I was heading out with the whippets for one of our first walks originating from my new condo. Next door lives a young boy who is less than enthusiastic about dogs. Since I don’t want to do further damage to the child’s already shaky relationship with canines, I need my dogs to walk calmly out the door on my command, not barrel outside willy-nilly. They had been trained to go into a down position on our carpeted floor in the old house prior to every walk with me. My new place doesn’t have carpeting, and one of my whippets hates putting her boney self on hard surfaces. When I asked Zoe and Zephyr for a sit, Zephyr went into a down, and Zoe avoided my gaze so she didn’t have to do what I asked.
Two things struck me at this point: 1) I clearly failed in teaching my dogs a verbal sit command, and 2) wow, they had really formed a strong habit and were able to carry this habit from the old place to the new. Since I had just started working on my novel again after a long hiatus, my thoughts moved right to writing. I needed to take a lesson from my dogs and form a habit to write as strong as my dogs have formed the habit to go into a down before a walk.
Merriam Webster defines as habit as: a: a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance b: an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.
The dogs clearly have this mastered. Their offering a down before a walk has become nearly involuntary, and they have shown increased facility of performance (overlooking Zoe’s reluctance to do so on the hard floor). Here is where I look to Zoe and Zephyr for guidance. I need to get to a point where writing is automatic. I need to grab a notebook or a laptop whenever I have those few minutes before I go out the door and do whatever it is I need to do.
The last time I formed a solid writing habit was during my Grub Street Novel Incubator year. Whenever I had a free moment, I was either working on my novel or reading my fellow incubees’ manuscripts. I had no choice. There was so much work and so little time. It all had to get done. By necessity, writing and critiquing became nearly involuntary. I could write anywhere at anytime. A habit was indeed formed, but because it was formed out of obligation, the habit ended with the class. There are some in the dog training world that believe if a dog is given a choice, the learned behavior will be stronger since they want to do it. I assume that would work for me as well.
So how to go about forming a habit? It turns out that forming a habit is much like teaching a dog a new trick. Planning, repetition, breaking the task into smaller chunks, controlling the environment, and some tasty treats are key.
Ways to create a habit:
- Start small. Decide to write ten minutes per day or to write for 30 days in a row. Don’t start out by committing to six hours in one day or 2000 words. Set yourself up for success.
- Take five minutes to do some planning. This helps by giving you a roadmap for the day’s writing session and by having you visualize the end result.
- Control your environment. Keep things simple: a laptop, a notebook, a pen, a desk, and a chair. Don’t clutter your writing space with anything that could be a distraction.
- In order to fit your new habit into your normal routine, don’t tell yourself you’re going to write for fifteen minutes, tell yourself you’re going to wake up, have a cup of coffee, brush your teeth, and then sit down to write. In this way, the habit becomes part of the routine, not something inserted into it.
- Reward yourself if you achieve your goal.
I’ll get right to working on forming my habit after I redeem myself as a dog trainer and get my dogs to learn how to do a sit.