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Archive for August, 2021

Habits

The American Heritage Dictionary (3rd edition) which sits on my desk defines the word habit with the following list: 1. A pattern of behavior acquired by repetition. 2. Customary practice. 3. An addiction. 4. Characteristic appearance or manner of growth, as of a plant. 5. A distinctive costume.

Since I have been thinking about habits lately and recently came to something of a realization, I decided to look up an official definition. I have not been thinking about plant growth or distinctive costumes, so I am going to leave out those two. The first three definitions are separate, but in some cases, especially when it comes to habits we are trying to change, they are close enough to be essentially the same. The line between habit and addiction can be fine indeed.

Which brings me to my realization: when a person tries to break or change and existing habit or form a new habit, she has to think about it — to concentrate — and I think that requirement is what makes it so difficult.

Years ago someone was telling me about how she quit smoking. “You just have to not smoke,” she told me, acknowledging that it was as difficult and as easy as it sounds. Every time she would normally smoke or found herself wanting to smoke, she had to stop and make the conscious, deliberate — sometimes extremely difficult — choice to not smoke.

I may have used that approach when I decided to stop eating from fast food and large chain restaurants. The chain restaurant part might have happened after I read The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table by Tracie McMillan. That book made it clear that the big chain restaurants might look and feel more like “real” restaurants, but are really just fast food restaurants themselves. The example which made the strongest impression was the necessity of having the tomato sauce on a Domino’s pizza taste exactly the same every time at every single Domino’s everywhere in the world. Variation was not on the menu, as it were.

But I digress. The point is that every time I thought about grabbing a quick lunch at McDonald’s or Taco Bell, I stopped and made a conscious decision to eat something else. Eventually, those options stopped even occurring to me. Occasionally — as in, once or twice a year — I succumb to the craving for a burger and fries from Five Guys, but that’s about it.

I managed to do the same thing with a mocha frappuccino grande (with whipped cream as long as it was a location which used real whipped cream) from Starbucks. Looking up the calorie content was a big help there, too. I knew it was high. I just didn’t know how high. When I finally gave in and decided to treat myself one day, it tasted terrible — synthetic.

My current goals include giving up potato chips, Cheez Its, other assorted highly processed salty crunchy snack foods, and Coca Cola. The last one is going to be the toughest. None of this caffeine free Diet Coke nonsense. Oh no. I am a full-on, hard core devotee of the fully loaded Red Can of Death in all of its caramel-colored, carbonated, caffeinated, high fructose corn syrup glory. Pour me a well-chilled can over ice in a frosty pint glass, and I am in heaven.

I didn’t mark the day on a calendar and say “This is the day I give up Coke.” I did, however, make a conscious decision to not buy more once I consumed what I had, but it felt more like a “Let’s see how it goes” approach rather than “I am never buying soda again.”

It has been probably about a week, maybe a week and a half. So far I have been able to make the decision to not buy more soda when I am at the grocery store or make a special trip to a convenience store or gas station. Do I miss it? Absolutely. So far, however, I am making the correct, conscious choice, and it feels like progress.

Next step: building good habits to replace the bad.

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The Writer’s MoJo

Do you lack discipline with your writing? Are you easily distracted from your writing — by e-mail and social media and all of the possibilities the internet has to offer and kids and pets and the thoughts in your own head? Do you have trouble getting out of your own way?

I know I do.

It’s not for a lack of ideas. I can find inspiration just about anywhere and everywhere. There was an article in, I think, The Atlantic which I read the other day and thought: “There’s a novel in here.” Sadly, I forgot to save it or bookmark it, so I have to either scroll through articles or troll my internet history (which I might have set for deletion every time I close the browser).

And that is exactly the kind of behavior I am talking about — I get an idea and then before I can really capitalize on it (not that I was going to bang out a novel in an afternoon, but I could have at least made some notes), I am off to the next thing.

Today I was distracting myself for a bit with Instagram and came across a post from NaNoWriMo recommending The Writer’s MoJo (short for Motivational Journal). It was billed as “the ultimate writer’s motivational journal and planner. It is designed with psychological mojo mind tools to help you reset your thinking and overcome writing resistance.” Plus, there was a very generous coupon. The combination was too much to resist, and I clicked.

At the moment, it only exists in a digital format with a preference for iPad, but it is a large, interactive PDF file which so far has come up just fine on my somewhat aged laptop. I haven’t tried to interact with it yet as I am still reading and learning about all of the parts and pieces.

Part of me chafes at the idea of planning and scheduling and keeping track of goals and word counts and to do lists and such, but clearly my “fly by the seat of my pants” approach isn’t getting me too far, so I figured why not. You can be detailed and granular or take a broader approach, but the key to the whole thing appears to be PAY ATTENTION. Pay attention to what you are doing, what you are not doing, what you want to do, and how it compares to what you did do. Paying attention enables you to fight the resistance, which is defined as anything (internal or external) which throws up roadblocks to your creativity.

I am going to try it out and see what happens.

If you want to check it out for yourself, go to https://www.writersmo-jo.com/.

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