Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Get in a Rut! Why Kitchen Routines Are Good for Creativity

by Lisa

For the past several weeks, I’ve enjoyed nearly the same breakfast, at the same time, every single morning: a bagel with veggie cream cheese, orange juice in the same glass Batman mug our son got at a rare visit to McDonald's oh so many years ago, and a handful of raw almonds. They aren’t necessarily my favorite morning foods. I love nothing more than a diner-style plate of scrambled eggs and hash browns and whole-wheat toast with butter and strawberry jelly. But my current daily menu is what I’ve come to think of as my working breakfast, my writing breakfast. I don’t need to think about it as I focus on taking full advantage of what, for me, are the most productive hours of the day.

One of the myths of creativity is that every moment of a creative person’s life is filled with excitement and novelty. We tend to imagine the most creative among us as never living the same way twice, including what they wear and how they spend their leisure time and even what they eat.

The truth is more boring. In his study of over 90 eminent creators, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found that a certain level of routine is conducive to creativity:
“Most creative individuals find out early what their best rhythms are for sleeping, eating, and working, and abide by them even when it is tempting to do otherwise. They wear clothes that are comfortable, they interact only with people they find congenial, they do only things they think are important. Of course, such idiosyncrasies are not endearing to those they have to deal with…. But personalizing patterns of action helps to free the mind from the expectations that make demands on attention and allows intense concentration on matters that count.” ~ Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, p. 145
Dinner time is when I like to be more creative in the kitchen, after my writing and teaching are finished for the day, when I can scan the contents of the vegetable bins and imagine what combinations are possible without wishing I were doing something else. For other people, however, dinner might be the perfect meal to make more routine, so that the time leading up to it isn’t filled with thoughts of “what to make for dinner.” Our mothers’ and grandmothers’ generations were perhaps on to something when they designated specific meals to days of the week: Meatloaf Monday or Leftovers Thursday. Doing so gave them one less thing to think about in a very busy schedule.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love adding variety and spice to my meals. Just not all of them. Sometimes I need to save me creative juice for the page.

What kitchen routines allow you more creative freedom?


  1. Love this post, Lisa!! So, so true.

  2. Pam, thanks! Sometimes I need to remind myself that routine can be good (it doesn't come naturally to me).

  3. I'm pretty classic in making my coffee every morning. My routine of grinding the beans myself is part of my own rhythmic rut. Tossing down an almond granola bar is the other part of the morning rut. Then I hit the computer.

    I love this blog. This is my first visit here. I'll be back.

  4. Your morning routine sounds lovely (and very similar to my husband's--the sound of his using the coffee grinder rouses me from bed).

    Thanks very much for stopping by!

  5. So glad to have read that routine can be good for creativity. It certainly makes sense and I can now look at myself in a new way....not unadventurous, but saving up for those creative moments. :)

    1. This realization has been good for me, too! I'm not nearly as much of an energizer bunny as some of my friends, but I'm getting better at knowing that my moments of quiet sameness can also be productive. :)