Today is 22 days in a row of writing a blog post a day. Common wisdom, rarely right, says it takes 21 days for form a new habit but things aren’t that easy. The honeymoon phase of a new habit is often short and seems to get shorter as we find our attention divided more and more. We expect things to be easy and when we hit a rough patch where the desire seems to wane, it’s easy to stray from the old and go in search of the new and appealing. Even while writing those 87 words, my attention drifted off onto what felt like 100 different things. There are nights when the words are easy and seem to just naturally fit (luckily, I don’t have an editor to please). But often, the writing (or the drawing or the practicing or whatever it is that we want to do) is difficult. At these times, it’s good to have a streak or a goal to work towards as it makes it easier to participate in the habit or action.
Tonight, on day 22, I didn’t have much desire to write. At any other normal time, nothing would have been put into words. But because I have an extrinsic motivator, I sat down to write this post. Creating is difficult and much of what I create isn’t that amazing. But the alternative is doing nothing, remaining a consumer (of information, of goods, of services, of life). Ideally, we begin to find motivation intrinsically over time, the habit or the action becoming interesting for its own sake. These are the principles of the excellent book Flow. People who are happy seem to have an ability to find joy just in doing a particular thing without concern for what extrinsic factors might be at play. Writing because it feels good and because it helps my thinking enables me to write longer and with more consistency than writing hoping someone will read it and like it.
But intrinsic motivation is difficult. Changing how we think, behave and react to stimuli is a hard process, one that requires constant vigilance. One tip from the Forbes link above is to step back and try to think of what you would feel if you didn’t perform the habit versus how you will feel if you do. Slowly over time, that can turn into intrinsic motivation and reward as you condition yourself. There are many days when I don’t want to work out but I know how much better I feel after I do (well, most workouts anyway. There are some that I do only for the badge of honor in completing them but we’ll talk about them another day.) I know that after I finish this post, I will feel much better than if I had let The Blerch win. That’s one simple way to keep the habit going, any habit you choose. Step back and remember what it feels like to finish something.
Day 22 was one that was hard to get done. I’m glad I did it. Maybe day 23 will be easier. But if it isn’t, I’ll still write.