05 January 2011

Habitually, Really

Can I just whinge for a moment about how hard it is to get back into a habit? I can? Oh. Great. Thanks. O:)

There’s this piece of folk wisdom I remember learning sometime in highschool about habits. It takes three months to make one, and only three days to break one, so the wisdom goes. Personally, I don’t know about that. Sometimes it only takes a day or two to break a habit – and some habits take far longer than three months to form.

Eating, for example. The diet I have to be on right now is complex and extremely limited, but can be broken down essentially to two things: 1) no added sugar in any form and nothing with more than about 10% natural sugars, and 2) no moulds of any kind, which includes fungi like mushrooms, ‘safe’ moulds found on cheeses and bruised fruit, anything brewed/fermented like vinegar or soy products, and anything with yeast. Like I said; pretty limiting.

I can’t really remember what I expected when I first started on it, how long I thought it might take until I got used to it, but now, six months in, I can tell you it still isn’t a habit. My first instinct is still to reach for the chocolate-coated sultanas on the bench leftover from Christmas for a snack, or to ponder a quick sandwich for lunch. I can feed myself now without stressing too much about what to eat, but it’s certainly not a habit.

Checking my email? That’s a habit. My first instinct when I switch on the computer is to open firefox and click on my gmail shortcut. Literally. I have to stop and think about it if I want to do something else. (Email addict? Me? Never...)

So, after not really writing for several months now, how do I go about getting back in the habit? I used to have a process that told my brain it was time to write, a way or a place I’d sit in, things I’d have open on the computer, a mindset. All of that is gone, faded into distant memory with disuse. And when I sit at the computer, I’m more likely to spend an hour or so thinking, “I should write”, than actually writing anything. (Besides, there are EMAILS to read! O:))

I googled ‘characteristics of a habit’, wondering if anything would useful would appear to solve my problem for me (which is either terribly lazy, or terribly postmodern – or perhaps both) and the only article that wasn’t about smoking or chemicals was this one. It suggests that there are three characteristics of a habit: 1) You feel weird not doing it. 2) It’s second nature. 3) Other people notice you doing it.

Well, 1) I already feel weird for not writing, and 2) I doubt I can magically make it second nature without just doing it already. Not much help there. But 3) might have something: other people notice.

Okay, so I’m not necessarily going to hang a big sign over my head to say “I’m writing!!1!!”, but what if I approach it the other way? What if I enlist someone to watch for me writing, so they can tell me when they notice I’m not doing it?

Really, all I’m talking about it accountability. Once upon a time, I used livejournal for that. And since finding one person committed enough to bug me every single day about whether I’ve written or not is a bit of an ask for that person, maybe the blog’s the way to do it.

So I’m going to revive the livejournal again. Feel free to cheer me on or just laugh at my pathetic attempts (either works), and if you’d like to join me in reforming a habit – or even just forming a new one – let us all know in the comments here, or you can comment along with me every day on the livejournal blog :)

Any other handy tips for forming habits?


Melissa Alexander said...

Not sure it's a tip, but maybe a little explanation. When a new habit replaces an existing habit -- like changing your eating pattern -- you have to overcome the existing reinforcement bank account.

Every time you ate the "old way," it put a penny in the reinforcement bank account. Now you have to build up a new account that's bigger. If you changed to a way of eating you liked better, it would be easier, because you'd be making bigger deposits. But if you find the new way restrictive -- or, God forbid, punishing -- then it can take forever, because you're making only the tiniest of deposits (if any).

With writing, you have a boost in that you used to write regularly. So you can "restore" that old account, rather than starting entirely from scratch. Still, old accounts deplete over time, and new accounts are, by their nature, strong, so you still have a hurdle. If you can get over that hurdle, though, you'll likely settle into the new pattern successfully.

Mirja said...

Getting back into habits is difficult. I think we can all agree there. Especially when you come back to it from periods off. I play a wind instrument and earlier this year I got tendonitis in my elbow from playing too much. It effected everything, especially my music performance scores. I had to go to physio twice a week, wear straps all over my arm, and I was only allowed to play for a maximum of 20 minutes a day, without injuring myself further. I lost my position in the band (luckily not the ensemble), when I had to take a term a a bit off. I had to drop out of my chamber music group because I was burden on them! It was awful. The hardest part though, was getting back into it. When I was able to play for longer, I felt I couldn't. I felt like I would never get my position in band back, and that I would fail my performance exams. The fact was though, I had to practice or I was going to fail. So I did, I did practice. After a while, I was able to play for longer, though I still can't play for the hours I used to. I still have to wear a strap on my arm when I play, as well as one around my neck to help take the weight of the instrument I can't hold by myself. What I'm trying to say, is that, yes, it's difficult to get back into habits, especially when they've been so hard to keep up for however long, but you can. You just need to do it slowly. Build up from 20 minutes, to 30, to 40, and so on. It's a slow game, and sometimes the pain of it comes back for a bit (my arm is currently in pain), but you just need to keep going, and if it's something that you really enjoy, you'll manage. Good luck!

Murr Brewster said...

I just read there's an app that will shut down your internet access for a certain time period--whatever you set. Theoretically you should be able to accomplish this yourself, but the app people know you can't. You're too weak.

I have refused to get a cell phone because if I could be on the grid every minute of the day, I would be. My ability to fend off the internet is pitiful.

Have you examined your difficulty in writing to see if you are plagued by either perfectionism or lack of confidence? Perhaps you can give yourself daily assignments. Twenty minutes of typing, free form, subject: Monday, water. Tuesday, chores. Wednesday, my cousin. Thursday, spiders. Friday, salt. Saturday, sticks and stones. Sunday, roast beef. There.

Captain Hook said...

Inky, I'm struggling with the same thing right now. I haven't written regularly in about a year. Some patches here and there, but not every day like I used to. It's hard. One thing that helps me is my son Brett asking me every weekend, "So can I read what you wrote this week, Mom?" He gives me the look if I don't have anything for him. And still it's a struggle.

Amy Laurens said...

Wow, can I just say that you guys are seriously awesome? Because seriously, you are. Thank you so much for all your support.

Melissa - I love that analogy! It's so true, and it rings a bell with me especially because it reminds me of some of the terminology used in clicker training - the 'reward bank' that you fill every time you treat for a behavior, and deplete when you don't. Ha. So, I just need to think of myself as a particularly stubborn dog, then, and train accordingly O:) :D hehe.

Mirja - Wow. Just, wow. Thank you so much for sharing your story; it really means a lot to me. *shakes head* You are an incredible person, not only for the perseverance you've showed in getting back into your music, but also for the courage to share it. Thank you. Thank-you thank you. I really needed the reminder to keep things in perspective. At least getting back into the writing habit doesn't include getting over a physical pain barrier.

Murr - You know what's really weird? I actually can't work well without the internet. I can't work well when I get distracted by it, either, so it's a fine line o.0, but it's driving me NUTS that I don't have proper access to twitter at the moment for the constant support and feedback that it usually gives. Love the idea of the daily topics, though. I'm tempted, in fact, to write down a whole bunch of idea, stick them in a jar, and force myself to include whatever I pull out in the day's writing, even if it's on one of my 'official' projects :D hehe.

Capt - Good to see you back around!! So hearing you on the struggle, even if you do have someone to write for. I finally figured out that I can't afford to wait to be motivated by other people - I have to be motivated by really enjoying writing. And I am. And of course, it's still hard o.0 Blah. But we shall persevere!! We shall!!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...