Sticking to a creative practice schedule is much easier said than done. You can have the intent and turn that intent into space on your calendar, but let’s be honest it takes more than intent. Writing it on your daily to-do list helps, but self-motivation is the key to a creative practice that sticks.
We all have the capacity for self-motivation. In fact I argue that self-motivation is something that we are born with (unlike talent). It’s tied to curiosity, want and need. And we humans are in a perpetual state of curiosity/want/need.
So let’s do a quick assessment of where your self-motivation ranks and start there to turn calendar entries into an actual creative practice!
How Self-Motivated Are You?
Take this quick quiz to gauge your level of creative self-motivation – results delivered immediately in the post as well as via email – then read the rest of the article below to devise a plan that infuses your creative practice with energy!
It takes shifting your entire frame of mind.
If your results are Little M Motivated or Blocked Creative Alert, we’re going to have to adjust your frame of mind and the stories you tell yourself.
Unfortunately, there is no One Technique or Magical Mantra to rev up your creative engine. (Although I do have some mediations for inspiration, combatting fear, quieting the inner critic, etc. – leave a comment below if this interests you!)
We’re all motivated by different things, but in general here’s what we know about self-motivated people:
- We are visionary thinkers
- We’re generally optimistic
- We like a challenge
- We like to learn something
- We’re persistent
- We’re able to laugh at ourselves
These are internal traits directly tied to what blocks and motivates us. We all have these traits to some degree. Let’s unpack them, shall we?
It’s big picture thinking. This is not necessarily a picture of your project outcome, but more about your vision of your future creative self. This is the 30,000 foot view of your creative life. What does this look like to you?
I hesitate to put a time limit on this. While attaching a “clock” to goals and such can be a helpful motivator, it has a dark side. For visionary thinking, it can crush inspiration. Just think of how your ideal creative life looks. Write it down in detail if this helps you, and never be afraid to change this statement as you evolve.
In your creative work optimism is the certainty that whatever the outcome, you gain something wonderful and useful. Trusting the creative process takes a lot of practice. It also takes a realistic look at your inner critic.
I could write a book about the wily, inner critic (…. mmmm, a title is born?). In your own head, it sounds like your voice. It may even use your own lingo. But listen to it dispassionately for a moment – is this really your voice, your own thought?
The inner critic parrots every hurtful comment, retells the story of every embarrassing situation, etc., that you’ve emotionally experienced throughout your whole life. It masks its warnings in your own voice, so you’ll think it’s legit. It tries – often very successfully – to create a narrative that checks your free-wheeling, creative nature. Rather than trying to be a grounding force, it tries to drive you into the ground.
Your optimism is your shield, your weapon and the antidote rolled into one. Powerful, right?
The next time your inner critic pops up follow these steps:
- Take a deep breath, release it, and assess what has surfaced.
- Try to identify where and from whom you’ve heard this before – from a teacher, a parent, a friend, a stranger, etc.? What was your age? The situation? How did it feel? With your current perspective, can you see what motivated this person to say such thing? Was this a reflection their fears/emotions rather than yours?
- Take another deep breath and release it along with the residual, negative feelings you hold in your body. Repeat this as much as you’d like and relax into it.
- Then look at your inner critic with a clinical eye – seriously, is it relevant now? Recognize that you give strength to the inner critic’s voice. Since you giveth, you can taketh away!
Finding ingenious ways to move past limitations is at the heart of embracing creative challenges. We live for this shit, right?! It keeps us from getting bored.
If you find yourself getting discouraged, try to break down what is happening. For instance, I’ve always wanted to paint botanicals in a realistic style that conformed to convention (realistic colors, accurate rendering, white background, using live specimens as reference, etc.). Only one problem – I couldn’t draw.
For years, I avoided making botanical art, drawing, sketching… pretty much anything to do with dimensional visual art. I wanted to make this kind of art very, very much – so I’d give it a try, see the crap I made, put it aside. But it burned inside of me.
Big challenge, right? You know it! (And my inner critic was having the best time of its life!) But I have another strength – I’m an awesome researcher. So I started to research realistic drawing processes of other artists and found the ateliers and Juliette Aristides’s book Lessons in Classical Drawing. Her way of teaching resonated with me. How she really looked at a subject and broke it down, then put pencil to paper made sense to me. So I practiced her technique a lot. I made a ton of “bad” drawings, got frustrated along the way, kept at it. And I began to improve. Facing this challenge, helped propel me into the next phase in my creative journey!
Don’t shy away from challenges. Meet them head on, find a way around them, jump over them – using whatever resources you have!
Learning naturally follows curiosity – and as humans we are an insatiably curious lot! It keeps up the momentum, as you saw in my example above.
When you feel stuck or unmotivated, ask yourself what is the lesson in your work today? What can your creative project teach you? As visual artists, it may be a drawing or painting or sculpting technique. It could simply be how to observe or listen. Or it could be something more ephemeral like developing your personal style. Let the lesson fuel your motivation.
The tenacious, laser focus for the details of your big picture can be the most difficult trait of self-motivation to master. It really comes down to stubbornness. We are taught at an early age that stubbornness is not a virtue.
But persistence is stubbornness tempered with a wide-open mind. It’s acknowledging that the work is in the details and the outcome will be the ideal one, whatever its eventual realization. The process will always lead to your envisioned outcome or a better one.Persistence is stubbornness tempered with a wide-open mind. It’s acknowledging that the work is in the details and the outcome will be the ideal one, whatever its eventual realization. The process will always lead to your envisioned… Click To Tweet
So how do you become more persistent? I believe this element of self-motivation is the combination of all the others – vision, optimism, facing challenges and learning. If you focus on cultivating these elements, persistence becomes a natural state of creative being.
Sense of adventure or “Nobody dies!”
Not taking yourself too seriously and embracing the wild ride of a creative life is a key component of self-motivation. I think we can take ourselves and our work too seriously.
Don’t get me wrong. Creative work should be approached with serious dedication, but keep in mind if the bowl coming out of the kiln has a big crack in it nobody dies. If the perspective in your drawing is off, nobody dies. If the colors in your painting become muddy… well, yes, I’m sorry, then someone will die….. NO, I’M KIDDING!! NOBODY DIES!!!!!!
I promise-pinky-swear, nobody will die. I can also promise that you’ll learn a lot and your next piece will be stronger because of it. Your creative muscle will be stronger too.
So lighten up and embrace the adventure. See it for what it is – an exercise in expressive growth.
We are in a perpetual state of curiosity, want, and need.
We don’t live in a vacuum. We get tired. We feel insecure. We get distracted. It’s easy to write something down in the agenda and not do it. We move it to the next day. Not do it. Repeat the cycle all the while getting more and more discouraged until we just stop writing it down.
Right now choose not to be that person.
Ask yourself why are you avoiding your creative work? Look at what we’ve discussed above – what is sabotaging your motivation? What internal work do you need to do? What are you afraid of?
We are naturally curious creatures with wants and needs. You have the ability to be incredibly self-motivated. Now is the time to step out of your own way.
Let me know in the comments if I can help in any way – sometimes you need a tribe, so let’s build one here!