The Right Kind of Ratio

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What is consuming?

What is creating?

Do we need to do one in attempt to do the other? Or can we stop consuming altogether and only create – or vice versa?

I contemplated this already on Tuesday – how to balance between the right amount of consuming and creating. To me it seems like both are required if one wishes to hold on to the qualitative creative flow and be able to generate new ideas. But it also seems that maintaining a balance between the two can be more difficult than thought. This, because I believe we humans tend to draw us to the easy, almost lazy alternatives instead of pursuing the tougher path. Or then we get too fired up about some project we have and keep on working until we are completely deflated, having burned all that creative energy.

But there has to be a balance somewhere in between those two extremes. A place where the right kind and amount of consuming gives you new ideas and helps you keep the creative work going strong. And where you are able to create the right amount in order to be happy about what you are doing and make real progress instead of getting burned out.

My question is this: what is the right kind of balance between consuming and creating?

Finding the Golden Ratio

I remember a conversation about the ratio between consuming and creating I had with my partner a few years back. We are both creatives which means we consume a good deal of information in order to get inspired to create something of our own. I wasn’t creating nearly as much then as I do today but still, it was a relevant topic to discuss already at the time.

We ended up in some sort of conclusion that to be able to create one needs to consume a great deal of information. I proposed a ratio of 80 to 20 – 80 percent time spent consuming in order to spend 20 percent creating. It felt like a balance at the time: consuming and gathering as much information as possible in order to create one small thing. Like going through one hundred photographs to take one photograph yourself. Read one hundred books to write one novel, three hundred paintings to create one painting. Spend hours and hours thinking to create one new original thought.

But today, as a great amount of my day goes to creating, I’ve been thinking this ratio again. Is it really necessary to consume that much to create so little? Does it have to be 80/20 or could it be 50/50 – or even less? If I put it like this: every day I’m awake for about sixteen hours. Eighty percent of sixteen hours is 12,8 hours. This means that according to my 80/20 rule I would be consuming information almost thirteen hours every day and create for the four hours that remain of the day.

That feels like a lot of time put down to consuming.

Maybe the 80/20 rule isn’t as applicable as I thought it was two years ago. But what is the golden ratio between consuming and creating?

Too much consumption leads to deflation and numbness where nothing gets created. It’s like being a painter with a blank canvas and all the colors in the world to use but no clue, no object to paint. Or everything that the painter tries to put on that canvas turns out wrong.

The same with creativity: too much creating leads to deflation and numbness as well. As if you’ve given everything you have, the towel is dry, the grapes have no juice left to press out of them, the battery is out.

If you don’t recharge your creative batteries often enough (by consuming), you’re making your creative flow suffer.

A Symbiosis of Two

I believe that for overall wellbeing both are required. We humans are curious to our nature and want to figure things out. How does this thing work or why does it do like that? What if I tried doing it like this? In order to figure out things and by that quench our thirst of curiosity, we need to create.

But to be able to do all of this we also need to consume. New things, innovations and creations are born from knowledge that was acquired before. Creativity comes from what we see, hear, feel and smell. Creativity feeds on information and knowledge, even on memories. It’s like research one needs to do to be able to create something new.

A new food recipe is developed from a mix of different flavors snapped up from foods that already exist. A musician gets inspired by songs and melodies that already exist, and in the book world every plot is already out there – you just pick your favorite, come up with a new story with own characters and there you go – you are creating something new. Nothing we consume is really unique anymore – everything exists already. We just come up with new versions of these things and it never seems to grow old.

So – we need to consume in order to create. But what about the other way around? Do we need to create to be able to consume? I guess the answer here is quite simple: if we wouldn’t create anything we wouldn’t have anything to consume. Therefore: yes, we need to create to be able to consume.

Consuming and creating go hand in hand in this universe. A balanced life is a symbiosis of these two, where they create a mutually beneficial relationship and feed on each other, creating balance.

Because if you think about it – what would the world be like without the one or the other? A world of only consumption or creativity would lead to some sort of dystopia, an alternative universe where contact between nothing exists. Where no one would be in contact with anyone and everyone would live their own individual life in solitude, in isolation, in an empty environment free from stimuli.

Creating One’s World

Consuming for entertainment, inspiration and information is okay as long as one balances it out by creating. But lets get some clarity on this thing: what is creating, really?

I’ve always thought that creating for me is writing, creating new things to read. Whether it is about writing a journal, blog posts for this blog or Yellow Tails, I’m creating. But today I think creativity is so much more than just writing – it can be seen as things that help to create one’s career, build on one’s own social environment, one’s world. So even the small things, like updating Instagram and commenting and liking other people’s photos, can be seen as creating. Or sending an email, putting down a few hours to improve the blog, meet up with friends or have a date night with one’s partner. Everything listed here is a part of the creativity process, it helps you develop your creativity, your career.

In contrast to the conversation I had with my partner a few years back, I’d like to propose a ratio of not quite 80/20 but maybe 70/30, and this ratio reversed – seventy percent put down to creating and thirty percent to consuming. From day-to-day this probably shifts according to mood and energy (as my non-creative Wednesdays show) but the overall ratio could be seventy to thirty.

We are allowed to both consume and create. But to boost our self-confidence and happiness, I’d say we actually need to create a lot more than we consume.

Beating the Resistance

The last question I have for this particular blog post is this: when do we know when a break from creativity is actually needed, and when we are yearning to consume because we are procrastinating?

I’ve learned that procrastination is a part of Resistance, the imaginary but real thing that keeps you from doing what you really want to do. In order to learn more or less everything about Resistance, I would recommend you to read the too-good-to-be-true The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield. After reading this book on Resistance and creating, you’ll know when you are procrastinating. But I’ll give you this quote:

The amateur, underestimating Resistance’s cunning, permits the flu to keep him from his chapters; he believes the serpent’s voice in his head that says mailing off that manuscript is more important than doing the day’s work.

The professional has learned better. He respects Resistance. He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.

The professional knows that Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you’re finished. The pro doesn’t even pick up the phone. He stays at work. (p. 82)

 

So, okay, check on beating that Resistance. But how do you know when you need a break from creating?

I guess the knowledge will come to us through practice. Keep on creating (and beating that Resistance/procrastination) until you start to notice the pattern. When do you feel depleted, when do you need to recharge those creative batteries? When do you notice a lack of ideas or inspiration? That’s when you might need a break from creating.

But the ratio, the balance – it’s personal. Only you will know when you’ve created enough, when you have consumed too much, when it’s about procrastination and when it’s about creative fatigue.

Do you know your balance?

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