In Pursuit of Good Habits

For the past year or so, I’ve struggled to create good habits in my life. As I am in the midst of a transition, I want to create some good habits. For some reason, I am struggling to do so.

I have always thought about the fact that it takes 21 days to create a new habit. And all you had to do was power through until that point and you would have a habit. Except that misses a very important point:

How do you find the motivation to repeat something every day for 21 days or more?

I knew I wanted to begin a few things to add to my life:

I want to rebuild my writing habit. In my pursuit of my transition, writing daily is one of the things that went by the wayside. With novels and flash fiction to write, not to mention blog posts, daily writing is important to me.

I want to meditate. In my recent studies about anxiety and well being, meditation is one of the best ways to help, even better than medication. Even more importantly, I believe in the power of meditation.

I also want to read more. Reading is one of those things that seems to be last on my list. However, it is important both to working with clients and with my writing. I also love to read and have missed losing hours in a good book. I’ve even created a reading list for the year. The idea comes from Ninja Writers.

I also want to keep up on the housework, make my bed, take walks and attend yoga.

And, how hard this has been.

Since the shift in my life has begun, I have struggled with each of these. I sometimes work long hours and am exhausted. It is easy to “forget” to work on my habits.

So I went looking for some ideas to help me build my habits. Turns out it is more than deciding to do a thing over and over until it becomes a habit.

Interesting thoughts about habit building

According to Routine Excellence, habit building takes an average of 66 days. Seriously, 66 days? How do I do the same thing over and over for 66 days?

Apparently building habits aren’t the simple act of doing a single task over and over again. Habits are an action you do frequently and automatically in response to your environment. The idea is to create an environment that triggers and rewards your habits.

Fascinating!

This is why we set up spaces to write, meditate, read, exercise etc. To me the idea is to have a space that is just for writing so that when I see it, I will make the connection and write. I think this would go for having the tools already set up such as your notebook and favorite pen at the ready.

Here are some other tips for setting up habits (for the purposes of this article, I will focus only on my writing habit):

1. Start with a small habit. If my goal is to write every day, I begin with something small, i.e. the act of writing each day, no matter how small. For example, to write 100 words. That’s easy. It’s a paragraph, or a sentence, depending on how wordy it is.

2. Increase in small increments. Some suggest 1% each day. For me this would require math. So if I am writing 100 words per day, perhaps I increase by 25 words each day. Again, this is a sentence or two. I can do this.

3. As you build up, break it down into smaller chunks. Okay, so this means to take my goal and divide it up into parts. Perhaps writing 50 words at a time throughout the day. As the days go by and I am increasing my word count by 25, by breaking it up into smaller chunks, it makes the task seem more reasonable.

4. When you slip, get back on track quickly. I need to remember this one. When I miss a day, it is so easy to just give up and believe I am a failure. Except that if I remember to be gentle with myself, I can just begin again – where I left off.

5. Be patient with yourself. Stick to a pace you can sustain. It would be difficult to add 25 words each day to my goal. If I did that I would have to write somewhere around 9200 words a day. That isn’t sustainable for anyone. For me a reasonable goal is to write 500 words a day. That would be a good pace for me but everyone is different.

*the above information came from James Clear.

One of the other things I often have to remind myself of is the intention of my habits. Why do I want to do these things. Why do I want to improve my life or add these habits? That is a question that each one of us has to answer on our own.

I hope that you can use these ideas to begin to build some habits of your own.

Until next time,
Angela

No One Loses NaNoWriMo

Any long time reader of this blog knows I love NaNoWriMo. For those who don’t know what that is, it stands for National Novel Writing Month and happens every November.

Each year for the past 4 years, I have awaited November, more or less, eagerly. Until this year that is.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have stories to write. In fact I’d spent some time working with a story that I’m quite excited about still.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have companions to go on this journey with me. TC Wrimos is an active group and within driving distance. We tend to meet up throughout the year for this alone.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t write the requisite 50000 words, 1676 words daily. Quite the opposite, I’d proven over and over to myself that I can be a prolific writer.

Earlier this week, I announced that I was giving up on “winning” at NaNoWriMo and I am still amazed at the outpouring of support.

I felt shitty about giving up because I knew I could make it. If I tried hard and got less sleep than I was getting, I could reach that magical number.

One of my writer friends as she was supporting me said the following words: “No one loses NaNo.”

Now, these are words I’d said many times over the years and on one level, I truly believe that. This year, I’m working on believing them on a whole other level.

What was different this year?

What made the difference this year in my conceding my “win”? Well, sit back, the list is long:

1. I haven’t been writing daily. For so long, this habit was the foundation for my NaNo “wins” and I was quite proud about that. I love writing and to write every day keeps the creative juices flowing.

