With the year coming to a close, many folks are excited to slip into their Christmas onesies and slow the heck down.
There’s less to do in the office, the weather is uninviting, the food is better, and there are plenty of holiday parties to attend (or skip). Some, like myself, are even lucky enough to have a week off between Christmas and New Years. It’s the perfect time to veg out and piece together a puzzle.
But I always have trouble completely disengaging. I feel guilty. After all, if I’m given this bounty of free time, to spend it eating, playing video games, and cleaning the house feels like an unnecessary splurge.
So when December rolls around, I try to stay productive. I don’t see why I should wait until January 1st to start a new project. Because right now, while everyone else is lounging around, I can get a head start. I can build new habits today. And that’ll only make it easier to follow through on my resolutions in 2018.
01: Creativity—Try a 28 Day Challenge
In the days when I spent more time thinking about writing than actually writing, I stumbled across some killer advice from Jerry Seinfeld:
“He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day…He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. ‘After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.’
‘Don’t break the chain,’ he said again for emphasis.”
In January, zillions of people will sign up for gym memberships. They’ll buy new workout clothes. They’ll set their alarms for 5:00 AM with the best of intentions. And then, they’ll never follow through. It’s the same sad story we retell every year. And we’ll continue to retell it because creating any new habit is hard.
Financially investing in a gym pass and new shoes isn’t enough. The only real way to motivate yourself is to do the thing again and again until it becomes an ingrained habit, until we cannot fathom breaking the chain.
We have a little less than 30 days left in December—28 if you count today. So why not give yourself a small challenge to flex your habit-forming muscles? It doesn’t have to be anything huge. It can be as simple as reading 10 pages of a book, writing 100 words, always hanging up your coat when you walk in the door, or anything else, just so long as you do it every day for the rest of the month. Personally, I’m going to follow some advice from last week and meditate for five minutes every morning and see what happens.
Then, on January 1st, you can decide if you’d like to quit or keep going. That’s totally up to you. But the simple act of setting a goal and following through—of not breaking the chain—could radically change your 2018, or even your life.
02: Improv—Set One, Specific Goal
Everyone who practices and performs improv wants to get better. But rarely do they define what “getting better” actually means. That’s why I ask my advanced students (and when I was performing, I asked myself), “what’s one thing you can do for the next month that’ll make you a better improviser?”
For me, there was a month where I pledged to not play myself on stage. There was another where I tried not to laugh when I was in scenes. Other students have told me they’re going to edit more, initiate more, or speak less, among other things.
Once you choose your goal, remember—that’s the only thing that matters. Your success and failure is determined solely by that thing. So if your goal is to edit more, then don’t worry about how you said no in that one scene or lost the game or whatever. That doesn’t matter because it’s not your focus.
The power of this exercise is that, in setting a specific goal, you can create a habit. When you only focus on editing for a month, by the time you’re ready for a new goal, you’ll have mastered the old one. You won’t have to think about it anymore. It will no longer be a weakness. You will have measurably improved.
03: Life—Strengthen Your Filter
Last week, I wrote about the danger of distractions. And one way I’ve mitigated that danger is by creating a filter. For example, I block my Facebook newsfeed and only look at my notifications. I don’t visit sites like Medium (where it’s easy to get distracted), but instead, I sign up for newsletters from the writers I like. This keeps me generally focused on my work because, rather than seeking out indefinite articles, a finite amount come directly to me. And once I’ve read those articles, I don’t go looking for more. I get back to work.
By the end of the year, though, I’ve likely signed up for more than I can manage. My filter is not as strong as it once was. Emails are piling up, I’m finding it harder and harder to work. Rather than create, I find myself doing the “easy tasks,” like clearing out my inbox.
In the next 28 days, try a content audit. Take that Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up advice—hold each email subscription “in your hands” and think, “does this bring me joy?” If the answer is no, unsubscribe. Or, if you want to go super hardcore, unsubscribe from everything and only add something back if you start to miss it.
With every un-subscription, you strength your filter and remove distractions. By January 1st, you’ll be back to a place where you can create more than you consume.
Time is arbitrary. We made it up. So there’s no reason to wait until the New Year to start fresh. Try these three challenges this month, and in January, when everyone else is snoozing their alarm and blowing money on a gym membership, you’ll be putting big red X’s on the calendar.
Each week, I write a new article helping busy people find meaning and fulfillment through sustainable creative habits. If you enjoyed this week’s letter, you can sign up to get them delivered to your inbox each week by digital carrier pigeon.