Unexpected Gifts

This is about making small changes in your life and how that can have significant impact in areas that beforehand would seem completely unrelated.

Somewhere around Thanksgiving I had a moment away from work where I realized that I haven’t been doing as much creative stuff as I’d like lately. I’m just as susceptible to end-of-the-year life changes as the next person but I usually don’t go in for resolutions. The problem with resolutions is that the time you spend thinking about what they might be never quite fills the unnecessary gap until the “new year” actually happens and then you’re a totally different person by then and it doesn’t make any sense. I knew I wanted to start drawing again but I couldn’t “get started.”

jaimeejaimee created this thing called #tinychallenges. If you look at the website you’ll see that it’s just a framework for helping you to be more: creative, energized, healthy or whatever your personal goals are in what is most important to you. I’m really lucky because my job enables me to be able to talk to her periodically and once I made my intention clear to do a challenge in December she was immediately super-supportive.

I created my challenge with two parts. The first was that I wanted to start sketching every day. I set the objective for this item at one sketch per day and I made up a short list of “rules” that I should follow to make sure I didn’t trap myself into anything more than just sketching.

My ritual for the sketching bit is basically to get up early, have a cup of coffee while I check my RSS feeds, and then dive into the sketchbook before anything crazy happens. This works for me and I’ve been able to meet this portion of my challenge goal every day so far this month. Yay me.

The second part of my challenge was added to address what I know to be the single most destructive barrier to being creative; I need more sleep. In October I wrote a new game (Elyxir) from start to finish in a little over a month. This meant pulling major late-shifts which is perfectly normal for me and not at all a negative thing. Unfortunately once you’ve done the whole 7pm till 2am thing for a month you kind of get into the habit of shorting your sleep schedule to maintain the rest of your life. Left unmitigated it can be destructive not only to your physical health but everything else suffers along with it. I wanted to fix that too so that I’d have a shot at starting the new year with healthier behaviors already established, no resolution necessary.
Because there’s a physical output from my sketching challenge it’s really easy to report on my progress and not feel like I’m being pretentious. Daily sketching means building muscle memory to simply draw better. Starting from zero every day is giving me faster access to the creative center of my brain and I’m learning to not worry so much about what people might think of a crummy sketch. That last one is hard to quantify but when it comes to reporting on my progress with my sleep schedule it seems like solid bedrock.

I didn’t have a plan for getting to bed earlier. It seemed like a simple enough thing and I didn’t even consider tracking it so that I’d be able to measure it at the end of the month. What’s happened though is that I’m constantly more aware of the time. Taking the intention that’s involved in doing a challenge like this I think that it puts in the front of your mind a clearer picture of your surroundings. I’ve said before that I think that sketching is like meditation and what I’m learning is that sleep, creativity and creating things, all this stuff is connected. Since starting #tinychallenges I’m finding that I’ve been much more mindful of what I’m saying and how I’m spending my time during the day.

I used to think that being a clever sarcastic jackass was an endearing quality. I think that a lot of people believe this and I’m not going to judge anybody for doing what makes them happy. For me now being critical of people is like a lead weight around my neck. Even making playful comments that are derogatory are starting to feel like throwing hand grenades into a pond and then jumping in after them. This last few weeks I’ve noticed that talking to people that always seem to have a critical word to say about the topic of discussion just doesn’t feel like a good use of my time anymore. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, maybe it’s because of #tinychallenges or maybe I’ve just got a cold. I made a choice to be a kinder person a few years ago and I’ve had moments of doubt where sometimes it’s just exhausting constantly second-guessing what I’m saying but this new realization has me wanting to double-down on it. What if I made a commitment to going out of my way on a regular basis to try and make a positive change in peoples lives?

From doing the #tinychallenges thing so far this month I’ve heard from seven people that I haven’t spoken to in years thanking me for sharing my progress. I’m making these drawings for myself and putting them online as a way to say “sketch finished.” What it turns in to I think is that someone might see one of my updates and be a tiny bit inspired to start their own or just make progress on the one they’ve already committed to. I’m finding myself wanting to do more drawing at night, lamenting that I don’t seem to have enough time to do something more involved and that’s amazing.

I’ve even taken to organizing my art supplies into a bin of their own instead of being spread around the house to minimize the time it takes to start doing some art. This organization then spread to rearranging my workspace to better suit my Geek Desk (adjustable height standing desk) as well as fixing the lighting in my office space. I don’t feel nearly as guilty taking an hour after dinner to play “Don’t Starve Together” with the kids and I’m even reading a book after a year of nothing.

Before I started doing #tinychallenges I would have said that the expected outcome would be that I’d get marginally better at drawing after sketching every day for a month and trying to get more than 5 hours of sleep a night. What I didn’t expect at all was the mindfulness. Being more mindful means that every single thing I’m doing takes on a more important tone and I’m not just “marking time” anymore.

I have to say thanks to Jaimee, I know that she’ll just pull a pshaw and tell me that I’m doing all the work, all credit for the idea and the exuberant support to do this thing go to her though. Which reminds me, I need to ask her if you can do like, more than one #tinychallenge per month…

I’m doing a #tinychallenges in December. You can too!