Travelling solo on the road made for a wandering mind. While my global odyssey was cut-short after three weeks due to COVID-19, the continual barrage of new experiences inspired more reflection than I had expected. Overwhelming but welcome. Upon returning back home, my mind settled from the messiness of solo travel and I realised that I had no process of documenting this experience. I had photos and videos my trip, but more so I wanted to capture my brain’s daily drifting and rumination. To that end, I told myself I was going to start writing. Daily.
Writing is like exercise to the mind right? You can think to your hearts content, but until you put those thoughts on a page, it isn’t real. That is another reason why I am writing daily. The act of writing has the added benefit of helping you process your thinking. I may have an idea in my head, but until I can express it on a page, it is no good to anyone else.
A common conversation in today’s world is around recommendations. “You should watch X movie!” or “I just found this funny as TV show, check it out!”. If you probe further about why they made the recommendation, some will have a good answer, many will respond the following sentiment: “I can’t my finger on it, it’s just really good. Trust me!”. If you’re like me, I probably make a mental note and end up not following through unless they have a sound reason. I tend not to believe anyone on anything unless they can give a straight answer about why they think that way. Writing will help process fleeting thoughts.
I make my writing public as an incentive to put out something I can stand behind. If I were just writing for myself, then my incentive to really think through the implications of what I have written is greatly diminished. Austin Kleon introduced me to the idea of working with the garage door up in his book: Show Your Work! He preaches that putting your work out there, be it complete or just in snippets of progress, is the best thing you can do to improve. Sharing invites feedback, and feedback informs future projects. It also has a side-benefit of building an audience for your project.
To best build a writing habit, I referenced Atomic Habits by James Clear. The framework he suggests is available here. I will go through each in turn discussing my process.
Cue: The first step of any good habit is to make it obvious. I use the technique of habit-stacking Clear suggests. Writing is now a part of my morning routine. I wake up, whenever that may be, writing my morning pages and set some goals and to-do’s for today. The first to-do I always, check-off, is to write my blog post for the day. This has been my routine for counting on two weeks now, and I’ve yet to break the streak.
Craving: The second step is to make the habit attractive. A technique clear suggests is temptation bundling: to pair an action you want to with an action you need to do. The action I need to do is to write; the action I want to do is to play my writing Spotify playlist. You may be thinking playing a playlist is not necessarily attractive or unattractive, but for me it is. This writing playlist is one I curated especially for this task. Not only do I love listening to it, but I have disciplined myself to only play it when the following two criteria are met: I am actively working and the sun is out. Doing so helps preserve the sanctity of the playlist. I go into further detail on this phenomenon here.
Response: The third step is to make the habit easy. One way I do this is by reducing friction to begin writing. Every time I read something interesting I will add it to my Roam Research database. It houses all of my thoughts and ideas. Everything I think is worth noting goes into Roam. For more about why I chose to house my brain into Roam Research, read here. That way, at any given time, I have a repository of notes, thoughts, and ideas all linked together ready for me to engage with and write on.
Clear also suggests to prime your environment such that the habit is encouraged. For me, that involved doing a deep clean of my room and re-arranging everything. My workstation is a wooden desk I’ve had for years. Prior to my deep clean, there was no organisation around it and it was often littered with documents, knick-knacks, and photos. The only thing on my desk is a monitor, my laptop, headphones, and a lamp. Everything else is unnecessary for me to write, and thus are stored out-of-sight appropriately.
Reward: The final step is to make it satisfying. Clear suggests that you give yourself an immediate reward after completing the habit. My reward is seeing the post be scheduled to go live onto this site. I have found that this is enough of a dopamine hit to have sustained me thus far. I find it is similar to the habit-tracker he suggests as way to make it satisfying. The satisfaction comes building up the streak of consecutive days published, the longer the streak, the more unlikely I am to break the chain. In many ways, the psychology is similar to having streaks on Snapchat.
In building this habit and making these thoughts public, I hope to lock myself into a deeper commitment with the act of writing. I’m not concerned with how many people read what I write, though that would be nice. I write to myself, for myself, and if there are others that get some value from it, then happy days all round.