As a person whose deepest fulfillment comes from creating things, taking action always tends to feel better than not taking action—I associate action with making progress. This makes it dangerously easy to fool myself into believing I'm doing quality work when what I'm doing is actually the total opposite—slipping into a hole of work obsession at the expense of my self-care. The quality of both my work and life suffers when I do this.
For most creative people—freelancers, designers, entrepreneurs—daily creative output is a habit, and this can be a hugely helpful one if managed with self-awareness. Personally, I know that when I get into the habit of "stealing" my personal time by giving into the compulsion to do more and more, I've only managed to stunt my creative growth by making work a cycle of overextending, burning out, and getting frustrated and discouraged.
This is a difficult cycle to break, but it's important to break it. If it goes unchecked too long, a lack of self-care coupled with a sense of creative martyrdom can take away from our ability to build sustainable creative momentum—the stuff realized dreams are made of.
Author Carol Lloyd said, "People often don't see that a lack of progress in their creative life comes from an unwillingness to acknowledge their daily concerns. They think (instead): I have low self-esteem, I'm lazy; these obstacles are too huge; but in reality, they just haven't realized that the hungry, naked animal living inside us doesn't trust the artist to feed, clothe, and care for it."
When we get into the cycle of overwork, burnout, and discouragement, it's easy to mistake our creative shortcomings for huge, fundamental flaws or weaknesses that feel unmanageable, and believing this just makes things even more difficult. The way to reclaim our power is to return to our health and tend to the basic work of being human—recognizing and loving the animal that we are.
To cultivate our health is to remind ourselves that we can trust ourselves. That we're here for us, no matter what happens, or doesn't happen. It's about accepting the most basic and essential form of support we have.
For the very driven, daily time-outs for self-care can feel like a drag, especially when we're on a roll. But doing so yields a higher return on investment in our creative lives than any creative output. Attention to our health is ultimately more influential in our careers than our daily output. To prevent creative burnout, I make sure to incorporate these basic acts of self-care into every workday:
1. Get ready for the day.
The days I work from home, I start the day with a basic morning ritual that puts the focus on me, not on work right away. Starting the day with movement, journaling, and mindfulness for the day sets me up for a longer, more productive workday.
Reading gives me ideas and provides me with examples of those who have walked similar paths to mine. Reading promotes a growth mindset and reminds me that amazing things are possible.
3. Practice mindfulness.
Leaving the studio, the writing desk, or the workbench daily to practice mindfulness is essential for staying grounded. I like mindful walking for the clarity it provides.
There's a time and place for focus and work, and there's a time and place for refueling. I'm an introvert, but there are certain people who give me energy and help me to see things from a new perspective. These people are important to see regularly and talk to daily.
5. Eat real food.
Sustenance from corner stores and quick, make-do meals cannot provide lasting satisfaction. Eating real, healthy food is a key part of supporting my body and mind.
To commit to daily self-care is to be mature and responsible in the way we approach our lofty creative dreams. It's about setting ourselves up to take quality action rather than biting off more than we can chew. It's about being realistic and supporting ourselves. Self-care is the most accessible creative superpower we have.