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Hello and welcome to the Creative Shoofly podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel.
Before I begin this episode, I want to tell you about a new podcast that I've started called You And I Make A Thing. It's where I invite fellow artists to stretch our creative boundaries by collaborating on a project that neither of us have done before.
Longtime listeners will know that I started You And I Make A Thing right here on this podcast. I really enjoyed those episodes and got some really good feedback. In fact, the feedback was so positive. I decided to spin off You And I Make A Thing to its own podcast and website. You can find You And I Make A Thing wherever you podcast, and you can also find it at youandimakeathing.com.
Now, even though I have a spinoff podcast, I will still be making episodes here on the Creative Shoofly. This podcast is about exploring the creative journey as an artist. And in this episode, I want to talk about how role-playing can help reduce the chaos and distraction that often plagues us as artists.
This episode is specifically for multipotentialites, those of us who are curious about many different things and have a great many interests. We are sometimes called renaissance souls or polymaths, and we find ourselves pulled in many different directions.
In fact, many of us have so many ideas that we want to pursue, that we get discouraged that there isn't enough time. We're starting new projects all the time, but we don't finish many of them. Because either we got bored, we learned what we wanted to learn, or something else captured our interest.
We also get discouraged because in our excitement to get started on a new project, we don't allow ourselves enough time for planning and preparation. And that scattered chaotic energy that we have often means that we haven't organized our spaces. How many times have I excitedly started a project, but then I wasn't able to find the tool or part that I needed. And I know that I have it in some box somewhere, but I can't figure out where I had put it.
Multipotentialites also have a habit of starting a project and then leaving it, only to come back to it six months later. And that often presents its own problems. Was everything stored properly? Do I remember where I left off and what I wanted to do next? Did I leave enough context for me to continue the project?
Everybody has their own process for achieving their goals and finishing projects. But as multipotentialites, we often feel isolated and alone when pursuing them, mainly because there's no one that we can call on to help.
But what if you could have a team to help you with all of your projects? What if you could just jump into each project with everything already prepared and ready to go? What of each project could get the attention it deserved?
Well, you are that team.
The key is to play the different roles of that team. Role-playing is the crucial factor to reducing the mental chaos that is part of multipotentiality and unlocking your creative potential.
And role-playing is different than just following a process. The roles you play define what is possible at the moment. And what you leave aside.
I've designed specific roles for my creative work, which involves making kinetic and three-dimensional art. But the roles can be tailored to your needs and creative goals.
You might be thinking, “Isn't role-playing for kids? And besides I'm not good at role-playing because it's hard for me to pretend.” Or, “It's simply hard for me to form new habits like this.”
But my bet is that you already have all of the imagination that you need to role-play. If you're like me and have pursued many interests and held a variety of jobs. You already know what it feels like to be in different roles. So what I'm going to describe to you should feel familiar.
The three rules that I call upon are the studio assistant, the art director and the lead artist.
I liken these roles to people in a professional kitchen. The kitchen master is responsible for the kitchen itself, making sure that everything is clean and organized, the tools are sharp and ready to use, and the food is fresh and stored safely.
The sous chef is responsible for gathering the appropriate tools, utensils and cookware that'll be used for tonight's meal. They also do mise en place, chopping and prepping the food so that is ready to be cooked.
Finally the master chef cooks the food, using their master skills to create a beautiful meal.
I've taken these roles and map them to my art practice. The studio assistant role is responsible for organizing my studio and keeping a tidy. This role's main concern is to make sure that the studio and all its tools and materials are easily accessible and ready for use.
The art director's role is responsible for planning and prepping the project. This role creates a detailed plan for each project. When the project is ready to be built, this role makes sure that all of the necessary tools and materials are out and ready for use.
Ready for whom? Well, that's the lead artist. This is the role that I really look forward to. It's where I get to step into my studio and work on a fully prepared creative project. All of the work by the other two roles serves to get me into a creative flow state quickly.
When I'm done with my project, finished or not, I slip back into my art director role. I capture notes and what I need to do next with the project. Then I become the studio assistant again, and I clean everything up.
