It’s been two weeks. Are you still doing your daily action every day? – asks Carol Lloyd in Creating a Life Worth Living. No Carol, no I am not. This particular book asks me to commit to a simple fifteen minute task every day. It’s not that important what the activity is – could be sketching, writing in a journal, whatever. The important thing is that you commit to it and follow through. There’s a similar device in the seminal book on creative anguish, The Artist’s Way. It’s called Morning Pages. You get up every morning and write three pages longhand about anything that pops into your head. Both of these are recommended activities for right after you wake up, they’re supposed to clear your mind of the jumble that’s in there and give you a fresh start for the day.
Well that sounds just lovely, of course I should be doing that, right? But what inevitably happens is that I do it for about three days. Then I start to feel trapped under the burden of it. That leads to high anxiety, and ultimately when I rebel and stop doing whatever it is, I feel horribly guilty and like a complete failure. Surely this is not the purpose of the exercise? I have spent years beating myself up about not being able to do an activity consistently every day. As if it’s a sign that I’m doomed to fail no matter what.
I’m starting to change my view on this. Yes, it’s good to know that you can have discipline and that things get accomplished in real time. And I do think it’s important to show up and be present every day. But what’s the point of forcing myself into a certain routine and then feeling guilty when I’m unable to stick to it? Why should I ignore the fact that I bristle under stringent guidelines and will never ever EVER be a morning person?*
I don’t mean to say that these types of tools can’t be vastly helpful, life-altering even. And probably most effective for people who struggle with maintaining structure in their lives. I will be the first to admit, I do not have a good track record for getting things done. Avoiding creative tasks is often motivated by anxiety, fear of failure, fear of success not living up to my expectations, and a whole host of other neuroses. Finding ways to rise above the crippling fear is something I try to be open to, always.
However, I think it’s safe to say that the “forcing myself to be disciplined” act does not work for me. Ten years of banging my head against the wall is enough. So why not try a more loosey goosey** approach and see if the absence of tight restrictions and guilt will actually result in getting more done? If I let go of ‘X needs to be done by Y time’, maybe I can stop fighting against myself at every turn. It’s more about reframing my approach than letting myself off the hook. I want to get away from the notion that things will only work for me if I do them exactly how other people have done them in the past. The idea that other people have perfected the formula for happiness and that it’s one size fits all. I want to trust myself enough to strike out in new directions with abandon, and see if I can’t find a way of being that works for me.
Maybe doing ten things one day and none the next will naturally lead to greater discipline. Maybe cooking steak tacos will make me a better writer. Maybe staying in bed until noon will recharge my batteries. Who knows, maybe I’ll find myself doing the same thing every day for fifteen minutes, and maybe that will completely change my life.
*There have been times when Morning Pages have done wonders for me. Other times, writing ‘I’m so tired, I’m bored, waaaaaah’ over and over again for three pages just served to remind me that I was miserable about the whole having to get out of bed situation. Can I make Night Pages a thing?
**I really need to work loosey goosey into more of my conversations.