Download Here: 21 Day Making-Practice Chart, to turn your creative intention into a creative habit.
“We are what we repeatedly do,” the roman philospher Aristotle famously proclaimed.
How do you embed your creative practice so deeply that it become habitual, that you do it like brushing your teeth, without your con-mind even questioning it. There was a time when it moaned about having to brush your teeth but now you do it without even thinking about it.
That’s the power of routine.
This notion of acting without thinking is known in science as “automaticity” and common wisdom has it that it takes 21 days to rewire our brain in this way.
Choreographer Twyla Tharp shares in her book, The Creative Habit, how she has set up her flow practice to be a habit. “I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5.30am, put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st St and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours.
“The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go, I have completed the ritual. It’s a simple act, but doing it the same way each morning habitualizes it – makes it repeatable, easy to do.”
If the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, you may need to do something that locks you in. At a time in my life while I was having medical treatment and finding it challenging to maintain my Inspiration Meditation practice at home, I volunteered to run it as a morning meditation at a local yoga center. I couldn’t dither – Will I? Won’t I? Now? Later? – when people were waiting for me to turn up and facilitate the session.
TRY THIS: Getting the Practice Habit
What do you need to do to set up core creative routine, the practices you need to nourish mind body and spirit? What is your equivalent of Tharp’s taxi ride? What would make practice your daily companion? F-R-E-E- Write your answers to these questions.
“Everything that happens in my day is a transaction between the external world and my internal world,” says Tharp. “Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds my creativity. But without [practice] I cannot see it, retain it, and use it.”
In Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick, psychologist Jeremy Dean cites an influential study from University College London that gives a more nuanced interpretation around how long it takes for a new habit to take root:
Ninety-six participants were asked to choose an everyday behavior that they wanted to turn into a habit. They all chose something they didn’t already do that could be repeated every day; many were health-related: people chose things like “eating a piece of fruit with lunch” and “running for 15 minutes after dinner.” Each of the 84 days of the study, they logged into a website and reported whether or not they’d carried out the behavior, as well as how automatic the behavior had felt.
There was [actually]considerable variation in how long habits took to form depending on what people tried to do. People who resolved to drink a glass of water after breakfast were up to maximum automaticity after about 20 days, while those trying to eat a piece of fruit with lunch took at least twice as long to turn it into a habit. The exercise habit proved most tricky with “50 sit-ups after morning coffee,” still not a habit after 84 days for one participant. “Walking for 10 minutes after breakfast,” though, was turned into a habit after 50 days for another participant.
What this research suggests is that 21 days to form a habit will work for something easy but something challenging is likely to take longer.
Common sense is often creative sense, though, and it helps to take it 21 days at a time, and see how you go. Print off this map, paste it to a noticeboard or your fridge, and color in each day you practice your new habit, until it's embedded.