How an Orderly Life Benefits Your Art

rock paper scissorsYou’ve seen the common perception of “artists” — disorganized, flighty, not always entirely in touch with reality. Mess and disorder, partying ’til all hours and sleeping in, drink and drugs and bad behavior of all kinds. Artists aren’t expected to behave like “normal” people because, y’know, they’re artists.

Truth is the more habits you institute in your life the better it is for your art. Here’s why.

Using Up Willpower

Exercise strengthens muscles. It also strengthens willpower.

Muscles get tired and have to rest.

So does willpower.

The strongest man in the world can’t carry a Volkswagen around very long. At some point, he has to put it down and drink another spinach and raw liver shake. Muscles have limits.

So does willpower.

The strongest will eventually wears down and must rest. Willpower is not simply choosing to do or not do something. It is making a choice which goes contrary to your natural inclination.

Eating lunch is, in general, a decision. Having ice cream or bourbon for lunch probably doesn’t use up much willpower. Having a salad when you’d really prefer ice cream or bourbon — that’s willpower.

Energy expended on willpower is unavailable for other mental effort. Your brain gets tired, having to push you to make choices which conflict with your human nature. When your willpower is used up, when your brain is tired, you will not write. You will not write well. You will not write when it’s hard. You will not write for your 15-minute daily commitment or your 1,666-word goal.

Not Just Willpower

Every decision you make uses mental energy. Not just willpower decisions, but all decisions.

What time should I get up in the morning? Take my walk before lunch, or after? Cereal or eggs? Rock or jazz? Turtleneck or button-down collar?

I don’t advocate the Phileas Fogg school of “set it and forget it” decision about wardrobe, diet, and schedule. I also don’t object if you want to do that. Make smart, healthy choices once, and never decide again. I actually like the idea.

What Should I Do?

My days tend to be sloppy and disorganized. Schedules annoy me and I can’t know what I’m interested in eating for lunch until it’s lunch time.

Too much of my time is spent choosing the next decision to make. Regular in habits and schedule reduces the mental and emotional load, freeing energy for art.

That’s why I should create a schedule and a menu and all that and stick to it. Will I?

I haven’t decided yet.

4 thoughts on “How an Orderly Life Benefits Your Art

  1. This is cute, Joel!

    However, I Dare you to drink a raw spinach and liver shake. Or was it spinach and raw liver. Whatever.

  2. Ah, schedules annoy me too…

    I guess I’m meant to be a disorganized artist, and a messy one. My room is always a mess, as is my writing desk.

    Before Easter, I had an almost perfect writing schedule. I left home for a few days, and when I came back my writing schedule was gone… I’m trying my best to rebuild it now!

  3. Oh, don’t misunderstand, I love being on a schedule. I’m just not very good at it. One of Best Beloved’s upcoming projects is to help me create and implement a reasonable schedule for all the stuff I do.

    For developing habits, start small with a commitment you know you can keep. Promise to show up every Sunday evening for five minutes, for instance. It sounds silly, but small wins have big power in developing habits.

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