So why be so deliberate with these roles? Why not just prep and go?
The beauty of role-playing is that it compartmentalizes the various parts of the creative cycle. And this is a crucial difference from just following a process. I tried many different processes and they weren't as effective as actually inhabiting the roles.
Being the art director slows me down and makes me think, “Do I have everything that I need to start this project?” So instead of the way I did it before, where I would just clear my work bench and then just jump in, now I sit down and I try to visualize, “What am I missing? What are all the tools I need?”
That helps because I don't want my creative flow to be interrupted when I have to go look for a tool or for some sort of materials.
I call this visualization process hypnotic rehearsal. With hypnotic rehearsal, I imagine myself doing all the steps. I'm imagining that I'm picking up the tools and I'm building the project. I imagine my work bench in front of me. When I visualize that a tool is not there, then I know, oh, I need to have that tool as well.
What I like about the art director role as it helps me pause. And it helps me think about the project before I actually launch into it.
Another benefit of role-playing is emotional detachment. When I'm in my studio assistant role, I don't all of a sudden start a project, which was what I used to do. When I'm in that role, my goal is to tidy up and organize. And that's it! I'm in the mode of, “What can make my studio more efficient and my experience in it even better?” I don't allow myself to start tinkering or feeling depressed about not finishing something.
When I'm in my art director role, I focus on planning the project. That includes creating a project plan that breaks down the steps, includes the tools and materials list. However, I remain emotionally detached from the project itself. I'm only thinking about what will make the project go more smoothly.
As for the lead artist role. I'm not seeking emotional detachment as much as I am seeking flow, that mental state where I'm totally immersed in the project itself. I have all the tools right there on my work bench and the project just proceeds. All of the work and all the prep done by my other roles helps me to achieve flow more quickly.
For most of my life, I basically created things when the mood struck when I had the urge to do something, I would just jump into it and start working on it.
It feels good when you have an idea, then jump right into it. And I did get some things done. But More often than not, it would just lead to frustration because I wasn't really ready to work on the project. I didn't have things in place. I didn't have things prepared.
Role-playing helps me avoid that urge. With role playing, I don't start my projects until I've fully prepared them.
The other thing that's common for multipotentialites, something that I've always struggled with, is distractions. Role-playing helps me by reinforcing the idea that when I'm in a particular role, I can respond to the distraction by, “Saying not now, this is not the appropriate time to pay attention to that distraction.”
The problem with distractions is that they really in reinforce sub optimal habits. Allowing myself to be distracted teaches the mind that getting pulled away and being taken out a creative flow is okay. But it's not okay!
This is where I find that role-playing supports good habits, in that it helps avoid distractions. Now when I'm role-playing and I'm faced with a distraction, I have a note pad on the side to write the idea down or whatever it is, so that way I can capture it. And then maybe later on, decide if it's something that I want to pay attention to.
Speaking of habits, there's a really good web resource on the Harvard Business Review website called Trick Yourself Into Breaking a Bad Habit. The article discusses five different ways that you can approach changing habits.
And I liked number five in particular. It's called changing your frame. When you're asking yourself a question, it's really helpful sometimes to just tweak the words you use to represent that decision. Tweaking the words can really change how you feel about making a decision.
The example they give is when you are feeling a temptation. You're far better at resisting it if you say, “I don't do that” than if you say, “I'm not allowed to do that.” It's a small change, but “I don't do that” frames the decision in terms of a personal value, whereas “I'm not allowed” frames it as someone else's value.
And this relates directly to role-playing. When I'm in a role, my values are different for each of the roles. This is where emotional detachment helps me in making decisions as I'm performing that role.
When I am a studio assistant, the values I have in that role are about organization. I place a high value on making my studio efficient. When I'm in the art director role, I value planning and I value preparation.
Notice that I'm expressing different values in different roles. These are all still my values. But acting in different roles helps clarify which values are the most important for the moment.
