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For the last six weeks I’ve been working my way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Julia has me writing morning pages every day – three pages of whatever comes into my head. In these pages, I’ve noticed that I repeatedly refer to what I want more of in my life – more writing, meditating, yoga, and healthy eating. However, I also noticed that I wasn’t doing the things that I said I wanted to do. Why is that?
The quick and easy answer is that there are not enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do. Perfect – a get out of jail free card – it’s not my fault that I’m busy and can’t find the time to write, or meditate, or peel an orange! However, when I realized that there are lots of things that I do find time for, things that are not on my list of what I want more of in my life, I had to look beyond the easy answer.
What am I finding time to do? It turns out I’m finding time to do the things I always do. I work from home and there are some things that I’ve gotten into the habit of doing every day. Let’s call it busy work – responding to emails, doing administrative work, clearing my desk, filing, computer games – and that doesn’t include household chores. No wonder there is no time to add more of the things I want in my life!
Julia Cameron (in the book) asked me to name my favourite creative block and not surprisingly my answer was busy work – all those things I listed. But it’s not just the busy work; my real block is my habit of not starting on the important things until I get all the small, loose ends tied up. What I now call habitage – a habit that sabotages.
And what is my payoff for staying blocked (because there has to be a payoff for everything we do)? I realized that it feels safe doing the same stuff every day. It’s not scary or painful – there are no risks or challenges. Busy work allows me to feel productive while staying in my comfort zone where I’m not vulnerable.
Writing, for example, is hard. It requires effort, concentration, and focus. I have a list of writing projects that I want to get to. I know they will be challenging and that’s why I’ve erected a habit barricade to keep me from the “pain” of actually working on them. Busy work also protects me from the fear of failure. If I’m not writing, I can’t fail. I can’t be bad at it if I’m not doing it.
I remember reading in What Color is Your Parachute? that our brains will stop us from stretching ourselves in order to protect us from danger. It goes back to our primitive days – stay in the cave where we won’t get eaten by whatever is outside the cave. Our brains will instinctively look at that new idea, that new job, that new challenge and say “too risky, stay here out of harm’s way”. We need to recognize this when it happens and acknowledge that keeping us safe is a good thing, but maybe this particular risk or challenge is one that we want or need to take.
It’s human nature to avoid pain and there is no pain in doing our familiar busy work. We could fill our whole lives with it – doing lots but staying right where we are, never moving forward or growing. Or we could choose to push past the “pain” and do some of the hard stuff – explore some of the challenges and the possibilities and maybe make life a little fuller, a little bigger.
So my choice for this new year is to replace my habitage with habits that will stretch and challenge me. To remove my busy work barricade, I’ve drafted a daily schedule that I am still tweaking. It has everything in it that I want to do in my day. Yoga is there, after my work day when I feel more inclined to do it rather than in the morning when I thought I should be doing it (but never did). Busy work is still there, but after I have done some of my “hard” work.
Hopefully six weeks from now I will be seeing the things I want more of in my life reflected in my morning pages.
I wish you all a Happy, Healthy, and Habitage-Free 2015.