Are you trying to finish your novel? Do you want to build your own business? Would you like to establish an everyday mindfulness or physical routine? The impact of having a consistent practice focused on your life goals cannot be underestimated. Prolific author and creativity coach Eric Maisel has been working with artists and creative people for more than thirty years. His new book, The Power of Daily Practice: How Creative and Performing Artists (and Everyone Else) Can Finally Meet Their Goals, presents a thorough and holistic approach to meeting the goals and challenges of creating an authentic and effective daily practice.
We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.
# # #
I regularly run a four-month Get Your Book Written! online support group. Obviously one goal is to help the writer participants get their books written. But a second goal is to help them establish a daily writing practice. Of course, the second goal supports the first goal. However, they are also separate and distinct goals. A writer might discover that she has good reasons not to be working on the book she thought she was writing, and so that book may not get written. If, though, she’s gotten her daily writing practice in place, then she will still keep writing, simply switching to a different project — perhaps a book she had put aside a decade ago, a series of blog posts, or something else.
What typically happens is that the first few weeks are difficult on both counts. Most of the writers in the group find it hard to tackle their book and hard to keep to anything like a daily practice. This isn’t surprising, since they joined the group exactly because they were having difficulties. My work is to encourage them every day, to hold them accountable, and to help them get very clear on the benefits — I would say, the necessity — of a daily practice.
To begin with, they balk. But after a few weeks, something interesting begins to happen. One of the writers will say in her daily check-in, “I enjoyed writing today!” This is so different a message from the ones the participants have been posting that the group explodes with excited emails. “You enjoyed it! Amazing! You mean . . . this could be enjoyable?” I smile, sit on my hands, and say nothing, letting the moment — and the joy — just be.
Then, two days later, another writer will share a similar, maybe even more excited bit of amazement: “I had fun today! I can’t believe it!”
This doesn’t last. The jubilation is typically quickly replaced by resignation. Back to the slog, back to the hard work, back to not knowing what the book wants, back to being agitated and distracted, back to doubting the whole project, back to . . . the norm. But each writer in the group now has a trace memory of joy, and their grumblings are somehow less grumbly, ameliorated by that memory — of a pleasure that may not even have been their own! Just the fact that someone in the group enjoyed herself, maybe even only for a day, maybe even only for half an hour, has made an impact.
This is all by way of saying that your daily practice is unlikely to prove a joy day in and day out. But joy may sometimes punctuate it. Maybe only a quiet joy, a joy so humble as to hardly raise a small smile — but real, palpable joy nonetheless. And the joy may begin to come more frequently and may begin to stay longer. Maybe you’ll actually enjoy your whole summer of practice. Maybe you’ll simply love learning that concerto. Maybe you’ll paint for a full month with enthusiasm. A secret power of daily practice? It will increase the amount of joy in your life.
Can you forcibly add joy or demand that it come and visit your daily practice? No. But you can invite it in. Without quite realizing it, rather inadvertently, we’re likely to have gotten down on life, maybe even so far down that we find life a cheat. Having given life that rousing thumbs-down, we also execute joy, like some cruel Roman emperor. It is our job, then, to give life a thumbs-up, even if we can’t exactly find the reasons to do so. From that calculated stance, we open our heart and invite joy in.
Your daily practice is rehabbing your body? Invite joy in. Your daily practice is sending out begging emails in support of some much-needed research? Invite joy in. Your daily practice is mindfully managing your anxiety? Invite joy in. Your daily practice is memorizing your one-woman show? Invite joy in. I think you can sense how less likely it is for joy to arrive without that invitation. None of these activities are particularly joy producing by their nature. They aren’t anything like being silly with your child or sharing a quiet moment with your lover. They don’t cry, “Joy!” on the face of it. So you must say, “Come in, joy, come in and visit.”
In what must have been a moment of rapture, the poet and critic Louise Bogan averred: “I cannot believe that the inscrutable universe turns on an axis of suffering; surely the strange beauty of the world must somewhere rest on pure joy!” Pure joy? I wonder. But some joy? Most definitely. Each of us has personal knowledge of that. Some joy is not only not impossible but, if you prop open your door, throw open your windows, and invite it in, even likely.
Let your daily practice bring you some joy as you take pride in your efforts to live your life purposes and to make and maintain meaning. Your practice may not bring you joy every day, and it can bring at least as much pain as joy, as you do your real work and confront life’s realities. But at its heart, it is a joyous thing to meet life with genuine effort, responsibility, and personal pride. See if a quiet sense of joy can begin to inform your daily practice.
Food for Thought
- How can a daily practice be made to feel more joyful?
- Do you experience much joy in life? If not, do you have a sense of why that is?
- Visualize inviting joy in. What would that look like for you?
# # #
Eric Maisel, PhD, is the author of more than fifty books on creativity and personal growth, including The Power of Daily Practice. Widely regarded as America’s foremost creativity coach, he is a retired family therapist and a noted leader in the movement known as critical psychology. He writes the Rethinking Mental Health blog for Psychology Today and facilitates creativity and deep writing workshops around the world. He lives in Walnut Creek, California. Find out more about his work at EricMaisel.com.
Excerpted from the book The Power of Daily Practice. Copyright © 2020 by Eric Maisel.