Ludwig van Beethoven, the man and composer, lived from 1770 to 1827 – but his music has carried on through the centuries. Nearly two hundred years after his death, he remains one of the most influential and popular musicians of all-time.
Almost all of us are familiar with his most famous works, from “Ode to Joy” and his Fifth Symphony, to “Moonlight Sonata” and “Für Elise” – even if we’re not classical music fans and don’t even know the works by name.
And Beethoven’s accomplishments as a composer are even more impressive considering he started to lose his hearing at 25 and was almost entirely deaf by the time he died.
So, how did he do it? And what can we learn from Beethoven’s habits that we can apply to our own practice, whether it’s music, art, or business? Let’s find out.
How Beethoven’s Habits Made Him a Legend
While Beethoven was undoubtedly a musical prodigy and piano virtuoso, that alone didn’t account for his output as a composer.
He followed a series of rigorous habits throughout his life, which provided the fertile ground that his creative mind needed to flourish.
In a letter to a young fan, Beethoven once stated:
“Do not only practice art, but get at the very heart of it; this it deserves, for only art and science raise men to the God-head.”
In other words, he was not someone who simply played the notes he was given or who practiced absentmindedly. Here, we see that Beethoven was a believer in what we know today as “deliberate practice”.
In the same letter, he goes on to say:
“The true artist is not proud, he unfortunately sees that art has no limits; he feels darkly how far he is from the goal; and though he may be admired by others, he is sad not to have reached that point to which his better genius only appears as a distant, guiding sun.”
No, Beethoven was not content with being thought a musical genius, with resting on his laurels as the best pianist in Vienna – if not all of Europe. He sought to push music and art further, to surpass its perceived limits and in doing so come closer to the divine.
And for this, he needed habits that would allow him to push the boundaries. He needed habits that not only helped him produce more works, but also better works.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of these specific habits.
How You Can Create Habits Like Beethoven
Maybe you’re not a classically-trained musician. Maybe you can’t even play an instrument.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t all learn something from the habits of such an influential figure.
So, how can we be more like Beethoven?
Follow a Routine Diet
Beethoven was a big-time coffee drinker. That, in itself, is not very strange.
But what made his coffee compulsion a little more interesting was how exacting he was about making it. Each morning, despite having a cook, Beethoven would brew his own coffee. And to make sure each cup of joe had precisely the right amount of caffeine, he’d count out the beans, one by one, until he hit exactly 60.
Now, at first glance, this may appear to simply be one of those tics we see among eccentric geniuses – and some have suggested that this habit was a sort of obsessive compulsion. But given what we now know about the neurological and physiological effects of what we eat and drink, there’s good reason to monitor things like caffeine consumption.
And we know that Beethoven’s diet in general was fairly formulaic, usually eating the same foods and often going to the same cafes, restaurants, and taverns.
In short, if you want to be at your most creative and productive, don’t spend your days simply eating and drinking whatever random item you’re craving at the time.
We’re not saying you have to literally count your coffee beans. But by creating a routine diet, by eating the same or similar foods each day during your working hours, not only will you maintain more consistent energy levels and mental states, you’ll save a lot of time that would otherwise be spent worrying about food.
Take Walks in Nature for Inspiration
Beethoven typically woke up around dawn and worked until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. But he did take breaks during this stretch. And these breaks usually came in the form of long walks through nature. He was a big fan of the outdoors, to put it lightly.
These breaks gave him a moment away from his work, yet they also fueled his work and provided him with new ideas and perspectives. Perhaps that’s why these kinds of walks have been such a go-to for other great minds, from fellow composers, like Gustav Mahler, to philosophers, like Immanuel Kant.
And of course, walking doesn’t just give mental benefits – it’s good exercise, too.
Are you a walker? Try incorporating this habit into your day-to-day and see if you don’t find yourself thinking more clearly and creatively.
Write Down Notes on Your Thoughts and Ideas
As we mentioned, Beethoven used his walks to further his work. But he didn’t just stroll around for hours and hope he could remember the ideas that came to him.
Instead, he carried paper and pencil, which allowed him to write and take notes on every thought that came to him, even when he wasn’t at his desk.
In fact, Beethoven was a prolific writer and documenter in general. The reason we know so much about his life are the copious amounts of records he left behind in the form of his extensive, detailed journal entries, numerous letters, brimming sketchbooks, conversation books, and notes.
Do you take notes and right down your ideas? Adopt one of Beethoven’s habits by keeping a note-taking medium with you at all times, whether it’s a pocket notebook or an app on your phone – and use it. Write down your thoughts, ideas, to-do list, feelings, and anything else that strikes you.
Add these daily habits to your list:
- Eat the same breakfast/lunch/dinner as yesterday – cultivate a consistent energy level and mental state by eating the same (nutritious) meals each day. Doing so also eliminates the willpower expense of needing to decide what you’re going to eat, freeing up your decision making capacity.
- Take a 30 minute stroll – long walks to fuel creativity, take breaks from your work with a stroll alone through town or nature
- Write down your thoughts and ideas – keep a notebook or a journal where you can record what you see, do, and feel.