Thursday, May 3, 2012

My Only Successful Habit Is A Failure To Form Good Ones (Pt. 1)

Either he has a migraine (like I did yesterday) or he's fretting over his bad habits
(figure from Auguste Rodin's Burghers of Calais)

“Anything one does every day is important and imposing and anywhere one lives is interesting and beautiful.”
-- Gertrude Stein

What do you do every day that makes your life better, or what do you wish you would do every day?

I certainly know what I do every day that makes my life less good – eat fast food, surf the internet too long, get distracted from my writing (you have no idea how urgent laundry becomes when faced with a blank Word document page).

For Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and its companion website, this is a fundamental question. Last week one of her posts proposed we do something every day.  It’s about developing habits.  If there is something we feel would make our lives better, we should do it every day.  If we say we’ll do it two or three times a week (exercise, for example), it’s too easy to argue ourselves out of it by saying “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

If something is important to you, make it a daily habit, Rubin says.

I’m still trying to do that with my various writing projects.  Daily extended writing does not yet sit at the top of my priorities although I know it should.  Worrying that I’m not doing the writing, unfortunately, is currently holding that exalted place.  Writing seems to be my “daily something” right now that I wish I were doing.  Perhaps fear of some sort keeps me from making it “important and imposing.”  That’s why I took on the blog challenge.  It should strengthen my writing habit.

In other words, I need a more productive habit than the habit of chastising myself for not having a disciplined enough writing habit.  For me, exercise is one of those things that I can make time for every day.  On Tuesday I drove to the gym at 6 a.m. when the rain was pouring down so violently it was like a curtain draped across my windshield.  Perhaps that’s because any day I don’t exercise I feel an immediate effect on my muscles and joints.  Before my surgery last fall it was all that kept me going, and after the surgery it’s absolutely necessary in order for me to recover and stay mobile.  If I don’t write, however, I don’t feel that immediate pain.  I let it slide and say that I’ll catch up tomorrow.  I won’t forget the brilliant idea I had today.  Yeah, right.

Now that my body is healing from surgery, I have no excuse for not adding daily writing (blog and non-blog) to my routine.  And if I’m busy implementing all these good habits, maybe I’ll have no space for those bad ones.  They say you have to do something for 21 days in a row before it becomes regular practice.  With this 30-day writing challenge I should nail it this time.

Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you what else the experts say about developing good habits besides doing something for 30 days.

Talk to me in the comments box about how you developed daily practices. Which ones do you wish you did better? Which elude you completely?  Give us all your suggestions on how we can achieve these habits that are so hard to form.
At the end of 30 days I'll do this to my bad writing habits


Tina Fariss Barbour said...

Great post! I'll take any help I can get on building new habits. I have a history riddled with great plans to write every day, exercise every day, etc., with no follow through. My problem is getting started.

Someone told me that motivation doesn't come before action, as we tend to think of it. Action comes first, and then motivation.

So I just have to act . . .

elizabethfais said...

I try not to think about "forming a habit" because that seems too daunting. Instead, I make a commitment to do something for 28 days in a row. That doesn't seem like a big commitment, and that's all it takes to form a NEW habit. :-D

Julie Farrar said...

Tina, I think you're right that if act first (and regularly) then the motivation to continue comes.

Elizabeth, I agree with your approach. The more specific the goals are (replace soda with water for two days; write 15 minutes each day for 28 days) the more manageable the actions seem. Before we know it, we have a good habit.

Anonymous said...

Julie, I'm the opposite. I write almost every day but don't exercise often enough or long enough. I should probably borrow the photo above (a fantastic photo, by the way) and shove it into the face of my dismal exercise routine. Maybe it'll help.

Julie Farrar said...

Ah, Olga. Thanks for the photo compliment. Yet another reason to love Paris.

Nadine Feldman said...

I think getting started with a writing project is the hardest part. Once I get rolling, I set a time limit (so I HAVE to stop), and I leave either mid-scene or even mid-sentence. Then, when I sit down the next day, I already have a place to begin.

Bribery also works. "Hey, get your writing done, and then you can (fill in the blank -- have a piece of chocolate, go for a walk, visit the yarn store)." A nice reward for a job well done is, IMHO, essential. Otherwise our habits feel like drudgery.

Julie Farrar said...

Speaking of rewards, Nadine, you need to read my May 5 post which is all about ways to motivate yourself to create these good habits.

Julie Farrar said...

Correction, the May 4 (Friday) post has all the helpful advice.

Tami Clayton said...

Great post, Julie! I'm in the same boat - I feel the pain of not exercising each day so I make the time to do that, but if the WIP sits for a few days untouched? The only pain I feel is the nagging sensation at the back of my mind nudging me with "shoulds". My goal this month is to open the WIP each day - even if it's for a mere 15 mins. - and do something on it to keep connected to it.

Cora said...

Really good post, one I will have to come back to and read more carefully (I'm on my marathon Triberr catch up day). I think most writers know these things but being consistent is the hard part--at least for me. Life comes in at the worst times and upsets the schedule(s). So, I've learned to be kind to myself. When I fail, I just gently get back on the horse when I can and keep trudging forward.

Julie Farrar said...

I think you're right, Tami. Consistency is the key, not the number of hours you put in. One page a day could net you enough for a book a year (before revisions).

And Cora, you're right that we have to be gentle with ourselves when trying to develop good habits. That doesn't mean letting ourselves off the hook, but if we beat up on ourselves too much we're bound to say "what's the use?"

Unknown said...

I'm with you Julie - it's one of the reasons I committed to ROW80 recently - to establish some new habits in my life a little at a time. And yes, as soon as you do it and feel great then the motivation seems to grow out of the action. Good luck and thanks for the link to the Happiness Project.

Julie Farrar said...

Good luck with ROW80 Margaret. I do like the Happiness Project because she concentrates on the little things we can do to make life better, not the grand gestures.

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