I was recently inspired by one of Steve Pavlina’s posts to start a 30 day trial of inspiration. The concept is to spend one month where you choose all your actions based on your inspiration in the moment, without following any predetermined plan or even thinking too much ahead.
I’ve actually been slowly moving towards this kind of decision making for a while, and it was just a coincidence that I discovered Steve’s post – which almost exactly mirrored my own thoughts – about a week ago. His version was even more extreme than mine though – so I stole his version and decided to do mine as a 30 day trial as well
I am restricting this to my work life for now. I won’t be making any major life decisions on the spur of the moment, at least not for the following 30 days. I want to try how well it works out on a limited area of my life first.
Creativity vs. Structure
Just “doing what you want” sounds very unstructured, but it doesn’t have to be. One big source of inspiration for this trial (besides Steve’s post) was a site I recently discovered called #onegameamonth. While the site itself is probably only interesting for game developers, it was the philosophy behind it that caught my interest.
The site basically encourages game developers to create one whole, new game each month. That by itself could be a great resource for helping people push through perfectionism and the fear of shipping. But it was the site’s fresh “here are the rules, everything is optional” mindset that really inspired me to rethink how I do my work. The site sets up a clear structure you can follow, with submission deadlines, themes and so on, but it doesn’t actually require or enforce any of it. In fact it stresses very clearly that everything is a “personal challenge”, without any obligation to color within the lines in order to participate.
These kind of “optional structures” really help creativity and inspiration, I think, rather than hinder it. They give you a complex surface with many starting points, any of which you can spin off into your own wild tangents. This as opposed to just giving yourself a white, rectangular blank sheet of paper, and expecting to be creative. White sheets of paper are awesome if you already have finished ideas. They’re not very helpful if you need some inspiration to get going – which most of us do.
I think this definitely fits in with the theme of a 30 day trial of inspiration. Because the point of the trial isn’t to abolish all structure and engage in some kind of obsessive-impulsive behavior. The point isn’t to force yourself to use a blank sheet of paper.
The point is make creativity the absolute number one priority for 30 days, by all means possible, and to see what effect this has on your productivity.
So none of this means you have to throw away all your plans, TODO lists etc. It just means not feeling emotionally committed to them.
Virtually everything I want to work on already has a ton of plans, notes and ideas to follow – and these are all important productivity tools for me. However I will allow myself to change any plan, jump to another project, or start entirely new projects at any time. I will treat my existing plans as memory aids for past inspired ideas, and nothing more. Plans are just “optional structures” to inspire more creativity – they can be ignored at any point.
Never Commit to Anything
Committing to creativity also means fiercely pushing anti-creative forces out of the way. This especially applies to counterproductive feelings of guilt, fear and uncertainty that usually follow when you change plans or when you release something new and risk getting criticism for it.
One consequence of following this path is that you won’t be able to commit to any particular plan, project or idea. Commitment means locking yourself down to a predetermined path. In order to be able to jump to a new path on a whim, you can’t already be tied down to the path you are on. So for this to work smoothly, you will have to stay clear of all commitments, obligations and promises – even and especially to yourself.
Maybe you’ve heard the term “to underpromise and overdeliver”. This is more akin to “never promise anything, ever”. If you don’t make promises, it’s also impossible to break promises, and thus you stay free to think and do whatever you want without guilt.
In fact, you will have to stop using guilt as the primary motivator for doing work. You will have to avoid using worlds like “should” and “have to” as reasons to do anything. Those are fear-based words, that focus on the negative consequences of not doing work, rather than the positive and inspiring consequences of doing work.
So in that vein, I’m not even committing to doing this for 30 days. I am making this entire trial itself into an optional structure. I want to follow my inspiration because I’m inspired to do so, not because I said I would. I might change my mind tomorrow, and I am perfectly fine with that.
Pushing the Comfort Zone
So that’s what I’m planning on doing for the month of March. I already started a few days ago, and the first thing I was inspired to do was to write this post.
It’s interesting that most of the stuff I want to do now is somewhere outside my current comfort zone. Doing something new and challenging always comes with fear and uncertainty, and it takes a bit of extra courage to push that fear aside. This trial is not necessarily going to be an easy challenge, even though “doing whatever you want” sounds easy.
As an example, I’m still pretty self conscious about “speaking” in public like this, and it took me over a week just to sit down, write this blog post and publish it. But I pushed through some boundaries to get there, and those boundary changes will permanently make expressing myself easier in the future.
And because of that, getting inspired to do so will also be easier.
I’m already experiencing how much it helps to really want to do everything you do, instead of just doing things because you “have” to or because you’ve “committed” to them. I’m also slowly getting over the early worries that this trial would actually lower my productivity rather than increase it. Maybe the biggest challenge is getting over the fear that you’ll just sit around doing nothing.
You won’t, and I think just trying it for a few days will prove that to yourself beyond a shadow of a doubt if you’re a reasonably creative person. I’ve had so many ideas and inspirations the last few days it’s ridiculous, and I have to fight the guilt of not being able to do all of it. I won’t be able to do all of it of course, but I’m fine with that too.