What Are Habits?

Behaviors become habits when we no longer have to rely upon our willpower to do them. According to Psychology Today, “the behavioral patterns we repeat most often are literally etched into our neural pathways,” which results in behaviors becoming automatic. Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before is focused on habit formation. She writes in the “about” page for her book: “Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life. We repeat about 40% of our behavior almost daily, so if we change our habits, we change our lives.” I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely interested in changing my life.

 


 

Your Habits are YOUR Habits

Rubin writes in the introduction to her “Self Knowledge” section of Better than Before, “To shape our habits successfully, we must know ourselves. We can’t presume that if a habit-formation strategy works for one person, it will work just as well for anyone else, because people are very different from one another” (13, emphasis original).

Now, it’s important to throw in a side note here: I know that not everyone likes to label themselves as X or Y or Z. I personally enjoy nestling myself into identity boxes: my Sun sign is Libra, I am a scholar of feminist and queer historiography, I’m an introvert. I know that thinking is not all black and white, and that restricting ourselves to only one world view can be limiting, but knowing myself via labels helps me make decisions and make sense of how I want to dedicate my time, energy, and purpose.

So, I was really excited when I learned that Rubin had broken down her Self Knowledge section to include either/or distinctions to help readers better understand how we can develop habits as individuals. I’ll share some of them here, and note that you could fit anywhere on these scales (or you might have your own category entirely).


Lark or Owl? Morning or Night?
 I hate waking up early, but I get my best work done over coffee, alone, from 8am-12pm. I can easily start my day at 10 and work until 7pm, though.


Finisher or Opener? 
Do you enjoy finishing tasks or starting/opening tasks? I’m much more excited by opening or starting tasks, although I thrive on routine. I don’t get much thrill from the act of turning in an assignment, but I do enjoy what I get to begin next as a result of completing a task.


Familiarity Lover or Novelty Lover?
 I love familiarity. Once I find a dish I like at a restaurant, I order that same dish every time I go back. I buy the same cardigan in multiple colors. Some people thrive on newness and adventure. I am not them.

So why is it important to ask ourselves questions like this? Because if we want to build habits, we should go with the river instead of against it. No matter how hard I have tried, I have yet to happily go to bed early and wake up early, so setting a habit such as Go to the gym from 6am-7am would not work for me, because I would resist it.

 


 

How to Set Writing Habits


What Are Your Habits and Habit Dreams?

Jot down answers the following questions:

  • What writing habits do you already have? (What comes naturally to you? What do you do without thinking about it?)
  • What writing habits would you like to build?
  • What writing (or non-writing, i.e., procrastination, overwhelm, task-switching) habits would you like to stop?

Now that you’ve got that your lists, go back to them and answer why? for each one. Why do certain habits come easier to you? Can you apply that reasoning to building new habits? Why do you want to begin or end habits?

If you’re super into this exercise, you could write a list of your values and associate a value with each habit you want to build. You can find your values by identifying 5-10 values that you identify with from a Google Search for “list of values” or “personal values.”


Do One Small Thing (or One Big Thing)

Identify one small thing that you can do to start achieving one habit change when it comes to writing. If you are worried that you will forget, establish reminders for yourself with an alarm or notification or accountability with a friend. Some people like to take BIG steps (i.e., saying “I will write 500 words a day” and literally write 500 words a day), but I like small changes. What small change can you make?

 


 

*This post is an adaptation of my post “Habits 101,” originally shared on my personal blog, The Tending Year.*