How to Keep Habits Going

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In my last post in this series, I looked at how to turn your goals into systems and habits. However, we also then discussed the problems with keeping ongoing systems on track.

Overcoming Boredom

To overcome boredom, first you need to identify the problem. If you’ve got a proposed system for achieving a goal, and carrying out that systems bores you stupid every moment of the day, I think it’s fair to say you’ve picked either the wrong goal or the wrong system.

Exercise is a good example here. We should all do it, and there are many different ways of going about it. You may need to experiment with the different systems until you find one you like. I’ve been a classic exercise hater for a fair proportion of my life. Then I found Zumba classes–a way to combine having a laugh with fun music and friends. Now I exercise three times most weeks without really thinking about it. Over the years I’ve tried other sports–jogging, exercise bike, exercise DVDs, but Zumba is the one that keeps me going back on a regular basis.

The other type of boredom is incidental. Writing is a good example of this. Most writers love to write. They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t. But there are many aspects to the process of writing, and not all as enjoyable as others. However, to get that finished product they all have to be done.

So you may enjoy writing your first draft, but find editing boring. I’d suggest setting a small daily goal, and doing something towards it every day. Try and see the light at the end of the tunnel and reward yourself with the next more interesting task on the list. Planning the next novel, for example. In this circumstance, it’s good to push through temporary boredom, because you can tell yourself the end result will be worth it.

If you really struggle with temporary boredom, then you probably need to consider how to get motived.

Getting Motivation

Motivation problems can strike us all whether we are bored or whether we really want to get on and finish the job. This can be common with writing–even if you love doing it, sometimes getting down to it takes a lot of effort.

Personally, I have two extremes for dealing with lack of motivation.

The first is to say, let’s have a day off from whatever task it is. I give myself permission to not think about writing, or housework, or whatever it is I can’t be bothered to do that day. The condition is that I have to get back to it the next day. And for me, it’s safe to do this because I know allowing me to have time off gives me time to recharge and be keen to get back to things. It can backfire if you’re the kind of person who thinks, oh I’ll just have another day off, and before you know it, weeks have disappeared!

The second method is to find a support group. If you’re a writer, find a group of like-minded people who mutually cheer each other on. Support is easy to find these days: find a critique site (like Scribophile.com); join a Facebook group for writers; do NaNoWriMo or CampNaNoWriMo; or follow writer’s hastags on Twitter (like #amwriting) for inspiration. Checking in with other people will keep you accountable for your habits and give you motivation and/or sympathy if you’re not up for it.

Life Gets in the Way

This is another very valid problem that gets in the way of systems, and to be honest it’s not one I have an answer for. All I can say is: look after yourself, take time out for yourself, your friends and your family if you need to, and try not to stress. Life always will get in the way, but you will learn how to carve out those times for yourself. Sometimes you may need to put personal projects on hold for a while–but try not to beat yourself up about it. Set your priorities, do what you have to do, and don’t feel guilty. If your goals are important and your habits ingrained, you will get right back to them when you have opportunity.

Flow

I think it’s worth mentioning the flow state here. If you pick the right systems and habits, you should find yourself becoming absorbed in tasks in a state of flow. Flow is where you are wholly focused and don’t have any concept of time passing. As a child, I experienced this most often when reading books, and this is probably what fuels my need to write. I’m creating something that absorbs me, to give contentment and escapism to others as well.

Flow is created when you do a task that, for you, has both a high challenge level, and a high skill level. So if you struggle to reach this state, you may need to consider if you are aiming too high or too low with your goals, or if you need to improve your skills, or push yourself harder. Creating that balance of a completely absorbing task is well worth striving towards.

After all, my friends, we must enjoy the journey, To quote a fridge magnet of mine: Happiness is a means of travel, not a destination.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, and have some insight into achieving your goals. I wish you the best of luck!

4 Comments

  1. Thank you for stating that it’s okay to take a day off! I need a rest and time to relax in order to be productive. I get annoyed with writers who scorn me for not following the old mantra of ‘You must write every day’. We all work in different ways that work for us.

  2. I’m currently struggling with finding a day to just chill. I definitely need it, but whenever I decide to take the day off, it’s inevitably the day when I finally get another editing job to do or someone (parents, neighbors) needs me to take care of stuff. Since the editing jobs tend to come and go at random, there’s rarely any consistency to when I can take a day off, either.

    Next month, I think I’m going to set mandatory rest days, and simply not do anything work-related on those days.

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