Maximize your creativity by using sports as a lens
There’s an inherent curiosity in makers. That curiosity is what leads us to the act of making. However, today, instant gratification is seen as a fact of life, an expectation baked into the fabric of each day. I think many of us can feel how this affects our personal and professional lives, with internal and external deadlines always looming.
Unfortunately, as we become increasingly used to this fast-paced and stressful way of life, we allow the tentacles of instant gratification to wrap themselves around our outlets as well. The things that are supposed to be just for us, our escapes or expressions of ourselves, become a source of anxiety as well. With cries to monetize your hobbies, creative work turns into another job, with our biggest critic as our boss (ourselves).
I’ve found that relating my creative practice to training for a sport has helped me wrap my mind around the different modes I need to engage in to engage with my creative practice in a healthy and fruitful way — and keep the tentacles of instant gratification and capitalism away. Adopting a similar mindset can help most creatives.
In every sport, there’s recognition that the pursuit to become great (however you define greatness) will take time. We carve out time for deliberate practice and find ways to identify our improvement. We should be doing the same in our creative pursuits, giving ourselves the time and space to prepare, to be patient, and to prove (more on that later).
Preparing to be creative
Whether or not you’ve ever trained for a sport, the idea of incremental progress probably makes sense. A reasonable person wouldn’t expect to be able to jump off the couch and run 26 miles that day. We recognize the importance of a plan that gradually brings us closer to a goal. Likewise, we need to embrace incremental progress when it comes to our art. Expecting to be able to create exactly what’s in your mind’s eye when first stepping up to the canvas is a recipe for disappointment; we need a plan.
This plan should be made of two things: consistency and clarity. When training for anything, anyone who has done what you’re trying to will tell you that consistency is the key to improvement. You may not have the best practice every day, but showing up matters more. The same principle applies to expressing your creativity. You’re much more likely to catch that lightning in a bottle if you’re outside in the rain with your bottle every day.
Alongside consistency, we need clarity. That clarity should consist of two things: where we are and where we’re trying to go. In sports, knowing your limits and goals is easy: I can’t hit the ball over there, but I’d like to be able to hit the ball over there. Unfortunately, we don’t often take the time to understand where we are now, nor do we interrogate where we want to be — especially not when we’re starting out doing something new.
We need to consciously put in the effort to study those that inspire us, or make us jealous, as well as humbly (but accurately) assess our current talents. When we understand our starting position and our goal, we can more clearly define the small steps that will take us from one to the other. No one knows the small steps that will work for you, but literature on being productive in any realm has common themes: acquiring early wins, practicing for short and attainable times, finding and following experts, reducing distractions, seeking out criticism, and acknowledging progress.
Once you’ve created the plan that you believe will work for you, all you can do is put one foot in front of the other as you walk down the road to your goals.
Patience in creativity
Once you’ve plotted your course in any sport, you must execute. You won’t be ready to run your marathon if you don’t commit to your practice plan. There’s a point in every training season that feels like a slog through the mud. There’s nothing to do but keep putting one foot in front of the other. However, don’t forget to enjoy your journey — you’ll never be a beginner again. Take the time to look around and smell the roses with childlike curiosity. It’ll help your process.
Proving your creativity
It’s incredibly important to keep moving forward, to keep ensuring your plan is taking you where you want to go, and to enjoy your “training.” But a healthy mindset and enjoying the journey can only take us so far. We have to set up opportunities to “prove” our creativity to ourselves.
Seeing your progress in sports is relatively easy, through weekend games or practice scrimmages. Likewise, we need to be able to test and see our creative progress. The best way to do this — and prove our creativity to ourselves — is simply to get things done. I’ve recently discovered an excellent framework to help us do just that: the 13 points of the “Cult of Done Manifesto” (published in 2009), which are verbatim:
- There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
- Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
- There is no editing stage.
- Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
- Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
- The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
- Once you’re done you can throw it away.
- Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
- People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
- Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
- Destruction is a variant of done.
- If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
- Done is the engine of more.
There are a ton of analyses online of each part of this manifesto, so I won’t go bullet by bullet here in this article. Nor do I think that would be necessary. To me, all this boils down to “Just Do It.”
The act of creating is a type of sport — one in which you’re truly only competing against yourself. Keep in mind your distinct “training periods” of preparation, patience, and proof, and you’ll stave off injury and burnout, and end up at your destination before you realize it. Making mistakes is the best way to learn, so get out there and make some!
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