Why I'm Breaking an Old Creative Habit
There is a lot of talk out there lately about forming habits and rituals—especially in the creative, artistic, and freelance world. You see all sorts of articles and books on how to maximize your daily routine in order to become more productive, focused and prepared for life. I know this because I read a lot of them and am someone who does strongly believe in the power of forming habits and sticking to them. If you’ve been around this space for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I, too, am guilty of writing about it pretty frequently. It is even one of the regular questions I ask my podcast guests- what creative routines and rituals are present in your life? Lately, though, I have been thinking about it all in a slightly different light.
In general, whenever the topic of creative habits arises, I go straight to my main source of reference: The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. In the beginning of this book, she writes,
“It’s vital to establish some rituals — automatic but decisive patterns of behavior — at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way.”
This is a statement with which I wholeheartedly agree, but then she goes on to say, “Turning something into a ritual eliminates the question, Why am I doing this?” While this can be true— sometimes we do indeed need to set ourselves up with strict, unquestionable, healthy creative habits— I also think that questions that begin with “why” should never be completely eliminated. Sometimes we need to check back in with those inner reasons for doing what we do every day or every week and we might even come to the realization that our regular habits no longer serve our present selves.
I made a sort of sudden decision last week that I am done with my #thursdayimprov practice for the time being. It started over a year ago as a personal challenge to keep up a regular improvisation practice and hold myself accountable to solo studio hours. In my own words from an essay I wrote in early 2018,
“Improvisation isn’t just spontaneous movement- it is spontaneous thought, and in order to break the pattern of thinking the same thoughts while you dance, or do anything for that matter, you must practice.”
And practice I did- almost every single week since that first blog post. The project truly served its purpose and within the span of just over a year, I had a visual, tangible account of my personal growth as an improvising dancer, all through about 70 1-minute-long videos, roughly edited and shared with an online “audience.”
There is something else, though, that I wrote in that article from last year: “Part of knowing yourself as an artist is understanding just this- what works for you and what doesn’t.” In that context, I was speaking to improvisation and body knowledge, but the same words can easily be applied to what I am reflecting on now- personal habits.
Sometimes creative routines can start to lose their life force. For a while, I kept doing these videos because I felt like if I let them go, I would be letting myself down. It would be “giving up” on a practice that is “good for me.” However, every week for the past month or so I found that I would get to the studio and instead of working on my improvisation skills with mindfulness and exploration, I would be working on other material with the Thursday improv practice as an after thought- something I was doing almost purely “for the gram,” as they say. And really, what is the point of that?
Everywhere we turn, people are encouraging us to form habits and stick to them. Find your rhythm, develop your daily rituals and live by them faithfully in order to become a superhuman version of you. When I started to think about letting #thursdayimprov go, I talked it out with my mom and being the wise artist that she is, she mentioned that she feels like in all of these articles and books, people don’t talk enough about the need to change routines and mix things up. Routines can start to feel stale if they are no longer serving your creative self. She wrote to me (thus inspiring this very post),
“Making changes in one’s routine is about responding to life and art… change is a necessary choice for keeping oneself engaged.”
This is especially relevant with all of this change and transition hanging in the balance of my own life lately. April is my birthday month and I can definitely feel a new momentum within me of moving upwards and outwards, towards a new age and phase of who I am, including my working, artist self. My goals and desires are realigning and becoming more in focus. Things that don’t serve a purpose on this path are falling off the wayside, like crumbling stones off of a mountain slope. My weekly #thursdayimprov practice is one of those stones that has dropped. Not lost forever, perhaps, but it has gently tumbled to the bottom of the pile.
I think it is time to develop some new routines to better fit where I am this year, physically and mentally. It’s something we all need to do from time-to-time— let life and art lead the way to change. Perhaps, for me, that will look like creating more set choreography, getting even more creative with dance videos, or trying to figure out more ways of collaborating with other artists on a regular basis. I need a fresh, new challenge.
With all of this in mind, though, I am also trying to go easy on myself and remember that forming a routine or habit takes time- I won’t replace Thursday improvs with something new overnight. I have to give myself the space to develop whatever is next and figure out what kind of practice is going to best help me to continue to grow. I need to ask myself the “why” along with the “how” in order to find a new routine to keep myself going forward. Once the practice is established, then I can push the “why” into the back corner for a while. Perhaps after another year or so, I’ll revisit it. Dust it off, reassess, and decide whether this habit should be kept, or if it might be time to break it, going through the process all over again.