I’m really big in understanding how the mind works. Turns out, despite the vast diversity of the thoughts we all have on a day to day basis, our minds are made of predictable structures. One such structure is how habits form.
I wrote about 10 writing strategies that I have found have helped me create a writing habit, but I didn’t go into the specifics of how I got where I am today–that is, a consistent weekly blogging routine with blog posts averaging 900-1000 words, and a 40 thousand word rough draft for a book.
But before I got into the nitty gritty of how my habit came to be, I wanted to explain the importance of habits from a neuropsychology nerd’s perspective. Everything I have learned about habits you can read about around the interweb, more specifically, you can do a Google search for (or perhaps purchase) Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business.
So why would you want to set up a writing habit?
Because your brain is stingy…
You may already know that the brain is composed of several structures, all with different cognitive, motor, and/or emotional functions. You see, your brain is stingy. Yes, I went there. And your brain being stingy has everything to do with all of the candy bars you find at the registers when you go to the grocery store. Bear with me for a moment as I explain how this tangent relates back to creating a writing habit…
Turns out, the currency of the brain is energy. The reason grocers place candy bars near the register is because by the end of the day, and after spending the average time spent in a grocery store (41 minutes), your brain is like “ok dude, over and out, I need a break.” That is because every single decision you make during the day uses a bit of that precious brain energy. This is called decision fatigue (and you can read more about it here). So, naturally, grocers are like “BUY CANDY that only sells seasonally otherwise!!!!” and you are happy to oblige because your mental energy is now lower than it would normally be otherwise.
This is where habits come in. Habits are basically the thrift shopping area of the brain. Think of it this way: when you start a brand new job, the first week or so you are actually really tired after leaving work. On the other hand, when you’ve been at your job for a while and all of the tasks have become routine, you may be tired from time to time, but not quite as exhausted as the first few weeks on the job. That is because now that you have learned everything there is to learn about your new job, the tasks and decisions you make throughout the day get assigned to a different part of the brain so that the pre-frontal cortex (the CEO of the brain) can focus on making the big decisions that do matter.
What does brain science, candy at the registers, and decision fatigue have to do with developing a writing habit?
Everything. Allow me to elaborate.
I love discovering new writers, and this week I came across Shauna Niequist. In her blog, a couple of years back, she went ahead and described a bit of her writing routine and even asked others to join in and share their own routines.
We all know that being able to write when you are inspired is the one and only time some of your best writing gets done. The problem is that oftentimes inspiration strikes sporadically, and never when you need it to. But what if you could create the circumstances for opening up for inspiration to strike?
A writing habit can condition your brain to become inspired under the right circumstances.
The problem is that when the response of inspired writing is not habituated, your brain is most likely scrambling and making unimportant and inconsequential decisions—thus leading to decision fatigue, thus leading to lower inspiration. For example, do you find that instead of inspired writing, you are wondering about what time to do it, where to do it, or even what to write about?
If you are trying to write a masterpiece, then your mental energy needs to be spent on getting words on (digi) paper, not on deciding what time to write, where to write, for how long, etc. Makes sense now? That is why the first few weeks of establishing your writing habit are all about putting the habit in place and finding what works best for you. This way, the decisions are made automatically in the future so that the CEO of the brain can focus on and spend energy on the most grueling mental tasks of all—coming up with a masterpiece.
So what does my writing routine look like? I find that I write best early in the morning as this is my “me time”. Thus, you will often find me getting up at 6:30 a.m. (earlier if possible), and headed for the kitchen to make coffee. I make sure to get rid of distractions–closing my internet browser and Facebook. Finally, I sit down and I type away. This routine has pretty much become a habit now as I no longer need to think about what I am going to write about, I simply sit down and write.
There’s a quote I found recently that I really like: “enthusiasm is the electricity of life, so act enthusiastic until you make it a habit.” The reason I love this quote is because it gives you the recipe for a life full of enthusiasm—make it a habit. Just like enthusiasm, your most inspired writing moments can become a habit, but only it you make them a habit.
By creating habits you take the guesswork out of accomplishing your goals. Creating a habit also allows you to spend your precious mental energy on creating inspired work, rather than on making inconsequential decisions that will only keep your mental energy occupied in the small stuff. The way you leverage your mental energy by automating some of these decisions through habit formation, can help you get the writing done instead of worrying about the details.
So I ask you, what will your writing routine look like?
If you like what you’ve read here today, please consider sharing my work and signing up for my newsletter! I promise not to spam you and to send you valuable content every week with tips on creating the life of your dreams (it really is possible!)
As always, thank you for reading! Looking forward to seeing you here next week!