Because good writing = good thinking, I believe that everyone could benefit from developing the habit of regular writing.
However, because I
- Am a Ph.D. student about to begin work on his dissertation
- Edit a blog (Rookie Anglican)
- Write this personal blog
I really need to develop the habit of regular writing.
Up until now, I’ve largely relied upon writing in fits and starts, when the Muse descends, as it were.
This, however, is not good enough (as Stephen Pressfield forcefully says in his book, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles). It won’t get my dissertation written, nor will it help me stay on top of two different blogs!
What’s the solution? A regular writing habit, day in and day out.
How to develop/change a habit
There are plenty of guides out there on the internet about the process of habit formation. Here are a few:
- The Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones [James Clear]
- Habits: How They Form and How to Break Them [NPR]
- The Four Habits that Form Habits [Zen Habits]
Furthermore, there are two excellent books on habit formation that I highly recommend:
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
- Better than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life by Gretchen Rubin
Habit = Trigger + Behavior + Reward
If you look through those resources, you’ll notice a particular model that appears again and again. A habit boils down to three things (this version of the framework mainly comes from Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. You can read the appendix of the book for free here.) :
- TRIGGER: The cue or reminder that prompts the behavior. Frequently, cues involve
- People (who are you with?)
- Preceding Action (what did you just do?)
- BEHAVIOR: The behavior itself, whether something good for you, like writing 500 words every day, or something bad for you, like smoking a pack of cigarettes.
- REWARD: The benefit you get from the behavior.
To change an old habit (taken from this helpful flowchart from Charles Duhigg):
- Isolate the consistent TRIGGER. When you feel the craving to do the thing you’re trying to stop doing, ask yourself:
- What time is it?
- Where are you?
- Who else is around?
- What did you just do?
- What emotion are you feeling?
- Isolate the consistent REWARD. What benefit/craving is this habit providing/satisfying? Come up with an idea and test the theory by substituting different rewards until you find something that makes the craving goes away. This is what you’re really craving as a result of the behavior.
- Insert a new BEHAVIOR between the trigger and the reward.
- Choose a new activity that is triggered by the old trigger and provides the old reward.
- Write this commitment down in the following form: “When [TRIGGER occurs], I will [do the new BEHAVIOR], because it provides me with [the REWARD].”
- Follow through on your plan!
To develop a new habit (taken from this helpful flowchart from Charles Duhigg):
- Come up with a TRIGGER:
- People around?
- Immediately preceding action?
- Come up with a REWARD for after the behavior:
- Make sure you actually enjoy it!
- Make sure that you crave this reward when exposed to the trigger from the previous step!
- Ideally, you will eventually desire the habit for its intrinsic reward. That’s what you’re shooting for.
- Insert the BEHAVIOR into a routine:
- Write it down in the following form: “When [TRIGGER occurs], I will [perform desired BEHAVIOR], because it provides me with [the REWARD].”
- Follow through on your plan!
How to develop a writing habit: my example
In theory, it’s pretty simple, actually. We just need to take the previous outline, for how to develop a new habit, and apply it to the specific behavior of writing consistently. 500 words a day is a great goal, and it’s the one I’ll be using.
First, however, we need a TRIGGER. For me, the trigger I’m going to try out for the next few days is “When I arrive at the library in the morning, before doing anything else…”
The REWARD I’m going to experiment with is: “…I will go for a 20-minute walk outside.”
Put together, my commitment looks like: “When I arrive at the library in the morning, before doing anything else, I will write 500 words, because then I get to go for a 20-minute walk outside.”
What about you? What will your writing habit look like?
Would you like to create a writing habit?
If so, what’s your trigger going to be?
What’s your reward going to be?
What’s your writing behavior going to look like? How often will you write? How many words?
Get specific! Let me know what you’re planning in the comments below!
Note: some of the links above are Amazon affiliate links. This means that, if you click the link and make a purchase on Amazon, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). I only ever recommend things I think that my readers will find helpful.