For a long time, I tried to adhere to a steady morning ritual. To win the morning was to win the day, and productive people do their best work in the mornings. Or so I thought.
For the last couple of weeks, I have been in a difficult writing process to launch a new program. My entire body protested whenever I sat behind my desk to start writing. I got queasy, had to yawn constantly, and suddenly got overly tired, even if I just woke up. It was resistance in its purest form. I plowed through relentlessly, struggling with every sentence, feeling like I was climbing a mountain far too steep for my level of expertise. I started feeling a strong aversion to my desk, especially sitting behind it to ‘work.’
Anyone aspiring to creative pursuits knows this state. It’s dreadful, evoking all sorts of feelings of doubt and self-hatred. For years, my conclusion has been that writing is mostly suffering. But once in a while, something miraculous happens. My muse suddenly appears, and my creative flow returns. Whenever she visits me, my body receives a jolt of energy to continue writing as if it is the easiest thing in the world.
Relying on my muse is frustrating, to say the least. I constantly wish to be in that delicious state of flow, forcing myself to struggle until she finally appears. And in my search, I’ve tried to adopt the advice from successful people, who say things like: “create before you do anything else,” “focus on deep work first thing,” or “just show up and do the work.”
Inviting creativity through discipline
These bits of advice all invite the masculine qualities of discipline and focus as the prerequisite for getting the job done. And I can see why I would need to embody those qualities. If I desire the feminine quality of creativity, flow, and inspiration, I first and foremost attract this energy by embodying the polar opposite.
Opposites attract, after all. The theory is that I cannot invite my best work if I do not show my dedication, pushing through no matter what. And it tends to work. Many successful people have attained fame through sheer hard work, passion, and determination.
There is something to be said for persistence. It’s admirable, but I now realize there is more to it. Perhaps this masculine deduction oversimplifies the creative process, which in a way, is a sacred dialogue between me and something greater. This dialogue is wild, unpredictable, and certainly does not adhere to my predetermined schedule.
Sometimes it feels as if my muse is laughing at me whenever I try to implement a strategy that attempts to make the creative process easy to emulate. No matter how I feel.
Suddenly, it dawned on me. How I feel is, first and foremost, the result of how I perceive myself to be doing. When I am not in the flow, I feel bad. When I want to be in the flow, I feel bad too. Only when I am in the flow, do I feel great until I get kicked out again. This makes me feel worse, and the cycle repeats over and over again.
A different approach to find your flow
There has to be another way. So I started experimenting with a different approach. I observed what happened when I fully let go of any desire to be productive. I stopped adhering to my schedule. I also stopped telling myself stories about what is conducive to the creative process and what is not. And here comes the irony—a natural rhythm appeared by itself. Surprisingly, my flow adheres to quite a steady rhythm; it simply was not the schedule I expected.
When I thoroughly let go of any expectations towards myself and started doing whatever I wanted, a pattern emerged free of my own beliefs about how to approach creativity.
Excited to feel that I cracked the code of my own flow, I looked up all kinds of research to back up and validate my erratic behavior. Confirmation bias was finally working in my favor.
The process was simple; I kept doing the things I liked. I like getting up early and cycling to my gym to work out at the crack of dawn. Then I like to leisurely shop for my groceries, visiting at least three different stores because I am particular about my mozzarella here and my carrots there. Before, I felt guilty wasting these priceless morning hours on something so mundane and irrelevant as grocery shopping. But when I dropped the judgment, I did not care anymore.
Coming home, I naturally start tidying up and making brunch. There’s something wonderful and peaceful about taking the time to cook in the morning. It reminds me of the quiet mornings in a kitchen I worked in during my studies, taking the time to prepare for crazy nights, chopping vegetables quietly, and pondering over my life.
After having brunch, I naturally feel the desire to clear my mind. I check messages, record and write responses, do some light browsing, and read up on random things that catch my interest. For example, I wanted to know how burrata was made a few days ago. And before I knew it, I watched a third-generation Italian cheesemaker talk passionately about twisting his burrata into a beautiful rose to impress women he likes.
I would have labeled this procrastination, especially if I had something big and important to do (such as work), but now I just let it slide. Complete surrender is not easy when I see the hours ticking away, and I still have not done anything ‘meaningful’ with my time.
I kept reminding myself that quite a few geniuses were naturally lazy because they were just so brilliant at what they did, taking copious amounts of downtime to be hyperproductive for a few hours a day.
For example, Charles Darwin only worked about three hours in the morning. And look at what that man did. He changed the way we perceive the world, for better or worse.
