The Power of Constraints

I recently read an article by James Clear on the power of constraints and not only did I find it really interesting but also very useful.   So I thought I would share the idea with you.

When most of us think of a constraint, we imagine it to be a limitation, something which prevents us from doing something.  Time, for example, how often have you heard yourself or others say they don’t have enough time to go to the gym, or do the shopping, or run an errand and so on.  So not having enough time is preventing them from doing what they want to do.  But, a constraint doesn’t have to be limiting, it can be powerful –  as the author Dr Seuss discovered!

It all Started with a $50 Bet…..

Dr Seuss took on a challenge from a man called Bennet Cerf, who was the founder of the publishing house Random House.  He bet Dr Seuss to write an entertaining children’s book using only 50 different words.  Dr Seuss took on the challenge and from it he wrote the book Green Eggs and Ham, which sold a staggering 200 million copies, making it one of the best selling children’s books in history.  It’s safe to say, he won the bet!  But from it, Dr Seuss discovered something quite remarkable.

The Power of Constraints 

From writing this book, Dr Seuss discovered setting a constraint can be a very useful thing.  So useful in fact, he used the same strategy for future books, for example, he set himself the constraint of using only a first grade vocabulary list for the book The Cat in the Hat.  

So, Dr Seuss found, by setting yourself a constraint or working within a set limit, actually produces better results than “keeping your options open”.

Inspiring Creativity  

When we set a constraint, it forces us to be more creative.  Like Dr Seuss, by giving himself the constraints of only using a certain amount of words or using only a certain level of vocabulary, it inspired his creativity.

Another great example of where a constraint inspires creativity is an artist named Phil Hansen.  As an art student he developed a shake in his hand, at the time he was a pointillist artist (someone who creates art using lots of little dots) and due to the shake he could no longer produce the art he loved.  So he left art for a few years but couldn’t stay away so he went to a neurologist.  The neurologist discovered he had permanent nerve damage and suggested that he ’embrace the shake’ – so he did.  Through embracing the shake, he went from a single approach to art to a level of creativity that completely changed his artistic horizons, he found embracing his limitation drove his creativity and he produced some amazing pieces of artwork.  His TED talk is worth watching whenever you have a spare 10 minutes because he goes into more detail and includes some of the art and the creative ways he came up with the pieces (you can find it on my Facebook page).

You Get the Job Done

Constraints also force us to get something done.  I’ve recently set this into motion and I’ve found I’m getting more done than I would normally.  I didn’t realise the significance at the time, but back in my uni days, I set myself time constraints.  When I had an essay to write and the deadline was looming, I would give myself a time constraint of an hour, maybe and hour and a half and sit and write (well type, it wasn’t that long ago I was at uni!).  I pretty much got most of my essays done that way.  By setting myself that time limit, it forced me to get the work done and it worked for me.

Nearly a year ago now, I set myself the constraint of writing a blog on a monthly basis and every month I’ve written one.  James Clear uses a similar time restraint, he set himself the constraint of writing an article every Monday and Thursday regardless of where he is or how inconvenient.  Due to this constraint he wrote a blog on a road trip, flying in and out of airports all day, over the holiday season and so on.  Without this constraint these articles probably wouldn’t have been written and he also found having this constraint in place and writing the articles, he produced some of his most popular articles.

So if you find you procrastinate a lot, set yourself a few time constraints and notice how much more you get done.

What Constraints Do You Have?

So what constraints do you have? Do you only get half an hour or so to yourself to go to the gym or exercise?  Are you on a certain diet where you can’t eat specific foods?  Rather than looking at it from a negative or limiting point of view, flip it around and view it from a more positive point of view of how can you make that constraint work for you rather than against you.  If you only have half an hour to exercise or go to the gym, make every minute of that half an hour count, so it’s the best workout it could be.  If you can’t eat certain food, rather than dwelling on what you can’t eat, be creative, focus on what you can eat and start experimenting – you might create something that is better than the food you can no longer eat.

The Size of Your Canvas…

Courtesy of|Silverblee

I quite like the analogy James Clear uses; he states how “the limitation just determines the size of the canvas you have to work with. What you paint on it is up to you”.

Everyone has constraints, and once you’ve figured out what your constraints are you can start making them work for you rather than against you.  Have a think now, what constraints do you have in your life and how can you work with them?

Do feel free to share your constraints at the end of this blog because you never know, someone else may be struggling with the same constraint and you could just give them that bit of inspiration they need to work out how to make the constraint work for them.