I’ve been thinking about habits a lot lately.
- What is a habit?
- How do we create “good” habits?
- How do we get rid of “bad” habits?
- And one question specifically for my writing life: Can I be a successful writer without habits?
My reflexive answer to that last question is, “No, I can’t.”
But that’s just me. Turns out, there are a number of people—successful, happy, creative people—who avoid habits like I avoid onions (that is, like they might kill me. (They won’t, I just really don’t like them.))
In the dictionary I found this definition of a habit: An acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.
There are a lot of actions I’d like to take in my life in a “nearly or completely involuntary” way.
So, there are a lot of habits I’d like to create.
I already have a lot of habits; some of them do not serve me. Those I would like to change.
Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, breaks down the anatomy of a habit.
His definition: “A habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see a CUE, I will do ROUTINE in order to get a REWARD.”
The ROUTINE is obvious. It’s the thing you’re doing. But the CUE and the REWARD are not always so easy to figure out.
Mr. Duhigg recommends we investigate our habits, at least the ones we want to change. If we can figure out what the CUE and REWARD are for a particular ROUTINE, then we can change it.
You can also use this definition of a habit to create a new habit. Again, you have to figure out the CUE, the ROUTINE, and the REWARD.
Gretchen Rubin, in her book, Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, talks about the importance of habits: “Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life. We repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence, and our future. If we change our habits, we change our lives.”
Ms. Rubin’s book gives a lot of insights into habits and also shows that people have different tendencies when it comes to habits or routines.
There are 4 tendencies Ms. Rubin has identified through her research into the medical and psychological literature: Upholders, Obligers, Questioners, and Rebels.
If you know which tendency you have, you can use strategies to create habits that are most successful for people with that tendency.
I am an Obliger. I did not need to take the quiz on Ms. Rubin’s website to know this (although I did take the quiz), but it was helpful to have this tendency spelled out for me.
Obligers are good at meeting the expectations of others, but not so good at meeting their own expectations. You can see why Obligers might have trouble sticking to a writing routine that didn’t involve an editor, publisher, or a small child begging for the next installment of the story.
Once you know your tendency, you can work with it. Obligers need to create more external accountability. That’s why I can sign up for NaNo and write 50,000 words in a month when I haven’t written 50,000 words in the previous 6 months!
Or ask for accountability. Like this: I plan to write every day for the next 30 days. Feel free to ask me about it whenever you want.
The best advice I gleaned from all my reading on habits is this: Know yourself. Once you do, you will know how to change, create, and stick to the habits you want in your life.
What writing habit do you want to change, create, or celebrate?
Diane MacKinnon: I’m a life coach, a writer, a blogger, and a family medicine doctor who hasn’t seen patients in 6 years. I’m living the life of my dreams and still trying to figure out how to get a little more writing into every day.