Now, without getting cocky and comparing myself to Leonardo Da Vinci or Albert Einstein, I still like to think my wildly diverse interests in the mundane things in life serve a greater purpose. By the time most people call it a day, I might have done little more than some reading, writing in my journal, doing the laundry, listening to music, and some dubious ‘power’ naps.
Then, only after fully exhausting myself with my procrastination do I suddenly flare up around dinner time. I get in the groove when the world turns quiet and busy people slow down. This is the vibe my creativity needs. Letting go of the idea I should relax and ‘unwind’ from my day, I can suddenly create effortlessly. Well, that is an overstatement, but at least I feel excitement over dread.
It turns out that I naturally start working around dinnertime consistently. And I can push through for quite a while, even deep into the night. My long naps make more sense when it is simply my body preparing itself for a new day of work. And there is a science behind it, too.
Exhaust your monkey mind
Our analytical mind is most active during our waking hours, especially in the morning, solving problems and cracking codes.
I like to think of the analytical mind as my monkey mind. And this problem-solving monkey loves to keep itself busy throughout the day, evaluating and critiquing my every single thought—especially the wild and creative ones.
I now see that my monkey needs to wear itself out first. And it does so by virtue of my daily life. When I do not have important problems to solve (or when I am skillfully avoiding them), my monkey mind will naturally start to analyze whether I like mozzarella or burrata better (and why). And why I seem to prefer Italian cheeses over French ones.
Simply put, my inner monkey needs something to chew on. And when I try to evoke my creative spirit, it tends to get in the way, overanalyzing every word I put on the page, keeping itself busy with stupid little details, like what point size my font should be in my text editor. Despite my efforts to shut him up and not listen to random thoughts that keep popping up whenever I try to do some meaningful work, this is far from ideal. Of course, I could beat my monkey into submission through hard work, focus and dedication, but why beat myself up if I am supposed to enjoy my work?
I believe that it is possible to create beautiful things while thoroughly enjoying the process. And for that to occur, the analytical mind must first wear itself out.
When we get tired, we care less. And this careless, free state is exactly what induces a creative flow. Our creative mind is more dreamlike, associative, and less critical of our inherent faults. And so, with the monkey mind gone to sleep, the associative mind takes over, embodying the feminine quality of surrender to a deeper source of inspiration. Alcohol can have the same effect, which explains why many successful artists are heavy drinkers.
Stop avoiding procrastination
I like to propose a way of thinking that no longer views procrastination as something to be avoided. Let us reserve the masculine qualities of focus and discipline for analytical work that needs to be done during the day, allowing the feminine qualities of creativity and inspiration to flow only when they want to. This requires a deeper trust that all that procrastination leads to something beautiful when we surrender.
Only when we let go can our muse reveal herself to us. We must stop caring and return to our zero point, either by exhausting ourselves or having faith in something greater (if we are serious about it).
For now, I consider myself successful if I can manage two to three hours of meaningful work long after most people have zoned out. The rest of my days can be dedicated to duties and responsibilities, leisure, guilt-free procrastinating (call it research), and perhaps some reflection in the form of journaling and long walks. I discovered these analytical hours of the day are also a great time to study and read, thinking about what it truly means to be human. Or I try to make sense of my incoherent scrawls from the night before. In other words, create at night and make sense of it during the day.
Now, I am perfectly aware that I just imposed another theory on you. The truth is, I believe none of us has the slightest idea how it works. Our muse comes and goes, and we desperately hold on to whatever we can get our hands on so she stays a little longer. So I know my theory will no longer be true at some point. And you will see me defend the wonders of early morning productivity, wholly convinced that my new morning routine will change your life.
The trick is to stop caring. Let go of any desired outcome after you have set your intention for the day. Trust that whatever needs to come will come to you when the time is right.
In a way, whatever you wish for is already here because you had the thought. It will come by itself if it wants to come into your reality. And you will see yourself taking the steps required to bring your desire into the world long after you have let go of the possibility–although sometimes it only takes a minute or so after you fully surrender. But no guarantees, ever! Life is cunning and outsmarts you all the time.
I invite you to let yourself go and give your procrastination free reign, waiting for your muse to arrive in her own time. And then, when she comes, embody the quality of pure love, dedicating yourself entirely to her. You will discover a natural focus that comes effortlessly because no force is involved. And if you want to, I would love to know what natural rhythms you discover, as they will probably differ from mine.
For now, sleep well, closing your eyes only when you have given it your all, both your analytical and associative mind exhausted, ready for the death we face every night. Out of that night, our ideas are born, waiting for us to manifest themselves when our time has come.