Kicking the Habit: Notion Potion #6 by Jordan Castillo Price

It’s time to quench your creativity thirst with another good swig of Notion Potion and get those creative juices flowing. This month, let’s explore the pros and cons of habits!

Yea or Nay?

Many creativity blogs and lists encourage us to make small changes. Try a new food. Shop at a different store. Leave your house via the back door rather than the front. By doing something small and out of the ordinary, the theory goes, we shake up our creative thinking. We begin looking at old things new ways. We make new and exciting connections that spark our creativity.

Since I’ve spent a lot of time traveling lately, the idea of doing something different to spark the creative process seemed like the perfect thing to blog about. But once I started digging deeper into the topic, I searched for hours and couldn’t come up with a single scientific study that supported the anecdotal evidence that doing small mundane things differently is inspirational. Does turning your socks inside out and putting on a foreign radio station make you more creative? Plenty of bloggers would have you think so…but all the scientific studies I can find suggests otherwise.

Choose your Focus

Habits are a necessary part of day-to-day life. Without habitual practices, we would need to pay an inordinate amount of attention to every little thing we did. Could you imagine being required to apply the same amount of focus to making coffee or brushing your teeth that you would to navigating a winding road on a dark and stormy night? Not only would it be harrowing, it would be exhausting!

Many common tasks simply don’t merit intense focus. In her article Routines Don’t Stifle Creativity, Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson points out that developing a level automatic efficiency on mundane tasks such as vacuuming the carpet leaves one’s mind free to explore more interesting creative concerns.

The idea that artists are comforted by routines is explored in Buy LinkUncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields. He claims that eating the same thing for breakfast every day or taking the same road to work can function as something he calls a “certainty anchor,” a reliable touchstone that will allow creative types to feel safe among the mundane aspects of their lives, thereby freeing them to navigate the uncertainty of their creative pursuits.

If routine and habits are comforting and necessary, what’s with all the advice out there in the blogosphere about switching things up just for the sake of doing something new?

YMMV

My guess is that your mileage may vary. If you’re a creature of habit, finding a new route to work may stress you out rather than causing an idea for a new painting to pop into your head. But if you’ve decided you’re having a “creative day” where you’re approaching your day with an attitude of play and exploration, and at the end of that day you’re going to journal about new ideas for an upcoming project, then taking a side-street and seeing where it leads might be just what you need.

The entire point of doing something different is to shift to a state of mindfulness. We’re much less likely to zone out while we’re looking for the turnoff on an unfamiliar road than we are pulling into our own driveways. It’s up to use to choose the most effective places in our lives to try those new things. Sure, you could change a random part of your routine in an effort to get the creative juices flowing. But it seems to me there is only so much mileage you can get from mowing your lawn in a funny hat.

Why not focus your changes and explorations on the things that will actually benefit from experimentation: your writing, your artwork, or your music?

When we explore creative outlets, efficiency is not the point, and habits no longer serve us. We don’t work on our creative projects simply for the outcome. If we did, wouldn’t spend hours choosing fabric, cutting out patterns, and sewing the perfect seam. We’d grab a new blouse off the rack. We wouldn’t brew up a batch of lye, blend a bunch of expensive oils, mix them together and mold them into loaves. We’d swing by Walgreens and pick up some soap.

Break Out

This month, I do encourage you do try something new—but not just any old thing. If you’re going to make the effort to step out of your comfort zone, do it with one of your creative projects. Give yourself permission to be outrageous. To stretch your boundaries. And if you’ve got a whole day (or even half a day, or a few hours) consider doing a play-day where you try a bunch of new and random stuff. But do it mindfully, and once you’re safely ensconced in the comfort of your routine again, take some time to reflect on new approaches you might bring to any stagnant or thorny parts of your creative projects.

Author and artist Jordan Castillo Price is the owner of JCP Books and the author of many award-winning gay paranormal thrillers, including PsyCop and Magic Mansion. Her latest series, Turbulence, is a twisted foray into the Bermuda Triangle. Check it out at JCPbooks.com

Author

Author and artist Jordan Castillo Price is the owner of JCP Books LLC. She writes paranormal, horror and thriller novels from her isolated and occasionally creepy home in rural Wisconsin.

15 comments

  • Oops, missed this! I’ve got to say, I completely agree. Just today I decided to take a new route for my run. All through the unfamiliar fields of cattle I had to dodge cowpats and it took all my concentration. It wasn’t until I was back on the familiar, end part of the run, that the story ideas started flowing.

    I get all my best creative thinking done when washing up, walking or running along familiar routes.

    Reply
    • Oh, I love that you have a nice mode of comparison (the beginning vs. the end of your run.)

      I used to do a senior citizen’s aerobics class that was basically the same ten moves every week, and I got lots and lots of ideas in there. There’s something about moving around, but without much concentration, that sparks ideas for me.

      Reply
      • Movement definitely seems to exercise the muse, doesn’t it? I always get my best thinking done that way. Not so much when gardening, though. I think I’m concentrating too much on what I’m doing, and observing nature.

        Reply
  • Time and energy are the things you need to be creative – probably. I can see both sides of this one. Having as much of the routine working on autopilot gives me more time to think about more interesting things (possibly creative things). But when that thinking time is focussed on non-creative things like work or home problems it doesn’t help my creativity. Breaking the routine by going away from the familiar can help reset my thoughts to something more useful, but only after I get back to my familiar routine. Maybe this is a physical form of writing something outrageous.

    Maybe the act of deliberately wearing your socks inside out is enough to derail habit-thinking and allow creative-thinking to resurface? I suspect it is something that will be as individual as writing process.

