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Constraints, A Key To Creative Expression.

I recently created a budget and it made me more stylish.

Every medium has constraints.

I once heard an interview with the TV Writer and Creator of Babylon 5 J. Michael Strasinzki. During that interview he was asked about the fact that TV programs have been getting shorter over the years as more time is dedicated to commercials. He pointed out every medium has its constraints, including television. The shortening of total program time was just a new change.

He went on to talk about the fact commercial breaks are a defining constraint of TV writing. Movies don’t have to stop in the middle at least four times. But he went on to say this constraint can be a spur to creativity. A TV writer must learn to tell a story in pieces. Four for an “hour” long show. Similar to the way plays have three acts. It is just a different way to tell a story.

He also thought it created a better writer because you had to learn how to make people stick around. Imagine I had to stop writing right now and let you read someone elses highly crafted commercial message. All it would take is a twitch of your finger to get 100 other things you could read? I’d better write something you are hooked on and want to come back to.

A constraint can make you better because you have to overcome a barrier.

A constraint also helps you focus on what could be.  Blaise Pascal is quoted as saying, “Sorry for writing such a long letter, but I don’t have time to write something short.” It is much harder to write something short than long

A constraint by its definition eliminates things you can do. Those are things you don’t have to consider. In public speaking it is often easier to do a longer speech because you include everything on the subject you can think of. A shorter speech requires you to find what is most important and focus on that. By doing so you get a stronger more concise message.

This kind of constraint is why my budget made me more stylish. Or why a diet might make you a better cook.

You’d think having a budget would be foundational for someone interested in personal development, but I’ve never had one that I followed. Instead I have used constant, threshold based monitoring to stay out of debt. That’s a subject for another post though. Recently I decided I need to have a budget so in an uncertain future I’d have a little surity.

One of the things I learned when creating this budget was how much I was spending on clothing. I didn’t want to make an unrealistic budget, so I looked as where I was spending money last year. New clothes were in my top 4 categories. Then I look at my closet and noticed how few of the things there I’m willing to wear at all, or don’t wear on a regular basis. Clearly I have a selection problem.

I was working on a philosophy of clothing selection in my head for awhile. Some distinction, question, algorithm that would tell me when I should and shouldn’t buy a new piece of clothing. I came up with a few new ideas and I’ll share those in style hacks.

But the solution to my problem was my budget.

You see once I said you can only spend $200 per month on clothes, every choice became much more important. Those awesome Thursday Boots I wanted…that’s a month’s budget. That Robert Graham shirt I need for an event? Well it ate a significant portion of February’s budget. Now I have even less.

The monetary constraint of my budget made me think about each thing I could buy. Where is it going to fit in my overall wardrobe? How often can I use this once piece? (Cost per wear).

In the same way, a diet makes you consider everything that goes into your mouth. Detailed tracking of calories makes you have to choose if that thing you want to eat on the spur of the moment is really worth not eating anything else for the rest of the day. Or is that cookie worth dropping out of ketosis for 24 hours?

Not all Constraints are Limits

When I decided to write about distinctions I put a constraint in my head. Main Distinction posts had to be over 500 words.

You see I didn’t want to write the first thing that came to mind. I wanted to dig into the idea. Also if I can explain the concept in a couple hundred words or less, then it isn’t really a Distinctions with a capital D. It’s a life hack.

Such a constraint is much harder than a limit. It doesn’t eliminate as many options. It requires diligence and discipline to not to just pad to reach the word count. But it produces a better piece of work.

So the next time you are complaining about how some limitation is a pain, reconsider and see if that constraint is actually making you better.

Photo by Lysander Yuen on Unsplash

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