For twelve years I was a competitive swimmer, and then I spent another six years rowing. That is a lot of early mornings. A lot. The early morning habit continued into my twenties and life with roommates. They all thought I was crazy, but that was the only moment when I felt like I was alone in the house. It’s the same now that I have small roommates (children).
While I always cherished my early mornings alone, until this year I never fully took advantage of them. There was puttering around to make tea, checking email and social media, even making sure the world didn’t blow up over night. If I was lucky I might then get to the work I woke up early to do. To be perfectly honest, my early mornings made me more cranky than relaxed. Then I heard four small words that changed everything:
Marie Forleo could best be described as a life coach. Her website, books, and show are all about helping people reach their potential. To be perfectly honest, her work isn’t the type of resource I generally look to, (great, if you love it!) but I did happen upon an interview with her. (Listen to the interview: Marie Forleo on Chase Jarvis Live: 30 Days of Genius.) She was doing her enthusiastic thing when I heard those four words. Quite literally, they stopped my stitches. Her central argument is that before you do anything in the day you should spend time creating. Period.
As soon as we start consuming we compare and that is the worst thing for your creativity. Creativity is allowing yourself to be you. Make that happen.
I am a quilter and a writer. For me the creative act involves sewing, sketching, putting words to paper with a pen. Those are the moments when my creativity is at its peak, the moments where I truly feel like I am creating. And it is those moments that not only make me the happiest, but they are also the most productive. Yet there I was, shortchanging myself and my work by not prioritizing those same moments. For some reason, checking spam and likes became more important. Then I still had the audacity to get frustrated that I wasn’t getting anything done.
Those four words changed everything. The next day I turned my alarm off on my phone and simply got out of bed, leaving my phone on the nightstand. I did not look at it at all! I went straight into my sewing room, a space I am lucky to have in our small house, clicked on my sewing machine, grabbed the scraps sitting there and just sewed for 15 minutes. No tea, no shower, no Facebook, no radio, no nothing but me and my creative act. The next day I did the same thing. The day after that I wrote a haiku first thing. What?!
Within a week it was a new habit—the easiest habit I’ve ever established. I call it my Morning Make.
Photo by Christy Swanberg
Tips for Creating Before You Consume
- Set your alarm 15 minutes early and actually get out of bed.
- Leave the phone behind when you create. Remove the temptation entirely.
- Not everyone is a morning person. If it has to be after lunch or the kids’ bedtime, go straight into the creative act.
- Set yourself up in advance. Know what you are going to do before you start so you don’t spend your time prepping instead of creating. For me, this means having the fabric ready to go for sewing. Or a clean table with a good pen ready.
Photos courtesy of Cheryl Arkison
- Try different mediums. Take a walk with your camera, invest time in a sketchbook series, or experiment with writing exercises.
- This is the time to play; it shouldn’t be your work. But if it has to be work, make it a fun part of the process.
- If necessary, set a timer. It can be easy to “get in the zone” and go longer. Not generally a big deal, but sometimes we have deadlines or the need to get kids to school or a nine-to-five job that can’t be ignored.
- Consider a project or process that is just for this time—something you only do for your Morning Make.
- Delay the caffeine and the workout, just for those 15 minutes.
Even if the world collapsed overnight, learning about it 15 minutes earlier wouldn’t change the results. Taking my moments to create make me better prepared to face what is happening. That tiny change in perspective, as well as the habit itself, completely turned my world upside down. In a good way.
For one, I am way more prolific in my sewing. In those 15 to 30 minutes a day I can get a lot done; a surprising amount, really. It helps that any cutting or planning is done in advance, so I can just sit and sew. But that focused, uninterrupted time is golden.
Second, I am calmer. Even my kids notice that if I get my time in the morning we all have a better day. Of course, not every day do they sleep in enough, so we end up creating together. Now they are drawn to coloring, sketching, and crafting first thing more than anything.
Photo by Christy Swanberg
I am not one for meditation, but from what I understand, this daily practice has the same benefits: a consistent point of time where one is focused only on the present activity. So whether you are breathing and reciting a mantra or concentrating on a brush stroke or seam, that focused concentration is what matters. That’s why the Morning Make has a calming effect.
Third, I’ve gone back to creative pursuits pushed aside for lack of time or just the right moment. I am a writer and make a small living that way. Working on fiction, however, is not generally a moneymaking venture so it always loses in the competition for my time. Now I devote one or two of my Morning Makes a week to fiction writing. I am re-energized and the words are flowing.
And finally, that focus has translated into way more productivity in the paid work that I do. I am less inclined to get distracted by animal videos or Twitter debates because I just don’t go there constantly. I haven’t started down the path first thing so it is easier to avoid, like the first potato chip or peanut butter cup. It tastes so good and is nearly impossible to have only one, even though you know it isn’t good for you. But if you never have the first one it is easier to say no as the day goes on.
It is a long way from my time in the water. Life is full of challenges and more demands on my time than the time I actually have. If it weren’t for my Morning Make, I wouldn’t be thriving in the midst of it all. It is the moment when I am purely me, in the moment, fueling myself in a way that nothing else can.
Cheryl is a quilter, writer, and teacher. She enjoys her Morning Make in the tiny sewing room in her Calgary, Alberta basement.