Showing posts with label habit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label habit. Show all posts

Monday, September 4

12 Tips on How to Create a New Habit

12 Tips on How to Create a New Hsbit

For me, the key to creating a new habit—or re-establishing an old one—is Seinfeld’s method. This involves putting a calendar on the wall, preferably one that shows a whole year on one page, and drawing an “X” through every day you practice the habit.

After a few days you’ll have a chain of Xs.

Perhaps you’re different but for me there’s something satisfying about seeing the chain grow every day. After you get several Xs in a row you won’t want to break the chain. And as long as you don’t, you’ll form a habit. The trick is getting those first few Xs.

Why does this work?

I’m sure there’s another answer, something more profound, but I’ve found that on any particular day it doesn't seem that it's crucial to do ... well, anything.

For example, I lost 20 pounds and became much more fit because I’ve begun exercising every day. Which is great! I no longer sound like The Little Engine That Could when I climb stairs.

But for any particular day, if I don’t exercise that day, it would make no real difference—or at least that’s the way it seems. BUT if I have a chain of Xs on my wall then I have something visible, tangible. Something I don’t want to break. That helps keep me accountable and gives me motivation.

Even though each day's exercise can seem pointless, my wall calendar shows me that it isn’t. Each day forms a link to the next day, and the next, and so on.

Writing is similar. Being a writer isn't a sprint, it's a marathon. Marathons require resolve. Willpower.

Habits and willpower

Essentially what I'm talking about is the importance of forming a habit. A habit is important because it has inertia.

When a habit is formed it feels physically uncomfortable to break it. This morning I did NOT feel like jogging. I thought about not going. After all, it's just one day, right? But that decision felt wrong. The thought of breaking my habit, of breaking my run of Xs, felt uncomfortable.

So I got my jogging gear on and walked to where I start my jog. And as I walked I began to feel better. Happy. Invigorated. Eager. It was an average run. But afterward I felt TERRIFIC! I had such energy. My body was a limp rag, but I felt great. I'd exercised, I'd connected the Xs for another day.

That made me wonder: how are habits formed and how can I help this process along?

How to Create a New Habit

I want to thank Scott H Young over at Lifehack for his wonderful article, 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick. I’m not going to talk about all 18 of SY’s tips and tricks, just those that especially resonated with me.

In what follows the habit I have in mind is a WRITING habit. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has found it difficult to establish—or re-establish!—the habit of writing every day. That said, these are general tips and will help form just about any habit.

12 Tips for Creating a New Habit:

1. Commit to 30 days

Forming a new habit takes time. It would be mind-blowingly fabulous if one could pop a pill and—slam, bam—jump out of bed and write for hours at a time each and every day. But of course it doesn’t work like that. Forming a habit takes time. Probably not EXACTLY 30 days, but I think if a person does something—anything!—every day for 30 days there’s a good chance it will stick.

2. Do it every day

First off let me say that many successful writers DO NOT write every day. And if you don’t want to write every day, that’s fine. It might be more difficult to form a writing habit if you only write every second day or every few days but if that’s the only time you have, go for it.

That said, writing every day is the best and easiest way to create a writing habit. Even if you can only carve out 5 minutes a day, it’s worth it!

3. Write at the same time of day

This is what really helps me. I find that if I crawl out of bed and dive into my writing straight away—before I have my coffee, even before I brush my teeth—it works best.

4. Write in the same place

Make a place for writing, make that pace especially conducive to writing, and then write in that place every day.

What does it mean to make an environment conducive to writing? For me, two things:

First, remove anything that will distract you. For example, disconnect from the internet, get away from Netflix, email, Facebook, etc.

Second, add things that will help keep you on track. I tape inspirational sayings to my monitor. For example, “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.”

5. Bribe your inner child

This tip comes from just me and use it at your own risk! When trying to establish, or re-establish, a habit I often bribe my inner child by giving myself permission to drink an unlimited amount of coffee! You might not like coffee, that’s okay. Lee Child drinks enormous amounts of green tea.

The key is to pick something that won’t distract too much from writing (I find that getting up and making the coffee is a distraction, but since it doesn’t take up oceans of time it’s okay) AND isn’t hideous for you health-wise (for example, delicious ice cream). Recently I’ve begun brewing Kombucha and enjoy drinking that as well.

6. Start small

If you want to write for eight hours a day, don’t try and write for eight hours on the first day! Build up to it.

When I was in school training for the high-jump I could only get over the high bar if I started low and worked my way up. It was a psychological rather than a physical barrier.

I think the same is true for just about any activity. Start small and increase the duration and difficulty bit by bit. For example, when I began exercising I jogged slowly for 10 minutes and called it a day. Each week I increased the duration and difficulty until I achieved my goal. And (* knock on wood *) it worked! Writing is no different.

7. Remind yourself

The app I use the most is the Clock app. I set reminders for myself, reminders to deposit a check, to meet with friends, to leave for an appointment, and so on. I’ve also started to set reminders for my writing, when to begin, when to end.

8. The more the merrier

If you can find a group who want to create habits, people willing to share their victories and setbacks, this can be an enormous help. Facebook and even Google Groups are great for this.

That said, be careful to....

9. Hang out with people who have the same goals as you

Chances are, you’re trying to form good writing habits because you’d like to write more.

If you visit with people who don’t have good writing habits it will be harder for you to form those habits. Conversely, if you visit with people who have the kind of habits you want, you’ll find it easier to develop them. At least, that’s been true for me!

