These are two words that you probably wouldn’t naturally juxtapose, but I promise it makes sense.
I’ve talked about actions and habits before, about how important it is to focus on tangible actionable things in order to move forward and affect change. Well, creating vs reacting is another helpful way to think about action, more specifically, what drives action. Here goes.
We’ll start with reacting because for a lot of us it’s more familiar, also it’s the lesser of the two options. A reaction is usually a response to some sort of problem or threat, it’s negatively sourced, something bad has or could happen, and you need to react to prevent it. A common phrase in the knowledge working world is ‘putting out fires,’ meaning problems constantly arise and we’re constantly reacting to solve them. A reaction doesn’t really move things forward, its main goal is to keep the status quo, keep the business functioning, keep the customer happy, etc.
Creating, on the other hand, is much more exciting. Instead of arising out of a problem or threat, creativity is sourced from vision and purpose. Creating is about solving problems before they show up, about creating solutions and possibilities. It’s pro-active action instead of reactive action.
Here’s a quick example: let’s say you’re working for a customer-facing firm who provides financial coaching and investments. Clients have been semi-regularly frustrated by poor communication from the firm, and your job has often devolved into smoothing things over with disgruntled customers. You’re a reactor. But, dissatisfied with this type of work existence, you remember why you’re actually doing all this: to serve people well with the best financial and investment advice in the industry. So if that’s the purpose, reacting to communications problems is incongruous with that purpose. What would serve that purpose? A system of communication and education designed not only to clamp down on the ‘frustrated customer’ problem, but to help customers think differently about money and themselves!
Creating comes from a different place (vision and purpose) than reacting (fear and problems). See, juxtaposition!
On its surface, distinguishing between consumer and creator might seem to imply that you should stop watching Netflix and start writing a blog, at least that’s what comes to my mind. That’s an incomplete picture, but I do want to think about the difference between consuming and creating, and how we can be better creators.
A consumer is someone who maximizes intakes. Watching too much TV, eating too much food, or buying too many unnecessary things could all be symptoms. At its base, it is excessive, wasteful, and unfulfilling. That’s not to say consuming is all bad. If you don’t consume food you’ll die, we’re made to consume things. But the definition of a consumer here is someone who is addicted to over-consuming, who lives to consume, and that’s generally bad. You could say the point of consuming is to take.
A creator is someone who focuses on outputs. Creating doesn’t necessarily mean writing or drawing or filming, it can be almost anything that’s contributory. When you engineer additional efficiency into a process at work, or cook a meal from a new recipe, or finish your latest house project, that’s also creating. You could say the point of creating is to give.
None of us are only a creator or only a consumer, but people do seem to shade one towards or away from the two. If you find yourself too far over to the consumer side, which is where we tend to fall by default, it can be tough to dig yourself out and start creating. But here are a couple tips to get started:
- Think about your purpose. What are you here for? Who do you want to be? What do you want to accomplish? When you give those questions a good mulling over you’ll probably come up with answers that include creating. Write your answers down, set goals around them, keep reviewing them. A connection between purpose and goals, even between purpose and specific activities, is your guide. If a goal or activity doesn’t match up with your over-arching purpose you can cut it out, if it does match up, go after it. Without the clarity purpose brings, you’ll be tossed around and most likely end up settling back into comfortable consuming. The best way to start moving from consuming to creating is to know why you’re doing it.
- Read good books. This could technically be considered consuming, but it’s the best type of consuming, even a necessary type of consuming, in order to be able to create. If you’re not learning and growing it’s tough to have anything to share. Think about a preacher, they do lots of creating, to the tune of a 10+ page document (or two) per week. How can they possibly produce that kind of output? They read, a lot. They fill themselves up with ideas and information which they bring back to their congregations. The same is true for this blog, I wouldn’t have anything to write if I wasn’t reading. Reading should include articles and blog posts, but I specifically mention books because they’re the best way to interact with whole ideas and complete thoughts. Instead of only picking up bits and pieces of information, a book can change the way you think.
- Separate your consuming and creating tools. I’ve made multiple attempts to switch to an iPad only workflow in the last few years. One of the main problems I’ve run into is a confusion of purpose. My goal was to use the iPad for both creation and consumption, thereby reducing my technology loadout. It was a noble goal, but one which resulted in a lot of consuming and not much creating. For whatever reason, my mind has a hard time creating on a device that I also use for consuming, regardless of its capability or functionality (which is a whole other issue). Instead, when I use my MacBook mainly for creation (work, writing, projects, etc.), and my iPhone mainly for consumption (news, information, games, etc.), I’m much more productive.
- Carve out the time. This is where we often get stuck, who has the time to create things? You might have to get creative before you can create. The most important thing you can do here is to block out a chunk of time on your calendar. This time is sacred. During the block, turn off as many notifications as you can. Choose a place that will minimize distractions. I like to be somewhere other than my desk where normal working habits kick in. A coffee shop could be a nice change of pace, plus it provides a little extra motivation to commit to the time block. The point is to decide on a time and a place where you can focus. It takes some work to create a successful time-block, but it’s surprisingly enjoyable and energizing when you do it.
- Start small, continue daily. You don’t have to change your life to create something. Just pick one small thing and do it, today. Then do another small thing tomorrow, and then the next day. Your first time block could be 10 minutes deciding what or how you want to create. It can be directly related to your work or it could be the start of a new side hustle, as long as it involves creating. One thing I’ve committed to is writing 250 words per day. Before I set this goal for myself I had already been writing, but mostly in fits and starts, nothing consistent enough to build upon. That one small daily goal has been critical for me to remain consistent. It’s a lot easier to write 250 words per day than to write one blog post per week. Many small achievements performed consistently over time, one day at a time, will beat a big breakout effort one hundred times out of one hundred.
I will be the first to admit that I don’t have this all figured out, I still spend too much time consuming, but these are a few things that I’ve learned and found helpful. Consuming is easy, let’s do something hard.