I’m in the middle of a project requiring consistent action on my part. I broke down the project into smaller parts, made a check-list of each of the different tasks involved, and started taking tiny steps forward, sometimes doing only one thing that required a few minutes in a day.

I’m at the point now where I have a daily goal to accomplish in order to complete the entire project on time. Each day I mark down where I need to be at the end of the day to stay on task and I try to do a little more than is required in order to stay ahead of the deadline. So far, I’m more than meeting my daily goals and expect to finish in plenty of time.

While I’m totally excited about the project, it has nothing to do with writing. (I’d tell you what it is, but it’s a surprise. I’ll tell you later.)

While conceiving, planning, and executing this project, I’ve also been reading the book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg, and it’s allowed me to figure out why I’m sticking to this new “habit” and also to apply what I’ve learned to my writing life.

At the end of the book, Mr. Duhigg states that any habit can be changed:

“However, to modify a habit, you must decide to change it. You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habits’ routines, and find alternatives. You must know you have control and be self-conscious enough to use it.”

One of the habits I’d like to change is my habit of allowing myself to get distracted from my writing by other things, from my son calling me, to my email, to a TV show my husband is watching (and I can’t ignore.)

For me, it always comes down to a thought I am thinking. I sit down in the living room with my computer even though the TV is on because I’m thinking something like, “I deserve to relax a little at the end of the day.”

And, yes, I do deserve to relax at the end of the day. But I deserve to get my writing done (and I want to get it done) more.

So now, I’m making plans. First of all, I look at my calendar early in the morning (or even the night before) and I look for opportunities to get my writing done before 8 PM (I’m not a night owl.) Then I ask myself some questions—and answer them.

  • What am I going to do at 8 PM when the TV is on and I still have some writing I want to get done? I will ask Tom to shut the TV off or I will go in my office to write.
  • What am I going to do when I get to my son’s karate class? I’m going to open my iPad and write. I will not check my email or do a puzzle.
  • What am I going to do when I’m cleaning out my email inbox and I see a Facebook post I’d like to check out? Delete it and remind myself I can check Facebook after I finish my writing goal for the day.

My special project and my writing are getting done, and I’m creating new habits that support me and keep me moving in the direction of my dreams.

Do you have any habits you’d like to change?


Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother, and stepmother. I’m making small changes on a daily basis that are adding up to more writing in 2015.




28 thoughts on “Habits

  1. Great post! Actually I am reading this book now and I think it is very instructive, his narrative style seems like a relaxing movie for me. I enjoy it so much that I am drinking it in little sips 🙂

    • Hi Masters & Disasters,
      Thanks! I agree, it’s a great read. I even loved all the stuff in the after pages. Don’t miss them!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


    • Hi knudthirup,
      I’ve learned so much from reading this book! It’s been really helpful. And my project is still on track!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  2. Do you think you may be concentrating on the writing too much and not enjoying moments you will never get back, like your son’s karate class? I am truly not meaning to offend, but the most important parts of our lives should be the breathing ones right in front of us.

    • Hi rollingblogger,
      I’m so not offended! I totally agree, the most important part of life is what’s happening right now. That’s one of the main goals of my life, to “be here now.” When my son takes karate, I’m in a little waiting room with a bunch of parents and I can either get some work done or waste time. At the end of class they sometimes invite the parents in to see what the kids are doing, but otherwise, we are not allowed (and if I peek through the window and my son sees me, I totally distract him.)

      When I look at my day, I spend most of it being present with my son, but I do try hard to take those scattered moments when I’m not doing anything, and use them to get something done. Although sometimes just looking at the birds in the trees is the best use of my time, you know what I mean?

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, and to challenge me. I really appreciate it!


  3. I get your point and you have a lot of reason, but rollingblogger has a something too, we should choose wisely what are the things we are going to be exchanging for a writing time.
    I recommend reading Theodore Bryants book, Self Discipline in 10 days, for me it was a very inspiring book… As the matter of fact it was one of the major reasons that got me in to blogging again and well it has been very helpful.

