making a practice addictive

memories of a light filled summer in a beautiful brooklyn brownstone

memories of a light filled summer in a beautiful brooklyn brownstone

This week, I suddenly realized that I was addicted to the gym. In the span of a month, I went from someone who actively avoided gyms to going 5 times a week for 2 hours at a time, always feeling reluctant to leave. I'm sure the endorphin rush and the Kiehl's body lotion helped, but what made the gym addictive to me was how my mind felt. At the gym, I was hyper focused, methodical, and disciplined. When I'm too busy sweating to overthink or over plan, my mind eased into an intense, but simple clarity. I craved that feeling. 

It made me think about what I could take away from the gym and apply to my artistic pursuits. How could I carry over that intensity, rigor, and clarity of mind to, say, writing essays, making art, or practicing music?

we watched this thing turn for what felt like hours; alexander calder exhibit at the Whitney

we watched this thing turn for what felt like hours; alexander calder exhibit at the Whitney

So I listed out seven elements inherent in going to the gym-- elements which I think made it addictive for me. 

Elements of an addictive practice

(1) A clear, easy to visualize goal  
I know what I want to feel and look like, and I can visualize it easily. 

2) A repeatable method
There's very little waffling at the gym - I watch what other people do and apply it. 

(3) Immediate feedback loop
I can feel (and see) the changes in my body immediately when I leave the gym. 

(4) Other people doing it with you
The presence of sweatier people is very motivating.

(5) Teachers everywhere
Seeing trainers and coaches makes me feel like I have a lot to learn, and that knowledge is accessible. 

(6) Pleasing environment
This is crucial to me, and probably the main reason I avoided the gym for so long. 

(7) External validation
Far beyond any artistic pursuits, the gym is a highly socially validated activity. 

Compare this to having a writing practice -- which, I would say, is the opposite of addictive. The goal of my writing feels nebulous at best, existential at worst. The method / muse is relatively unreliable. The results are sporadic. I'll wake up at six am to stare at a blank screen for an hour, resisting the urge to water my plants, check my email, go back to sleep, plan my escape to California, look at pumpkin bread recipes, engage in text exchanges with friends I haven't seen in months. Writing is a solitary practice. And most people, when you tell them you write, will respond with blank stares and boring questions. 

black cherries in a porcelain bowl, I couldn't help myself!

black cherries in a porcelain bowl, I couldn't help myself!

While the gym is an environment specifically designed to be addictive, I have to intentionally design the environment for my own practices -- be it writing, practicing music, dancing tango, throwing pottery, or meditating -- to have that same urgent energy. I think it's about making the process itself as pleasurable as possible, and riding momentum coming from multiple directions.

How can I clarify my vision for my writing, better understand what methods work for me, feel more motivated by my progress, and seek out inspiration, everyday? It is a much harder pursuit, but one that I'm excited about. The addictive environment doesn't come prepackaged here; I have to build it for myself. It becomes, then, a process of being more acquainted with that hyper focused state, that clarity of mind, feeling like my intentions are aligned with my execution, when even my daily striving itself feels... effortless. 

 

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