I’ve been on a quest to add helpful habits to my life. But what I’ve really been doing is setting recurring tasks.
There’s a difference.
I woke up this morning and went about my business. I created my to do list:
- Answer e-mails
- Talk to a customer
All sounds great, right? But I forgot one: writing.
Only 5 days ago I committed to writing 500 words a day in an effort to develop a habit of writing daily. I even created a spreadsheet to track how many words I write each day, to make sure I don’t miss days.
Yet today I almost did.
I went blissfully through my day checking off items on my to-do list. I went out for my “daily” run (which isn’t exactly daily yet). After I got back, I jumped in the shower. Then it hit me: I had forgotten to add writing to my to-do list.
More importantly: the only way I was writing daily was by remembering to add it my to-do list every day. And remembering to add it to my to-do list every day was not sustainable. Sure I could set it up to reappear each day, but often on the weekends I ignore my to-do list.
I was focused on creating a recurring task, not a habit.
Habits happen unconsciously. Recurring tasks require thoughtful initiation. Habits define the defaults for our lives; recurring tasks must be chosen to be done.
So what exactly is a habit then?
According to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, a habit consists of three parts:
- cue: the state or environment that triggers the behavior
- routine: the behavior itself
- reward: the pleasure we get by doing the behavior
This is called the habit loop: cue -> routine -> reward. No cue, no reward, no habit. Recurring tasks only define the routines, not the cues or rewards.
Writing for me has no cue. Thus, I need to find one. Ideally it should be a cue that happens naturally each day at a time when it’s convenient for me to write. Some ideas:
- Finishing breakfast: I often read articles or watch informative videos during breakfast. The perfect time to get my head filled with ideas to write about.
- Making a cup of tea: I already associate drinking tea with writing. Perhaps if I could pick a specific tea to make in the morning and use that as my cue.
- Bathroom rituals: I have time to think while going through my morning routine. One of these rituals could be my cue.
For now I plan to combine the first two: make a cup of tea after breakfast and use that as a signal to write.
What about the reward?
Turns out I’ve been sabotaging myself. I set a threshold of 500 words a day. But my joy from writing comes not from the writing itself, but from having written. I take pride in the finished work, not the process.
Yet I’ve set the exact opposite as my goal. Quantity gives me no pleasure; I need accomplishment.
Thus, instead of trying to write 500 words a day, I should aim to finish a piece of writing each day. The writing doesn’t have to be the complete work. It can be a chapter or a section of a long post. But it must be fully formed. Not perfect, not edited, but at least a finished draft.
That will be my reward: a finished piece of writing.
That’s about it for now. I’ll be writing again tomorrow, this time working to incorporate a cue and a reward into my routine so I can work toward creating a true habit. Since they say it takes 21 days to create a habit, by the end of this month I should hopefully have a daily writing habit fully engrained.
What do you think? Do you use cues and rewards when creating your habits? What other tips do you have?