I do encourage you to take a look at the HBR webpage. I've gone ahead and linked it for you in my show notes.
I'm sure that many of you have read Marie Kondo's book on tidying up. And I think one of the most valuable things that I learned from her book is this idea of one place for one thing. She calls it, “Tidy by Category.”
And by that she means that in your house or in your creative space, your studio, wherever, there should be only one place where you find, let's say your scissors or your X-acto blades, or where all of your art papers stored.
And the reason for that is if these things are scattered all around the place, you have to look into so many different places for that item. And that just takes time and effort and it produces frustration.
I’ve become a real stickler for this idea of one place for one thing. All my scissors are in one place. All my rulers are in one place. All the pencils are in one place. And that's been incredibly helpful for me when I'm in my art director role, when I'm preparing a project for myself. I know exactly where I need to go for the art pencils or the rubber stamps or whatever I'm using for that project.
I would definitely encourage you to read Marie Kondo's book, especially for the section on tidying by category.
Another tool that I found that really helps comes from a website called SaturdayGift.com. And it's the idea of deciding what to keep and what to throw out. It's called the yes-no-maybe method.
When I have to do a massive cleanup and I have to decide, okay, do I want all this stuff that's accumulated over the many years? Do I want to keep it or do I want to get rid of it?
I set up three folding tables and one table is the yes table. The next table is the no table. And then there's a third table that's maybe. The beauty of this ideas that you don't have to make a decision instantly.
The yeses are going to be obvious. And usually the no's are pretty obvious, too. And then you have that maybe table. So I set aside a couple of hours sometimes every couple of months and I go through this process.
And what I find is a lot of the maybe’s end up being no’s. The maybe’s are basically there for me just to get over it, you know, to look at it a few more times and decide, “All right. It's really time to let go whatever it is.”
The yes-no-may be method is a very useful way of organizing. And of course, when I do this, I'm in my studio assistant role. By being in that role and focused on organizing, I'm not focused on anything else. And the emotional detachment that comes with my studio assistant role helps me make the yes-no-maybe decisions more quickly and more dispassionately. I'll put a link to the Saturday gift.com article in the show notes.
One of the things that I've found by doing role-playing is that it actually makes it easier to jump between projects. And what I find is that when I'm in the lead artist role, I usually last about 45 minutes to an hour before I get to a point where it's like, “Okay, I'm done!” Even though the project isn't done yet.
But in my mind, I'm done. I've done as much as I want to. And so at that point I can go back to the art director role and record some context. I can say, “Okay, I'm this far in the project and the next step is this.” And it might be just a quick note. It only takes me a couple of minutes to capture the context.
At that point, I can then decide to work on another project. Or maybe what I need to do is be the art director and do some planning and some preparation.
Now my mind is refreshed. Because my mind is in a different space and in a different place. My multipotentialite mind likes to go from one project to the next and that's refreshing in itself.
Switching roles can also refresh the mind because when you jump from lead artists back to art director, you have to shift gears. The act of shifting gears has a sort of salutary effect on the mind, because it acknowledges and supports the way the multipotentialite mind works.
The compartmentalization of values, the emotional detachment, and the salutary effect of changing gears are all reasons why I'm committed to role-playing for my creative process.
As you can see role-playing reinforces good habits. The benefit it brings is emotional detachment. It helps focus you on the task at hand. And each role has its own set of goals and values within the larger creative process.
And that means you're less likely to get stuck or distracted. It helps you get into flow much quicker.
And as I have practice role-playing as a multipotentialite, I find that I'm more satisfied because I've conquered the creative chaos that has plagued me in the past.
If role-playing is something that might benefit you, I encourage you to give it a try. You can design your own roles based on the creative goals that you're trying to achieve. But I would start with a kitchen model as a framework. See, if you can corral a bit of your creative chaos and be more satisfied with your projects. And if it does help you, please let me know.
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Creative Shoofly. If you like today's episode and want to hear more about the creative process, please consider subscribing to the Creative Shoofly wherever you get your podcasts.
That's it for now. Be well and be creative.
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