12 Most Powerful Ways To Keep Your Creative New Year’s Resolutions
2014 is upon us, along with the usual reflections on last year and promises to ourselves to do better in the next year.
How often do your resolutions stick? Do you even remember what yours was last year?
If you’re a creative person with a passion for anything from writing short stories to photographing wildlife to making quilts, you probably find that your creating time often takes a back seat to more pressing demands. Or you may be letting fear or lack of confidence get in your way.
Whatever your usual stumbling blocks are, I have 12 ninja tricks to share that can help you finally blast through them in the coming year.
1. Try not making New Year’s resolutions in the first place
Wait, whaaat? This is a post about resolutions, right?
It sure is! But get out of the once a year habit and into a continuous habit of positive improvement. The right time for change is never a date on the calendar, it’s when you feel the overwhelming need to make a change. Because that’s when your resolve is most likely to stick, right? I have several friends who made diet or exercise changes in December. Yes — during the holidays. They were ready, done with making excuses, and successful.
2. Think of resolutions as an ongoing process instead
Nothing sets you up for success like success. Break down your year-long mission into several small, short-term goals and tackle them one at a time.
Your first goal might simply be to set up a dedicated space to write, draw, create, build, or practice. Then when that’s done, you might resolve to be there at the same time every day for at least 15-20 minutes uninterrupted. Maybe you plan to write one song a week, finish one painting a day, publish 100 photos a month. Whatever you decide, make it reachable and reasonable. Then build on that.
Give yourself the gift of lots of little victories, and celebrate them. You deserve it!
3. Get off the crazy train, learn to enjoy a whole lot of nothing
Creativity is a weird thing. It only springs up when we give it time, space, peace, and room to do so. You may find inspiration anywhere, but in order to turn that seed of an idea into a finished piece of work, you need dedicated time. Don’t just cut out unnecessary time-wasters and distractions like TV and internet, start reconsidering activities you think are kind of necessary – friend or social obligations, for example. Get crazy guarding your creative hours. If you’re nervous about doing this, just try it for a limited time, a week or a month.
In addition to fiercely protecting your creative time, leave some time that is completely unscheduled. Go for walks, relax. Great ideas come when your mind is calm. Streamline and simplify.
4. Use what you have, forget about what you don’t have
There’s always some tool we wish we had — that studio we think we need, that support network that’s missing, those personal demands that eat up our time. These should not be an excuse to not keep making progress towards our goals, though.
The fact is, that’s life, and no one’s really in a perfect place. Learn to work within constraints. Get creative about using what you have and starting from where you are. You’ll soon find you can accomplish more than you think you can, and you’ll develop valuable confidence that you can handle anything.
5. Run as fast as you can from the comparison quagmire
Every time you compare your insides with someone else’s outside, you’re going to end up thinking “I suck!” There is really no good reason to go there. Part of learning acceptance and being kind to yourself — both of which are productive rocket fuel for artists — is realizing we are all on our own paths. We’re at different stages in our journeys and there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s much more beneficial and healthy just to focus on how you can be a little bit closer to your goal tomorrow than you are today. Stick to your own resolutions one day at a time and then get back to work!
6. Don’t go it alone
Everyone needs support but different scenarios work for different people. Think about times in your life when you have achieved your best. Were you part of a large group or a small team? Did you have a single partner? Whatever this looks like for you, start recruiting people to help. You could find an accountability partner, a working partner, a mentor or coach, supportive family or friends, or an excited group of people who all have the same goals. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to give it in return.
7. Ask yourself one question every single day to stay focused and on track
This is a super-simple goal-setting hack that I love, related to staying focused and eliminating the feeling of being overwhelmed. Set your mid-term goals in number 2 above, something you can accomplish in the next couple of weeks or months. Write it down — index cards and business cards work well. (Expert tip: You can do these for all parts of your life, but don’t have more than a few active at a time.)
So let’s say you want to finish a collection of short stories, a commemorative photo book, or a music EP within 3 months. State your goal as a filter question, by writing, “Will (this activity) help me to reach my goal of finishing (your project) by (timeframe)?
Make several copies of these filter questions and leave them in places you’ll see them — your wallet, your desk, the bathroom — whatever it takes to keep them first in your mind. If an activity or opportunity will help you to reach your goal, then go for it. If not, you can safely say “Thanks, but no thanks,” and pass on it for now.
8. Don’t let your brain drain your excitement
Our brains love to go into “what if?” mode. They like to project far into the future and imagine all kinds of crazy scenarios that could be outcomes of the actions we take today. The problem is, life almost never works out the way we expect.
When you notice your brain spinning these outrageous stories, just say “whoops!” and bring yourself back to right now and the work that’s in front of you. No need to berate yourself or re-program your thoughts (unless that already works for you). The important thing is that you notice when you go into dire prediction mode and bring yourself back to the present moment, where you can actually be effective.
9. Wave at the Debbie Downers from far, far away
If someone makes you feel defensive about your dreams or about the boundaries you set to achieve them, then limit their time with you. They might be perfectly nice people to be someone else’s friends, but if they belittle your determination or are unfairly critical or judgmental of your work or your efforts, then do yourself a favor and run away! Artists need to maintain healthy self-esteem and be surrounded by supportive people. Staying in relationships with bad dynamics will hurt you, and there are so many others who want — and need — to see you shine.
10. Use the “Hell, yeah!”or “Hell, no!” test
Resolutions require carving out time. Find the things and people that fire you up. Depending on the seriousness and stretch of your goals you’re going to have to say “no” to a lot more activities. If you’re not super excited about an upcoming engagement or commitment, don’t do it. The world will go on without you, you will be much happier and have more energy to perform at your best, and you can rejoin the parties anytime you choose. Tell yourself, “If it’s not a ‘hell yeah!’ then it’s a ‘hell no!’”
11. Schedule regular massages and take lots of candlelit bubble baths
For the guys out there, maybe you’re into lavender, maybe not. The point is to be uber-kind to yourself, whatever that means for you. Reward yourself with your favorite treats when you stick to your resolutions — a weekend away, a dinner with friends, movie night. Let yourself celebrate! On the flip side, if you stumble or lose steam for a while, you are not allowed to beat yourself up. Understand that no one is perfect and it happens to all of us. Get back up, dust yourself off, and keep going.
12. Stop fighting battles you can’t win
Think about all those situations and people in your life that frustrate the heck out of you and keep you from reaching your personal goals. Now, do yourself a favor and practice accepting them exactly as they are. Stop trying to fight against them, push them, or trying to change them (it’s known as resistance).
Resistance drains your energy and forces people to fight back harder against you, or it causes situations to stay in place longer. Realize when conditions are out of your control and drop your weapons. When you take the energy out of the fight, you have more energy for productive things. “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield is a fantastic book to read on this topic, one that I highly recommend for all artists.
So now you have them — 12 of my very best tips for keeping your creative resolutions throughout the entire year — as opposed to just for the first 3-6 weeks of it! Pick one or two that you relate to best and start using them right away. You can add more tools to your toolbox as you go.
I’ve seen these tips work very well both for myself and for my clients and students over the years — I’m sure that they will help you rock 2014 as well.
So, what do you say? Let’s do this!
Photo credit: JD Hancock via Flickr CC