Beat your resistance with a daily practice

Angel winning over devil on the shoulder

It is 8:45 on a bank holiday. The kids are at home and I’ve just put pancakes into the oven (the Swedish way).

I’m sitting in the kitchen and suddenly an insight comes to me. I feel the urge to write about it. An idea for an illustration comes at about the same time.

I take my computer and my notepad, and I go up to my working room. I make a quick sketch of the illustration idea, start a Pomodoro timer, and start typing.

Now, why did that happen? How come I went so fast from inspiration to action?

The answer is: daily practice.

Daily practice

I used to want to write. I’ve been wanting to write for as long as I can remember. And I’ve been wanting to blog since my second daughter was born. That’s nine years ago now.

Whenever I’ve had a good opportunity to write—which I have every Friday on the train to Düsseldorf—I’ve said to myself: “Yes, I will write. I’m just gonna plan a bit first.” (Planning happens to be my favorite procrastination technique.)

Then, lo and behold, suddenly there is only 15 minutes left of the train ride. Not enough time to start writing. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Angel winning over devil on the shoulderThe same principle applies to painting and illustrating. I’d like to finish an illustration today. And that should be possible. But while thinking about it I can feel the resistance building up.

Resistance is something author Steven Pressfield talks about a lot. Resistance usually isn’t very vocal. That’s the problem. Often we discover it after the fact. Oops, why did I spend two hours researching realist art schools in Europe? Oops, how come it took me 11 days to publish that post after I had both written and illustrated it?

If I’d examine my thoughts when the resistance is active, they typically go something like this:

  • “I won’t make it. It’s too little time.”
  • “Drawing is hard!”
  • “It will look amateurish. It will be embarrassing. I don’t want to post something like that online.”

So why had writing become so easy for me? Why had it become something I could pick up and do, without having to overcome the resistance first?

The answer is: I’m doing it daily.

You could say that it has become a habit, and habits are, as you know, things you do without thinking about it. But I actually think there’s more to it than that. It’s the act of doing it daily.

There is something magical about doing something every day. (Or at least every workday.) Doing something daily prevents the resistance from appearing in the first place. And hence you don’t have to overcome it.

How I created the daily writing habit

So how do you start writing or painting daily? Well, here is how the daily writing habit happened for me:

  1. First, I and my friend Sari decided to have a virtual writing date one day a week. Tuesday mornings at 10. We send each other a WhatsApp message and then we start a 25 minute Pomodoro timer. We usually do two to three Pomodoros before we stop.
  2. After a month or so I complained to Sari, that I did have other times during the week at which I could write. But I didn’t. I could write Fridays on the train to Düsseldorf. But I didn’t. We decided that from that point forward that I had to write the first thing I did on the train. No more planning for me!
  3. Only a week or so after that I started writing daily. It was not something I had planned—it just happened. First I wrote on Tuesdays with Sari. Then Tuesdays with Sari and Fridays on the train. Then suddenly I was writing most days of the week.

My experience with writing daily has made me realize how important it would be to paint daily. It would be so nice to sit down in front of the Cintiq without any resistance.

Tips for creating a daily drawing habit

Here are some ideas for creating the habit of drawing or painting daily:

  1. Create a virtual painting date. If you know someone else who also wants to paint more often, make a virtual appointment with him or her. Agree to paint “together” at a specific day and time. Then message each other at the beginning and at the end of the painting session.
  2. Start with only one painting day per week. If you’re painting some weeks and other weeks not, see if can get in only one regular painting day per week. And if you’re already painting once per week, see how you can get in two painting days per week. Then build it from there.
  3. Doing it at all is more important than doing it well. Remember that you don’t have to do a lot if you’re planning to paint every day. A quick and dirty sketch will do. Set a timer to anything from 5 to 25 minutes. As James Clear has shown, even very small actions keep up the habit. And keeping up the habit is more important than any one painting that you will do.

Now, I don’t believe that doing something daily is the only way to beat the resistance. But if you can fit it into your daily routine it’s definitely worth trying. It’s easier to get started with your work if you don’t have to work through the resistance first. Then you might get inspired and “just do it” even if it’s a bank holiday, the kids are at home, and the pancake is in the oven.

As I was in the process of editing this I heard an interview with Camille Dungy at the Raise Your Hand Say Yes podcast. She talks about how instrumental it has been for her to establish a daily writing habit, with sometimes as little as one or two sentences per day. Give it a listen for more inspiration on starting a daily practice.

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