How to be more process-oriented and less goal-oriented?
June 4, 2013 1:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to train myself to find more joy in creative pursuits, and I think a key would be in becoming more about the process and less about "success." Any advice on how to rewire my brain to this end?
posted by malhouse to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
what about breaking down the main goal (aka successful outcome) into small chunks so you're working mini-goal by mini-goal, celebrating small successes along the way (the process).
posted by katie521 at 2:05 PM on June 4, 2013

Throw away the results regularly. Create in order to just be in the process. If you paint, paint something that you know you won't keep. Same for writing. Just write something, then delete it. It's like building a know it won't last, so focus on the efforts of building it.
posted by xingcat at 2:06 PM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Find creative pursuits you like better, or try to arrange them so that you're doing more of the processes you do like, and fewer of the ones you don't. For example: I crochet and totally hate seaming, even though it's necessary to many successful products. So I select patterns that don't require me to do any seaming, and can enjoy the entire process of crocheting them.

For some creative activities it's necessary to practice more so that the small steps come more easily -- and it's only once you've got more mastery of the skill that you come to enjoy the process.

Is there any specific creative pursuit you're interested in?
posted by asperity at 2:13 PM on June 4, 2013

You might find the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on what he calls the flow state to be useful.
posted by scody at 2:16 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Slow down and notice what you feel as you're creating. I think there are two things, when I'm making art, that keep me focused on the process rather than the result. The first is sensory pleasure: when I write with prettily-colored ink on high-quality paper, or when I let myself get absorbed in the color and texture of the yarn I'm knitting with rather than getting hung up on whether I've got the stitch count right. The second is a sense of play, of curiosity, of "hey, this is neat!" -- I think it's something you have to listen for closely. It's when you realize that you're doing something you didn't necessarily expect, or when you get surprised by the juxtaposition between one thing and another thing. Sometimes I've been playing music and gotten surprised by the transition from one chord to another, where it gave me a little shiver and I didn't know why. But that's how I feel when I'm writing a first draft -- I'm constantly trying to chase down every path that looks interesting, in the hopes of finding something I haven't seen before.

It can also help to do exercises that are specifically oriented towards play, and discovery, rather than towards any particular measure of success. If you're a writer, I'd say, write pantoums about household appliances and villanelles about your commute; write vignettes from the point of a fly, or a sandwich.
posted by Jeanne at 2:23 PM on June 4, 2013

Spend time with someone more process oriented.

When I began playing Master of Magic, my oldest son sat with me to teach me to play. I would click though screens -- Done! Done! Done! -- and he would say stuff like "Mom, I had wanted to see that. I have never seen an X summoned before. You should slow down and appreciate the art work." And then, later, if I was doing something epic that neither son had seen before, I would pause the game and call both sons so we could all watch the Whatever when it went down. It helped me enormously to remember to stop and smell the roses once in a while.
posted by Michele in California at 2:43 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Never say "I will work on this until X is finished". Change it to "I will work on this for this time frame". The success comes from completing the amount of time, not from the work done. Has made a huge difference for me.

Also, instead of "I will make the perfect X", change it to "I will make 10 X's". You know most of those X's are going to be lame, but you don't care, because it's just about making 10 of them.

I read a story about a craftsman who taught two sets of students. One group he told had to make a handful of perfect items, the others were told they would be graded on the amount of items, not the quality. In the end he judged the students creating for the amount to be better skilled and had a few items that were much higher in quality then those in the perfect items group. The first group spent so much time fiddling with little details and stressing about perfection that they were never free to experiment, thus not learning as much, and they enjoyed the work less.
posted by Dynex at 3:03 PM on June 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

Find the joy in what you're doing. Otherwise it's rote.

For instance, I love smooshing clay. It feels good. I remember doing it when I was a kid. I can make pretty good faces in clay. That reminds me of the time my grade school teacher had us carve things out of Ivory soap. Ah... the kid in me!

Painting, eh, I can draw in charcoal or paint with acrylics, but I love pastels. Love, love LOVE them! Sheer pigment on the surface, the deep blues and brilliant orange, make sure not to muddle them.

Photos: how can I take this photo in a way that strikes my eye? I love being here, on the coast, a weird seaweed in a tidal pool, look at that, the volcanic stone rising up out of the rock, a splash a seagull, a grass waving in the wind, take it, take it all, 200 photos and maybe a few might be great, but I don't forget to experience it while I'm there.

Writing: this character, she lives and breathes. She has a house, a room, parents, stuffed animals, things around her that she sees, clothing, baggage, relatives, nature, a mother that hates her, a father that loves her, a conflict, a resolution, she has all of these emotions inside her, waiting to get out and make a phantasmic exploration of people who can turn themselves into animals and yet, she, she can only make herself into a lowly chicken. Etc. That was just a dream I had one night.

