Category Archives: inspiration

How I Made Some New Habits Stick, in January

Habits Update Jan 2016

Last month I was writing about habits over at StoryADay.org and trying out various ways to change my habits — not just for a day or two, but for the whole month.

I had varying degrees of success and I learned a thing or two. I thought I’d share them here.

picture of Asian Zoodle Salad Jar from FoxesLoveLemons.com

photo: FoxesLoveLemons.com

Habits I Was Trying To Develop In January

  • Taking a new medication every morning (Routine? Ugh!)
  • Writing fiction regularly, to a goal of 10K words a month.
  • Reading a spiritual meditation every day.
  • Tracking my food intake.

Things That Went Well

Anchoring

I wrote about this at the start of the month. I had taken part in a study once that used this technique to make habits stick, so I knew it ought to be powerful, but I don’t think I really believed I could make it work so well.

But I did.

Now, every morning when I wake up, I roll over and take the medicine that’s sitting next to my bed. (My incentive to remember this is actually pretty perfect: it has to be take on an empty stomach, so if I don’t stick to this, my first coffee is delayed by every minute I waste. Aargh!)

My 30-day challenge for January was to read a spiritual meditation every morning. I anchored that habit to “the moment my son gets in the shower”.

Logging

Logging My Words

I have had a love-hate relationship with logging in the past. When I set daily goals for my writing, all it did was make me feel terrible. Partly because I was setting ‘best of all possible worlds’ numbers. And partly because I’m not built to write consistently every day.

Realizing this, I settled on 10,000 words of fiction a month, early last year, and made that my goal.

Logging the words (especially on a day when the writing is going slowly) really helps me to feel like I’m making progress.

Unexpected Bonus

My fitness trainer, sick of hearing me whine about how I can’t lose weight, made me promise to log my food intake. He promised he wouldn’t judge me: that we were just going to use what I wrote down as data. (He made me sign something because I was making such terrible faces at him).

And when I thought about it, I knew, from logging my words, that I could use the data to help me feel better. So I did. And I went from losing no weight (or gaining) to losing a pound a week two weeks in a row! (Trust me, for me, this is huge).

The simple act of recording and quantifying a thing is a powerful way to take misconception and emotion out of the equation.

  • Setting a reasonable goal (323 words a day or 1300-ish calories) and trying to meet it MOST days, is manageable.
  • Tracking it, over a month or more, lets you see that you are neither as awesome nor as awful as you suspect you are, on any given day. And that’s OK. Because “consistent” is what will win the race.

Make It Friction Free

Everything that worked to make my habits stick, was based on my lifelong pursuit of laziness efficiency.

If I have to prepare a lot of stuff before I start on The Thing, I’ll never get to The Thing. So I try my best to have a smooth entry into every task.

My medicine

…lives by my bed and my lovely husband brings me a glass of water every day when he gets his first coffee. If I had to get up and go downstairs, find my meds wherever I dumped them yesterday, find my slippers because the kitchen floor is cold, get water, then take the pill, I would not get it right every day.

Spiritual Meditation

My book of spiritual meditations is sitting next to the bed with a hairpin marking the page of the next meditation (because I always have hairpins lying around). As soon as I hear the shower turn on, I grab the book. It takes very little time to read, but having it on my bedside table, and anchored to a specific action is what makes this habit work.

If I had to search for the book every day, my son would be out of the shower and demanding breakfast before I’d even picked it up. If I tried to find a time every day to squeeze it in, I’d end up scrambling to read the meditation as I fell asleep every night, which wouldn’t be nearly as effective.

Fiction Writing

I keep all the notes for my novel in the same notebook I use as my journal and my list-maker and my ‘taking notes while on the phone’ book. This saves me from having to find the right book either when I want to make notes, or when I want to find them again.

I number all the pages and, from time to time, go through and add to the “table of contents” that I create in the back few pages of the book. This helps me scan through the ToC and find out where my latest brilliant idea is, for the next part of the novel. I also have a list of scenes that I know I want to write soon, right in Scrivener. They’re brainstormed and ready to go, which helps me figure out what to write each time I sit down.

