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Atticus Harris

in search of simplicity

The Art Of Creative Discipline: 12 Quotes On Consistency From Athletes, Zen Masters, Dancers & Novelists

Consistently painting

“Why have I never been bored? For more than fifty years I have never ceased to work.” – Henri Matisse

In 1943 a handful of Nazi soldiers sat in the basement of Henri Matisse. France was occupied and the Second World War was tearing through the country to clash with Allied forces in Italy. Matisse himself was 73 years old, ill and unable to walk. Surgery to save him from cancer had left him bed-bound and in poor health. Yet despite the darkness of his surroundings and his dire physical condition, he was was a busy man.

Unable to paint in the way that he once had, Matisse had taken to using coloured paper and scissors to create ‘Cut-Outs’. The works that Matisse produced in this period are alive and fresh. They sing with a vitality that does little to suggest the struggles he was facing. With the most basic of materials and techniques, he continued what had become a lifelong practice: the creation of art.

The end of Matisse’s life was strewn with obstacles. Yet it is also the time when he created some of his best work. Despite what was happening around him, Matisse found a way to show up and continue to do his thing. By the time he’d reached his 70s, he’d been doing it every day for almost 50 years. It was not a flash of inspiration or a stroke of luck that allowed him to create the cut-outs. It was a lifetime of consistency that did. A commitment to the process. And a belief that, despite his circumstances, ‘work cures everything’.

Why Consistency Matters

We can learn a lot from Matisse and his passion to continue no matter what. His dedication to work was not only a personal commitment but also a search to finding something meaningful. It’s a characteristic shared by many of the most prolific and profound creators throughout history.

There is a romantic and out-dated idea of the creative person. The painter who works only when inspiration strikes. The nonchalant rock star with more time for booze than playing the guitar. Or the child prodigy who produces masterpieces with ease.

But, what we find is often the opposite. Putting in the effort every day is closer to what it takes. Jack Kerouac, for example, famously told people he had written his novel ‘On The Road’ in a three-week drug-fuelled sprint. What he failed to leave out was the six years after that he spent meticulously editing it.

Life is unpredictable. Some days are good. Others will be rough. When you learn to turn up despite this and do your thing, you’ve reached a turning point. Because now the external factors that may once have been turned in to excuses no longer stop you.

Consistency matters because it unlocks personal freedom in the face of uncertainty. It removes excuses and procrastination. It develops stamina, revolve and character. Action by action we build ourselves. If we can master this, then life is ours to shape.

Below are some of the quotes that have encouraged me to find consistency in my own life. I hope they do the same for you.

12 Quotes On Consistency,
Discipline & Daily Practice

“Consistency beats intensity. Consistency beats volume. Consistency beats passion. Consistency dictates results. Consistency is what defines character.” – Rich Roll

Passion is short-lived. Volume is not sustainable. Intensity should be increased through consistent practice otherwise we risk blowing up. When we practice consistency we’re able to reach greater heights.

“The creation of the world did not take place once and for all time, but takes place every day.” — Samuel Beckett

Each day is a clean slate. We have to turn up again and do the work just as we have many times before. There is no yesterday, no tomorrow, just now and the work we need to create.

“We all have to practice, and we have to practice with all of our might for the rest of our lives.” ― Charlotte Joko Beck

What is your practice? What do you need to consistently do? What’s the thing you’re willing to commit your life to? Meaning and joy lie on the other side of those questions.

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” – David Foster Wallace

In the manner of paradoxical eastern philosophy: Freedom is found through discipline. Effortlessness only comes through the application of effort. And what may first start as developing yourself always ends up benefiting others.

“Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.” — Twyla Tharp

To find creativity in your work – and whatever your work is, you can do it creatively – it’s important to make it a habit. If for no other reason than by simply turning up each day we increase the odds of creativity striking.

“Whatever we focus on consistently, we tend to manifest in our lives.” — Tony Robbins

This is the basic math of life. Write every day and you will be a writer. Paint every day and you will be a painter. Consistency is the sum that equals what we become.

“To have that. Not a cistern but a perpetual spring. How? By working to win your freedom. Hour by hour. Through patience, honesty, humility.” — Marcus Aurelius

The spring that keeps running is more valuable than the jug which bottoms out each day. We unlock that spring by patiently working at our task and giving our best effort every time. No more and no less is required.

“Success is nothing more than a few disciplines, practiced every single day.” — Mel Robbins

When you’re consistent, life becomes simple. Do the same things every day and you’ll build something much bigger than each individual action.

“How many pages have I produced? I don’t care. Are they any good? I don’t even think about it. All that matters is I’ve put in my time and hit it with all I’ve got. All that counts is that, for this day, for this session, I have overcome Resistance.” ― Steven Pressfield

Forget the output. Consistency is about the process. It’s about winning the daily battle to do what you’re meant to do. Some days you might produce brilliance. Other days you might produce trash. All that matters is that today you sat down and did your thing.

“Two words should be committed to memory and obeyed by alternately exerting and restraining ourselves, words that will ensure we lead a mainly blameless and untroubled life: persist and resist.” — Epictetus

Developing the discipline to be consistent in our work requires us to find the strength for dedication and the focus to say no to distractions.

“Natural talent only determines the limits of your athletic potential. It’s dedication and a willingness to discipline your life that makes you great.” — Billie Jean King

Talent gets you so far. But greatness is built by the commitment to your work. Turn up with discipline each day and you’ll be on the road to finding your best self.

“It is time to reverse this prejudice against conscious effort and to see the powers we gain through practice and discipline as eminently inspiring and even miraculous.” ― Robert Greene

Commitment to your work is about more than getting the job done. It’s about making a promise to something bigger than yourself. It’s saying that there is something worth doing each day and I’m going to spend my life doing it.

Links And References

The Cut Outs – a great interactive piece from Moma that shows the technique Matisse used to create his Cut Outs.

Perennial Seller – I found the reference to Kerouac spending six years editing ‘On The Road’ in Ryan Holiday’s book on the art of making work that lasts.

Rich Roll – The person that inspired this article (he’s quoted above). Check out his site and podcast for inspiration.