    • Hi Hyde,
      Thanks for your comments! For my response to rollingblogger, see above. And thank you so much for the book recommendation! I’m always looking for new books to read, and this one sounds great. I checked it out online.

      Thanks again, and thanks for reading!


  4. Reblogged this on Elenor Gill author and commented:
    Writers are usually great procrastinators, which is strange when you consider the passion that drives the writer. Some form of self- discipline is an essential framework within which to create. It seems you’ve found yours. Vital, also, to programme in time to stand and stare into space – the blankness of the mind – that’s the primordial soup from which the the greatest ideas emerge.

    • Hi Elenor Gill,
      Thanks so much for reading, reblogging, and commenting. I agree, I’m in a good groove now, AND I still need to make time to stare out at the birds (my version of staring into space.) If there’s no time for reflection, it’s hard to come up with new ideas.


  5. Writers are usually great procrastinators, which is strange when you consider the passion that drives the writer. Some form of self- discipline is an essential framework within which to create. It seems you’ve found yours. Vital, also, to programme in time to stand and stare into space – the blankness of the mind – that’s the primordial soup from which the greatest ideas emerge.

  6. I don’t mind getting distracted sometimes… it makes it that much more rewarding when I’m focused. I feel the difference and love it. But nice post. I can definitely relate.

    • Hi Brittany,
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I agree, getting focused after being distracted feels really good. I feel like if I didn’t work hard at getting things done, there are a million things I’d get distracted by–from laundry to out -of-town guests to Facebook. When I have a plan I get stuff done and I still get to enjoy time with my son, my most important distraction!

      Happy writing!


  7. I am trying to write my Honours thesis at the moment and literally EVERYTHING distracts me. Heck, I would rather wash the curtains than sit down and write. This is definitely a habit I need to break! Thank you for the wonderful post 🙂 xxx

    • Hi Alannah,
      I have a lot of clients who have been in the same position as you. Check out my post on Rat Park (just search this blog for Rat Park) and schedule just a little time to write before you go do something fun. That’s how I motivate myself in situations like this. And I’m sure you’d enjoy the book on Habits, but you might not want to take the time to read it (Unless you think, as I do, that books like that are really fun!)

      Good luck with your thesis.


  8. I recently stumbled into Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” which I found to be extremely helpful in managing some of my own unproductive habits.

    I’m learning how to recognize the “cues” that fire off the habit as well as the “reward” that comes at the end of the habitual behavior. Like you, I’ve been curating habits that will help me be a more productive writer.

    For example, I set a goal for myself – to write at least 500 “casual” words first thing in the morning. (I say “casual” because I am a researcher who writes for academic journals and occasionally teaches in grad school; I wanted to write something more light-hearted in the morning).

    But in order to achieve that goal I have to reprogram a bad habit – jumping into the news, email, some social media first thing in the morning. I discovered that my “cue” was having the iPad or the iPhone close at hand to check my email and read a few news sites (which inevitably led into a downward spiral of unproductivity!).

    So I changed the cues by (1) shutting down my iPad and iPhone before going to bed and (2) opening my Calendar and a writing app on my Mac so that those two prompts are staring me in the face first thing after I suck down some caffeine.

    So far, so good. I’m pleased with the progress to date.

    Take a look at Duhigg’s book. I think it will be illuminating.

    • Hi Bud,
      Thanks so much for your comments. Your habit change is exactly what Mr. Duhigg was talking about in his book, which is the same book I mentioned in my blog post. 🙂

      Happy writing!


    • Hi safifer,
      Thanks so much for reblogging, reading, and commenting. I agree, it’s not always easy to get things done when we are left to our own devices. In your case, looking at your cues and rewards might give you some good information about how you work best (and when you don’t!)

      Happy writing!


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