Discipline in Service to Creativity

I was listening to the Tim Ferriss Podcast this morning and he was interviewing Jim Collins. It’s worth listening to if you get a chance, or read the transcript here: https://tim.blog/2019/02/20/the-tim-ferriss-show-transcripts-jim-collins-361/ There was a line that Jim casually dropped in the middle of explaining something else and it ended with “… discipline in service to creativity” where he was talking about having a focus on creative work and how he employs behaviours to force it to be a priority. I find this idea to be fascinating – particularly because I’ve always juxtaposed creativity and discipline. They seem like opposite things right? Aristotle was the first to coin the phrase “Through discipline comes freedom” and these once seemed like opposites to me. As time has gone on, however, and I’ve thought more about it, it’s obvious both these notions are spot on, particularly if you consider the impact of not organising time or prioritising creative activities in your life. The old line “If you don’t prioritise your life, someone else will” so said by Mahatma Gandhi is true and it’s been well adapted to “if you don’t prioritise your time someone else will”. Discipline allows us the freedom for that prioritisation and creativity can come out of that freedom.

When we are engaged in creative work, it’s fair to say that most people are at their happiest – doing what they love and having something come out of it at the end. It’s really a wonderful time and the more time we invest in it, then the better we feel. In the course of attempting to achieve my objective of 1000 blog posts, I’ve had to apply a certain discipline to writing. Every weekday I sit down during my morning tea break, lunch break and sometimes sneak a bit of time in the afternoon to write or finish writing one of these posts. I’m time poor and so the editing can leave a bit to be desired but I do my best to come back and review the post prior to publishing it. Indeed, I’m working it into my daily routine at work so that I don’t take time from important business activities to put into my writing. I really enjoy writing though and so it’s starting to become a priority. When I get out the door in the morning on my drive to work I start thinking of the topic and then begin to expand that out to become a post of a few hundred words. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes not. It’s better if I am focussed on it early in the morning than late in the afternoon so I have to make sure I’m right to write earlier. I also do not want to have it impact work, however I find that some of these topics are springing directly from work and therefore build on my day to day stuff. But back to discipline and how it affects creativity or freedom.

I’ve written previously about attention and time – it’s easy to lose both these resources in an age like now, particularly with large marketing departments desperate to attract and hold our attention at any cost. Applying discipline around social media involvement is one way I have achieved freedom to be creative. Rather than scroll through endless Facebook posts I instead limit myself to a very short time in the morning and the evening to review the day and then that’s it. I avoid Twitter and rarely check Instagram. These applications are time thieves and designed to grab and hold our attention. The discipline applied to avoid this is critical – otherwise time gets away and there is no space for creativity. Discipline has been compared to a muscle by many people – the more it’s exercised the stronger it becomes. Linking that discipline to freedom of time for creative activities has become a strong motivator for me. Likewise, I’m trying to develop the discipline of writing succinctly and minimising language for maximum focus. I respect your time and attention and don’t want to waste it.

From here I will be engaging in a series of experiments around discipline and the link to freedom and creativity. Since completing university studies I’ve eschewed the early mornings for uni work and slept in, and this I think has been detrimental. There is an easy win to be gained simply by getting up on time, and freeing up that creative early morning energy. Look for more posts earlier in the day. I will begin working on getting up again at 5 am, with the aim of early morning meditation, then writing of some sort and recording how frequently I can get this to happen. We will put it to to the test – how does discipline act in service to creativity and I will report on it after a month of working at it. Here we go!

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