New Year Revelation
So it’s that time of year again where some of you may be thinking of your plans for next year, maybe even making some new year resolutions. Or are you? Is it something that you do once you’ve got past Christmas, start to feel the impending opportunity and a fresh start? A chance to do all those things you promised you’d do this year?
But what stopped you?
Recently I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection around the goals I set for myself and trying to understand what made the ones I achieved work and what made the ones I didn’t, fail.
Now I understand we’re all unique and circumstances can vary greatly but there are things that I’m sure we can all relate to that prevent us from achieving what we plan to.
Procrastination, being ‘too busy’, Other parts of life be that your job, family commitments etc coming first, or just not feeling in the right place to work on your projects.
First things first you’re certainly not alone. These are the kind of things shared by creators across all industries. I sure as hell have experienced them all. Sometimes all at once.
Which is why I’ve worked so hard to understand the mechanics of it all. Why doesn’t all the stuff we so desperately want to do not get done?
I can tell you this much. Goals are bullshit….
…Hear me out. Not goals per se but the idea we’ve been led to believe that you just set yourself the right goals and everything takes care of itself.
But we’ve been looking in the wrong place, my friends.
It may sound a bit trite but as the saying goes ’a goal without a plan is just a dream’. And as the dreamers of the world, this can be hard to reconcile as creators.
But the key is in the process.
My journey of self-discovery led me to a particular place. A detailed look at the power of habits.
Because when you distill all the things, I want to achieve focussing on the goal is not the place to look.
Focussing on the process is where the magic happens. I’m not usually one for sports analogies but consider this. Both teams in the Super Bowl have the exact same goal, the same dream and the opportunity to realize it. But wishing to win is not enough. It’s the team who has done the right things in the preparation leading up to the game that comes out on top. Every training session, film study session and so on that help. The goal itself is not enough.
And as creators, we’re in a unique position. Particularly in a self-publishing sense. You have no opponent or game to win. Just yourself. And you’re in control of your own destiny. But you have to give yourself a fighting chance.
Going back to my habit journey of discovery, I came across a book by James Clear, Called Atomic Habits. Now I’m pretty cynical about ‘self-help’ books but there are so many gems of practical steps in this book. If you want to understand how habits work, how to make new ones easier, how to cement a habit in your daily/weekly routines and how to discourage bad ones, this book does it.
Photo from jamesclear.com
But not in general platitudes but in very specific steps in a framework that you can apply to all areas of your life.
On the basis that what we feel we need to sustain a good habit or practice is motivation but in reality it’s clarity
For me, that focus in on health and fitness and my writing and you wouldn’t always draw parallels with those things but I’ve got some actionable outcomes from this book that are absolutely setting me up to do the things I want going into next year.
At a high level, it gives you a plan to look at every habitual part of your life in a new way, build a specific routine to address forming new habits and breaking bad ones. ‘Stacking’ good habits together to create a chain reaction of positive behavior. And the skills to review and maintain this in the future.
If we apply this to writing we all know the best way to writing success is to keep writing. Not waiting for inspiration (that may never come) but creating a sustainable momentum to keep writing.
Following the Atomic Habits method, I’ve been able to address the obstacles I’ve put up for myself, change the way I think about approaching writing. And build a system to build it into my routine.
In short, the difference is about creating an identity rather than a goal and a focus on the system, not the result. So rather than be saying ‘I want to finish book “X” by June’ I’m saying ‘I want to be the kind of person who writes every day’
Then look at how specifically I can support this. By becoming the kind of person who writes every day is something that will sustain me beyond finishing book “X” and will hopefully make me a better writer.
And taking this further he introduces the idea of writing out an implementation Intention.
Essentially this means writing a specific plan is (proven with science no less!) to make a particular behaviour more likely. Whether that is the intention to vote, make an appointment or any habit you want to introduce.
This is simply completing the gaps in this phrase to make the intention to do something more specific.
‘“I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
Let me take an example of where I could have adopted this myself during my annual failure to complete Inktober.
On the face, this is a great excuse to practice daily illustration in a structured way. But simply saying to myself I’m going to complete Inktober this year and draw every day hasn’t been enough on its own to see me through longer than a week. Because that initial motivation isn’t sustained when ‘stuff comes up’.
But if I was to make a specific Intention Implementation like. ‘Will draw something based on each Inktober prompt for 20 minutes before breakfast at home every day’ I may stand a much better chance. Because I always eat breakfast, I always waste about 20 minutes beforehand on social media or some other distraction and I’m at home where I’ll always have something to draw an and with. Check back in December 2019 with me on this one…
In terms of my writing habit, I’ve already managed to start small. A key element of Atomic Habits is making it easy and starting off small. So I would make a goal to write for just 2 minutes a day. This may sound a little ridiculous. After all, what can you write in 2 minutes a day?
But something extraordinary happened. Making the 2-minute habit made writing a habit. By the time I’d opened my laptop, opened a doc and started writing it’s amazing a) that you can write something in 2 minutes and b) how once you’ve mad the effort to start (the hardest part) you want to keep going anyway. So that 2 minutes might become 10 minutes or even an hour. But the key was baking the behaviour into my day.
There is a lot more detail and explanation to this process in the book (which I’m not earning a commission on by the way I’m just keen to share how it can support your creativity next year because I’m nice like that…)
For example, building a structure to your habits using a 4 step process to make them:
So if you do one thing that your future self can thank you for I totally recommend getting this book.
One of my first habits was switching to audiobooks from listening to the radio in the car and that was where I first heard about Atomic Habits.
I’d love to hear about your experience of switching up your creative habits. Maybe if there’s enough interest we could start a creative habits social media group or something. Just get in touch if you’re interested in anything like that.
Here’s to a creative and Productive 2019…