In my quest for productive habits in my studio this year, I’ve read a lot of books on how to create and sustain habits. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg is one of the best books I’ve found on the subject.
A habit has three components: the trigger or cue, the routine, and the reward. Understanding how habits are structured can go a long way in ensuring it becomes embedded behaviour.
For example, this year I wanted to establish a blog writing habit. I’m an artist, but I still have a day job as an accountant, and I have a one hour train ride to and from work (Baltimore to Washington DC). I wanted to use that time to write for this blog.
It turns out that the components of this writing habit are as follows:
- Trigger - the train starts moving
- Routine - I open my laptop and start writing
- Reward - less anxiety - the knowledge that I did one of the most important personal goals first thing in the morning.
I started doing this every weekday since January. I think it’s working. It’s now July, and I’m finding that I don’t really want to write these days. I’m not motivated nor inspired. I start to second guess myself and wonder why I’m doing all of this. What’s interesting is that when my train starts moving, it’s as if I’m on autopilot. I open my laptop and start writing.
So now that I’m finding it difficult to write, I’m still writing and that fills me with joy. This result gives me hope that I can change my life to what I want it to be in spite of the daily inner battles of inertia and procrastination that plague my attempts to do something creative, like writing and creating pictures.
While my writing habit appears to be taking root, I’m still fighting my studio habit. Since I can only shoot and create images in the weekend (Saturday or Sunday morning), it’s not a regular and daily task like going on a train ride. I’ve found that it’s harder to establish the studio habit. I sometimes talk myself out of a photo-shoot (I’m too tired, I want to relax, I don’t have ideas, I don’t have lighting, It’s too hot outside). For the past 6 months, I’ve skipped 2 studio sessions out of a possible 24 sessions because I didn’t feel like it. While that’s not bad (it’s better than last year), the life of an artist on the clutches of procrastination is excruciating.
I can see that willpower by itself will not work over the long term. In July, I’m running behind on my goal already. I think it will just get worse as I go into the summer and the fall, which will be a crucial time for me as I select images for Part III of A Million Suns from all the work that I’ve been doing this year.
The key is establishing habits so that I don’t think too much and talk myself out of something. Would you talk yourself out of brushing your teeth every night before going to bed? Definitely not. You just do it, and you don’t think about it. That’s the place I eventually want to get to with my studio time. It’s happening with my blog writing habit.
What about you? What have you found to be helpful in creating habits to realize your dreams?