Order and Chaos

French writer Gustave Flaubert said:

Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.

Friedrich Nietzsche believed that human life is fundamentally divided into the “Apollonian” and the “Dionysian”. Apollo is the Sun God for Discipline and Order. Dionysus is the God of Wine for Impulse and Chaos. According to Nietzsche, Apollo is the god of reason and the rational — reason, calm, wisdom, and logical thinking. Left brain. Dionysus is the exact opposite. He is about chaos, emotion, instinct, and impulse. Also, passion, sex, and madness. Right brain.

We should accept both of these parts of ourselves. They don’t contradict but complement each other and we need both. They align with our left (Apollonian) and right (Dionysian) brains. Only when we have some semblance of order in our lives can we have the creative freedom to create chaos.

To me, chaos means having the freedom to be truly creative. But, it’s not free. This is only possible when we have nothing on our minds and live in the present, both physically and mentally.

You need to have the freedom and the space to think creatively — not just what something is, but what it can be. You have to give yourself permission to be wild and creative. That only comes from having some kind of structure in place.

It is possible to have a large number of things to do and yet have nothing on our minds. This can come in the form of order and discipline. Having a trusted system can help.

We’re most productive when we have the freedom to make a creative mess. The problem is that if you’re already in a mess, you don’t have the freedom to make one.

Chefs are some of the most disciplined and creative people you’ll find. That simply means they need some structure to be able to manage their process. Actually, all great artists are both highly disciplined/directed and creative. Only when they have that structure in place can they have the freedom to make a creative mess. Golfers with their bags. Tennis players with their gear. Painters with brushes as neat as a pin. This is true for all artists — not just Michelin-rated chefs, but also writers, knowledge workers, musicians, painters, lyricists, filmmakers…you name it.

To me, order means leading our lives with some kind of discipline. When we have order in our lives, it allows us to be more present, focused, and engaged in whatever we’re doing. We tend to work better, make better decisions, and the quality of our work goes way up. We’re not thinking or worrying about what we’re not doing because we know what we’re doing. Because we have a trusted system in place to manage all of our inputs, we know we’ll get to it later. Order always comes first. Chaos always comes second. Without order, you can’t have the mental space to create chaos.

Here are a few ways you can create order in your life:

When you’re about to make dinner for friends, you already have things in place in your kitchen. You’ve already decided what you’re going to make for dinner, and you’re simply imagining all of the possibilities for how you want the dinner to turn out. You’re in a divergent state of mind. During this state, your brain dominance shifts from left to right. Now you can make a creative mess. You’re creating a safe space for yourself where you know your ideas about making dinner won’t be judged or critiqued. You give yourself the permission to be wild and creative with them. In other words, you have permission to come up with “bad ideas”. You can only get to this space where you can make a creative mess when you have some structure in place — mise en place — when things in the kitchen are exactly where they belong. You don’t have to cook neat. You just have to start out neat.

We know that imagination is more important than knowledge. Until we can first imagine something in our minds, we can’t bring it into physical existence. That imagination requires us to be in the chaos mode, which requires us to first have order.

Order and chaos are closely tied together, but happen at different times during the creative process.

The whole idea is to simply create just enough order to give you the creative freedom you are after.

When you have that order, you have a clear head with nothing on your mind. This allows you to stay present and have the space to be creatively free. And, in this space lies your greatest opportunity for freedom and growth.

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