Plan for Everything, Including Spontaneity

Are you getting comfortable?

Due to your brain loving efficiency, you are creating and relying on habits all the time. The Habit Loop. They can be good or bad. It’s great when you are building positive habits, and your brain goes on autopilot. This frees mental resources up to tackle deep work…except for when complacency sets in.

Give Me That Inspiration

What are you doing to feed your soul? When making our Art, we live off of inspiration. It’s what drives our work and keeps us improving.

A red flag when getting older is to let yourself get stuck, complacent and comfortable. Again, we must be mindful.

I loved this excerpt from Debbie Harry on punk, refusing to retire and sex at 69, in the Telegraph,

‘But there is also a mental element to aging, she says. If you stay creative, interested and open to new things, you won’t stagnate. “You have to look around, keep new influences coming in. A lot of people sort of pick a world to live in, and they’re comfortable in that – which can be disastrous.”

You have to keep pushing yourself. To make a ruckus. Shake things up. Break the routine every once and awhile.

Plan for Spontaneity

I have a journal that I keep for my “life experiences”. It’s a bullet list of moments that I want to remember, new experiences that I’ve had, and a great place to express gratitude. However, this documents events in the past.

Not having enough adventures? It’s time to make a second list. Be detailed!

Plan your adventures out.

While great to have, routines can often lead to being stuck in autopilot mode. It’s time to get those creative juices flowing and think of new ways to stretch yourself.

Example of an adventure list:

  • Visit MoMa in NYC
  • Make pickles for the first time
  • Visit a new state park and go hiking
  • Read a book from a genre you normally don’t read
  • Start a picture journal
  • Turn poetry into artwork

Let your mind go wild. Lean towards the unexpected, outside of your comfort zone, and ask friends for ideas. It’s time to shine a light on those blind spots and get inspired!

Scratch Pad

I keep three journals now.

  1. I have one for my day job. I use it to keep quick notes to myself and making quick sketches of wireframes in.
  2. I have another for a formal personal journal. This is where I condense all my scraps of information into a narrative that makes sense… mostly.
  3. I have a small red journal that I use as my scratch pad.

From the Creative Learning Spiral by Austin Kleon ( it’s like a quote, but an image… ),

Thinking more and more about the spiral, I remembered a drawing I drew for someone who asked me a question about how I balanced creating and consuming.

Documenting those quick “aha moments”, writing down notes from a book you’ve read, or even just jotting down ideas for later exploration is the perfect use for this little red notebook.

It gives you a quick, tangible, place to store ideas before they fly away.

By consistently reviewing your captured thoughts, you can turn those concepts into your Art.

Habits and Change

Introduction to Habits

Ever feel like your life is on autopilot? Feel stuck, creative block, or like everyone else is passing you by?

Perhaps it’s the habits in your life. Those small efforts over time add up. Good or bad. Let’s dive into how they are formed.

The Habit Loop

The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, describes building habits as a three-step process:

First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future…

Duhigg calls this The Habit Loop. Over time, he says, this loop becomes more and more automatic.

Habits are our brain’s way of being more efficient.

As with everything, it’s a balancing act. Our brains have the tendency to put our routine on autopilot. By ignoring the routine or having a blind spot to it, we may not see bad habits holding us back.

It’s the perfect case for practicing mindfulness.

Changing Habits with Mindfulness

But what is mindfulness? In The Confidence Gap, Russ Harris defines it as:

Mindfulness is a mental state of awareness, openness, and focus. When we are mindful, we are able to engage fully in what we are doing, let go of unhelpful thoughts, and act effectively without being pushed around by our emotions.

By practicing mindfulness and self-awareness, we can pinpoint areas of our lives that we would like to improve. Including changing our habits. Those automatic, mindless tasks that we do. It’s just how we are wired. But by changing the routine, we can change the habit. The cue or trigger that sets off the habit may stay the same. But if we change the routine, we can change the habit.

For example, the cue is boredom, the routine is mindless eating, and the reward is a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction from eating / not being bored. To change the habit, notice the cue of boredom, change the routine to listen to an audiobook, and the reward may still be a sense of accomplishment. To notice the cue, it takes being mindful.

A great way to identify the cue is to journal. Keep a small notebook with you at all times. When you sense being bored, write it down. If you catch yourself mindlessly eating, write it down. If spending is an issue, write down every dollar you spend. Over time, you will notice patterns emerging.

Those routines can create good or bad habits over time. Be mindful to which you are creating.

Using a Journal to Appreciate the Small Things in Life

There are times where I get so focused on the day-to-day mundane tasks that I think to myself, “man my life is boring.” Other times, when things are slow, we can tend to lean towards the same thought of, “I never do anything”. When it’s super busy, our brains will often tell us, “You used to do a ton of fun activities, now there isn’t time for anything.” Etc.

In 2012 I started keeping a notebook; aptly titled “2012 Experiences”. Each month is labeled in bold type with a brief bulleted list of what new experiences I’ve had each month. A recent example:

February

  • Went to the theater after work and saw the movie, Black Panther. 2/15
  • Got a new haircut in a different style. 2/16
  • Woke up with news that my cousin had a baby boy last night! 2/20
  • UX Happy Hour with co-workers. Met new people as well as old friends. 2/21
  • Glad that Rachel mentioned OverDrive today. Was able to send library ebooks to my Kindle. 2/27

For those slow moments when the lizard brain just won’t let up, I look back on the previous months and think to myself, “Wow! my life is one adventure after the other.” This pushes me to reflect on the good that has happened recently and look forward to new experiences.

Life is about choices. The routine parts of life can be a bit boring but consistency always wins over time. Making a list creates a feeling of gratitude, points your mind in the right direction, and keeps your outlook positive. It’s been 6 years now since I first started journaling this way. It really made all the difference in the world.

Enjoy the adventures; one at a time. Savor life.

Be Misunderstood

I remember the first time I ever went to MoMa to explore with the intent of leaving inspired. Upon stepping foot into the first exhibit, a flood of emotion hit me. It was everything I could do to not break down and cry.

What could have caused such an unexpected rush?

Searching myself as I wandered down the halls, I came to the realization that I finally felt validated. Those times where I felt misunderstood and isolated in my art were an expected reaction to creating something different. The impact on me of the work of others that embrace the beat of a different drummer was profound, in a very tangible form.

In fact, our whole lives, from school and beyond, are spent being taught to conform. fit in, and all will be well.

Ralph Waldo Emerson in Self-Reliance writes:

“Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

Those that make an impact disrupt the status quo.

Be misunderstood. Be Weird. Society needs you.

Tribe Reading

Shortcut to Your Tribe

Your tribe, that group of people that you connect with, is important for growth. Push each other forward.

One of the best ways to grow is to read what others in your tribe have read as well. Find an author that really resonates with you, read everything they have written, and then read everything they have read.

In the same way, that word of mouth spreads exponentially, your reading list will grow by leaps and bounds.

Thanks to the wonderful age that we live in, there is a tool to help you seek out and visually map out a web of connections: Yasiv.

Simply type in your favorite book and press “Go”. Boom. When I did research on this for an example, I searched for Do the Work by Steven Pressfield and got 86 results! At the time of this writing, it’s over 386 products. The amazing thing is I have either purchased, added to a wish list, or read over 23 of the original results. Beyond that, it found books that I’ve never been exposed to that really fit what I want to read.

Screenshot of Yasiv

Amazing.