routineFew things in life give me more pleasure than a gorgeously written blog post validating my choice to write, particularly if I’m fresh from a difficult critique or my characters have gone silent. That’s when I scan my environment, looking for people brimming with positivity. If you’re one of them, I glom onto you. I yearn to be swept up in your narrative.

And if you’re drinking hope’s sweet ambrosia and if you’ll allow me to sip from your cup, maybe take it back to the keyboard with me, I’ll love you beyond all reason.

I’ll bookmark your post. I’ll copy it into my Scrivener file marked “inspiration”. I’ll remember you with gratitude long past the point when your words have lost the power to propel me forward. Because I’m fickle like that, dear Unboxeders. Borrowed hope only works for so long before I need another hit, another dealer, a different jewel-encrusted goblet to place at my right elbow.

Lately, because of this self-knowledge, I’ve lost interest in dealing with my internal drama and grown more focused on what garners results. I’ve looked for ways to make my writing both habitual and independent of motivation levels. Much like I change my environment and routine when I’m serious about taking care of my health, I’m trying to respect my process and design an environment which makes writing the default position rather than something I must fight my way into.

Accordingly, I’ve been focused more on science-based behavioral change, looking to the resources I’d have valued in medicine to support patients who want to alter their lifestyle in systematic, incremental, and non-threatening ways.

Because I’ve found them helpful, and because they have virtually no end of application, I thought I’d share them here. (This is not to say I won’t continue to enjoy and possibly write posts about motivation. It’s not an either-or proposition!)

The first several draw upon the work of BJ Fogg, a Stanford professor whose research is about habit formation. In 2012, Fortune Magazine named him one of Ten New Gurus You Should Know, but I simply admire his work for its concreteness.

1. In this first video, you will learn:

  • How to create a minuscule behavioral change following a reliable trigger. (e.g. Perhaps you want your routine to mean that you open your work-in-progress as you sip your first morning coffee, or that you activate your internet blocker as soon as you sit down to write.)
  • The special-but-small practices which, when performed, make it much more likely your habit will stick.

2. Now that you’ve got the basics, if you’d like like help from Bogg himself on how to design a minute habit which has a good chance of becoming automatic, sign up for his free online 5-day course. It’s superb and doesn’t take much time.

3. When it comes to creating long-lasting behavioral change, does the evidence suggest we should focus the most energy on motivation, ability, or triggers? The answer is probably not what you think, as explained by Bogg in this next video. He also covers:

  • How to go about leveraging a tiny change into a bigger one.
  • How you can use your moments of high motivation to lock in bigger behavior changes, both now and in the future. (e.g. commit to a critiquing schedule; locate a freelance editor you want to work with and establish a deadline; decide a fit body leads to a fit brain and pay for sessions with a personal trainer.)
  • Why automaticity trumps self-discipline when it comes to permanent behavioral change.
  • The implications this can have for your business as you create triggers for your customers which can activate and create habitual use of your product.

4. By focusing on minute behavioral changes, we’ve bypassed the issue of inspiration and motivation. But if you were to create an habitual writing routine, could you reasonably expect that motivation would follow?

The As If PrincipleAnecdotal information says yes. (That would include mine; I’ve found any kind of forward movement makes me feel more hopeful, in turn leading to another baby step forward and an upward spiral of action and motivation.)

Nevertheless, would you find it comforting to know there is ample scientific evidence to support the theory? Then you’d probably enjoy The As If Principle: The Radically New Approach to Changing Your Life by Richard Wiseman. It’s chock-full of science experiments which illustrate the point. For example:

  • By holding a pen in your teeth, activating the musculature that would be used in a smile, you will automatically feel happier.
  • By clenching a fist or bicep, you will come to see yourself as one who possess willpower.
  • By having an established couple perform “exciting” activities together, versus those they’d label “enjoyable”, you can rekindle emotions similar to when they’d first met.

While there are no experiments that relate explicitly to writing, it’s not a stretch to believe that acting as if you are a committed author, however that looks to you, is a back door to feeling like one after a sufficient period of time.

Now I’d love to hear from you. What is your experience of the role between motivation and writing output? If you have a routine and rely upon automaticity, how did you discover your process? Lastly, do you have any other resources you’d add to this list?

About Jan O'Hara

Jan O'Hara left her writing dreams behind for years to practice family medicine, but has found her way back to the world of fiction. Currently the voice of the Unpublished Writer here at Writer Unboxed, she hopes one day soon to become unqualified for the position.