Hi. Let me first acknowledge my elephant in the room and the topic of this blog – my chronic inability to stick to a regular writing habit. Unlike my other habits of caffeine, exercise and quality sleep (all quite virtuous), consistently writing short blogs is a goal that I have really struggled to commit to this year.
Like most things that are difficult to do regularly and to do well, writing is also very rewarding. Fixing thoughts that are otherwise immaturely formed clouds onto static pixels or writing on a page is both clarifying and energising. Writing achieves similar outcomes to meditation in that it assesses and addresses thoughts, yet feels easier to maintain because the physical and mental movements required for syntax and lexicon continually stimulate new thoughts, force clarification, while also preventing my mind from falling into a sleepy abyss. Again, these qualities are not shared by my other frequent habits which leave me wired, tired or unconscious.
I find it difficult to maintain continuity on this blog for many reasons. I often feel swept up in projects and I build my life around them (as well as habits that have been well engrained, like eating well, sleeping and exercising. And caffeine, as above). By the time I find myself thinking about writing I’m either too busy working on something else, chasing a deadline, going to work in my ‘real’ hospital job, or feeling knackered and going to bed. These are evidently substantial barriers to forming a new habit, but they do not mean that my time is fixed or my capacity for a new habit saturated. I reckon that there is undoubtably time I can find to dedicate to writing, with some smart rearrangement of commitments, better prioritisation and more effective implementation.
In pursuit of a regular writing habit I have consumed a few eBooks and podcasts that tout their ability to lend me a superhuman habit-forming capacity. They usually suggest a daily practice, implementing a reward (or front-loaded ££ investment that I lose if I fail to maintain the habit) and staying accountable to other people.
For me, making writing a daily habit will be hard – I have the pleasure of working shifts on a rota, where the standard shift is a 12 hour stint. While writing is a priority, it isn’t as much of a priority as eating, sleeping and general self-care. It’s possible to write, but the things I would drop to produce time to write would make the process unsustainable. I could write only a few sentences on these days if I were to believe that this would help me keep the habit up, but I don’t believe that a splurge of a few sentences equates to the longer form of writing I’m more used to (and aspire to).
In terms of implementing a reward – I know that writing is fun. This pleasure is an intrinsic reward in itself, but my addiction centres have proved insensitive to it. Regarding a front-loaded investment, I paid for a WordPress subscription at the beginning of the year; the cognitive bias of sunk-costs has still evaded me.
What about accountability? I could try to argue that this blog keeps me accountable, but the rewards (mainly from kudos on social media) are fleeting and not particularly what I want to base my motivation on. Other, real, people? This is something I struggle with – everyone has a friend who places too much of their own responsibility onto other people. The people on whom the responsibility is placed may be accepting, but this is out of the goodness of their own heart and willingness to sacrifice their time and energy – thus unsustainable. I do not want to make a habit of spending the resources of my friends on something that is inherently focused on myself.
So far, not good.
Only a few authors make the reasonable suggestion that the habit should be a sustainable or intelligent one.
I think this the point where my habit-forming attempts are falling down. I can’t write daily as it is not sustainable with shift work. I don’t get hooked by the standard reward stuff, while the social media sphere is too vaporous (and pungent) to fasten my motivation onto.
So what makes an intelligent habit? On first glance, probably the same stuff we are taught to use to make a goal intelligent and achievable. Is the habit ‘SMART’?
SMART = Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.
Specific – This is key. If your habit isn’t specific, how do you know that this is what you want to do? Goals that are open are comforting – wider goal posts have the illusion of making it easier to score. On the other hand, wider goals make the decision of what action is adequate to score a daily chore. Specific goals make this easier – Choose now what you want to do, save many decisions down the line about how you achieve it.
For me: I like writing about things that interest me (‘performance’ or doing things better, such as sports and exercise, medicine, health, continuous blood glucose monitors). This still is a big cohort of stuff – so I should make a list to collect my current interests and pick one each week, or commit to one for a month, to read and write about it. I also like writing about the human sides of medicine and life, which is difficult to integrate into a structured programme like the one I suggest above for my other interests. Luckily, (going against my wide-goal statement above) these experiences happen less frequently than the frequency with which I hope to achieve my regular writing practice – so, when these experiences in medicine and life appear organically, I should write about them organically too.
Measurable – What are you comparing yourself against? What’s the mark you need to hit?
For me, I should have a page, >600 words, every week. No page, no score.
Achievable – Writing in a weekly time frame is MUCH more achievable than a daily commitment. I can easily mark on the calendar a day each week when writing for a couple of hours, or preparation for writing, can be done. This might be the most influential step when making the habit sustainable – choose a target that you/I can actually do.
Realistic – This goes hand-in-hand with making a habit or goal achievable. To make it even more realistic, I’ll implement a personal no-commitment-to-publish policy. This takes the pressure off me, but also saves further pollution of text into the internet.
Timely – One of the intended uses of this ‘FY3’ year was to have ‘extra’ time to commit to writing. That this hasn’t materialised is OK, as the ‘extra’ time is filled by other stuff (like gases, commitments change form and expand to fit the time allocated to them). Others use the ‘T’ to define a time limit in which their goal will be achieved – this obviously doesn’t work so well for habit forming as the point of habits are … that they last a long time.
Maybe, just maybe, this will 1) make my enjoyment of writing into a substantial habit, 2) improve my writing ability, 3) which should transfer into more valuable reading time for you and 4) make my goddamn WordPress subscription worth it.
The good thing is that even writing this blog has me thinking about my next one – which basically should start to explain what else I’ve been doing while not writing.