We are all pilots — autopilots. We fly, as we live, according to our habits. Some habits are good. They are the shorthand of our everyday lives. Without them, we would waste lots of time and would most certainly get to work late. Can you imagine if you woke up and first had to figure out what to do and how to do it? Take shaving, for example. Unless you are a novice, you do not have to think about how to lather up or hold a razor. You’ve been at it for years and likely shave the same way every day, one cheek before the other. Ditto for putting on your deodorant and shoes, and engaging in most other daily routines.
To be creative, however, you need to break your routines. This is harder than you think. In fact, it’s disorienting, not to mention uncomfortable. You are thrust into the Great (and not-so-great) Unknown. And what is waiting for you there? Fear.
Think I am being dramatic? This book is about fearless creativity, after all, not about changing your shaving habits. But de-habiting is central to fearlessness. You’ve got to get off of autopilot if you are to change how you think. The De-habit exercise that follows will begin the process. Warning: This seemingly easy exercise is hard!
List five morning tasks you do on autopilot. Some examples:
- Brush your upper teeth before your lowers
- Put your left shoe on before your right
- Button your shirt from top to bottom
- Put your right earring on before your left
- Slip your wristwatch onto your left wrist
Now review your list and identify the tasks that must be performed the same way every day. I’m going to guess (hope) that none are that rigid. That means you can shake up your daily routine without dire consequences. So, let’s have you do so.
Choose one habit to de-habit for three days. For example, brush your bottom teeth first, button your shirt from bottom to top, etc. (Looking for a real challenge? Try sleeping on the opposite side ofthe bed. Killer.)
Guaranteed — de-habiting will feel strange. Indeed, you may hate it, and don’t be surprised if you slip back onto autopilot. Nonetheless, you will get a sense of the powerful hold even mundane habits can have on our lives. Imagine then how the power of our mental habits — namely those that determine how we navigate our lives — forms our limited perceptions and emboldens our fears.
As Albert Einstein said, “You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.” And so it is with habitual thinking. You can’t keep thinking the same thoughts and expect to build creative muscle; you’ve got to re-route your mind.
Excerpted from Fearless Creativity, an indispensable companion to the creative life. In it, you’ll find ideas and exercises to reclaim your time—and your dreams.
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