What inspires us to take on a new habit?
For many, there’s a default response: we wait until we don’t have much of a choice. It’s the addict’s response–we’re waiting until we hit rock bottom before we do the things we know we should be doing or want to be doing. We’re most inspired when we’re looking down the barrel of a gun.
In practicality, that means waiting until we have health issues before finding the inspiration to change our diets or exercise. It means missing a bill payment before figuring out a plan to get out of debt (been there). For creators, it means waiting until we have a hard and fast deadline and then pushing out sub-optimal work (been there, too). OR, it means not pushing out any work because we’re “just not feeling it” (live here).
If you’re waiting for the muse to inspire you creatively or habitually, you could be waiting for a long, long time. Dare I say it, you may never find the inspiration you’re looking for. What I’ve learned in becoming a creator, is that inspiration is far more impulsive than responsive. If we wait for our inspiration to come in response to something, we’re rarely feel inspired. We have to create our own inspiration. We have to provide the inspirational impulse ourselves.
So the following are some things I’ve been leaning in to in order to keep the inspirational meter up. There are still plenty of days when I find myself muttering “I’m just not feeling it” or I stare at a blank page. In fact, a majority of the days are like that. But these habits help to get the inspirational train back onto the track and moving.
Here are five ways to create your own inspiration.
Shut out other things for bit.
Contemplation is key. Spend a short time in silence. You may call this meditation or you may call it contemplative prayer or you may call it practicing mindfulness. The point is to tune out some distractions and to tune in to your own present–to become mindful of yourself in the moment.
My practice is to get comfortable and zone out on one particular word. That word might change every day. Some days I’ll consider a word like “inspiration”. Other days, I’ll get uber-religious and zone to a word like “savior”. The word becomes my anchor for contemplation. I begin a restful time by repeating the word (in my head). When my thoughts start to wander, I return to repeating the word. I may zone out like this for up to 20 minutes. Besides feeling super relaxed when I’m done, I usually experience a feeling of refreshment and my mind has been activated with some kind of clarity or new idea.
Recognize how you feel.
Most of the time when we fail to start something, whether it be a creative project or a new habit, it is because we are afraid. We’re afraid of repeating an old script of self-disappointment or we’re afraid of investing in something that won’t prove to be fruitful.
A friend once told me that “shame can’t survive being named”. I don’t believe these fears can survive being named, either. So name whatever emotion has got you locked up. What’s the emotional anchor that is keeping you from moving forward? Name it and cut that anchor loose.
Journal every day.
You’d be surprised at how many deep thoughts you got kicking around in that swamp of a soul. Write them out. There are some good ideas kicking around in there, sometimes we miss them because we fail to give them enough light to grow. Journaling is that light.
In terms of setting of a habit, journaling provides some accountability. I keep a fitness journal where I record my daily weight, body mass index, and exercise activity. Drilling deeper, I suppose I journal everything I eat through a calorie-counting app as well. Sometimes all the inspiration I need to keep up the fitness habit is to look at the journals and notice that I’ve been slacking off.
Address a question you don’t know the answer to.
Simple curiosity is a great source of inspiration.
Just get in there anyway. Give up the need for your shit to be perfect and just start it. Take a step towards your creative output or new habit.
I once met a guy who started his workout habit by showing up to the gym parking lot every day. For quite a while he never went inside. He simply set the habit of showing up before setting the habit of working out.
Personally, I struggle with feeling inspired to write. My current practice is to show up for writing by writing as much as I can in ten minutes. All crap is acceptable. I’m just putting pen to paper for ten minutes in order to set that habit of writing. The good stuff will flow, but often we need to clear out the sludge that’s setting in the pipes in order to establish a good stream.
Here are some not-so-good ways to find inspiration:
- Surfing Twitter until something strikes you. Believe me, something will strike you, but it’s unlikely to be helpful. You’ll likely surf around looking for a blog post idea only to find yourself researching why the 1985 Chicago Cubs couldn’t repeat the success of ’84. (I’ll save you the time, it was injuries.)
- Waiting for the muse. Don’t wait. The muse is fickle and really likes to be invited. The invitation comes when you get in there and get busy. Engage, dammit.
- Beating yourself up. Everyone struggles with inspiration. Everyone. You are not a lesser human because you’re afraid or you simply don’t want to do this. You’re a human. Now do it anyway, even if it sucks.
I think the whole situation can be summed with this: if you wait until you feel like doing something daunting before you actually do it, you’re never going to stop waiting. Now get in there.