#atozchallenge H is for Habits–Creating Writing Habits Which Stick

This series of A to Z Blogging Challenge blog posts is built on a theme of  Writer’s Core Habits.

Today is an easy day, because I’m talking about how to form habits – core habits that stick.

Creating Core Sticky Habits

‘”Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones”. – Benjamin Franklin

Dispelling the 21 Day Habit Myth

don_t-break-the-chain-calendar-year_medium_thumb.jpgThere’s a commonly held myth that forming a new habit takes 21 days1. There is no scientific evidence behind this number, and in fact, a recent study (of only 96 people, mind you) came up with an average of 66 days for a new and simple habit to form (or to break one). The study also (thankfully) suggests missing a day in these 60+ days doesn’t really matter.2

But the 21 days to success myth explains why so many people struggle to form regular and even healthy habits.

Many others now suggest 30 days – I’m not sure why, perhaps because 30 fits nicely onto a calendar month and we can play the Don’t Break the Chain3 game of crossing off each day of habit practice. 4

Per person, and per habit, days to form a new habit will differ, of course. But setting a target to start off with is helpful, so we’ll use the 30 days also, and if that still hasn’t stuck the habit, then add another thirty plus, until it does.

How to Create a Habit

In his bCharles Duhigg HTCAHook, The Power of Habit’, Charles Duhigg says that there are three steps to forming a new habit “loop”:

  1. The Cue – or trigger that every habit has – ie. what time does the habit occur?
  2. The Reward – give yourself a reward you crave.
  3. The Routine – putting the cue and reward together into a routine behaviour that becomes the habit.

The author’s website offers several articles and excerpts from ‘The Power of Habit’, plus downloads of flowcharts like this one (right).

Quick Tips:

“The biggest reason people fail at creating and sticking to new habits is that they don’t keep doing it…the key to forming a habit is not how much you do of the habit each day (exercise for 30 minutes, write 1,000 words, etc.), but whether you do it at all. So the key is just getting started.” Leo Babauta, Zen Habits

  1. Start with one habit, and a simple one at that.
  2. Then, get started.
  3. The obvious core habit to form for any writer contemplating a full and rich writing life, is to form a daily writing habit*

* I don’t write daily: I write a minimum of five days a week, however, keeping the weekends for my family. But even on my weekend’s off from actual BICFOK (Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard) writing work, I am always writing and working on my writing-in my head. And during peak times, I write daily, and long days at that.

The Writer’s Core Habit Pack for Forming Writing Habits that Stick

“Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.” – Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life (Page 7)

  1. Work on one habit at a time. Choose a simple habit to start off with, and one you can do where you are (ie. you don’t have to drive to).

    Graham Greene, quoted by Marie-Francoise Allain in Conversations With Graham Greene (Penguin, 1991)
  2. Setup for the habit, and if possible, leave your setup and equipment out.
  3. Write your habit down, and post it up somewhere you always see it (like an affirmation). Include what the habit looks like – the routine and process.
  4. Set a regular and systematic time and trigger (cue) for practicing the habit – daily. Same time, same place, same trigger event.
  5. Analyse your resistance reasons, face them down, and get started – focus on the small thing – starting your habit. Each DAY.
  6. Build onto the habit routine with other small micro-actions, after starting.
  7. Focus on the habit for 30 days (and another 30, and another, until set in concrete) – focus means thinking about it also, even when not doing it (visualisation, affirmation exercises)
  8. Track your habit practice sessions – use something like the Don’t Break the Chain crossing off a calendar exercise, a spreadsheet, or a goal tracker website or community (see below) or software and apps for habit tracking. Perhaps a habit chart with stars and things, or a notebook will do?
  9. Reward yourself – choose motivational rewards – that you crave.
  10. Repeat. Daily. Until the habit is stuck.

Websites and Communities for Tracking Goals & Habits

  • Joe’s Goals – a simple online check list or log book for your goals
  • stickK – free, designed by Yale to test commitment contracts
  • 21habit – create a 21 day challenge, deposit $21 and earn it back day by day
  • 43Things – 3 million participants, set 3 goals, and supporters with the same goals cheer you on
  • Don’t Break the Chain – check off an online calendar

Further Resources:


1The initial 21 days idea is thought to have come from Maxwell Maltz’s self-help book, Psycho Cybernetics

2Psychology Today points out missing a day across those 66 days isn’t a terrible thing:

“The study also showed that if you miss a day here or there when you’re trying to develop a habit, it doesn’t derail the process, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t keep a perfect track record. But the first days seem to make the biggest difference, so it’s worth trying to be particularly diligent at the beginning of the attempted-habit-acquisition process.”

3 Don’t Break the Chain comes from Jerry Seinfeld. Read the explanation via lifehacker.

4 Writers Store has a free to download 365 day Don’t Break the Chain chart for you.

Recommended Reading:

  • Zen Habits -Leo Babuata’s blog still holds regular guest post articles on habits, and keeping them, with a fantastic archive, and links to all the books / ebooks which grew from the site.
  • One of the blogs I just discovered through this month is Socratic News – this is a site which acts as a de-mystic – listing research summaries to make sense of the gap between knowledge and practice. There are two posts on Socratic towards habits – one lists the 66 day research I discussed in this post. Go and have a read.
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
The Creative Habit Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
zen to done Leo Babauta, Zen to Done

AtoZ2013 _thumb

A-to-Z-Core-Habits3-_thumb.jpgThis blog post participated in April 2013’s Blogging from A to Z Challenge, along with many other blogs on subjects as diverse as writing, foodie blogs or mummy blogs.

This blog post is part of a themed series or pack on Writer’s Core Habits. I acronym this as WCH or WCHP © . Do a search for these tags, and you will find more in the series.

No affiliate links are used in these posts.

6 thoughts on “#atozchallenge H is for Habits–Creating Writing Habits Which Stick

  1. One thing that really helped me was creating a weekly table, both to plan out my writing sessions for the week, and to track how I was doing. I find it reaffirming to see how I do each week, and recognize when I happen to put in a little extra time & effort.
    And at the end of the year, on December 31, I tally up how much time I spent on writing, both total, and on average. That really helps to create a sense of accomplishment, and that’s what it’s really about, I think. We need to give ourselves little mental trophies to remind ourselves of what we’ve done.

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