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The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness
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    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it. Slowly your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

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    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

    Program Your Own Algorithms

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    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them like computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result. Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

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    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to follow your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy–the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail, you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first thirty day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up. Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterwards. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution was to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I decided to sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.
    2. Web Usage. How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly efficient ritual, I was able to cut of 75% of my web time without losing any communication.
    3. Reading. How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.
    4. Friendliness. Rituals can also help in communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.
    5. Working. One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.
    6. Going to the gym. If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.
    7. Exercise. Even within your workout you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of a doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.
    8. Sleeping. Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning it will help if you remove the insomnia.
    9. Weekly Reviews. The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now I narrow my focus towards specific plans, ideas and measurements.

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    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines 15 Ways to Cultivate Lifelong Learning for a Sharper Brain How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Right Now 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick 18 Tips for Killer Presentations

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    Last Updated on May 21, 2019

    How to Be More Creative and Come up with Incredible Ideas

    How to Be More Creative and Come up with Incredible Ideas

    Regardless of how creative you already consider yourself to be, there’s a good chance you would like to level up your creative abilities.

    You might want to write a better song, think of better solutions to problems at work or around the home or maybe paint a picture.

    In any case, the good news is that creativity is not born: it’s made, and each one of us has the potential to be more creative and come up with incredible ideas.

    “Creativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one.” — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

    The definition of creativity is broad, and reminds us that creativity is not limited to artists or musicians. It does however require that we have some kind of impact on the domain in which we create.

    Creativity also emphasizes values.

    “The process of having original ideas that have value” — Ken Robinson

    This makes up for what Csikszentmihalyi misses out. For instance, we can make a change in the world without adding significant value. Any destructive act, like smashing a window, creates change, but it doesn’t necessarily create valuable change.

    In short, there isn’t one single definition of creativity It’s up to us to find a definition that feels true and useful. When you know what your standard is, It’s much easier to embrace creativity and start to cultivate it.

    And in this article, you will learn how to be more creative and take a good look at what goes into the creative skill:

    1. Cultivate Focus

    In order to create, there needs to be a focus on creating something, whether it’s a song, a theory, a product, or a sculpture.

    You could also call this “drive” – it’s the initial spark that drives the solution to a problem, or the will to get on your laptop and start typing.

    However, it’s worth noting there are different stages to the creative process: the divergent stage and the convergent stage.

    In the divergent stage, we want a broad focus – we want to be willing to let in lots of different inputs, ideas and insights. This is the time for brainstorming all possible ideas and solutions.

    In the convergent stage, we start to narrow our focus, like a camera lens. At this stage, we start to drill down to a handful of ideas or solutions, discriminating throughout the process.

    How to cultivate focus?

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    Take a 20 Minute Walk

    Walking away and getting your heart rate up is the best free tool you have in regaining your focus.

    I know it might seem counterintuitive to take a break right when you’re at your busiest, and especially when you’re drowning in your massive to do list, but the effects it will have on your clarity and ability to focus are undeniable.

    Walking is physiologically proven to release stress, and clear your mind. In fact, most of my most brilliant ideas (and some pretty terrible ones too) have occurred on my daily walks.

    If you give this technique a try, what you’ll find is that you’re much more productive than you were before you took a breather.

    Over time, if you do these walks daily, you’ll quickly find that your to-do list starts to feel a lot less significant, and a lot more doable. It’s all about keeping razor focused, and that’s what short daily walks will gift you.

    2. Build a Structure

    When I wake up in the morning, I start the day with a structure in mind. I know that 15 minutes will be dedicated to meditation, 30 minutes to coffee and reading, 20 minutes to yoga and so on.

    The structure of this morning routine might be boring, but the act of each task in itself has the potential to be, on some level, “creative.”

    The point of structure is that it gives you the space to make time for something you want to do. It helps you carve out the time to do your creative work. Once you begin that thing in itself, you are free to go about it however you’d like.

    Without structure, we can lose focus and can feel overwhelmed with possibility. If you’ve ever looked at a blank page and felt too overwhelmed with possibility to make a mark on it, you’ll know what I mean. How much easier it gets when you are given some guidelines or a deadline?

    The trick is finding the right amount of structure for you and your creative needs. Too little structure and we feel overwhelmed. Too much structure, and we risk feeling limited and stifled.

    Again, it’s worth thinking about creating in those two stages: divergent (less structure) and convergent (more structure.)

    How to build a structure?

    Create a Morning Routine

    Your morning routine doesn’t have to be rigid or so arduous you dread waking up. In fact, it should feel like the opposite. When you get a routine that works for you, you’ll look forward to starting the day.

    We all have different needs and preferences which can shape our ideal routine. In the book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, you can be inspired over 160 different creators’ daily routines, from Charles Darwin to Pablo Picasso.

    Experiment with any that take your fancy, and see how you feel with a bit more structure to start your day.

    You can also take a look at this article about morning routine for inspirations: The Ultimate Morning Routine to Make You Happy And Productive All Day

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    3. Find Motivation

    There is a theory that suggests: people will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself — not by external pressures. This is also known as intrinsic motivation; a drive that comes from within.

