Success is a habit.
How habits are more important than inspiration.
I am going to let you in on a little secret: success has more to do with creating successful habits and less to do with feeling inspired. Inspiration is important, don’t get me wrong. You need to feel inspired to start the fire of change in your life, career, relationship, whatever. But it is your habits that feed that fire.
How often have you had a genius idea that you furiously pursue in an almost manic way? You become obsessed. It’s all you think about; you chase it down for weeks into the wee hours of the night. Then one day you wake up and the energy of your idea is gone. The fire you have been madly feeding has died down to mere embers. You puff and puff and try to toss on more fuel but the flames just don’t come back.
Creative = crazy.
This has been my creative process for the past decade. Sometimes I could maintain the inspiration fire long enough to complete projects. Sometimes things fizzled out and I was left dragging my feet to meet deadlines. Consistency evaded me and I felt like I had little control over the energy of my work. I thought that I needed constant movement in my routine in order to keep the fires going. I tried to thrive off of the dramatics of my own life. I was overworked, depressed, anxious, in love, out of love, broke, making money, rehashing past stories, picking at old wounds. Nothing lasted.
When I hit burnout three years ago I tossed in the towel. I was at a complete loss and opted to travel in the hopes of discovering a new way of existing. One that was less about drama and more about getting down to the work I wanted to be doing. It was this three-year adventure that led me to the decision to hire myself. It is also the time where I read every self-help book I could get my hands on, watched countless TED talks and otherwise treated my life like one big creative experiment. (Check out the resources section of this post for some of my favorite sources of insight.)
Here’s what I learned:
Habits and routine are paramount to success.
Habits are not as sexy as wild moments of activity but in the long run, you need some in place to get to where you want to go. Routine is the conscious commitment to practicing these habits. When I returned to Canada, I decided to create a regime that I would stick to come hell or high water. I am fortunate that I learned discipline at a very young age through competitive sport. However, discipline can be learned. The sooner you begin holding yourself accountable to time, the quicker you can reap the rewards of this necessary success tool.
(I know there are humans out there who are totally erratic and very successful. You have to decide what success means to you. I want to be recognised for my creative work without having to sacrifice my health, relationships or spiritual well-being. I believe that presence, wholeness and creativity can walk hand in hand.)
Success begins the moment you wake up.
My morning routine:
5 min | Wake up. Have a big glass of water. If you’re feeling particularly groggy, have two.
30 min | Write. Three pages of freehand thoughts. This is a technique I learned from The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron. It’s a way for you to check in with yourself and unload the clutter in your my mind.
5 min | Be grateful. Write 10 things you are grateful for in a gratitude journal. Take a moment to internalise the feeling fullness that comes from acknowledging each point.
15 min | Meditate. Sit for 15 minutes. I use the Headspace app. Meditation is like brushing your teeth: it only benefits you if you do it every single day. This app will keep your meditation practice consistent. Heck, it will change your life.
5 min | Review goals. Read over your 18-month goals. Think about how good it will feel to achieve the. (I will write a goal setting blog post soon.)
30 min | Move. Go for a run, walk, cycle, dance around. The point here is to move; to wake your body up.
30 min | Connect. Do yoga, pray, play music. Spend at least 30 minutes acknowledging that you are not alone in this world. Call it whatever you want; know that you are a part of a web of energy so much bigger than your story.
Morning time is a special time.
Morning is a still time as your corner of the world has yet to fully wake up. I have found that it is much easier to practice these success habits in the morning before the chaos of life gets into full swing. Take the path of least resistance. Unless you work a night shift, you can choose to get up early and harness the powerful energy that exists at that time of day. Get up at the same time every day too, including weekends. Success is a daily practice and does not take days off.
Becoming a morning person may require you to give up your after work glass of wine or time spent surfing social media before bed. It will require you to start holding yourself accountable to the things you do that waste your time and lower your vibration. Chances are, what you have to let go of in order to invest time and energy into forming these success habits will be worth it. Commit to waking up early and stop reacting to the thoughts that make you stay up late. You need to learn to have faith that these habits and a consistent routine will serve you in the long run.
I wake up at 4:30am every day. While you might not have to get up quite that early, I do recommend getting up before sunrise. This is your life and your day. You have total control over how it begins. Why not use that to your advantage?
Let go of lack and have faith in flow.
In the past, when inspiration hit before bedtime, I would stay up late to get everything out before the spark left me. I now see that I was operating from a place of lack. I would throw my routine off out of fear that I would miss out on some big idea. When I started to let go of lack and move from a place of abundance, I no longer became frantic when ideas came to me as I was supposed to be winding down. Instead, I would write a few quick notes and trust that that those ideas and that focus would be waiting for me in the morning.
They were. Over time I have learned to have faith in the flow of life. Whether it be creating or travelling or loving, I trust in the process. I choose to believe that I will arrive at my destination exactly when I am meant to. Until I get there, the most productive thing I can do is consistently feed the fire that is keeping my vessel airborne. I can maintain habits that hold me accountable to my mind, body and soul. I have learned not to react to inspiration just as I have learned not to react to lust. Both are fickle and fleeting and need to be backed with some solid commitment in order to grow into something fully formed and meaningful.
