Creative Addicts

Written by

Mark Johnson

How to use “creative endorphins” to foster a healthy habit of making

Running often is not a comfortable choice. Yet almost every day, I find myself hitting the trail for a run even though it’s much easier to do practically anything else. One reason I keep doing this is that I’m chasing that “runners high” (a.k.a. endorphins). I’m literally addicted to running. So if I don’t run for a few days, I start to feel mild withdrawal symptoms.

I find that this dynamic overlaps a lot with fostering creative habits. Great creative work can also be painful and time consuming, but that feeling of making something and putting it out there gives an endorphin-like kick to your brain. Once you’ve done it enough times, you’re hooked. It’s no longer nearly as appealing to spend most of your time on consumption activities when the lure of creating something new is right there.

Quick aside: I believe creative work is any effort that produces something new to increase efficiency in or enjoyment of life. That could be art, spreadsheets, code, etc…

So how do you foster this kind of creative addiction? It’s pretty similar to how you become a runner.

  1. ⏱ Put in the time. When it comes to learning new things or creating new habits, there simply is no shortcut for time invested. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise (especially if they’re selling something). I don’t get my endorphin hit until mile eight of a run. Similarly, it takes some hours for creative work to give you that same satisfaction.
  2. 🚢 Ship it. It’s not done until it’s out there. This is tough for anyone with high standards, but you won’t get that endorphin hit until you do. To foster a healthy addiction to creating, you must ship frequently.
  3. 👟 Dress for success. One way I trick my lazy self into going out for a run is by putting on my running clothes well before I need to. Similarly, having a ritual and environment in which you create will allow you to “put on” the proper context for creating. This will help you commit to the hard work and long time blocks.

As a dad and teacher, I think a lot about how I can foster a habit of creating instead of consuming in my children and students. Scheduling blocks of open time, praising them when they “ship,” and creating a context that encourages creative work will help the next generation become creative addicts who just might change the world with what they make.

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