“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
The term “habit-forming” often gets a bad rap. This isn’t all that surprising when you consider the way it’s defined. According to my trusty Merriam Webster’s, it’s described as “inducing the formation of an addiction.” Needless to say, the word “addiction” raises a red flag for most of us. But as we all know, there are positive addictions as well as negative ones. And when it comes to writing, forming some positive habits — productive steps that we “repeatedly do” — can be one of the keys to making sure, steady progress with our writing projects.
As my friend and mentor rob Gilbert often says in his inspiring Success Hotline (973.743.4690), “a habit starts out as a thin thread; and over time, it becomes a strong cable.” Through repetition, “you become the habit and the habit becomes you.”
Are there some helpful habits that you’d like to develop in your writing? Putting in place a regular writing regimen. for example? If so, then the kindly and creative coach Dorothea Brande has a few tips in her classic guide, Becoming a Writer that may help set you on the “write” road:
In our mental efforts to make progress in a specific area, we often rely on will power alone. This can be a mistake according to Dorothea. As she puts it, “… in changing habits, you will find yourself getting your results far more quickly and with less ‘backwash’ if you engage your imagination in the process instead of calling out the biggest gun of you character equipment first. This is not a plea to abandon the will. There will be times and occasions when only the whole weight of the will brought to bear on the matter at hand will prove effective. But the imagination plays a far greater role in our lives than we customarily acknowledge, although any teacher can tell you how great an advocate the imagination is when a child is led into a changed course.”
As Dorothea observes, old habits are tenacious. Attacking them directly through will power alone usually proves ineffective: “Old habits are strong and jealous. They will not be displaced easily if they get any warning that such plans are afoot; they will fight for their existence with subtlety and persuasiveness. If they are too radically attacked they will revenge themselves” — and sabotage your efforts to change.
What’s a better success strategy? According to Dorothea, instead of willfully resisting and trying to uproot your habit, you can put yourself in the right frame of mind by turning, “in a relaxed frame of mind, in the direction you want to go. See yourself, for a few minutes, doing” whatever it is you want to succeed at. Let all the perceived obstacles and difficulties that crop simply melt away. Use the power of visualization on a regular basis to gently yet firmly set yourself on the right road. And write on.