10. Use a trigger

Scott Young suggests creating a kind of ritual to mark the start of your activity, he calls this a trigger.

It helps if the trigger is something you don’t do any other time. So, for instance, if you’re like me and are nuts for yogurt you could splurge and buy yourself the pricy yogurt you usually pass up. You could then use this as a trigger by enjoying some yogurt just before your writing session begins.

Keep in mind that you only need to use the trigger to establish the habit. Sure, it would help to carry it through but you don’t HAVE to. Once a habit is established it seems to create its own inertia and become rather difficult to snuff out.

Using coffee as a trigger wouldn’t work for me because it needs to be unique and I drink several cups throughout the day.

If you try using a trigger I’d LOVE to hear about your experience, what you used and how it worked.

11. Visualize

Visualize yourself doing whatever it is you want to accomplish. I picture myself sitting at my desk—butt in chair—completing a chapter of my manuscript.

I also visualize my finished book. I see myself holding it, I feel the immense satisfaction of having my baby published and out in the world.

12. Forgive yourself

Chances are in the beginning you’ll miss a day or two or three. The key is not to give up. Hardly anyone succeeds at anything without failing first. One thing is absolutely certain: if you don’t keep trying the habit won’t form. Don’t let failure discourage you. Keep at it!

At the end of 30 days you might decide you don’t want to form the habit after all. That’s okay! The important thing is that you stretched yourself and tried something.

Further reading:

For more on habits and forming new ones see Owen Shen’s article, Habits 101: Research and Techniques.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash.

Sunday, April 7

How To Create And Maintain The Habit Of Writing

How To Create And Maintain The Habit Of Writing

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

Beth Hayden, in How to Create Consistently Great Content for the Long Haul, calls Twyla Tharp's new book, The Creative Habit, "a powerful weapon you can use in your quest for better creative output." She writes:
Think of it [The Creative Habit] as an industrial-strength antidote to resistance, creative blocks, and stale ideas.
What is this 'amazing secret weapon'? One word: Habits.

But not just any habits. We don't want bad habits like sleeping in till 10:30 am on Sunday and then waking woozy and bleary eyed to a complete and total absence of coffee.

But I digress. Here is a summary of Ms. Tharp's system for forming productive habits for peak creativity.

1. Be organized: The cardboard box method

Beth Hayden quotes Ms. Tharp:
I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.
The beauty of this system is that if "she needs to put a project on hold, she can always come back to the box and pick it up again."

That said, it doesn't have the be a physical box.

Beth uses "a combination of Word documents, Delicious bookmarks, and file folders" to keep her ideas organized.

Use whatever works for you.

Myself, I love the idea of using physical containers, cardboard boxes, to organized my ideas--I could put my electronic files on a cheap thumb drive and put it in the box along with all my scribbled notes/notebooks, magazine and newspaper clippings, and so on.

The main disadvantage is an abysmal lack of space. Though my apartment feels expansive, 500 square feet won't accommodate many (additional) boxes, not when I already have so many holding the artifacts of my life.

2. Scratch out new ideas

Ms. Tharp writes:

"... I have a habitual routine to keep me going. I call it scratching. ... I'm digging through everything to find something. It's like clawing at the side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward."

Here's how Beth Hayden suggests we search for our next great idea:

a. Free write

Set a timer for 20 minutes and write. Use pen and paper on a word processor, whatever you feel most comfortable with. The only rule is that you don't stop writing.

If you're doing this on the computer then you could use a program like Write or Die.

b. Read

Read every day. Read fiction and non-fiction, read about everything not just the sorts of things you write.

c. Soak in art

Don't just read, "Visit an art museum, go to a dance performance, or attend a musical. Get inspired by watching the creative efforts of a fellow artist."

d. Be creative in a different way

I find that often, if I'm blocked, or am seeking inspiration, it helps to draw, paint, bind books, and so on, to engage in some other creative activity.

e. Enjoy nature

Go on a hike, walk a dog, go skiing, swimming or biking. Or "just go out and sit in the grass for ten minutes and watch the clouds."

3. Do regular creative workouts: study the craft

Just as we need to stay in good physical shape so we need to stay in top creative shape.

For writers this means studying the art and craft of writing. Specifically:

a. Read

Read critically and no just for recreation.

Read articles about writing techniques and best practises. I think it's important to read articles from a multitude of different perspectives.

b. Write

Write every day, even if, like me, you're a fast-drafter and spend most of your time editing.

Write a short blog article, or write in your journal for 10 minutes.

Or do a warm-up writing exercise to start the day.

The goal is to build a habit and I think the most deeply ingrained habits are those we do every day.
As you become a better writer, you’ll not only get better ideas, you’ll be able to execute better when you do get inspired. It’s like being in shape as a dancer — if you take classes every day and keep your body in great shape, you have virtually no limits on what you can do physically. You will be able to handle the best choreography in the world, which makes you a great artist.
Beth Hayden closes her article with a question which I will echo: What are your creative habits? Please share! :-)

Thanks to The Land of Deborah for sending me the link to Beth Hayden's wonderful article! All quotations are from Beth Hayden's article, unless otherwise indicated.

Other articles you might like:

- How To Not Write Crap
- Writing Scenes: Getting Up Close And Personal; Using Sensory Language
- The Strange: How To Hook A Reader's Interest

Photo credit: "and in that moment I missed you more than I had thought it ever possible to miss anyone ever..." by slightly everything under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.