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?

You Are What You Focus On

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On Tuesday, I wondered why people never have all the time that they need so I observed how they use the time they have on their hands. From what I saw, people tend to use their time for window-shopping (both in shopping malls and online), playing games on their phone, checking their social media feeds or talking about other people or events that have happened or are happening in the near future.

I am not saying any of this is bad. It isn’t – at least when it’s done in small amounts. However, these activities tend to take over everything else. Especially our smart devices are excellent Time Turners… although they work in a counter-productive way, that is, they make the time go faster.

What I’m trying to say is this: by using our time on things that aren’t really productive we are wasting our time.

(Because, honestly, can you remember all the photos you saw on Instagram this morning when you scrolled through your feed? Or what was on the news yesterday? Of all the minutes or even hours you invest on doing these things – how much of that Time would you say was time well spent?)

But wait, what? What do I do with my Time? Let’s start with what I don’t do:

I don’t really use my phone for reading news or checking my social media feed several times a day. I don’t have any games on my computer or on my phone (and even though we have a Wii console at home we aren’t really tempted to use it), I seldom have a need for window-shopping, and I use my bike instead of driving a car everywhere – and spare the time I would otherwise spend sitting in traffic.

The Time On My Side

Because of what I don’t do I seem to have a great deal of Time on my hands. Actually, every few days I realize I have too much of that Time. You ever heard of that – having too much time? It’s a real thing. And let me tell you, it’s a challenge.

For the past eight months or so, I’ve been managing my Time more than usual. First of all, I decided to check my social media only once a day (that’s Instagram, mostly) and for the second, I haven’t really been deep-diving into news on a daily or even on a weekly basis for the past one and a half years. This saves me hours every week.

I prefer meeting friends in real life instead of spending hours on Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger, chatting away on recent events or other stuff. I have my habits, which save me a ton of time. I prefer single-tasking instead of multitasking which means I get things done more effectively than if I would be checking for e-mails, social media and chat messages every now and then while doing my writing. I don’t binge-watch tv-series that much anymore and have become more selective when it comes to Netflix and TV-programs.

All these things give me Time.

How We Spend Our Time

With the time I have, I’m able to write much more than I had before. I have more energy for playing chess, going for walks, reading books, do some research for different projects I’m interested in.

It hasn’t been all too easy to get where I am. And there is still so much I would like to do with all the Time I have on my hands: read even more books, try mediation, dedicate more time for researching, write a journal, work on my book, become a better photographer and filmmaker.

So I’m in the middle of a process here. I think it’ll never end – these self-development things rarely do.

It has required a great deal of self-discipline to get where I am today. Acquiring all this time has demanded several moments of hands-caught-in-movement-towards-the-phone and forefinger-reaching-for-the-app-that-takes-you-to-Instagram. It has also required many conscious decisions such as leaving the phone in another room for the night so that the first thing I check when I wake up isn’t my phone but the weather or, better yet, how I’m feeling that morning.

There are many quotes out there that are about how we consume our time. One of the first ones that stuck in my head a year ago or so, was the quote by Annie Dillard:

”How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” 

It made me think of how I spent my days: I was constantly on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Youtube. I read up to twenty different blogs on an almost-daily basis. I read books, watched movies and tv-series (mostly Gilmore Girls and Friends), and looked up food recipes that I might someday want to prepare. I was a hard-core consumer. The only thing I produced was the food I cooked, which I then ate, i.e. consumed.

I asked myself: is this how I want to spend my days and, the pattern extended, my life? I wasn’t all too dissatisfied with my way of spending my days, but still, the quote and the thought in it got stuck in my head. How did I wish to spend my days and my life?

Today, I feel like I’m more on the right path than I was one and a half years ago. I am more of a producer than a consumer – I create sentences that build entire worlds. I create photos and videos.

I am, of course, also a consumer. We can never cease to consume – but we can choose what we consume and how much.

What I Don’t Have

But why am I writing all this? What’s the idea behind this blog post?

The thing is – I have too much Time on my hands. And having all this Time is a challenge because even if I have all the Time I wish for, I’m not able to do everything I want to do.

I’ve realized there are many things I’d like to do with the extra time that I have. I would love to go hiking much more than I do at the moment. I enjoy working with my hands and would love to use these hands for cooking and baking, building things and painting (just a side note: I’m not a painter or a carpenter but a writer, so no great expectations on my building and painting skills. It’s just something I enjoy doing).

However, these wishes come with restraints: the nearest deep-in-the-woods hiking trails are at least one-hour drive away. If I’d bake all the cookies and cheesecakes I’d want to, me and my partner would probably gain 20 kilograms weight neither of us needs.

(And as a side note: I wish to bake and cook food only when I feel like it, instead of making it an obligatory daily task because that tends to take out all the fun in it. So what I’m searching for here is some kind of balance)

Also, for the past two years I’ve been getting rid of things I don’t need anymore so by creating paintings and things out of wood and screws I’m creating more things that I basically don’t need. How to create without adding to the amount of things you already own?

Since I’ve realized the limits of what I can do with my Time in my current situation, I’ve also realized what I wish to change in my life (so I guess you can call it in one way a positive problem). This is how far I’ve come in my realizations:

  • I want to live in a house. Not in an apartment in the city, but in my own house a small distance away from the city.
  • I want to live near the nature and the sea. Switch the noise pollution of the city to the sounds of waves, wind and birds.
  • I want to have a studio for working, writing, painting and all the other creative things I aim to do.

The part about the food I haven’t figured out quite yet. But I have a strong belief in that a solution will find it’s way into my head.

By making more Time into your days, i.e. having more control over what you do with your time, you have more time to think what you’d like to do with that time and how you can do it.

More time on your hands also gives you the opportunity to think more clearly where you want to be in the next five years or so. And that’s a way of living a more meaningful life, if you ask me.