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When Autopilot Trumps Discipline


This is an interlude in a series of posts on labyrinths ~ structures that channel our creative energies in all the right ways.

Part 1: How to Make Sure Your Creative Work Gets Done
Part 2: The Kind of Help We All Could Do Without

Part 3: Three Wishes? I’ll Take a Cook, a Maid, and a Butler

I’m taking a pause in my series to tell you why I am obsessed with creating labyrinths, and why I want you to join me. The best way I’ve found to get things done is by changing my environment once so that my behaviour changes forever.

I have tried building self-discipline and developing habits and routines a la Steve Pavlina and Zen Habits and FlyLady, and it always seems to take a lot of effort and meets with eventual failure.

Thankfully, I figured out why I don’t do discipline well.

Not because I’m lazy or don’t want it bad enough, but because of my creative personality. I’m an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs scale (Introvert Intuitive Feeling Judging), which explains why I crave order but am not good at creating it:

INFJs place great importance on havings things orderly and systematic in their outer world. They put a lot of energy into identifying the best system for getting things done, and constantly define and re-define the priorities in their lives. On the other hand, INFJs operate within themselves on an intuitive basis which is entirely spontaneous. They know things intuitively, without being able to pinpoint why, and without detailed knowledge of the subject at hand. They are usually right, and they usually know it. Consequently, INFJs put a tremendous amount of faith into their instincts and intuitions. This is something of a conflict between the inner and outer worlds, and may result in the INFJ not being as organized as other Judging types tend to be. Or we may see some signs of disarray in an otherwise orderly tendency, such as a consistently messy desk. (from personalitypage.com)

Did you get that? Conflict between inner and outer worlds that needs to be creatively resolved.

I love a clean house, but forcing myself to clean up when I’m not in the zone feels awful (sorry, Shawn). Sometimes I’m in a cleaning mood and will spend hours spiffing up a room to the nines. Then I’ll go for a week without using the laundry hamper.

I love the idea of working on specific things at scheduled times, but when the moment comes, if there’s a disconnect between my inner world and what the outer structure is asking me to do, I’ll likely bail. Maybe that’s not the “right” thing to do, but it’s reality.

And I’m tired of having my success depend on me choosing to do the “right” thing, when history has shown that I won’t reliably do that.

The beauty of labyrinths is that they aren’t dependent on my moods.

Either they remove the necessity of doing an activity at all (like my volunteer phobia and my fantasy housekeeper), or they eliminate the possibility of choice (like my car-free walking lifestyle).

Designing a labyrinth to deal with a particular problem is a great creative challenge ~ working within constraints to free yourself up as much as possible. Since I can’t afford to hire a full-time cook yet, I’ve created a standard roster of 14 meals that we cook all the time, which streamlines our shopping trips and reduces the choice involved in meal planning. My artist self misses cooking new recipes or improvising with what’s on hand, but cooking is not my chosen discipline. So it will have to wait.

So, to sum up: artists like me need labyrinths because we’re too spontaneous to walk a set path voluntarily and we’re too sensitive to live in chaos.

Now that I’ve announced the Hours For Art telethon happening here next week, you know why I want you thinking about this subject.

I want you to design a labyrinth for yourself that will give you an automatic hour or two or five in your week.

Then, during the telethon, you’ll call in and pledge that time to your creative practice.

In this series, I’m exploring a few areas that have potential for labyrinths, but these are just meant as examples. Only you can design your art-committed life. I’d love to see you start brainstorming ideas in the comments here.

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Alison April 13, 2011, 7:29 am

    I just came across these series of posts, Alison, and I just love them.

    ‘We’re too spontaneous to walk a set path voluntarily and we’re too sensitive to live in chaos.’

    I found out the other day that I qualify as INFP (rare in RL, common on the internet apparently) and this piece about order really resonates. I’m very lazy about the externals at times, but I work much, much better in orderly, beautiful surroundings. And I am terrible about systems – I start rebelling the minute I agree to do them.

    • Alison April 16, 2011, 2:56 am

      Glad you found us, Alison.

      Don’t you think that all advice should come pre-labelled for your personality type? Some stuff works perfectly for some people and is lousy for others.

      INFJ is also supposed to be rare among the general population, but very high among writers, artists, and coaches, interestingly enough!

  • Melissa Dinwiddie April 17, 2011, 3:36 am

    Wow – as a fellow INFJ, I can’t tell you what a relief it is to learn that my disorderly workspace is to be expected!

    I love being surrounded by order, and am in fact much happier and more product than when I’m surrounded by chaos. The problem is, I’m hopeless at maintaining it!

    As an artist, writer AND coach, I guess it would almost be weird if I were anything *but* an INFJ. 😉

    Love what you’re doing here, Alison! I look forward to watching it all evolve.

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