Make The Habit and Declare Your Goals

I find myself thinking  a great deal about habits as this new year gets rolling.  Nothing new about this as we are all usually vowing to change some (Exercise more!  Eat less! Avoid sugar!).  But I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how exactly you create a successful new habit.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the subject and trying to suss out how I can apply what I know of learning (because, hey, I teach that class every semester) to the process and aid in success.  So I’ve come up with a few things between all my reading that you should keep in mind as you’re working out what your goals are and what writing habits you would like to create (because really, writing should be a habit, not a chore or a special occasion when inspiration strikes kind of thing).

  1. Make it small.  There’s this tendency, ESPECIALLY at the start of something new, to want to declare sweeping and drastic changes!  Problem is that humans are hard wired to resist change, so this sets us up for failure.  So instead of declaring “I will write 1,000 words a day!”, say you’ll write 250.  If you write more, then great!  But if you don’t you’ve done a page and that’s more than you had before writing any.  And as we are all about adaptation here at ROW80, if you find that works fine for you, then stretch yourself and adapt, going up by 50 words each week or whatever.  By the end of the round, you’ll likely have trained yourself to write more at each sitting than you could at the start.
  2. Attach it to something you already consistently do.  This is kind of like setting the stage for writing, training your brain that now is the time to buckle down and focus.  Priming yourself for the action you want to take. For example, I always do my dishes and load the dishwasher while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil to make tea.  I drink my tea religiously at least once a day, every single day.  Which means that usually, all the dishes are done at least once a day.  So for writing (on weekdays anyway), I sit down every night after I feed the dogs and open my WIP.  It’s part of my nightly routine.
  3. Reward yourself.  I confess, I am really bad about this.  Because I’m inclined to want to reward myself with something food related (which doesn’t fit in with my lifestyle of calorie restriction) or with diving into a good book (which I don’t have time to do in the evenings).  But it doesn’t have to be some grand thing.  You can celebrate with a self back pat, a fist pump, a “Go me!”  The point is to associate positive feelings with engaging in your habit.  This makes it much more likely that you’ll, you know, stick to the habit.

So lay it out!  Write up your goals for this round.  You’ve got 80 days to make these new habits a reality!

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7 comments

  1. I’m starting small, too. I thought about participating in the 1 million word challenge, but 2700 words a day isn’t realistic, especially in the summer. So I have set my goal at 1000 words a day. That I can do and am doing.

    Starting small is really the best way. I vowed to drink more water, and I now start my day with 32 oz before I take in anything else. I need to drink more later in the day, but now at least my day starts right.

  2. Maybe it’s the difference between teaching and living an unschooling life all tangled up in the very natural and constant learning of two children who have never attended school, or maybe it’s a difference in nature – but, if I approached my writing like this, I would soon quit.

    For me, flow works much better than habit-forming discipline, or reward.

    Writing isn’t a chore, a habit, or a special thing that happens when I am inspired…

    it’s something I am doing, in some fashion, every moment.

    There are always stories in my head. Always essay ideas swirling around.

    I have some of my best ideas in the shower, or while dreaming…

    I write the way I breath – all the time, naturally, as a vital part of living.

    I haven’t, always, but I like it better.

    What I haven’t figured out, yet, is whether this could work for everybody, or whether it depends upon certain personal characteristics.

    I think we all do best when we find whatever way works best for us, and trust in that, and in our own ability to reach our goals…

    I wish you every success with your habit forming, and I will be striving for mine in the ever-shifting flows of my life…

    1. I find I use a mixture of the two; I can write poetry from ideas I get in the shower or doing chores. But if I want to write anything longer, I need to sit down and allocate time for it, or I lose my thread of thought half-way through and leave it unfinished.

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