Home » Writing Advice » Establishing and Maintaining Good Habits

Establishing and Maintaining Good Habits

(c) jppi

(c) jppi

I once had a habit of eating two bowls of ice cream before bed time. Then I hit 30 and my clothes never forgave me. With each spoonful that I ate, immediate satisfaction came. The stress from the day disappeared. Yet, once the bowl was empty, the “happiness” that I felt while eating the ice cream melted away. A second bowl would ensue with the same outcome.

Bad habits give nothing but instant gratification. Once the experience is over, the rush is gone and we look forward to the next hit. It is a vicious cycle that is hard to break. Bad habits are easier to stay on the wagon with because the satisfaction is instantaneous, while good habits have rocky beginnings and everyone struggles to maintain them. Good habits have delayed gratification as they take hard work and endurance to make it through. However, when the goal from a good habit is reached, the happiness from sustaining through the habit usually lasts a lifetime.

Step 1: Identify good habits

In order to kick your bad habits to the curb and start with new and good ones, you must first identify what you want to cultivate. Here is an example:

  1. I want to be more productive with my writing
  2. I want to be more motivated with my writing
  3. I want to have a set writing schedule
  4. I want to ignore unimportant distractions that take away from my writing time

To make these habits more impactful on your end goals, start your list with “I want…”. You should aim for a goal of at least 3 good habits that you want to change in your life. If you are first starting out with understanding your habits and defining new ones, it is best to not have more than 5. Having too many habits at one time can make long term goals unclear as there will be too many habits to focus upon. Also, try to start out with habits that have a similar context and reinforce each other. It is easier to establish habits when there is similarities with goals.

Step 2: Know why your previous habits didn’t stick

Everyone has tried to establish good habits at least once in their life. I am sure that almost everyone has failed at one point in making a good habit stick. Reflect upon that habit and understand where the failing point was. Use that failure as a learning example of what to do differently with the new habits.

To understand the failures, ask a lot of leading “why” questions:

Why can’t I focus on writing?

There are too many distractions

Why are there distractions?

Because there is a lot going on in my life now

Why is there a lot going on?

Because….

These questions are to build off each other and through this practice, you will come to exactly understand why you were not able to sustain previous good habit.

My failures are due to distractions. I constantly allow personal life issues to come in the way of my writing. Today I am fully aware of this and am trying to figure out how to balance those creeping issues against the time that I need to spend devoted to writing.

Step 3: Understand your place in life

In order to start establishing a good habit, you need to know where your life is at this moment in the context of the habit. How will your life, at this given moment, impact this new habit? What is the expected outcome? How can you change your current situation to make a more positive environment that will enable you to maintain a good habit?

In addition to having a very distracting life at the moment, I am also in the mode of dreaming.  The “I wish I was writing this, I wish I was writing that” phase.  I constantly envision all the things that I can do, which is more rewarding easier than physically doing it.  You know the old phrase life is so much more interesting in my head.  No effort is needed to see myself as a published author.  Just close my eyes and *bam* I am #1 on the NY Times Best Seller List.  While having an end goal in sight is a must for a writer, a writer is not going to reach that goal through a figment of imagination.  Dreams are for dreaming, not doing. I need to change my place in life and shift my focus to a good habit of being more productive rather than dreaming.

Step 4: Plan your habit

Every night, write down a task list of what you need (not: hope to) to accomplish on the following day. When the sun rises, motivate yourself to follow through with those tasks. If you want to be more proactive, plan these tasks out days, weeks, months in advance. Utilize calendars (e.g.; gcal) or free software project management systems (e.g.; Asana) to help track these tasks and goals. Be rigid and stringent with your schedule–and stick to it. Once you fall off track, it is can be hard to get back on. You may very well have to start from the beginning (and no one wants to ever do that).

Step 5: Keep ahead of the game

Do you know what the best feeling in the world is? It’s when you have a plan and you are actually ahead of schedule. In order to stay ahead of schedule, one must be agile with their task boards. Everyday, spend 10 minutes (preferably first thing in the morning) reviewing your daily plan. Look at each task and determine:

  1. This task can be done today– I can knock it off the list, no problem!
  2. This task needs to be done today, but is going to take more time than planned– I can swap out other tasks to give this task more attention.
  3. This task won’t be done today and it isn’t urgent– I can de-prioritize it and do it on another day

A good project manager will review their plans at least once a day and reprioritize tasks based on what can / can’t be done and by importance. A plan that is reviewed everyday will help you stay ahead of schedule.

Step 6: Keep tabs

Watch how your habits grow and evolve. With each passing day, if you stick to your habit plan, you will become closer to your goal. Not only is keeping tabs on your habit good to see your progression, but you will also receive some gratification knowing that you are sticking with your habit.

There are several ways that you can track a habit’s progression. The simplest is by either a spreadsheet or a whiteboard, where you write down the daily tasks that you have completed. There are also several habit tracking apps that you can download. Some examples** are: GoalsOnTrack, LifeTick, Rootein.

If you use a project management tool (like Asana) to track your plan, you can also set up your habit projects to see your progression of completed tasks.

Step 7: Have a buddy

Let’s face it, keeping on track with a habit is hard. Studies have shown that people tend to stick to habits better when they have support from their peers. Forging habits is not supposed to be a lonely road. Ask your friends to make you responsible in sticking to your plan. Allow them to reprimand you when you fall off track. Accept their help when they assist you to get back on the right path.

I could not get back on track with my good writing habits without my writing coach, Robyn LaRue. She definitely keeps on me in line when she starts to see me waiver!

Step 8: Reward yourself

Once you have reached the goal of your habit and you are able to sustain it, give yourself a little reward. Sticking with a good habit is hard work and you have done a great job! Now go out and get yourself something nice!

If you would like to see other ways to help your good writing habits, read Robyn LaRue’s Making Time series and specifically her post Making Time to Write: Forming the Write Habits.

**The Sarcastic Muse does not endorse these apps. These are merely suggestions

 

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8 thoughts on “Establishing and Maintaining Good Habits

  1. You’ve got me started – I just jotted three goals on a green post-it note. If I could knock these out, my life would look very different. Much better!

  2. Great ideas Amanda that apply as much to writing as anything else in life – wait, there is more to life that writing, right? 😉 One thing that I might add that has plagued me in the past. It goes along hand in hand with step 3. I think you not only need to know what the expected outcome of a habit is, but also *why* it is so important to you. I have found that I am much more committed to the cultivation of a habit when there is a burning reason inside why I want to do it, instead of “just because it’s what I’m supposed to do.”

    Great post Amanda, with actionable steps to put in place and start moving towards positive goals and ambitions – but, I still may indulge in a bowl of ice cream – don’t judge me 😉

    • Haha, yes, these can be applied to anything in the everyday world in addition to the writing life. I guess it is a good thing that there is more to life than writing, or we would be attached 24 / 7 to our computers!

      I like you suggested additions. One should also define why writing is so important. It is better to define that then “well, I am just supposed to”.

      Thanks again and enjoy that bowl of ice cream! I fell off my diet last night and had a Peanut Buster Parfait from DQ. I said “I will only eat half”. Ten minutes later, I told myself leaving the fudge in the bottom of the container was a waste of good chocolate.

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