Retreat II: Simplicity and Routine

Header photo “03 Tea and Breakfast” by Louis du Mont via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Continuing to think about what makes retreats different from ordinary life, I am reminded of the importance of simplicity and routine. During spiritual retreats, for example, participants often follow a strict schedule and eat simple meals at specific times. This is designed to free minds and hearts for greater focus and meditation.

Routine can also be good for writing and other forms of creativity. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who popularized the concept of flow) studied the lives of 100 highly creative people and found that they often streamline their daily lives to reduce the need to make mundane decisions and to allow for more uninterrupted creative thinking. In the morning they might get up at the same time every day, do the same tasks in the same order, put out clothes the night before, even eat the same breakfast every day. What is the benefit? By not having to think about when we get up, what we do next, what to fix for breakfast, or what to wear, we reduce interruptions and conserve mental energy for more creative tasks.

“Most creative individuals find out early what their best rhythms are for sleeping, eating, and working, and abide by them even when it is tempting to do otherwise. They wear clothes that are comfortable, they interact only with people they find congenial, they do only things they think are important. Of course, such idiosyncrasies are not endearing to those they have to deal with…. But personalizing patterns of action helps to free the mind from the expectations that make demands on attention and allows intense concentration on matters that count.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, p. 145 [emphasis added]

Questions for Reflection

  • Do you have any routines that help to free up your mind for writing?
  • In the past, have you assumed that routine is always detrimental to creativity?
  • What are some ways that you can simplify and streamline your daily schedule, especially before, after, and during writing times?

See also 

DIY Summer Writing Retreat graphicThis post is part of the DIY Summer Writing Retreat blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.

4 thoughts on “Retreat II: Simplicity and Routine

  1. They say that Emanuel Kant was such a person. Did everything precisely at the same time each day. You could, as they said then, set your clock by his comings and goings. This is much harder when one has others in the house to respect and support, of course. Kant was a bachelor.

  2. A challenge for me sometimes with simplicity and routines is that I don’t plan ahead enough for that…. so, for example, if I don’t plan on specific easy meal options, I might not have shopped for same, etc. It’s the pre-planning step where I often fall down — instead of viewing it as an aid to creativity, I can hesitate from over-planning in general as somehow an obstacle to creativity. Thanks for this post, Lisa!

    • Pam, I can definitely relate! Planning does not come naturally to me, but I’ve found, especially as I get–er–older, I benefit from planning in ways that didn’t seem as necessary when I was younger. It’s a continual work in progress.

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