5 Ways to Build a Creative Habit

Welcome to Good Enough Creative, a podcast for creative people.

Hi again! I’m your host, Marie Greene, and today we’re talking about building a creative habit.

And before we talk about how, I want to talk about WHY. Why does it matter if we make time for creativity? Why does it matter that we build habits around it?

Have you ever decided you’re going to blow the dust off your art supplies and sit down to work on something – something you have done in a long time – and you finally give yourself the space to do it, and it feels kind of like you are starting at the beginning?

Some things aren’t like this. I feel like you can pick up knitting or crochet or sewing and feel like you haven’t missed a beat, even if it’s been a very long time.

But some things, like writing or painting, can be much harder to tap back into when you’ve taken a long time away.

My husband used to paint quite a bit back in the day, and it’s only been recently that he’s had time to get back to doing it. I’m sure he’s been inspired by watching me with my fledgling painting adventure, but it’s been interesting to see him pull out his old paintings as he compares them to what he’s making now. He’s been specifically focused on trees – and I’ve heard him mention, more than once, that he USED to be able to paint trees, but now every time he sits down to paint one, it doesn’t look right.

Look, he tells me. Look at this tree I painted ten years ago! It looks so much better than the ones I’m painting right now; it feels like I went backward in my skills.

Now, to be fair, I think the trees all look very similar, but I understand what he means. The same is true for me when I’ve had a long break from writing my blog or my podcast, or from working on a new knitting design. Even baking and gardening can feel a little rusty if I’m out of the habit.

The habit not only ensures that you are making space in your day for the part of your life that will make your life richer, more vibrant and more inspired, but it also means you’re going to keep growing, instead of always feeling like you’re starting back at the beginning.

If every time you sit down to do creative work, if you feel like you’re back at square one, you’ll spend more energy being frustrated and less energy feeling creative.

Having the habit ensures that you can make incremental progress, continue to grow in your skills, and spend less time stuck in the weeds. If you want to get past the struggle, you have to build the habit – that’s where the momentum is. So if we want that momentum and we want the opportunity to grow past the beginner phase, we have to build the habit into our lives. Even when we’re busy. Even when we don’t have anyone else cheering us on or helping us make it a priority. It’s up to us to make it matter, and here are 5 ways to do it.

