Routine Stifled My Creativity
At 5:30am every weekday, my alarm goes off. I get up, stretch the stiffness out of my back, get dressed in my work clothes, put the kettle on, go to the toilet, make some tea, eat some muesli, scroll a handful of news feeds (never really paying attention to any of them), pack my lunch, kiss my girlfriend goodbye, call and order my coffee, pick my coffee up and drive to work.
In summer, I go surfing after work; in winter, I try and go to the gym. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have night school. On Friday, I buy my lunch from the bakery. On Saturday, I go to the pub; on Sunday, I rest.
For the past year and a half, with a few exceptions, my life has followed this routine day in, day out. And it is something I am extremely grateful for: being on a salary, having a secure place to go to work every day, knowing where everyone would go for a beer on the weekend, regular sex, a healthy relationship, gym memberships, direct debits, rent, car repayments… all healthy indicators of stepping into adulthood, and facets of life that should never be taken for granted.
Before subscribing to this Monday-to-Sunday schedule, my life was a lot less organised and more sporadic. I’d spent just under two years meandering across the globe, from the Ecuadorian Andes to the islands of Greece. During these escapades, I never knew what I was going to be doing in a week’s time: the wind could change, a swell could pop up, buses could be cancelled, flights could be booked… I was living in a constant state of unknown.
Going to bed at night and not knowing which country I’d be falling asleep in the following night wasn’t always the most comfortable way to live, but it certainly kept things interesting. What’s more, this nomadic existence did wonders for my creative inspiration. A never-ending consumption of foreign subject matter wasn’t just the fuel for my creativity: it helped me understand how the rest of the world worked, as well as how I fit (or in many cases, didn’t) fit into it. I never had to force creativity; it would regularly manifest itself through a handful of mediums, mostly writing.
It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago when someone asked me if I was still doing any writing that I realised my output had pretty much ground to a halt. Even now as I sit writing this, I’m struggling to summon the productive capacity needed to piece a story together. The synaptic connection that used to come so effortlessly when writing has buried itself deep within my nervous system, making bursts of creativity and productivity few and far between.
Unsure if this was just me growing lazy, or if there were other factors at play, I did a bit of research and quickly found that there was a popular theory linking routines to a drop in creativity.
In a TIME magazine article I came across, science writer Annie Murphy Paul had this to say: “Several recent studies highlight the way most of us spend our mornings is exactly counter to the conditions that neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists tell us promote flexible, open-minded thinking.”
Basically, the steps we follow in the morning and throughout the day get so engrained in our minds that we pretty much do them on autopilot. This structure leaves no room for our minds to flow and move naturally, making it harder to absorb new pieces of information as sources of inspiration.
Accepting that I’d slipped into a creative abyss of sorts, I’ve begun making a conscious effort to try get those buried synapses firing on all cylinders again. Obviously, our minds are all beautifully individual and unique, so what may help pull me out of said abyss may do absolutely nothing for the creativity of the next person. Differences aside, I’ve found sticking to a few basic principles is slowly but surely balancing out the creativity-routine dance.
For me, dropping the needle on a hammer playlist is the closest I come to meditation. But much like my day-to-day routine, I get stuck listening to the same songs on repeat, burying myself in a loop of music. So, now I’ve made it a rule that every time I open Spotify, I find a new song. Even if it’s shit. New sounds almost always inspire me to look out through a different lens; they can also exhume creative flairs I have long since forgotten about.
Exposing our senses to a wide variety of information is both mentally and physically healthy, so much like listening out for new tunes, I try to read as much as I can get my eyes on. Whether it be an article from the Betoota Advocate, a poem from Nick Cave or an analysis on the rising tension with China, reading always takes me into someone else’s world and fires up my imagination.
One of the most effective ways I’ve found to stimulate my creative thinking is to pack the van and hit the road. Heading over the hill and around the corner is never a bad idea. While it often seems hard to break my weekly routine and shoot off on an expedition somewhere, I always feel better for it when I do, as getting out of my comfort zone always helps my mental, physical and emotional health.
While old man COVID has limited the places we can visit, I’ve found that you never have to travel far to experience different cultures. And immersing myself in different walks of life has always been my biggest source of inspiration.
Cover by Bethany Legg