Simplify (Part IV): How to rescue your creative mind
As human beings, I believe that ingrained within us all, is a natural instinct to create. You can argue that you don't have a single creative bone in your body but I call bull. Having been made in the likeness of the Creator of the Universe, I think that we're built for creation. For making something that didn't exist before. Writing a sentence. Composing a song. Cooking a meal. Choreographing a dance. Developing a business strategy. Building a sand castle. It doesn't require complexity or years of skill and experience. It only requires that you bring something with meaning into existence that didn't exist before.
The natural state of the universe is a gradual decline into disorder; for those of you who remember your laws of thermodynamics, it's called entropy. Therefore, unless we are creating, we are in a natural state of destruction. Not in the Wreck-It Ralph sort of way, but in a 2-month-old-puppy-dog sort of way. Our existence consumes rather than creates. We eat food, we produce trash, we kick off our shoes onto the floor... all of these things, unless we immediately counter act them with a positive change such as putting our shoes away, produce disorder simply through living life.
Creation should be the natural, fulfilling state of mankind, for by it we produce value and beauty. We create which propels the natural cycle of our existence.
The reason that I'm spending so much time talking about creating is that I wanted to set the stage before I presented my case on simplifying our consumption. The short story is, when you're consuming, you're not creating. It's a matter of opportunity cost. In economic theory, opportunity cost is the value of the best option that was forgone as a result of having to choose between multiple mutually exclusive choices. Let's say you wake up one Saturday morning eager to spend a day with your friends. As you're slipping into your tennis shoes, your boss calls and says they're short one person and would pay you overtime for the entire day if you would come into work. Then your significant other shows up unexpectedly with a picnic basket, a red and white checkered blanket and the cutest smile you've ever seen. You've got a choice to make - you can't be in all three places at once. Whichever you choose, the value of the runner-up option is your opportunity cost.
So we spend an hour consuming - that's an hour not spent creating. I find myself instinctively drawn toward consumption whether it's reading a blog post or watching a movie. On the other hand, it takes self-discipline and motivation to create. Because of the fall in Genesis, our natural state isn't order but disorder. Dorthy Parker, an American writer and poet, once unveiled the true heart of artists when she said, “I hate writing, I love having written.” I too, struggle with sitting down in the evenings and cranking out 1,000+ words, but when I'm through I receive an immense amount of satisfaction in having created something. I put together thoughts in my mind and produced something others can ingest and appreciate. That feels good.
We're not simply existing in the world when we create, we're adding value to it. We're all part of a complex ecosystem of human begins and through creation, we're actually contributing instead of ungratefully consuming all that others have created.
I believe that in simplifying our consumption, we rescue the opportunity to create.
Consequently, we rescue opportunity to make an impact as well. Throughout history, the game-changers never only consumed, they created. Even when they destroyed what existed, they built empires, inventions, movements and civilizations in their wake. We cannot make an impact through consumption alone. Below are a few ways to simplify your consumption and rescue your creation in the modern world:
1. Limit Your Access
I know that's not what you wanted to hear but I promise, it's not as bad as you think. I see GenY kids who look at their phone before rolling out of bed in the morning and before closing their eyes at night. They're in a constant state of consumption, juggling five to seven social networks on their phone. Don't believe me? Let's name them: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, YouTube, Periscope/Meerkat, LinkedIn, FourSquare, Google+. We just named the ones everyone knows and I was able to list off ten. Chances are you have at least five of them on your phone. When they're not using social media or texting, blogs, podcasts, streaming services (Netflix & Hulu) or books are filling the void.
Here's the caveat: we can't create our best work unless we consume. We need to feed our creative mind so that we have something to create WITH. Unlike God, we are incapable of creating something out of nothing. We must use what is available to us and piece it all together in a new way. Whether ideas or scrap metal, we are still building something new from something that already existed. You need to consume. Finding the sweet spot between over-consumption and isolationism is the key.
I also realize that you can't always be creating or feeding your creative mind. Sometimes you need to shut it all down and veg out. I totally get that! After I finish writing this, I'm brewing some tea and watching Netflix, no doubt. As with many things in life, it's a good idea to implement portion control.
- Limit your active, online participation to 4 social networks
- Watch no more than 2 hours of TV/Movies a day
2. F.R.I.E.N.D.S. > Naked and Afraid
I'm probably stepping on the toes of a few remote, die-hard Naked and Afraid fans, but guys c'mon - can we just admit F.R.I.E.N.D.S. is a much better show? Anyway, my point is that when we do consume, let's spend that time consuming something of quality. Why go for the scraps when you can have the crème de la crème? Starting something doesn't justify finishing it. Crappy movie or crappy book? Stop watching or reading it! Move on to the good stuff because life is too short and too full of awesome things to waste on the mediocre.
- Take four minutes and quickly write down your current top three shows, podcasts, blogs and social apps
- Spend your allotted consumption time on that list
3. Connect the dots
Great consumption should give birth to great creation. Use what you have gleaned - all of the little pieces you've picked up here and there - and make something wonderful from it. I've found that my head gets rather cluttered with ideas and the only way for me to make sense of them all and spark some idea generation, is to see them laid out in front of me. I use a program called Evernote which is essentially my digital brain. Anything inspirational, thoughtful, educational, or remotely interesting I throw into Evernote. Later, when I am brainstorming an idea, it's as easy as a word search in Evernote to find a collection of content that was curated by me! It's the closest thing to perfect recall for a guy who doesn't have it. Once all of the content is there, it's just a matter of connecting the dots.
- Begin collecting interesting and inspiring things that you find into a notebook, notecards or a digital brain like Evernote
- Make something new from what you've acquired by connecting ideas that haven't been connected before
Let your inner-creator rediscover the joyous, therapudic act of creating. Discover the fulfillment of releasing something new into the world. Something uniquely yours. You don't have to hide away in a studio loft for three years to do it. Start by rescuing the time you spend consuming what others create by managing that time and harnessing some of it for your own creations. You'll thank yourself for it later!