    Reply
    • I love these ideas. The fact that maybe there is no clear cut answer makes hashing through it all the more interesting for me 🙂

      The idea of a “thought-reset” is something that might be fun to delve into more deeply. I have pretty sweeping highs and lows and can definitely tell when I need a reset.

      Reply
  • Arggh, I meant to write, “It’s something we might not do EXCEPT in the most important of cases,”

    Anybody else notice that it’s no longer possible to edit a comment on this site (due to a long script running)?

    Reply
  • No, you’re right. It’s not the creative energy that’s finite (physical energy, yes), but it’s the TIME. More of your time will be taken up

    (1) trying to figure out the new way of doing things, or
    (2) psyching yourself to jump in and do something different in the first place, or
    (3) watching yourself to make sure you follow through on the different thing rather than sliding into your routine.

    With all that going on, trying something different can be more time consuming than sticking to routine, however mind-numbing the routine can get. Therefore, it’s something we might not do expect in the most important of cases (our most creative work), like you’re pointing out with this article.

    Who could blame Evanovich for not wanting to put the extra time into getting creative with dinner? Her writing is the best place for that time and will have the biggest emotional return on her investment. Probably most other stuff in life can be prioritized and made routine or maybe hired out.

    Reply
    • Yes, all of this makes a lot of sense to me. What’s strange though is that TIME can be very elastic for me. It can take me fifteen minutes to write a single sentence sometimes. And sometimes I can do a day’s work in two hours.

      Of course I’d love to have that sort of compressed output all the time. I could get everything done and relax the rest of the day. But I don’t think there’s a key to forcing that sort of laser focus. Or maybe it’s simmering under the surface and it’s not ready ’til it’s ready.

      (Hm, I just successfully edited this. But I only had 5 minutes in which to do it.)

      Reply
  • I think I’m going to go mow my lawn in a funny hat. I actually have a jester’s cap complete with jingle bells. 😀

    No, seriously, this is a very insightful article. I know you’re right about routine forming a comfortable foundation that frees your mind to think. Doing housework can be so mindless yet comforting that it frees me up to think of good ideas.

    It takes time and energy to think of new ways of doing things, and you’re totally right that we shouldn’t waste it on coming up with a new route to the office for no real reason.

    I’m very intrigued with your suggestion about reserving it (the time and energy required to try a new approach) to the creativity). That’s how we all used to do art as kids — we’d just dive into it and start throwing clay or paint around to express our emotions at the time.

    When I get really blocked on writing, I often get the urge to switch into a little woodcarving or tinwork for a change. Maybe I should stick with the writing instead but try writing a letter from one character to another in first-person or something. Shake up the tenses and viewpoints to dislodge some unexpected ideas.

    Thanks, Jordan, for this food-for-thought. 😀

    Reply
    • As I was writing the part about the funny hat I realized I must have been thinking of my neighbor. She has a whole getup she mows the lawn in, including a big back brace and a hat with a pom-pom. But I guess it’s routine for her, since she always wears it!

      It does indeed take time and energy. But then I wonder, maybe the “energy” part isn’t finite. Maybe it’s more like the water faucet in my kitchen, where I don’t have to think about how much it costs or whether there will be any water there when I turn it. Unless there are backhoes digging up a neighbor’s lawn, the water just happens. For me, it might be freeing to think of creativity like that.

      Did I even mention that Janet Evanovich said in an interview that cooking dinner wasn’t an economical use of her creative time and energy? I remember at the time thinking how smart it was. Lately, though, I’m wondering if I tend to be too “precious” with my creativity and maybe it’s more of a state of mind, a choice, rather than an expenditure of energy.

      (Wow, I’m all over the place on this issue, LOL)

      Reply
  • Hi Jordan,

    Scientific proof aside, from personal experience I can say that I don’t agree with this “do something different to fuel up your creativity” statement. At least when it comes to everyday/superficial/ environmental things.

    I need my routine, :coffee: my familiar things around me, my own room and preferably a closed door between myself and the world to be creative, even if I “only” write a review. It’s even worse with my own writing.
    On the occasion of a severe case of writer’s block, I’ve tried breaking my routine–new laptop, writing in the garden, writing in another room, writing by hand. But no, nothing, nada, zilch.

    What got my creative juices flowing again was doing exactly what you suggested, I tried writing something entirely different than I usually do. Et voila, hallelujah.

    BTW, have you ever read Stephen King’s “On Writing”? At least in this teeny tiny regard, I’m obviously just like him 😀 😀 😀

    Reply
    • I adore On Writing! I reread it every couple years or so.

      I must have been too convoluted in making my point. So many blogs say to change up your routine, however I discovered there was no scientific proof to support that method. In fact, the more scholarly studies suggested the opposite, that habits for the mundane things in life are conducive to creativity because we don’t have to stand there and reinvent the way we do the dishes.

      Your attempt to break your writer’s block sounds a lot like mine. If the words aren’t coming, going outside only makes it worse. Then I notice the bugs, the wind, the sun, etc.

      Thanks so much for commenting, Feliz!

      Reply
      • But yes, you’ve made your point clear. It’s just, my only creativity lies in writing, that’s why I focused on that.

        that habits for the mundane things in life are conducive to creativity because we don’t have to stand there and reinvent the way we do the dishes exactly! I got my best ideas while ironing the laundry.

        Reply
    • Totally agree with you there, Jordan. Time and again, I’ve struggled with a plot point or tricky characterisation, only to have the answer pop into my head while I’m on the rowing machine at the gym, or doing the ironing. 🙂

      Reply
      • It almost seems like “go clean the house” could be a plan B for when the words aren’t coming, but I’m worried I might perceive it as a sort of punishment. Maybe “go for a walk” would make me balk less.

        Reply

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