The best habits are the ones you keep, not the ones you wish you kept
Have you ever jumped head first into a great idea you had to start a new habit and then a few days later it vanishes from your life without a trace despite your good intentions?
I was excited about making a daily practice of writing, and I thought ‘how hard could it be?’ Give yourself the goal and just start doing it! You would think that I had learned my lesson, after all, it’s not the first habit I’ve jumped head first into and later realized how quickly after the enthusiasm fades the habit fades too.
If I had to guess, I’d say that meditation had made me more optimistic about being able to create and keep a daily practice. Coming up on 2 years now of meditating “almost” everyday, I forget that there was a time when even that was something I had to consciously remember to do daily — now it’s automatic. It might not happen first thing in the morning, but it’s daily and I can’t imagine life without it.
So back to 500 words, it seems that scaling the habit for the best fit is very important — that’s why this post isn’t called 1000 words on 1000 words — after just 2 days of 1000 words a day, it was easy to see that this wasn’t sustainable for me. You are talking about a guy who didn’t even know he liked writing until just recently. I would procrastinate on writing in school, leaving it all to the last minute (like everything else that was due in school actually). Writing emails, no problem — I enjoyed this because they generally had an audience of one, or at most a small group and the exposure was limited. Thinking about publishing things publicly, that just wreaks havoc on my writing because I get all self conscious, insecure not to mention, I’ve always had a habit of being overly wordy (that hasn’t changed but I’m working on it).
Once I was determined to keep the habit, it was clear that lowering the word count would be the best way to “load” the habit and if I wanted to ramp up to 1000 words per day later, it will most likely be much easier at that point when 500 words has become normal. Or I could inch my way up to 750 first, then 1000.
But 500 words a day, is an accomplishment in it’s own right to be appreciated — let’s just take a moment and let that sink in. If you’ve been doing it, you know what that means, right? 365 x 500 = 182,500 words. Nothing to laugh at!
If you haven’t tried a writing practice in the past, you might want to work your way up to writing like this… My practice of 500 words a day, would never have come about if it wasn’t for another practice, journaling, that prepared me for the type of on-demand writing ability that a successful 500 words a day habit would require. This practice is better known as Morning Pages in creative circles, but it’s a form of journaling that doesn’t require any fancy writing ability just, as they call it ‘stream of consciousness” writing which is a lot more non-threatening when getting started. The idea? To just pour out what’s on your mind to paper (or digital document if you prefer) even if that thought is just the words “writing, writing, writing” or a commentary on how you don’t know what to write at the moment. These were my first words on paper the first day… “Hi morning pages, I’m not sure what to write to you now but I’m here trying…”
You’d be surprised how many of the people you have looked up to for their creativity, not just in writing only, that credit their success to this practice or one very similar. It’s a bit like a lubricant for ideas and creativity – so when the time comes to sit down and do whatever it is you do, you have more on-demand access to those parts of yourself (maybe partially because you have dumped all that other stuff in your mind out onto the paper instead of clogging up the creative pathways.)
Whatever it is, I’d be lying if I said that I knew anything more about it other than that it works. And that’s a good enough reason for me.
And who knows, maybe you won’t even need to make the 1000 word habit decision — you’ll just be writing one day after the habit has become normal and you’ll realize that you’ve written 1000 words without realizing it. You’ll inevitably have some ups and downs along the way, that’s all par for the course, but when you find the right level of commitment and keep it — it will make all the difference in the world. Whether you or anyone else reads those 182,500 words again in the future or not, you’ll be different because of it. Added bonus, if the words themselves go out and make a difference too. Eventually they will, I’m sure of it.
*Credit: Origami Boat by Sibbytora | Photo chose inspired by the concept of shipping 500 words a day.