Food

Food, ah food. How I love it. But one of the reasons I eat badly is also the reason I hate logging food: I don’t plan ahead.

If I’m scrambling for lunch when I’m already hungry, then whatever is to hand is what goes in my mouth. Lots of it. Then I have to figure out how much I ate and how to log that (I use MyFitnessPal, which is good because it has a massive database of food, but bad because you have to find the foods, then figure out how to quantify your portion, then do it again for every component of a recipe…)

In January I took my doctor’s advice (a lovely woman who struggles with all the same issues I do!), and started making up salad jars. It’s an easy portion-control method and means I always have something to grab. It almost doesn’t matter what I put in there, because of the built-in portion control aspect.

I pick one recipe a week, shop for the small quantities you need to fill four 16 oz mason jars, then spend a little while on Sunday or Monday, making up lunches for the week ahead. (I like this Spicy Peanut Zoodle Recipe and her Chicken and Spinach salad jars with grapes and a mustard-thyme dressing. I know I’m a year or two behind on the Mason Jar Salad trend, but I’m here now. Let’s party!) Even making up your own dressing and chopping veg doesn’t seem so bad when you do it once and feed yourself four times. And I LOVE all the freshness and crunch. I especially love being able to open the fridge and eat instantly (mmm, fooooooood).

The other thing (and why I went off on this rant in the first place) is that if I eat the same thing every day (or rotate a few receipes over a few weeks) I can log the ‘meal’ in MyFitnessPal once and I never have to enter in all those individual ingredients again. I just select “Asian Zoodle Jar” from the “My Recipes” tab, and it’s done.

See? Friction Free.

It doesn’t work for every meal or every situation, but batch-cooking makes it easier to prepare healthy meals and log them. (I know, rocket science, right? Reinventing the wheel, sure. Discovering things for yourself: sometimes essential!)

What I’m Still Working On

Weekends

Our routine goes way out of whack at the weekends. I need to develop different anchors for the some of the habits at weekends.

Also, I get embarrassed about logging my food. I don’t know why, but I do. Any suggestions for getting over that?

This Month’s 30-day Challenge

This month I’m trying to relax for 15 minutes a day, with something unrelated to housework or reading/writing (I’m mostly doing meditation, exercise, knitting, and musical things so far).

I don’t have a good way to trigger this. I’m thinking maybe ‘after lunch’, but that’s kind of nebulous. I do need to take a little sanity break midday, but I haven’t found a good way to anchor it yet. Do you have any ideas for me?

Next month I’ll be back to talk about my Relaxation Challenge and about the Permission To Write theme I’m writing about all month long at the StoryADay blog.

20140418-174758.jpg

Stopped in at an independent bookstore today (yes! There is one within 20 miles of me!).

Since I had loved Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like An Artist” so much, I immediately wandered over to the display of his work, including this one: “Show Your Work”. After leafing through a couple of pages I knew I wanted it. So while I have the other one in Kindle edition, I have this one as a paperback.

“The Tenth of December” has been on my list for a while because, hey, short stories! And it has been winning prizes and every one is raving about it. that’s not always a big selling point for me, but I like the things people have been saying about it, so we’ll see.

The third one I picked up on a whim. It looks very literary and is set in Paris. 1 I don’t have anything very literary on the go at the moment2, and I am going to Paris in July, I thought I’d give it a try.


So that’s what’s on the new reading list.

I have already started “Show Your Work”, which is, in part, why I’m posting this. At one point he advocates sending out “a daily dispatch” from your creative life: if you’re in the planning stages, share what’s inspiring you; if you’re working, share excepts etc.

So this is what’s inspiring me today, among other things.


  1. “Paris: The Novel”, by Edward Rutherfurd. Now that I think about it, that definite article sounds a bit arrogant. And his last name is spelled unexpectedly, which seems pretentious, but probably isn’t his fault. I shall try to overlook these things.
  2. I always have multiple books on the go at one time. Do you? I like to have different books for different moods…

How To Write A Story A Day

I’m not sure yet (because I haven’t done it), but I think it’s going to be possible to write a story a day.

