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habitually creating

I write to understand...and make sense.

I am old enough to look back at my life and see a laundry list of things that I do, or don't do, that leave me feeling that I have wasted a lot of time.

I have often acted as a bystander, frozen it seems, as risk takers and doers parade by.


Truth be told, I have spent a lot of time envious of other people who act, devoting a large amount of my time as a "wannabe", fantasizing about being more like others who find the courage to act.

In a chapter titled "Places We Go When We Compare", Brene' talks about a couple of responses that are relevant to a review of my own life.

The first is, obviously "comparison", a regular, but often unnoticed thought pattern of evaluating myself. It is not very helpful, but I consciously and unconsciously practice it anyway.

Brown references “researcher Frank Fujita, who writes,

“Social comparisons can make us happy or unhappy. Upward comparisons can inspire or demoralize us, whereas downward comparisons can make us feel superior or depress us. In general, however, frequent social comparisons are not associated with life satisfaction or the positive emotions of love and joy but are associated with the negative emotions of fear, anger, shame, and sadness.”

It is good to notice that even in comparing myself, I can consider the options for choice, upward or downward, instead of habitually owning a negative view.

But the emotional response that I recognize, and find more helpful and interesting to me is "admiration".

“We feel admiration when someone’s abilities, accomplishments, or character inspires us, or when we see something else that inspires us, like art or nature.”
“...admiration often leads to us wanting to improve ourselves. It doesn’t, however, make us want to be like the person or thing we admire—we just want to be better versions of ourselves.”

I am attracted to paying attention to artists. I love music, visual art--painting, sculpture, photography--; spoken word --poetry, storytelling--; and the courageous act of performing live. Artistic expressions touch and move my heart and imagination. I admire those who commit to their creation. While my attention is grabbed by the end product, a photograph, a poem, a song, a painting, a sculpture...what inspires my curiosity is the process of making/creating.

So I seek to be an upward "wannabe", I want to learn how to create.

I don't romanticize the experience of artists, or what motivates them to act in service of creation, since it can be pain, sorrow, joy, despair, and a host of other experiences. I just respect the commitment to practice, the courage to risk failure, and repeat, again and again.

When I observe the world, and see the beauty and suffering that surrounds us, I do actually think that it is artists have so much to offer our approach to the world, healing, and closing the gaps in our divides.

Atomic Habits

In an effort to explore becoming a better version of myself, inspired to "do better", and use my admiration of the practice of artists as a guide, I have been reading the book "Atomic Habits" by James Clear. There is a real link between practice and habit. There is no such thing as getting better without practice, and to practice you have to "show up", habitually.

My initial responses:

  • I have been incredibly undisciplined in maintaining habits that lead me in the direction I want to go

  • I have to believe it is not too late to start

  • I have deep respect for people who hone skill through habitual practice

Quest for reliable ways to solve problems

Jame Clear suggests,

“All behavior is driven by the desire to solve a problem. Sometimes the problem is that you notice something good and you want to obtain it. Sometimes the problem is that you are experiencing pain and you want to relieve it. Either way, the purpose of every habit is to solve the problems you face.”

He references behavioral scientist, Jason Hreha

“Habits are, simply, reliable solutions to recurring problems in our environment.”

So what's the problem?

In the realm of artists, my instinct is that the problem that instigates the quest for a solution is not an intellectual one. It is likely to be emotional or physical in nature. Something happens that ignites a response that leaves us feeling that we have to do something that expresses, acquires, protects, or relieves something.

I had not considered this before. I have not used a lens of "problem solving" as the source of habit formation, and the practices and skills developed that it shapes.

One of the reasons I am drawn to pay attention to artists is that I have great respect and admiration for their commitment to a never ending practice of making and creating.

So what is the problem that instigates the habits associated with creating? I imagine that it is not one thing that sets people's behavior in motion, but it is a powerful internal experience.

Noticing and attending to heart and feeling

Observing people I know who are artists, I sense that they feel intensely. Creating is something that they feel they must do in response to what they feel. The feeling is what gets them started. Something inside must come out.

Something's not right

For some it is the feeling that "something is just not right". The feeling is disturbing. and they can't just let it sit, or avoid it. Doing something about it, making or creating something, is a quest to address this disquieting feeling.

Awe of beauty

For others it is being struck with awe by the joy and beauty of something. The experience of awe is something that we do not want to forget. Creating is a way to incorporate, and re-member.


In either case, creating involves imagination and doing, and effort to externalize an internal experience of seeing, hearing, feeling.


Making can create an experience of satisfaction with what is created, a sense of accomplishment, and even pride. It can leave us wanting more, spurring on the practices involved with creating.

It can also leave us feeling dissatisfied, in that what we created does not live up to what we imagine. In my case, this dissatisfied experience can derail my commitment to continue.

But I have watched others for whom dissatisfaction is what spurs on further attempts to create.

For some it can be the tormenting quest for perfection.

For others there is a more zen like energy that comes with accepting the process of trial and error, a capacity to let go of outcome, and focus on the process.


I have often heard artists speak of their practice as being born of not having a choice, they simply "had to" write, paint, play music, dance. I can't say that understand this yet. But I am curious to understand what is underneath this feeling of being compelled to do something creative.

So through this writing, I am going to follow my curious admiration of makers and creators.

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