After yesterday’s revelation that I got stuck on my writing for this blog and other projects I hope I proved that I’m not a smart arse know it all and that readers will realise that when I say you and we on here that I am actually talking to myself more than anyone else. I’m trying to kick my own arse for most of the time.
Procrastination, the resistance, the monkey mind, negative self talk, writer’s block or whatever you call it in your personal circumstance is an all pervasive problem long associated with artists of all kinds and writers in particular. This is a problem for those of us who are starting to drastically shift our lives from one form to a radically different one. For those who are about to metamorphose into something different, who are leaving baggage behind to do what they always wanted to do…well it’s sometimes hard to identify with such arty concepts…but they are the very same issues that visit the great and the good and we have to learn to deal with them.
Much of what you will read from the best minds on the subject will suggest a formula similar to this:
- Identify the problem and call it what you will from the list above or make up your own name for it.
- Form a habit to overcome it; for example Seth’s post this week is short and sweet and true…just do it a little bit to start with.
- Rinse and repeat steps 1 and 2.
Ahh! a simple 3 step plan. Well yes, but as you probably already know, it isn’t that simple all of the time.
Let’s start at the beginning with identifying the problem. There are many different names for it and that’s because it turns up in many different guises and it will try to bat down every attempt you make to overcome it. The fact remains that to overcome it you have to get paint on canvas, pencil on paper or rubber on the road, whatever it is you do, must begin. So when I’ve finally dealt with all of my mind’s little tricks and I sit down with my pencil and paper ready to start that should be it. Maybe I’ll just grab a cup of tea to keep me going; I really wish I had some of those Palomino pencils, a quick look on Amazon should sort that, wow is that a new book by Jo Nesbo, I’ll pre-order that…damn my credit card’s expired, now where’s my wallet….woohoo it’s lunch time, what a busy morning I’ve had!
Identifying resistance can be trickier than it seems…it turns up dressed as the need for a pencil sharpener, a slightly too cool cup of coffee that needs attention before starting, a draught from the window that’s open, a knock on the door or ping from an email notification, and as many other characters you’ve yet to dream up.
On to point 2 then; forming a habit to overcome the resistance. And this is where I want to concentrate my efforts today, because I’ve learned that one of the best ways to form a habit, good or bad, is for something to trigger the behaviour required for the habit to take hold.
For example, I like chocolate, but I can be totally surrounded by the stuff and never be tempted to eat it…until a cup of tea appears. As one of those weirdos from the UK, I am hard wired to drink copious amounts of tea on a daily basis. For American readers this will sound weirder than weird, but I can sometimes go for weeks without drinking coffee and even then it will be an isolated incident; usually at someone else’s house, because I don’t trust them to get my tea just right! Here’s the crunch part; if I have tea, I can easily eat a whole bar of chocolate with it. If I have coffee, I can easily drink the coffee without any accompaniment.
It follows then, that if I wanted to form a new habit to help me cut down on my chocolate consumption (I don’t want that), all I need to do is banish the trigger which is tea, because in my case Tea drinking triggers Chocolate eating…simple.
Working from that model, what can you do to encourage a trigger for the the new habit you want to form?
For this new blogging me you’re reading now, I’ve gone against my previous hatred of routine and triggered a writing response (by making a day plan) at or before 9am every day for one hour (until 10am) to write this blog. At 10am, I top up my tea, grab some chocolate and learn (study) for 1 hour until 11am. I am taking two online courses at present; one on design and one on web development, so I will spend an hour on design today and an hour on web development tomorrow. In a year from now I will have studied web development for 182 hours, design for 182 hours and will have produced 365 blog entries.
If that kind of quantified achievement isn’t enough, then maybe I can back up my habit triggers with a big stick like Jerry Seinfeld does for even better effect.
Around 11am I go for a long walk with my dog and after lunch I’m back to Knappetting and free styling my day.
For artists and writers and creative types of all stripes, much of the resistance is dressed up as environmental or equipment issues, but those who churn out the work day after day after day usually have no special requirements. I saw a documentary about Ian Rankin and although he had a place where he wrote daily and music he played whilst writing, he was using a very old, non-descript windows laptop with an obsolete version of MS Word. He was (almost literally) Kitchen Table-ing it.
To escape the cold of her flat JK Rowling scratched out the first drafts of Harry Potter in an Edinburgh cafe. Ernest Hemingway escaped a similarly cold and dreary apartment to scribble down drafts in cheap note books with a pencil whilst nursing one glass of watered down wine in the corner of a noisy Paris cafe.
What triggers can you create to help you Do the Work?