Photo Courtesy: Elliana Esquivel

I was walking my roommate’s dog, Bella, yesterday evening.

It was my first time walking her.

As we set off, I watched her attentively as she wandered from one plant to the next with childlike curiosity.

I let her lead me at first.

She would walk towards a rosemary shrub. Pause. Inspect. Keep walking. Move on to a stranger’s front yard. Pause. Position herself well. Pee. Keep walking. On and on and on.

Along the way, whenever a car passed by us or a stranger walked toward us, I’d pull her aside. In those moments, I lead her.

Throughout the walk, we were playing a table tennis match of who’s leading who?

Somewhere towards the end, I realized, Huh. This is how our mind works.

While one part of our mind helps us wander around and follow our curiosity, the other part acts as the diligent dogwalker, not letting the curious mind too astray.

Duality in Creative Work

Creative work generally feels like a mind-wandering dog.

As a writer, sometimes I get into rabbit holes on topics forgetting what my original question was. The insidious part of this process is, it’s fun!

It’s fun to be stuck in rabbit holes and discover a new book, podcast, or essay that fundamentally changes your understanding of a topic.

The joy of sharing a piece of priceless content we discovered is unparalleled. I feel it every time I share recommendations with you in my newsletter.

But, I also know that if you let the dog take lead entirely, it will lead you astray.

This can be witnessed in aspiring musicians who never finish a song; yearning for authors who always get stuck in the middle of writing a book; and daydreaming artists who never let themselves finish a piece of art.

We all need the dog-walker to control the direction of movement and tug on the rope when the dog gets too wild.

This is why there is a whole industry around time management, productivity, and coaching. Almost nothing we hear from productivity gurus is novel anymore. I say this as somebody who on planning. Yet, it helps to hear it. It helps to work with a coach who can be our dogwalker when we can’t be our own.

Yet, not all of us can afford to work with a coach.

So how do we do it ourselves?

Being Your Own Dogwalker

I’d be lying if I said I’ve figured this out.

But, looking back on my life, I can at least say I’ve done an okay job of letting my curiosity flow while also adding structure. Here are my thoughts on how you can actionably add discipline to creativity:

  • Set one major goal in each “vertical” of your life: It’s tempting to set many New Year’s resolutions when a year begins. But, what if you were to only set one for every “vertical” in your life? To me, vertical refers to things such as Career, Family, Fitness, Mental Health, Hobbies, Friends, etc. By setting just one priority, the dogwalker of your mind has set the direction. So now the dog can begin wandering within the constraints of that. We’re only 4 months away from the end of 2022. So what will your major goals be? Think about it.
  • Set aside time to mind-wander every day: Some of the smartest people I know, both personally and impersonally, all set-aside time to read and think every day. When you don’t give yourself this time, life can soon begin to feel too structured. Routine creeps in, leading to monotony. But when you give yourself this time, even if it’s just 30 minutes, you give yourself room to wander and the peace of mind in knowing you’re not letting life pass by you on autopilot.
  • Have a good idea capture system: I’ve talked about this . When you have a good system to capture and store ideas, a system that will resurface those ideas at the right time, you will be at peace in knowing that even if you can’t work on it right now, it will come to you at the right time.