How Habits Make You Less Creative

Maintaining a routine can help keep you productive. But stick to it too strictly, and your most interesting work may wither.

We're fascinated by habits.

By learning how the Most Creative People do their daily thing, we hope to become more like them. But habits, when they run amok, may hem in your creativity.

As Scott H. Young recently blogged, habits are powerful for sculpting a highly productive life because they take away the transaction cost of launching into an action: There's much less mental overhead to going for a run if you do it every morning versus once a fortnight.

For that efficiency, habit building has become the essence of lifehacking, whether you're most productive right when you wake up or late into the night.

And yet while habits may make you more productive, Young makes a strong argument for how they can make you less creative, contending that if you trying to expand your skill set, you should break your routines, since "too much consistency inevitably leads to a plateau where weaknesses ossify and improvement becomes harder."

At Brain Pickings, Maria Popova recently delved into similar territory, quoting from British author Arthur Koestler's The Act Of Creation:

  • "The skills of reasoning rely on habit, governed by well-established rules of the game; the 'reasonable person'—used as a standard norm in English common law—is level-headed instead of multi-level-headed; adaptive and not destructive; an enlightened conservative, not a revolutionary; willing to learn under proper guidance, but unable to be guided by his dreams."

The question, then, is really one of framing: what are we trying to do here? If we're trying to produce as much as possible as fast as possible, habit seems to be useful. But, as Koestler argues, if we're trying to make something new—as in, commit the act of heresy otherwise known as innovation—smartly breaking and experimenting with habits can be a way to prime creativity, since the creative act so often begins at the intersection of previously unrelated ideas.

The Paradox of Growth: Do Habits Hurt or Help You Learn?

[Hat tip: 99u.]

[Image: Flickr user Anthony DeLorenzo]

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1 Comments

  • Larryalobo

    I don't think habits in and of themselves hinder creativity.  I think what habits you develop, which ones you use and how you use them regularly are what distinguishes the creative persons.  It is not a rigid approach to being as you are but more like a set of tools - some people use certain tools most of the time to do certain jobs or projects - others learn to use other types of tools in addition to the usual ones to get things done, do different and the same types of projects.  It can free you to explore but also give you a foundation to work from