“Any beginning is a time of special power for habit creation,” Gretchen Rubin writes in Better than Before. Although New Year’s is a rather arbitrary date, the feeling of a new beginning can help you make some changes, especially ones you deeply care about like creative goals. What Rubin calls the sense of a “clean slate” can help you make the changes you want.
Last year I started a goal of doing art every day, if only for five minutes. I was successful at times (and saw an increase in artistic productivity then) but not all the time. Now I want to make it is an ingrained as my more practiced habit of daily spiritual time. This year is my art year–my daily art is going to keep me in the creative flow, I’m going to make at least ten fleshed out art pieces/sculptures, and I’m going to get my website updated. I feel pretty confident that this is something I can do. However, I also know I will need checks in place to keep me on track.
Reading Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before at the end of the year has been helpful in realizing how I form habits and what I can do to better reach my goals. One of her first chapters looks at how you form and keep expectations. Rubin says that people generally fall into four kinds of categories when faced with tasks (this system is not without its problems, but it’s useful as a starting point): upholders, questioners, obligers and rebels. Upholders enjoy upholding rules; following their planner exactly makes them happy. Questioners only follow the expectations they agree with. Obligers are those who find it easy to be motivated for or by other people but hard to be motivated for themselves. Rebels just dislike rules in and of themselves. Knowing your type can help you in how you setup your goals. Obligers have to be careful to not get stuck following rules that don’t have meaning. Questioners need to think through their goals carefully and make sure they only agree to goals they really can get behind. Obligers really need to tell their goals to other people to keep them up. Rebels should find any way they can to do things in their own way, so they feel like they are breaking rules but still moving towards their goals.
Rubin next discusses the four things she feels are the basis of all other habits: sleep, exercise, diet, and tidiness. This foundation gives you the energy and space to succeed at other habits you want to make. I’ve realized over the last month that the one I most need to concentrate on is diet. I’ve decided to make some changes this year that will give me more energy to work on my art goals. As an obliger and questioner, I feel I can get behind this change because there is a real reason to do it; it’s not just about denial or image. I’ve also made sure I’ve told many friends and plan on reporting to my sister about it.
The rest of the book gives many different tips and tricks to help make habits permanent. One way you can help yourself with a task is to make it convenient. If you brush your teeth early in the evening, you are more likely to get in bed on time because it’s easy–you just hop in. Another strategy is to allow yourself some kind of concession during a hard task–Rubin lets herself watch whatever tv she wants while exercising. She ends up looking forward to it because she gets to watch her favorite shows. I had a ceramics professor who bought herself a new cd every time she had to make crates to ship art pieces to a show, a task she disliked. I’ve been experimenting with this in my studio and have found one of the best things is to take a fantasy book and allow myself time to read it at the studio. I don’t read the majority of the time by any means, but it makes going to the studio sound easier. As I’m trying to incorporate some of the elements of compelling fiction into my work, it helps the whole creative process.
I would strongly suggest reading Rubin’s book for more ideas and to find the techniques that are most suited to how you form goals. Whatever else you do, make sure you write down your goals and tell someone about them. Research shows this gives you a much higher chance of keeping them up.