I came across an article on fastcompany.com last week about the importance of having ‘rituals’ behind your creative process and found it mirrored something I know from personal experience and from working with 100’s of creativity students: if we sit and wait for the creative muse to strike, we may be waiting a very long time. Legend has it that when Ernest Hemingway was stuck, he would take a paragraph from another author’s work and write and rewrite it so many times that it bore no resemblance to the original. Even he needed his rituals and ‘ways in’. We all do.
I’ve written about group brainstorming previously. And whilst the actual act of coming up with ideas might come at a pre-designated time in a pre-designated room, there’s just as good a chance that your best ideas come under entirely different circumstances. The idea of a creativity ritual, then, is to identify when that happens, and work it into your day.
It’s a bit like an athlete getting into the zone – there’s usually a series of steps that precede that ‘look’ which says, “I’m ready.” It’s rare to see a runner, for example, joking around 10 seconds before the race and then suddenly switch on. The ‘zone’ is the culmination of their ritual.
Walking is a ritual that many great creatives employ – Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs among them. When Stanford University published a report back in April in which they found that walking boosts creativity, many people went, “So what? We know!” But what was surprising was that the report discovered that a person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 per cent when walking. Sixty per cent! That’s huge! When there’s empirical proof that you’ll be 60 per cent more creative by going out for a walk, you kind of owe it to yourself to at least give it a go.
Sadly, wandering off mid-afternoon is not a luxury we can all afford, and while there’s absolutely no doubt walking serves as a brilliant incubation period for ideas that are rolling around in your head, it’s often just not practical. So what else works for you? And how can you turn that into a ritual?
The goal is to consistently be able to deliver the goods; to remove the haphazard nature of it all. So it needs a bit of self-analysis. Ask yourself, “When I creatively rock, what’s going on?” Then create your ritual around that. It’s likely to be when you’re not at your desk – maybe it’s when you’re driving, having cigarette or when you’re about to drop off to sleep. Maybe you know you need to engage, then disengage, then come back to it – known as incubation – a key element to most creative processes.
My own creativity rituals include copius amounts of strong, builders tea, walking my dog and moving around, a lot. I also know that I work best with other people but that introspection and being alone is also part of my creative process and needs to be built in.
One last thing: there’s a fine line between ritual and rut, and it’s important to know the difference. A rut is when you’re surrounded by familiarity and nothing stimulates you: when you listen to the same radio station every day, take the same route to work, have the same breakfast. Rut, not ritual.
But here’s a tip: you can create a ritual that gets you out of your rut! Your new ritual becomes the pursuit of doing something a little bit different every day! Just this act alone should give you more opportunity to get those creative juices flowing. As soon as you spot when and how you’re at your most innovative, build your creativity ritual around that. Just like the athlete getting in the zone you’ll start to be able to consistently deliver creative ideas.