    Think of a time when you did some of your best work — chances are you were totally absorbed in what you were doing, to the exclusion of everything else. You were completely focused on the work itself, barely noticing time flying by.

    Now think of a time when you felt under pressure to perform. Maybe it was an exam, or a commission for an important client, or maybe your boss had told you “there’s a lot riding on this.”

    Notice the difference? In the first memory, you were driven by intrinsic motivation, which made it relatively easy, even enjoyable, to be highly creative.

    In the second memory however, extrinsic motivation was breathing down your neck, distracting you by whispering about the rewards for success and the horrible consequences of failure: likely making it harder to focus on the task at hand.

    For this reason, intrinsic motivation, if you can find it, is what separates the good from great creative work.

    This isn’t to say only internal motivators help. I personally get motivated by luring myself to work with a good cappuccino at my favourite cafe. That will get me ready to write or edit or whatever I’ve been avoiding.

    How to find motivation?

    Connect to Your “Why”

    Your “Why” is your fuel: the thing that drives you forward, that gives you a reason to do what you’re doing.

    ‘He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.’ — Friedrich Nietzche

    When you have a reason to do something, a purpose or a goal that matters to you, you can connect your daily actions to it. Then, each act becomes infused with meaning and you find that intrinsic motivation comes naturally.

    The trick is to remember your “why” and connect with it on a regular basis.

    Think about how you want to feel on a daily basis. What would you like to accomplish in the next year? What would you like for yourself in the next five years? How about in your lifetime?

    Ultimately, the tasks you face on a daily basis, or at least some of them, will connect to a greater purpose if you follow this path and you will find you feel more motivated to create and less resistance.

    If you aren’t sure where to start looking for motivation, this will help: How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

    4. Be an Expert in a Chosen Domain

    Research has shown that just as expertise in one domain does not predict expertise in other unrelated domains; creativity in one domain does not predict creativity in other unrelated domains.[1]

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    So just because you can paint a pretty picture, doesn’t mean you can creatively solve a mathematical problem.

    If you’ve taken one of those tests like the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, which will ask you to think of a bazillion uses for a pencil, and scored well, unfortunately this is only an indicator of divergent thinking skills. It is not a predictor for creativity all round.

    The good news is, you can train your creativity in your chosen domain. Much like a muscle, you can isolate exercises to strengthen it.

    Of course you can still do a total body workout – or atotal creativity workout – but it means your creativity-training exercises need to come from a wide variety of domains; not just thinking up uses for a pencil.

    How to become an expert?

    Make a Mastery Training Plan

    Following our physical workout analogy, it’s worth applying the habits of great athletes to your chosen creative domain. For example:

    1. Decide what area/s you want to work on

    Much like a tennis player who decides they need to improve their serving technique, you can decide what area within your creative domain you want to improve at. Get specific.

    2. Decide how much time you can dedicate

    Most of us don’t have all day to train like a pro tennis player might, but you can likely squeeze 20 to 30 minutes in a day, if you want to. Whatever the time you can allow is, decide to dedicate yourself to it.

    3. Review your progress

    Finally, in order to check your progress, you can take regular reviews. Decide what your metrics are, and take time each week to check in with yourself.

    How many days did you practice? How did you compare to the previous week? This kind of review can help you stay on track, and actually creates more intrinsic motivation as you see yourself develop.

    5. Create a Conducive Environment

    A psychologist in 1943 proposed that behaviour is:[2]

    “a function of both the person as well as the physical environment they are in.”

    I would suggest that the act of creating is a behaviour and that, even though it begins as an internal process, it’s very much affected by and even dependent on the environment we are in.

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    I started noticing how environment affects me when I worked in an office. Over time, I realized that the more people who were in or who were talking, the more distracted I was. If I got to the office early before my coworkers arrived, I was twice as effective.

    I was even more effective if I was at home. Now that I work from home, I know I’m even more effective when in certain coffee shops. Ideally, places that have high ceilings, gentle lighting, some barely noticeable background music – and excellent coffee.

    It’s these little variations in our environment that can really shape our creative output.

    If you’re an introvert, you probably do your best work alone. If you’re an extrovert, you probably do your best work in the company of others.

    This isn’t to say you should find one way of doing things and stick to it: in fact, varying your environment from time to time is a great way to stoke the creative fire too, which we’ll touch on more later.

    How to create a conducive environment?

    Add or Subtract Stimuli

    Novelty in our environment has been shown to stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that increases our desire to seek out reward.[3]

    If you’re looking for creative motivation, adding some novelty into your environment can be just what you need.

    On the other hand, some people are highly sensitive and when it comes to having too much stimulation in their environment, they find it difficult to focus.

    Experiment with working in different environments. Note how you feel. Note whether you do better creative work or have more interesting ideas when you’re alone or with others.

    Try listening to music, people chatting or try being in complete silence. Try a dimly lit room, try working in bright sunlight.

    In each case, note how you feel before, during and afterwards and rate the quality of your work.

    The Bottom Line

    Creativity is not one particular skill or talent one can have. It comes in as many broad and unique flavors as there are people on this earth.

    To be more creative, take little steps each day. Acknowledge where and when you feel most inspired, motivated and original and spend more energy in those areas.

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    Featured photo credit: Sticker Mule via unsplash.com

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