In early August, my laptop turned into a beast. It chewed through time like I chew through licorice whips. Snap, munch, yum, next hour, please.
It’s not like I was perfecting the craft of procrastination. Honest. I was working. I designed book covers, formatted ebooks and print books, updated webpages, created a whole new website. I was crazy busy and still not getting any writing done. Every morning, I put my butt in my chair, and my hands on the keyboard and did everything except write story words.
And I was getting madder and madder at myself.
Then, I read a productivity book. I don’t usually like self-help books. I find most of them a little too “magic elixir” if you know what I mean. Just do precisely what the author says and you’ll sell a million books, lose a pound every time you blink, AND rule the world. Yeah. Right.
Anyhow, my dear friend Gina Storm Grant gave me this book. Gina has a very sensitive BS meter, so if she thinks something’s good, I believe her. So this book is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
Talk about a whole new way of looking at your habits, good and bad. In the early chapters, Duhigg talks about the habit loop; cue, routine, reward. A craving initiates a cue that prompts us to perform a routine that gets us a reward.
Here’s an example from the book; I hope I’m paraphrasing correctly. At work, in the middle of the afternoon, a woman is craving stimulation; she’s bored. She goes to the cafeteria, gets a doughnut and chats with her friends. She leaves the cafeteria feeling refreshed and ready to finish the day. However, she’s slowly gaining unwanted pounds.
Duhigg focuses on changing the routine of the habit loop. The craving is still satisfied, but without the unwanted side effects. Instead of going to the cafeteria, the woman goes for a brief walk, or chats with a friend at her desk. The woman still satisfies her craving for stimulation, but doesn’t gain the weight.
For me, in the mornings, I craved the stimulation of creativity. My routine was to go to my desk and create all kinds of things. I was happy with what I’d created. My dilemma was there were no story words piling up on the page. So I changed my routine. Instead of going to my desk, I stayed at the kitchen table with my coffee and wrote my stories longhand. No distractions from email, Facebook, loops and groups, GIMP, WordPress etc etc. I wrote 200 pages of story, filling one notebook and making a serious dent in another.
Two hundred pages.
Totally blew myself away. Still can’t quite believe it.
So did this change of routine work for anyone else?
Here’s why Gina recommended the book: “At the time I sought out The Power of Habit, I was spending 10 hours a day at my computer, but rarely feeling I’d accomplished as much as I could have. I was also trying to form better eating habits and spending more than $50 a month at Weight Watchers to do so. I found this book helpful in both endeavours. I now accomplish more in my day and lost a total of 25 lbs.”
This is what my friend Wayne Tedder said after he took my suggestion and had been writing longhand for a while: “My heart opens up and expresses itself when I’m holding a pen. Since neither my heart, nor my pen, have a backspace key, or the ability to cut and paste, my word count while writing longhand always eclipses what I can accomplish at the keyboard. In writing longhand, I often feel that I’m not only writing a poem or story, but like I’m composing the music of my heart.”
Wayne is also the source of the title of this post. Don’t you just love those words? The texture of paper does change when it’s loaded with words, and so does the sound it makes when you turn pages. It’s such a tangible marker of progress. Somehow, more real than a number on a screen.
It’s tough to change a habit. Understanding habit building, breaking, and rebuilding will help you get the job done.
There’s no magical elixir involved.
© Joan Leacott, 2014