This is part of MAGNETISM Extras (part 1)
Building Habits Means Beating Resistance
I had this thought, this insight, about what it means to build habits, while I was in the bathroom. After doing the deed which shall not be named, I promptly filled a pitcher of water and moved swiftly to my desk to write these thoughts out. It’s 3.53 in the morning, New Years Eve. Or, I suppose, January 1st.
Zero resistance. No hesitance. I just feel like writing. In fact, as I’m writing these very words, my chest fills up with that knowing sensation of gratitude you feel when everything is just right. When all is right in the world. At this very moment, nothing in the world could be righter.
I have the writing habit.
What does it really mean? What does it means to build or have attained a habit?
I’ve thought about this, on and off, for a long time. I’ve always felt that there is something wrong with the superficial explanations given by the Self Help Big Wigs out there.
I’m listening to a song on repeat, and it just started over again. An old writer’s trick which seems to build some sort of weird flowing rhythm in your writing. Also annoying to people in your near vicinity. Fun.
Anyway. I have the writing habit. And I write most days, but not all of them. I try to squeeze it in, but for one reason or another it might not happen all days.
However, there was a period of time where I did. An hour a day, no matter what. Religiously.
I think the first time someone explained the idea of building habits to me, I heard the same example which seems to always be giving when someone is explaining habits. Brushing your teeth. A habit is something you do all the time without thinking about it.
But honestly, have you ever gone a day in your life without brushing your teeth? I have.
Ok, I’m going to veer off a little bit, but I’ll do my best to tie all this up at the end.
I think a true subconscious habit is something that you really, truly, do not pay any conscious attention to. When you brush your teeth, you know what you’re doing. You are on some level making a decision to get up and go brush your teeth.
A true subconscious habit would take place on a level deeper than that… Like, which teeth you brush first. Or if you put on your left or your right sock first. I bet you have no idea even if you think about it, and I would also bet you put on the same sock first every time.
So that’s a real habit as would be defined as something you do all the time but don’t think about doing. I don’t think brushing your teeth makes the cut.
More importantly, I don’t think any habit that the Self Help Big Wigs suggest to practice would make the cut either. Exercising, running, writing, journaling, meditating, napping, drinking a liter of water first thing in the morning, reading, flossing, etc.
None of those would make the cut as real habits in that regard.
Instead, I have come to think of building a habit, a practical habit like any of those listed above, as the process of overcoming the resistance of doing that thing.
Let me explain.
Right now, it’s past 4 am. The song I’m listening to is on its fourth looping. Maybe the fifth. It’s New Years Day and I’m tired out of my skull.
Yet, there’s no resistance in me to writing this post. I just crossed the 600 word mark. Rookie writers struggle to come up with 600 words about anything, even if they’re alert, ready to go, jazzed on caffeine and pumped with motivation.
I don’t need any of those things, because I have the writing habit. I can just write. No resistance, just flow. This post? I just knew without thinking that it had to be written, and that now was the time to write it.
I think to really possess a habit, practically speaking, is to reach a point with it where you don’t have to make yourself do it when you want to do it.
Let’s say you read Born To Run and decide to start running. You want to run. You get up in the morning with the intention of strapping in your new Huaraches and bolting through the door and running like a champ while singing and basking in the love of the universe. Or something like that. But when you’re there… there’s that resistance again. You want to go run, but you come up with a reason not to. You’ll start tomorrow.
Building the habit means to overcome that period of resistance. To have the running habit means to get up in the morning and actually want to run. You could choose not to if you wished, but you choose to do it.
It means to change your actual preference. If you want to get in the habit of eating healthier, it doesn’t mean forcing yourself to do it. It doesn’t mean sitting there, staring at your food and grimacing as you’re dragging a piece of broccoli down your throat.
It means to actually prefer the healthy food. You’ll never gain weight again, because your natural preference is the healthy food. You would rather eat healthy than not.
That said, I think the Self Help Big Wigs are mostly right when it comes to actually building the habits, even if they sometimes have some screwy ideas about what some things actually mean. Of course, this is just my perspective.
You do force yourself to do while you build the habit. If you want to get into the writing habit, I would suggest sitting down and writing at least 750 words a day (in one sitting) for at least 90 days. And you need to do it religiously, every day with no exceptions. Start over from Day 1 every time you slip. Keep doing it until you’ve made it 90 days in a row.
After that you should have a basic understanding of what writing means, conceptually, for you personally. You probably won’t be very good at it yet, but probably ten times better than you were 90 days ago.
Then you can decide if you want to continue doing it. But most important… when the day comes you need to write something, you can do it. You will feel no resistance, or at least very little resistance, when it counts.
A habit like this would fall into the same category as brushing your teeth. You are aware of doing it when you do it, and you might not do it every once in a while, but you do it on more days than not. When it’s time to do it, it feels like just something you do, and it’s not a big deal. If you’re seriously messed up, tired or intoxicated, you might get some resistance, but still probably not much. Not like if you had to go running at that moment, or start writing your book, or some other habit you haven’t practiced.
When you don’t own a habit, every time you do it, it’s like having to trudge through meter-deep snow. A slow, difficult, frustrating slog. But if you do it tomorrow again, you can follow in your own footsteps. Not as much resistance, because you cleared the path some. Do it, day in, day out, religiously for a while… maybe a few weeks, maybe months, depending on the habit… and eventually you’ve trampled the snow into a hard, packed road you can travel whenever you want to. Walking the path is no longer slow or difficult or frustrating. It might even be fun and refreshing and make you feel alive. But, and here’s the distinction between a practical habit and a subconscious habit: You still gotta walk the path.
Pretty sure the song is way past its 10th looping by now. I lost count somewhere around 7 as my attention shifted more to what the hell I was actually writing.
Now… I’m spent. As I finished that last sentence, it’s as if the energy drained out of me, with me having said what I felt needed saying. So my body is telling me it’s probably a good idea to go to sleep. I guess that’s the way it is with habits.
Good night… and happy new year.