Chey Rasmussen is a full-time graphic designer by trade and an animator by passion. He’s currently working on his own animated series, Meager Quest, and sharing his experiences and insight online.
For an extra helping of creative motivation and encouragement, head over to his site at making.meagerquest.com
Let’s talk about psychology.
For years, I had a ton of ideas for personal projects but had a hard time following through. Starting a new project always followed a similar cycle:
The Vicious Cycle
- Get a new idea
- Get really pumped on the idea, daydream about it, feverishly turn it around in my head ALL day
- Get started on the project
- Realize that this is going to actually be pretty difficult and take a lot of time and effort
- Become less excited about it
- Get a different idea that seems much more exciting
And so, the cycle would repeat. I very rarely got anything out there because of this. If you’re a creative person (and I dare say most people are in their own way) you likely can identify with this vicious cycle to some extent. Art block, writers’ block, fatigue, lack of confidence in our abilities, lack of drive or passion, and good old fashioned excuse-making get in the way of the things we want to bring to the world all the time. In my case, I decided I was tired of that mess.
The Power Of Habit Formation
Enter the power of habits. Forming some consistent habits quite literally changed my life. To illustrate how habits can be AWESOME, think about a habit you have that you would consider to be a bad habit. Let’s take, for example, hitting the snooze button in the morning. You have every intention the night before of getting up at the right time to go about your day. There’s stuff you want to get done. Morning comes. The alarm goes off. Rather than spurring you to action, however, it simply prompts you to reach over, hit snooze, and go right back to sleep for another 5-10 minutes. Repeat ad infinitum. I hate when I do this.
Psychologically, there are a few things going on with habits. They consist of three parts: a cue, the action itself, and a reward. In the case of hitting the snooze button, it’s easy to see what these three parts are. The alarm goes off. This is the cue, the thing that prompts the habitual action. The action itself is hitting the snooze button. This gives a reward, which is extra sleep. The reward is really compelling and reinforces the behavior quite well, since who doesn’t want extra sleep at 6:00 AM?
Well, fortunately for us, we can intentionally make habits work for us just as well as they can work against us sometimes, and good habits follow the same principles as the bad ones!
How I Did It
When I started work on Meager Quest, I really loved the idea Jake and I were working on and I really wanted to see it succeed. At the time, I was learning a lot about habit formation and wanted to test it out. I can say in hindsight that it worked fantastically. I set up a way to systematically form a habit which would ensure that progress was being made every day, whether or not I “felt like” working on something after my normal 9-5 job (because let’s face it, as a full time graphic designer it’s tough getting yourself to get excited about sitting down to draw after designing all day.)
I went to the store and picked up a large bag of chocolate, because chocolate rules. I got something I really like, something that I know I often crave. This would serve as my reward to “pavlov’s dog” myself into action. I then picked a cue which would trigger what I wanted to be a habitual activity. I decided that after I walked in the door from work, the first thing I would do is sit down with paper and pencil and start putting marks down on it. On any given day that I did this, right afterward I would pull out a piece of chocolate and eat it.
It sounds a little silly, I know.
But something awesome happened.
After about a week of doing this dilligently right when I got home, I started noticing that as I’d walk into the door, my brain would automatically shift to thinking about the chocolate and how freaking good it is. This, in turn would lead to me thinking about what I needed to do to get the chocolate; work on Meager Quest. It became slightly more automatic. After about a month the habit developed further. Whereas before this experiment the first thing I’d do when I got home was make a beeline to the fridge, I was now sitting down at the table and drawing. The intrinsic reward of accomplishment and seeing things get done started to be visible, and so I gradually stopped needing the chocolate.
And this habit continues until today! I have even tried to take breaks here and there from Meager Quest to work on other much smaller projects, and Meager Quest keeps pulling me back in. Compared to where I was before, bouncing around from idea to idea and making little or no progress, that is a HUGE success in my mind.
If you want to learn a whole bunch about habits and the power they can have for good in your life, check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It is well worth a read.