Here are some of the ways I’m planning to make time every day to tell stories:

Tell Stories To My Children

One of the main reasons I have little time to write is that I have children. It’s tough to sit down and writing a story when someone is likely to burst in and tell you that they *neeeeed* something right now, and another one trails behind him saying that he *neeeeeds* the same thing, or more likely something completely different.

But I have found that one of the best ways to ‘write’ stories is to tell them to my children. Whether at bedtime or during potty-training, or in the car, there’s nothing quite like having a live audience for keeping you going. If their attention starts to wander, you know you have to step up the action. If you pause for a moment, they demand to know what happened next.

Maybe if I can carry my phone around with me and record the stories I tell to the kids, that’ll help me out a few times.

In The Car

Again with the motherhood thing, I spend quite a lot of time driving around. Sometimes I’m alone, and sometimes they’re wa-ay in the back playing with toys. Again,  with my trusty phone nearby, I can tell at least part of a story on every journey. I think recording stories is going to be really helpful, even though I love to write (with a fountain pen and everything).

Word Count Challenges

I like limitations. I like to know I only have 1000 or 200 or 50 words into which I have to shoehorn a story. Some days I’m planning to set myself a short word count limit and trying to craft a short story within it.

Time Limits

I always found that seat-of-the-pants writing during exams worked really well for me. With a time limit, I can’t afford to listen to the inner critic. So some days will be Time Limit days. Write a story within an hour, half an hour, by 3pm, whatever seems to work that day.

Genres & Styles

Some days I’ll assign myself a genre to work in. Write a film noir story, write in the style of Virginia Woolfe, write a monologue, write in the third person.

Rewrites

Like the genre/styles assignments I’m planning to write the same story several different ways. I”ve got another blog post coming with more details about that)

So, those are some of my ideas. How about you?

Creative Writing Mentors

There are books that I enjoy and there are books that I love.

The ones that I love tend to be the onest that make me impatient to put down the book and pick up a pen. (Then I’m torn because I don’twant to stop reading…)

When I want to do some creative writing I tend to dip into a piece by one of my favourite authors (sometimes that can be a TV show or a movie) to get that fix, before I start.

My “Get Jazzed About Writing” superstars are 1:

Douglas Adams – his mind is so brilliant an dhis bvoice so unique that it could seem intimidating. But reading his writing (fiction or non-fiction) makes me so happy that I want to do the same for other readers.

Joss Whedon – (TV/movie writer) because of his storytelling skills and unique voice. He creates worlds that feel real, characters that you can love, puts funny and unexpected lines in their mouths, and then creates storylines that stay absolutely true to themselves, even if it means sacrificing a beloved character or a happy ending. Everytime I find myself sobbing “Damn you, Wedon, I HATE you!” I know that I want to be able to tell stories as well as he does.

Neil Gaiman – For language and heroes and uniqueness, and a bright shining optimism about human nature, lurking amidst the demons and horror, the creepiness and the gore.

Terry Pratchett – for biting satire and observation of humanity and for a way with language for which I would gladly gnaw off my own legs below the knee (but no higher).

Elizabeth Peters – for sheer fun, heroic characters, historical situations and suspense.

Agatha Christie – for writing skill, language and absolute integrity between characters: everyone speaks, moves and acts as an individual.

John O’Hara – his short stories about life in a fictional Pennsylvania town really appeal to me; and seem like a great blueprint for turning your own life experiences into fiction (one story simply follows a boy as he walks to his fatehr’s office to show him his new riding clothes, but it is absolutely gripping, and we learn a ton about the boy, his father, the town, the era; all in one very short, very tight scene.)

Ray Bradbury – the master of the “what if?” What if you grew up in a town where rocketrs to the moon were as common as airliners are to us? What if the Loch Ness Monster was real? What if your husband piloted spaceships for a living, and it was a dangerous job? What if books were banned?

What are your ‘get jazzed about writing’ inspirations?

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