Write down or draw everything that comes to mind. Do not judge it. Just write it down, draw it or photograph it. Nothing is too small or insignificant. I have taken photos of seaweed in tidal pools that may not be art, but I love it, I love just taking lots of photos and weeding them out and then looking at them. I don't sell them or anything, but I love it. The spray of the ocean, the finding of something that strikes my eye. I love it. And you should love it too. Whatever it is that you do, you should just love it and record it and who cares what the result is, you, and you alone saw this thing at that moment, and recorded it, and if it brings you joy, that's your fucking success right there.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:27 PM on June 4, 2013

I have three ideas for you:

(1) When I took an art class a little while ago, we spent a whole session just playing with the materials and not trying to draw or paint anything. So e.g. when we were starting charcoal, we took different types of paper, and different types and sizes of charcoal, and just spent three hours making lines on paper. It was awesome! Dark lines, soft lines, wiggly lines, curves, shading, "finger-painting" the charcoal around, on rough paper, soft paper, tissue paper, computer paper, notebook paper, etc. It was even more fun later with paints.

I think you could replicate this experience with just about any craft. Sew some samplers. Knit a bunch of fun stitches with different types of wool. Pay attention to the experience of making those temporary things.

(2) Sometimes (counter-intuitively) putting a difficult restriction on yourself makes the process more fun, because you are solving the puzzle of how to do whatever it is despite the restriction. E.g. if you are writing a short story, try doing it without using the letter "e", or only using words of two syllables or less. If you are painting, try only using shades of one colour. Or draw a picture with the pencil taped to the end of a long stick, so you are standing several metres away from your canvas. Or do something with your eyes closed. Bake a cake out of weird ingredients. It's fun because of the puzzle element, as I said. But also, you won't be expecting too much from yourself in terms of the final result, so there's less pressure and you can enjoy the process for its own sake.

(3) Another way to make yourself enjoy the process of any art or craft more is to try doing it together with children. Especially things like painting!
posted by lollusc at 3:32 PM on June 4, 2013

Do a "something-a-day", such as a collage a day or a drawing a day or a journal page a day. Give yourself a firm time limit--half an hour works well--to work on the day's project, and when the time is up you stop, no matter where you are in the process.

You won't always feel like you are "done", and that is the point. Don't work past the time limit to finish, and don't pick up where you left off the next day. Start fresh with a new day's project.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:02 PM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Teach yourself a craft that you think you'll be bad at. Part of learning to enjoy the process is giving yourself permission to be lousy at something, to not care that the end result is going to be flawed (or to not care about the end result at all).

So take up drawing, especially if you've only ever scribbled stick figures! Take up knitting or crochet if you have absolutely no idea how to do it and it looks like magic. Starting at the beginning and doing it just for fun and because learning is neat is a great way to focus on the journey rather than the destination.
posted by lriG rorriM at 4:27 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure from your question whether you're having trouble with the repetitive aspects of some types of creating, or if you go into a kind of creative haze, or if you get so focused on the end goal that you can't actually get around to creating anything.

I probably have most experience with 1 and 3 and I'm afraid I am so bad at knowing what to do about 3 that I won't even try to offer any advice on that front. However I've had some success with the repetitiveness of some creative things, It's hard to know quite how to explain this, so I will resort to mindfulness language since it's the best I can do. Stay focused on what you are doing, stay conscious and present and aware. Try to notice the details, develop a sense of evanescence/timelessness - this moment of creation is only now and then it goes.

My particularly repetitive creative things are origami and cross-stitch. I taught an origami class earlier this year and, to fit in with time restrictions, did a lot of pre-folding for the students. There was so much that I just gave up on the process and did it in front of the TV, while listening to music, with some kind of distraction essentially. But even so I'd find myself sometimes caught by the patterns the papers made as I folded them, how the prints changed when you could only see parts of them, or particular shapes, or how they were enhanced by other colours with them. Focusing on the details, noticing things in a pleasurable way as I went, really helped. Mind you, it was still tedious. But something can be tedious and enjoyable too.

When I'm not doing it in bulk, I take pleasure in knowing that as the creator, I get to see the amazing steps along the way. I make floral origami globes (those aren't mine) and there are so many beautiful shapes, colour combinations, patterns etc formed as you fold that are simply invisible in the end product. Choosing beautiful papers with different textures is amazing too. Similarly, with cross stitch, there are stages before the completed picture/pattern when the bits I've done look amazing in their own right. I'm a bit of a colour/texture person so my chosen crafts allow me to enjoy those, which offsets the repetitiveness.

It's kind of a paradox: as you make your attention smaller and narrow your focus, you find your mind almost expanding. I can't explain it. Give it a go, and be patient, it takes practice. Origami also taught me patience.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:40 PM on June 4, 2013

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