Then comes the work.
I have been doing this particular morning routine every day without fail for the past month. (Morning pages have been a part of my routine for the past three years.) After yoga comes breakfast and the rest of my day. Sometimes I have an afternoon nap if my energy levels drop; definitely a luxury of being self-employed. I end my day by making a list of everything I need to do the next day. I am usually in bed by 10:00pm and pass right out.
After just one month of sticking to this routine, I can tell you that I have been more focused and my work has been more consistent than it has ever been before. My dedication to my goals has become less about whether or not I feel like working on them and more about what I have to do that day. When I am hit with inspiration before bedtime, I do not get caught up in the anxieties that used to be so tempting to engage with. I also have no time to feel sorry for myself or get caught up in any sort of drama. My mind is clear and the only thing that matters is that I do the work that needs to be done.
Focus over positive thinking.
Despite what a lot of positive thinking based self-help books will lead you to believe, positive thinking is not sustainable. Not all days are good days and that is okay. What is sustainable is focus. Focus is emotion-neutral and it is always there when you need it. By all means, chant mantras to yourself—I do—but don’t rely on positive thinking to get you where you want to go. Instead, focus on your goals and stop at nothing to achieve them. Even if you are having a streak of bad luck or are in a rotten mood. Focus will get you there.
Turn insight into action.
So here’s my challenge for you: try this routine for 30 days. Commit to starting each day on your own terms. Tell people who protest your decision to shut up. I guarantee that you will start to look forward to your morning routine before the month is out. I also promise that you will find clarity and focus like you have never experienced before. I know these are tall promises to make. You are just going to have to trust me.
The choice is yours. Choose to practice discipline and take ownership of your goals, time and the life you want to live. Success is absolutely available to you. You only need feed the fire.
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Here are some of my favorite sources of insight. Pass them on.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron |
This is essentially a 12 step program for getting back to your creative practice. Whether or not you consider yourself an artist doesn’t matter. Being creative is a way of life. The book is broken down into 12 weeks and every week comes with certain tasks and writing exercises. Cameron is both compassionate and blunt in the way she calls her readers out on the bullshit excuses we come up with as far as why we can’t do the work to heal our creative selves.
This is where I got the practice of doing the Morning Pages first thing in the morning. This in and of itself is a transformative practice. Cameron also talks about a higher power and challenges her readers to embrace the idea that we are simply a tool that creative energy passes through. This idea certainly takes the pressure off. Your ego might have trouble accepting this but it really can’t be trusted as it is the same voice that has been telling you what you can’t do.
Rising Strong by Brené Brown |
I resonate with everything that comes out of this woman’s mouth. Brené is a psychologist and researcher-storyteller is fully engaged in the messiness of being a wholehearted and vulnerable human. Rising Strong examines the process of picking oneself up after eating dirt. She, like many other people, explores how failure is a necessary part of being successful. She asks her readers to get curious about the stories that are getting in the way of them rising strong. Brown demands that we stop trying to “gold-plate grit” and instead lean into the discomfort of failure. There is powerful learning to be had there.
Also, check out Brené Brown’s TED talks:
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull
Catmull is one of the co-founders of Pixar. He tells the fascinating story of how Pixar came into being. He also explains the process of how he developed himself to be the sort of creative leader that would maintain Pixar’s integrity as a pioneer in animation and storytelling. I found this book to be so helpful when it comes to understanding that the creative process is messy at all levels of business. Pixar encourages play and is understanding of failure. One of Catmull’s co-workers talks about “failing quickly.” In other words keep throwing stuff out there because it is almost guaranteed that things will fail. The more quickly we fail the more quickly we learn the more quickly we succeed.
The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck
Despite the fact that this book was written in the 1970s, Peck’s ideas are still relevant today. Like the Buddha, he believes that life is suffering and we need to give people the tools they need to move through suffering. Peck believes that anything worthwhile is work, from relationships to spirituality. I have to agree.
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell examines how sometimes our biggest challenges are what end up making us successful. He talks about disadvantages and setbacks that helped individuals and groups work smarter not harder and ultimately achieve their goals. Definitely a good read if you have a habit of making excuses as to why you can’t do something.
It’s also worth reading Gladwell’s other books The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking and Outliers: The Story of Success.
Osho’s books are actually a collection of talks he has given over his lifetime. He is a spiritual DJ pulling thoughts from all different schools of thought and remixing them. In Creativity, Osho looks at creativity as a liberating life practice. I appreciate the point in the book where Osho talks dispels the idea of the ‘starving artist’ and acknowledges that money is a necessary source of energy in our lives if we are going to reach our full potential as creative beings. Abundance breeds abundance. Sound familiar?
Finally, check out these TED talks:
I am currently reading Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. I will report back soon.