2. “Time is always against us.” Morpheus from the Matrix. This is one of my most remembered quotes from that movie. I’m not sure if it is truly a memorable quote or if it is so relevant in my own life. But this year, during this time of transition, time was something that wasn’t on my side.

3. I wasn’t excited about NaNo. This one is hard for me to admit but I wasn’t. I knew I wanted to write a particular story – after all I’d been trying to write this one for a few years but I wasn’t excited about all the effort that NaNo takes.

4. Energetically, I’ve been low for several months. The energy it takes to keep life going and be creative is low, oh so low, right now. I had the basics premise of my story but I struggled to keep the end in sight.

5. There was simply so much going on in my life that to add something as big as writing a novel in 30 days was crazy to begin with.

6. The mind may be willing but the body says no. Sometimes, our bodies know better than we do that we need to stop and rest. Mine protested and I wasn’t able to summon the energy to fight through. So I rested.

I could go on but I think you get the picture.

Lessons Learned

Life always throws lessons at us, whether we want them or not. I’ve learned a few things about my less than stellar “win” this November.

I’ve learned that letting go of outcome is important in all areas of my life. Now, I’m not fabulous at this – hence, the lesson. But it is something that keeps coming into my life.

I’ve learned that having fun and laughter are good for the soul. Spending time with people I am getting to know, and in some cases complete strangers, writing, laughing, learning, is the best medicine for a weary soul.

I’ve learned that I can still write, even when my life feels out of control. I may not enjoy it, but I can get the job done. Or in this case, write some words.

I guess that is what makes even this NaNo a “win”. The fact that I managed to get over 31,000 words is fabulous. I have this story to build on. I have a story that will fill my soul as I write it as I transition in my life.

That is the most amazing lesson of all: the story is in there, I just need to write it down. It doesn’t matter what else is happening, if I am meant to write a story, it doesn’t go anywhere.

So, I’ll take my 31,000 words and declare myself a winner. I stood up and gave it my best. I will take what I’ve written and build on it, my novel will get written. It will just be a bit slower.

But isn’t that the point? To get the story down, novel written?

After all, there is always Camp NaNoWriMo, which means I have two more chances before next November to proclaim a “win.”

I may be an overachiever.

Until next time,
Angela

Using Daily Check-Ins To Create a Journaling Habit

I must confess I thought I knew so much about journaling but I didn’t know about daily check-ins.

Journaling is one of my favorite things to do. I’ve written in a journal on and off since I was 13 years old and have even kept most of them too. I never knew there was a whole world of journaling out there. I was missing so much.

Turns out, there is so much more in the world of journaling to learn.

It’s always come easy to me – journaling my thoughts. I’ve never been intimidated by the blank page. Once I put pen to paper, words seemed to flow out of me. At least most of the time.

The type of journaling that I do and have done is called free-writing. It’s easy to do. You simply put your pen down on a blank piece of paper and write. Beautiful words, and mostly not so beautiful words, come out on the paper.

However, this is the exception.

For most people journaling isn’t easy and is intimidating. Even knowing that journaling could benefit them, it takes too much effort.

One of my goals in life is to show people that journaling doesn’t have to be horrible. Even if you aren’t a “writer” you can still journal.

New Learning

Through taking a class about journaling, I’ve been teaching a Write to Heal class through my day job and have been learning a lot about journaling. More than I ever thought possible. I’ve discovered things that I only knew by instinct.

One of the things that I have recently learned is about daily check-ins. Normally I am a morning pages person, which means that anything that comes out, is what comes out.

But check-in pages are different. Basically, daily check-ins are sentence starters that you answer each and every day. It doesn’t matter if you do these in the morning or evening. I’ve been experimenting with my days to see which works for me and this is a night thing.

The other thing about a daily check-in – it only takes a few minutes. Literally, writing out a few sentence stems each day takes 2-3 minutes and is normally less than 5. And I am often surprised by my answers as I write mine out.

Journaling is a uniquely personal thing!

Before I give you the questions I want you to keep in mind a couple of things.

1. Journaling is your very own practice. There are no right or wrong answers.
2. Let the template I give you be suggestions. If you are working on a specific goal – add that in. If the questions don’t work for you, change them. Make it personal.

Here are the daily check-ins sentence starters:

-Tomorrow…
-I feel vulnerable about…
-I feel grateful about…
-I feel pride regarding…
-I aspire to someday…
-Achieving my goals would be easier if I…

That’s it. Six sentence starters that can help you make positive changes in your world.

If you aren’t someone who journals, I would encourage you to find a simple journal and begin with these sentence starters. Since they only take a couple of minutes, there is nothing to hold you back from starting a journal.

Let me know if you try this journaling technique. I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Until next time,
Angela