A lot of teenagers take up smoking at school and try as they might, they can’t kick the habit.
When I read a lot of the advice about writing productively and developing a writing habit I want to scream. I’m sure that if we applied this advice to these kids in school, they would never take up smoking in the first place.
So if we translate this advice for these school kids what would they do?
Well, they should think about the bigger picture right? They should think about how much they want to smoke and what they expect their smoking achieve.
Then they should make a schedule. Little and often is fine but make sure that you plan it out. They say that you must repeat an activity 6 times to make it a habit so make sure that you get these 6 cigarettes in very early on (preferably within one week). Once you’ve done it 6 times it doesn’t mean that it won’t be easy to stop so you should keep planning your cigarette time on a regular basis.
As well as planning you should take time out each week to make an overview of what you have achieved with respect to your goal (i.e. becoming a chain smoker) as well as thinking about what you want to achieve over the next week. This should feed directly into your scheduling.
So, are you ready to take up smoking?
You can’t be bothered?
Of course you can’t. Nobody starts smoking like this so that begs the question, how does the smoking habit start?
One harmless, easy cigarette.
There is no fighting to get up early in taking this cigarette.
There is no staring at a blank screen and there is no planning. There is just one cigarette.
Being an effective writer and developing a writing habit are totally different. Becoming effective may very involve a lot of planning and strategy but this is not the same as developing a habit.
If we want to develop a writing habit, we should look other habits and take inspiration from them.
But Ben – nicotine is highly addictive, smoking isn’t a fair example.
OK, good point. But there are plenty of habits that aren’t addictive. I remember doing my high school work experience in a supermarket. Every day I would walk up and down the isles, pulling all the tins of beans and jars of hotdogs to the front of the shelf. Then I would turn them all around so that the labels would all face the front.
I did this every day for two weeks and without knowing – I formed an incredibly strong habit.
I found this out when a few weeks later I was talking with a friend in another supermarket and without thinking or breaking eye contact, my hand shot out and started turning the tins on the shelf around so that the labels faced the front. It was only after a confused look crept across my friends face that I even realised what I was doing. This did not just happen once and when I noticed, I had to fight the urge to do it every time I went into a supermarket.
There is nothing addictive about “facing up” as it is called in the supermarket industry, but it became a habit.
Ok, so I really want to talk about writing habits in this article but there is a reason for a long introduction.
It is important that you can believe that starting a habit begins with one simple action, and it’s important to believe that this action can quickly snowball into a strong habit.
It’s important to believe this because if you don’t like I didn’t, there will be a huge temptation to overload yourself at the beginning when you’re trying to start your habit forming which will kill your results almost immediately.
So apart from this belief and understanding, what else do you need?
The keys to building an unstoppable writing habit
1. Make it easy
Most people when they try to form a habit focus all their energy on completing the habit itself. Instead, try focussing your energy on making the habit easy to perform by removing all the obstacles you possibly can. For example, if you wan’t to go to the gym before work you would lay out your gym kit the night before and put it by the door. If you want to write then maybe you could leave a document open and unfinished on your computer so you can just jump in where you left off.
2. Plan opportunities, not the activity itself
Don’t plan to perform the activity itself, plan events and scenarios that give you an opportunity to complete that activity you wish to make into a habit. A great idea for writing is Inger’s Shut up and Write sessions. Plan to meet up with your friends and write as opposed to just planning to write.
3. Give yourself instant gratification
The activity must give you some satisfaction. For many habits like my “facing up” in the supermarket, the satisfaction may be as simple as completing a task. As you get started though, it may be a good idea to treat yourself after you’ve completing a short writing session to get the ball rolling.
4. Always perform writing after another routine task
This is really great and if you get good, you could form a habit chain. The example that I’ve heard is that you should start your habit activity after doing the dishes at night. This is because you always do the dishes and eventually you will associate it with the transition into writing mode. If not dishes then be inventive. Maybe you could do it after your coffee break or after you put the kids to bed.
These 4 tips are just to get you started. I think the most important thing is to understand the power of doing a single “insignificant” thing. While it may seem insignificant it starts to build a strong chain in your brain that will ultimately be your new writing habit.