  1. Do one thing at a time. This creative habit of mine is a little nontraditional, but I want to tell you why it works for me and why – I think – creative people really benefit from this addition to their goal-setting. I have a little reminder above my desk that says, “one thing at a time” – because I am notorious for doing eleven things at a time, and every single one of them suffers a little bit and takes longer because of my lack of focus. Task-switching, or moving back and forth between various things on our list – is a huge drain on your time and energy. Not that it stops me from doing it; I swear that this is my default mode, and it takes every ounce of willpower to NOT do it. Because when I do, I end up getting a little bit of everything done, but nothing gets to the finish line – at least not that day. So it always feels like I’m living under the weight of a lot of loose ends. When I decided to start doing daily podcasts for the month of February, I had to push myself to become more efficient. Instead of outlining the episode over four or five different sessions, and then later recording it, and later editing it, and finally uploading it – which could take a week if I’m not careful – I had to make all of those steps happen in one day, so that I could repeat it again the next day. And the next. There simply wouldn’t be enough time to spread it out the way I used to. So I told myself, stay in this spot and do the whole thing, start to finish. What I learned by doing this is that it didn’t actually take as long as I thought it would, and I was able to focus so much more on the project when I didn’t stop and start periodically. But oh my goodness, I could feel those distractions popping into my head. Oh! I thought. I need to run downstairs and pack an order. Or – ooh, I forgot to start my laundry. Or, I’d feel the urge to check my email or make a quick call. But when I reminded myself to just focus on the one thing at a time, and that everything else would still be there waiting for me when I finished, I was able to cross a whole thing off my list in one sitting. It was kind of a revelation. And now it feels so much easier for me to maintain the habit of working on my podcast every day, and I know that – even though I’m not going to keep doing it every single day forever (this was just a personal challenge to really get this habit deeply ingrained) – I now know what I’m capable of, and the habit is set. When I sit down and go into podcast-mode, my brain knows what to do. The habit has been created, and now it’s a lot easier to do.
  • Write it down. Research shows we are 42% more likely to accomplish a goal when we write it down. A creative habit is every bit as important as any other goal we might be working toward. Write down the habit you want to build, and put it somewhere you can see it. And more than just the WHAT, include a note about the WHY. Why do you want to build this habit? Is it to connect with others? To inspire those who need to hear your message? To uplift people who need it? To express your unique self to the world? Whatever it is, write it down.
  • Make a schedule. Consistency is one of the most important parts of any habit, and the best way to be consistent is to decide on a schedule. I know that creativity loves to be fluid and messy and surprising, but it doesn’t mean we can’t put it on the calendar. I’m willing to be surprised by what happens in the space I’ve created for it, but I also know that if I don’t schedule it, it’s probably not going to happen. And the more of a routine you can create, the easier it will be to do the thing. Life might feel super busy and you may think – I’m just going to carve out one afternoon a month. But let me say this, if you can only get to it once a month, you’ll be back in that spot of feeling like you’re not gaining any momentum – like you’re not making progress, and every time you sit down to do it, it’ll feel like you’re starting at the beginning. A creative habit has to happen more often than just once a month, it needs to be something we can build into our regular routine. I realize that daily goals can be pretty challenging, although if you keep them manageable and make them bite size, they’re not impossible. But remember the advice to set a goal with a range, like 3-5 times a week (we talked about this the other day, it was some advice from Mel Robbins, and there are studies to back up why it’s effective). So grab a calendar and choose your favorite color of highlighter and run a little line across the top of 3-5 days in the week that you might be able to carve out time for your creative habit. Mark up the whole month. And then as you get closer to each week, choose the days you want to commit and write down a little block of time where you highlighted. The cool thing about using a highlighter is that it’s just a reminder that you’re trying to find a space for your creative habit, but if you’re not able to do all 5 days that week, it’s okay. Your calendar will look pretty and you won’t have anything staring at you in the face saying, “Uh, you said you were going to do this thing and you didn’t.” Instead, look at those colorful spots and use them as nudges to make the time, but aim for a range, instead of a set number. We are more than willing to put other people and their needs on our schedules, but if you want to build a creative habit, you have to be willing to put yourself on there.
  • Make it as easy as possible. If your goal is woodworking and you want to do it a few times a week, then you’ll need a place to do it. You’ll want to know where your supplies are, and organize them in a way that you can find. If every time you go to the woodshed, you have to clear off a space to work and dig around to find your supplies, you will spend all of your time just trying to get ready. My husband is notorious for doing this – he will spend an afternoon in the garage with the intention of working on a birdhouse, only to come in a few hours later having never even started it. Instead, he spent the whole time trying to find the pieces that he knew were in there somewhere, and never actually got to the point of working on the very thing that took him out there. Can you relate to this? Have you ever carved out time to work on something and then ended up spending the whole time just trying to get ready? When you decide to build the habit, part of that process has to be to decide to set yourself up for success. Decide when and where you’ll do it. Make sure you have the supplies at the ready. If we spend most of our creative time trying to dig through clutter or just find the stuff we had planned to use, we’ll be a lot less likely to want to make the time for it in the future. We won’t come away feeling inspired – instead, we’ll be frustrated. And this is a way we may end up accidentally sabotaging our creative goals.
  • Remember that a creative habit doesn’t have to produce results. One of the most important things I’ve learned in the last few years is that not everything has to produce a result in order to be worth your time. Sometimes I’ll sit down to paint and I don’t produce a single decent thing. Nothing worth keeping. But the time and the experience is the reason I keep showing up. In fact, it’s been months since I painted anything that I would even want to use as a bookmark, much less actually save or show someone else. I recently found a teacher online who walked us through an exercise of painting leaves and she talked about how we’re just making marks on the page – and what makes them leaves is that we’re using shades of green. That felt liberating to hear, because not every mark I made on the page looked like a leaf. But I was learning how the different brushes work and testing out my ability to mix colors, and I didn’t produce anything worth writing home about, but I did still show up to establish the creative habit. We have a lot of pressure these days to produce something in order for our time to be considered well-spent. And I would offer that this is a belief that will keep us stuck and make it harder to give ourselves permission to learn. Not everything you make or attempt will turn out, but that doesn’t mean your time was wasted. The creative habit is about making the space and knowing that your joy matters. It’s about recognizing that you have something inspired that is worth bringing to life, even if no one sees it but you. You don’t have to produce a darn thing for it to matter.

Building a creative habit is a form of self-care; it will allow you more capacity to handle life’s surprises, to overcome challenges, and to find your place in this messy, beautiful world. It’s the kind of space that no one else will carve out for you, so you must make it for yourself. Create a more beautiful life and a more joyful journey by building creative habits in your week.

If you’re a knitter and you’re looking for ways to build more creative habits in your life, check out my website at oliveknits.com or join me and my lovely community at Knit Camp – you’ll find the Knit Camp app in the App Store and Google Play Store and we would love to welcome you. Check the show notes for more details.

Until next time, my friend – you’ve got this.

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