A few weeks ago I posted on LinkedIn about my experience with depression.
But this isn’t an article about mental health. This is an article about a project I’ve embarked on. A project which was, in part, inspired by my mental health struggles.
A creation habit
After 10+ years of dealing with depression, I’ve learned something about myself — although there are times where I take no joy in anything, and everything feels worthless, there are two things I can do that the logical side of my brain will thank me for:
Exercise is fine, but it’s far less exciting to me than the other thing. And because I’d been reading and thinking about habits, an idea crystallised in my head a few weeks ago:
Build a creation habit.
If I made creation a habit, I could guarantee that at least when depression strikes (and entering the darker winter months here in the UK, it’s going to strike a LOT more), I can still spend my time in a worthwhile manner. It won’t feel worthwhile at the time, but I know it will later.
And it’s a far better alternative to distracting myself with endless social media scrolling, endless Netflix watching, or the premium combo of endless social media scrolling PLUS Netflix watching. (Which, of course, is an infinitely better short term solution, but infinitely worse long term solution.)
Figuring out the details
A “creation habit” sounds all well and good, but how do I give myself the best chance of pulling it off? I’ve tried setting goals for my personal life for the past couple of years, to limited success. Even when they’re SMART goals. Even when I do that (apparently fake) Warren Buffet thingy.
If I had to a guess why, it’s probably got something to do with:
- Intrinsic motivation — I don’t have overwhelming, unstoppable passion for anything. (Maybe a controversial opinion: I believe it’s insanely, exceedingly rare for people to have this.)
- Consequences — What happens if I don’t achieve a life goal? My life boss fires me from life?
- Laziness — I’m a pretty average human, and instinctively opt for the path of least resistance. Which is doing nothing.
So after dabbling in a bit of James Clear, habit seemed like the one for me. To help make it stick, I figured I needed to give myself a few things:
- Variety — There’s a reason why I’ve been calling this a “creation” habit. Historically, writing has been my creative medium of choice. But I’m fickle and get bored easily. And want to be able to say I’ve tried a bunch of different mediums as a creator. So part of getting this habit to stick was frequently changing the medium of creation.
- Momentum — Yearly goals totally fell flat for me. I need way, way shorter periods of time to work in. The answer came to me from the tech world, in the form of two-week sprints. Another part of getting this habit to stick was giving myself two-week deadlines to create and share a given thing.
- Accountability (/Reward) — Doing things for yourself is all well and good, but it’s hard. It’s way easier breaking promises to yourself than to others. Plus, doing things only for yourself gives you no external validation. And we’re all suckers for external validation. So the final part of getting this habit to stick was speaking and writing about it a lot.
So, meet the #LifeSprintProject
Every two weeks, I undertake a new creative endeavour.
So far I’m two sprints in. I started in familiar territory — writing. Short fiction writing, which is something I’ve always loved but never been great at doing much of. With the first sprint, I challenged myself to write a new story every day. I fell a little shy of the goal, publishing only 11/14 stories during the sprint (and the 12th story in the next sprint), but I was happy with the result.
As the second sprint arrived, though, so did a big dip in my mental state. I was completely flat. I couldn’t do a thing for the entire first week. But my mood crept back up for week two, and I set my sights on something I could do with the momentum I was already carrying — publish a book of short stories. I took the 12 I’d just created, bundled in some that I’d written in the past, and then looked online for a book printer. 10 printed copies should arrive on my doorstep on the 1st of November.
Today marks the start of sprint 3
And on a complete whim, before I got out of bed this morning, I decided I’d create a video game this sprint. I have extraordinarily little past experience with anything in the realm of game design, game art, programming, or really any useful skills. But therein lies the fun of the challenge!
Here’s my approach:
- Find the easiest-to-use no-code game making software
- I don’t want to create a completely bland, generic, templatey game. But I also don’t want to create a unique gameplay mechanic — it’ll be way too hard. So that leaves one thing I can relatively easily do to make my game unique — story. Which makes me feel like I should try and create an RPGish game or visual novel. Something that facilitates dialogue. Probably will ditch combat too. Make it kind of an experiential game, rather than a traditional one.
- Write the story
- Find some free-to-use sprites and sounds
- Build one working level (+ insane amounts of testing/debugging I’m sure)
- I really want it to be playable in browser too, so at the end of the two weeks I can point people I know towards it and have them play it
This one is going to be a HUGE lift. Way harder than the previous two sprints. So time to get cracking. I’ll be doing random micro updates on Twitter and LinkedIn throughout the sprint, so follow me there if you’re interested. I’m also going to try and get into the habit of doing a longer-form write up here on Medium each sprint.
Until next time!