Over the past couple of weeks I have been thinking about habits, what they are, how they are formed, and how we can use them to our advantage. This is important for writers because writers have to make a habit of writing every day. I know I have not been able to build the habit of writing every day, and I can see an impact not just in the quantity of writing I turn out, but also in the quality of writing. Today I want to take a few minutes to write about how and why the habit of writing is important for all of us, whether you are a writer or a business owner.
What is a habit?
If you search habit on Google you will find Merriam-Webster’s definition: “a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiological exposure that shows itself in regularity or increase facility of performance.” The Encyclopedia Britannica says “a habit – which can be part of any activity, ranging from eating and sleeping to thinking and reacting – is developed through reinforcement and repetition. These two words, reinforcement and repetition, are key to how habits form and why they stick around.
I do not want to dive deep into what psychologists define what reinforcement is but I do want to touch the higher level meaning of the word. Psychologists define reinforcement as a consequence to strengthen (or weaken) a future behavior when the behavior is followed by a specific stimulus. There are two types of reinforcement – positive and negative. To put it in layman’s term, positive reinforcement is something received when an action is completed and negative reinforcement is something taken away when an action is completed. By recognizing the types of reinforcement we can help ourselves better form our habits.
To help you establish the habit of writing there are some ways you can reinforce your actions. For example, you can use positive reinforcement by allowing yourself to watch an episode of your favorite show on Netflix after you write for 30 minutes. This is something I used in college when practicing for my senior recital. I would walk down the street, practice for a straight hour and when I was finished I watched an episode of New Girl.
You can see the use of negative reinforcement in action whenever you climb into your car. The little beeping you hear when put your key into the ignition? It turns off (removed) when you click in your seat belt. I’m not suggesting you have a big bell that keeps ringing until you finish your writing but there are things you can do to negatively reinforce your writing habit. Having a deadline to meet can help you negatively reinforce your writing habit. In practice, you can use this to help avoid the unpleasant feeling (or worse yet, loss of revenue) of missing your deadline. The act of finishing your project on time is negatively reinforced because you are removing the negative feeling of missing the deadline because your task was completed early.
It is important to stay consistent with your reinforcement. There is something called a schedule or reinforcement which is how frequently you reinforce your behavior. If you want to learn more about these there are many sites on the internet you can search. Also, you want to be sure you are reinforcing your behavior (writing) within an appropriate time. The reinforcement will have a higher chance of being tied to an action if the reinforcement is seen as close to the action as possible. So if your positive reinforcement for writing an hour is to watch an episode on Netflix be sure to watch that episode as close to the completion of your writing time as possible or you risk having the reinforcement lose its effect.
Repetition is the act of repeatedly doing something over and over. Repetition means you spend time writing each and everyday. When you try to create a habit of writing it is important you always write daily, no matter how long it might be. John Grisham, New York Times Best-selling author, recently released eight tips for writers. In the article he says writers should write one page a day, in the same place and at the same time each day. This simple act of repetition will have you form your habit of writing.
If you struggle with finding a constant time and place to write, schedule out your writing time in advance. Maybe you spend thirty minutes a day writing after you watch the morning news, or maybe you write as you ride the bus into work each day. Look at your calendar and find a time that works best for you and be sure to stick to it. That’s what repetition is all about.
When you are trying to build your habit of writing make sure you use both reinforcement and repetition. If you are looking for inspiration check out our Facebook Page, M Colleen Wietmarschen, LLC, for a daily writing prompt.