked way better than any other method of tracking that I had used before. It was simple, easy to remember, and completely between myself and I. There is a very vivid sense of satisfaction that comes from keeping a promise to yourself.
It might sound silly, but I believe keeping small promises to yourself is how manifest bigger changes within ourselves. Changes such as believing by putting in the time and we can be better.
Which is why I wanted the take away for this article to be simple. Something that can be as easy to accomplish as a small promise to yourself. That all someone would have to do is say aloud.
“I am going to get a full night of rest.”
“I am going to listen to music that makes me happy.”
“I’m going to take a walk.”
That’s how easy it can be to challenge yourself. The biggest misgiving I can see someone having about this is that it is setting the bar too low for yourself. Though there is truth to that particular misgiving, I would say that the benefit of setting the bar low and practicing the act of raising it to be far greater.