Balancing input vs. output

October 23, 2011

Creativity, Experience

There’s some secret to happiness here. Call it what you like: Sending vs. Receiving, Output vs. Input, Creating vs. Observing. The point is: You can’t just be an observer. Strike a balance. Be a creator, too.

It’s important to take in new information – to read, listen and watch. Take it in and then give something back. Put something out into the world. Create something new: write, paint, speak, build, write code, quilt, photograph, cook, woodwork, mentor…

My dad, a communications professor, talked in the fancy technical terms of encoding (creating, putting out) vs. decoding (taking in, understanding). An example he used that helped me absorb these terms was regarding physical exercise, which he hated despite his tall tales to the contrary. Listening to music or watching TV (decoding) wasn’t engaging enough to distract from the agony of exercise. So he played the mandolin (encoding) while riding the stationary bike. I’m not saying it actually worked for very long, I’m just saying it helped me get the concept.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron uses the morning pages and the artist date to balance sending and receiving. The morning pages are an output mechanism, while the artist date takes you into the world to experience art, beauty and inspiration. She claims the two-directional process is key to creativity and fulfillment.

No doubt, output is harder than input. Creating is harder than observing. You have to take all the input and smoosh it around inside yourself and send it out as something new. It’s easier to keep taking in and in and in. But the real rewards come from creating something new and unique and presenting a small part of yourself to others. Making the world just a little bit different than it was before. How’s your balance?

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