I’m writing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits–an issue very relevant to happiness. Each week, I’ll post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here.
I changed my habit of working on “scary” writing projects sporadically. Now, when I’m working on a big creative writing project — a book, a proposal, a guest post, etc — I work on it every day. With the exception of 1 weekly day of rest, I make sure to do at least a little bit each morning.
I love (and often repeat) the Anthony Trollope line you quote in your books, “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the efforts of a spasmodic Hercules.” Committing to a daily task helps me maintain momentum, and it also helps render the task less terrifying. (If I work on it every day, it simply CAN’T be that scary — it’s just part of my routine, after all!)
I’ve also noticed that, if I skip a day, it’s that much harder to get back to the habit. And if I skip yet another day, it’s as though Mt. Everest springs up between me and getting back on track. If I write every day, though, the barrier between me and good habits is more like a pastoral English countryside hill. Like something out of a Jane Austen novel, a rise that Elizabeth Bennett could scale without breaking a sweat.
Working on big writing projects is challenging because so much uncertainty is involved; often, I have no assurances of acceptance or publication. No assurances but one, that is: that the very process of doing the work is its own reward. And that’s why I write every day: to enjoy the process itself, and to give myself something to count on in an uncertain world.
A couple insights jumped out at me from this terrific Before and After story.
First, I too have noticed that weirdly, it’s often easier to do something practically every day than to do it once in a while or four times a week. The more you do something, the more it becomes a part of your ordinary day. It doesn’t make you nervous, it doesn’t feel intimidating, it doesn’t feel like a special burden or extra credit.
Also, one of my habit strategies is the Strategy of Starting, and I’ve noticed that while starting is hard, starting over is often much harder. Once we’ve started down a positive path, it’s very, very valuable not to let ourselves stop. Because starting over is hard.
Another strategy used here is the Strategy of Scheduling. Whether daily, weekly, or whatever, just putting a task into your schedule–finding an exact place for it in your calendar–makes it easier to get it done. There’s an odd power to the schedule.
Have you found that making a daily habit of a certain task makes it easier?