You Can’t Get There From Here?


In a busy life, lots of things have a momentum all their own–getting to work, getting kids off to school, getting dinner prepared, cleaning up–so they happen like clockwork.

Whether you’re passionate about them or not.

Meanwhile, other things that you really want to happen seem to fall by the wayside every week. Like your art.

And so you question yourself–Maybe I’m not really serious about doing it. Maybe I’m lazy. Maybe I don’t really have what it takes.

None of those mean judgments are true.

What is true is that you do have to create a momentum for your art in order for it to have a place in your life and that requires a good strategy.

One strategy that people rarely mention is the need for effective transitions.


Transitions are invisible hooks and rituals built into the pattern of your day that allow you to move more easily from one activity to the next. We all use them regardless of how aware we are of their existence.

For instance, a common (often not-so-helpful) transition for coming home from work is to open the refrigerator and find something to eat. It rarely driven by hunger but is a repeated pattern that transitions you from “work mode” to “home mode.”

If you have to cook for other people every evening, your mind starts working on it an hour or two ahead of time and you transition to this activity by stopping in the grocery store on your way home to pick up a few things.

As you’re doing this, you’re mentally transitioning from work to meal prep, and the grocery stop helps you do it.

That’s why, if you have insomnia, it’s recommended that you create a “before bed” ritual that you don’t deviate from–you’re triggering your body to transition to sleep mode.

Costume Change

So. Your current routine has lots of momentum that’s aided and abetted by both small and big transitional rituals that help keep everything moving–regardless of how you might feel about them.

Your art needs these same transition helpers. And the good news is that you can create them!

They don’t have to be big or complicated–your brain loves symbols and will respond well to them.

For instance, costumes and uniforms are very effective symbols for us humans–so simply putting on an art apron might help you transition to making-art-mode.

I know when I don’t feel like going to the gym, changing into my gym clothes genuinely helps me get out the door because it helps my mind switch gears–even when I’m grumpy about it.

Of course, your costume transition symbol doesn’t have to be practical. Maybe you want to adorn yourself with the perfect art tiara to wear when you’re ready to signal the muse that it’s time to make some art.

(Most of us could use more fun in our lives, so infusing some fun and lightness into the process is a fantastic way to help yourself look forward to these transitions and therefore to your creating time.)

The Power of Place

Setting up your studio/work area is another great way to transition. (My smart friend Cairene at Third Hand Works calls this “preparing your container.”)

That might mean simply cleaning off your table top or pulling your supplies out of a (special) box or placing a framed picture of one of your art heroes out in the open to help inspire your actions as you get started.

And don’t forget the power of playing favorite music as part of your work space preparation–music alone can be a hugely effective transitional trigger to help you switch gears–so combining it with other transitional rituals is even better.

(You might find that playing the same song every time is especially effective–harking back to my workout routine, I always use the fastest song I own as the first one on my workout playlist because it really helps sets the tone for a successful run.)

Other options might include burning incense, meditating for a few minutes or saying a prayer or affirmation–the possibilities are endless.

Don’t be afraid to explore and experiment–the transitions you create just have to work for you.

Why Do We  Need This?

There are lots of mundane tasks we have to do and so we’ve already done the work to create transitions to help us do them.

The things (our art) that we want for ourselves are often bigger than the mundane tasks that make up much of our routines so they require extra attention to carve a space for them because they’re harder.

And they don’t have momentum–yet.

Figuring out effective rituals that help you more easily transition to your essential creative self is a necessary part of building that momentum.

Which is how you can make your art and creativity have as much of a role in your life as all those other things that fight to steal your attention and fill your time–especially those things you don’t even care about.

What Do You Think?

What transitions do you currently use in your life? Which ones do you like? What are ways that you could help yourself transition to “creating mode” from “work mode” or “helping-everyone-else mode?” Leave a comment, I’d love to hear!

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  1. R.M. Koske says:

    Hm. I wonder if this is part of why the 20 minute club works for me. Maybe going to my projects and supplies stash and poking at the shelves to see what’s there (which is what I do when I’m stuck and need to fill 20 minutes) is a transition.

    I’m going to think about this one. I love the idea of a deliberate transition to creating.

    Ohhh. Oh. Oh. I’ve been working on (okay, not working on) a hat that would be perfect. It’s going to be tasseled and beaded and impractical for real life and in my mind Dumbledore would wear something very like it – it’s a magic hat. Digging it out and taking a look may be where my next 20 minutes takes me.

  2. Sometimes when I find myself resisting the *transition mode* I put on meditation music. I think (guess?) what happens is that this *monkey-mind* of mine begins to calm, I see my supplies, things trigger, I am working on one thing and figuring out another. The work at hand starts, andthen it’s okay.
    I hate to admit that as much as I love what I do RESISTANCE to the switch and start is frequent, especially lately when I feel like I have been pulled in too many directions. And—I need to learn to say *NO* to things too, which I have a problem doing, so I am perpetually overloaded.
    And yes, I almost always wear an apron or lab coat, so as that goes on, the mind begins to say, “Uh oh, she’s getting serious…..” :-)


  3. I like the idea of the late night creator. I have many nights I can’t sleep; this may be the trick. :)

  4. I sometimes have trouble getting focused once I’m in the studio and would find myself burning through precious time doing “non-art” things. To help get focused, I set a rule with myself that I had to do something “artful” (paint, sketch, draw, etc) for 15 minutes. If I didn’t just couldn’t get into it in those 15 minutes, I could stop. If I wasn’t sure it was working after the first 15 minutes, I would go for another 15.

    Rarely, did I ever NOT get into the artful activity no matter what it was! We often need to treat our muse with a firm but gentle hand!

  5. Susan Armstrong says:

    I could use a transition trigger, that would be just the thing for me. I don’t know yet what that might be, but I will be thinking about it. Thanks for the thought!

  6. Rita says:

    My transition is to change from jeans or work clothes into comfy yoga pants (costume!) and then I sit down at my edge of the sofa and reach for my basket with crochet. Simple really, but if you took a video of a week, I’m positive you would see me do the exact samething every evening! Once in my chair I don’t get up until the oven chimes for dinner, and then I reluctantly put my work away.

    I have a different corner and chair for clay work. It is on the way from the tv room to the kitchen, so I keep passing it and it calls me to sit down.

    I tend to get obsessive about creating and go on and on for days and nights somtimes, never hearing a thing my family says, and at other times, I don’t look at it for days. It helps if I can switch between very different things, fiber to clay, paper to cooking and writing.

    ~ ~

  7. annie says:

    for me, i transition by making a cup of coffee or tea, putting on some meditative music – nothing with words. then i open up my file and shut the door. i also make very sure that my family understands that i am not to be interrupted, as i find that my children think that because mom works at home, mom doesn’t “really” work.

  8. [...] at the beginning of each class we always do a short meditation–to transition, to get grounded, and to provide the opportunity to enrich our collaging for the 75 minutes or so [...]

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