WRITING 135: WHAT WENT WRONG WITH MY WRITING HABIT?

After a month, my writing routine has not been quite established. I skipped for about a week, especially in the past week. To excuse myself, I can certainly clinch to the same, old BS: I was too busy, there are other more urgent issues, etc.

But the harsh reality is, things that can be delayed will always be delayed. If you can put it off today, why not tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow? Before long you find yourself abandoning it altogether. When that happens, they cease to be your passions.

Sounds too familiar? That is the recipe for my past failures. I suspect it is also the culprit for much of the aborted new year resolutions.

I hate to repeat the same mistake again and again. That insults my intelligence. So why cannot I keep up writing? Some thoughts are in place.

First, fix your attitude. If writing is what you want to improve, then you must do what it takes, i.e., discipline yourself to sit down and type, especially when you don’t feel like to. Only by so doing will you build the necessary momentum and ingrain it as a habit.

Second, set the realistic expectation. I like radical revolution, but I am less sure I can summon my willpower every day for that. And it need not to be so. I have never aspired to be a writer. To me, writing is a hobby, for reflecting on my life and living more consciously. So I write for myself, not others. I must also accept that, when time is scarce, many of my scribbles will be ugly. But even that is still better than no writing at all.

Third, set a fixed writing time and defend it as a ritual. At this stage, I have other pressing issues, so I cannot devote hours into writing. But, instead of watching TV and casual reading, I can certainly squeeze half hour after the dinner, for my writing ritual.

So here is my writing plan for February: write three paragraphs every day, no matter how ugly they are. Just do it.

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WRITING: ON HABITS, 5

Procrastination has haunted me for years. Late payment penalties are my default; mails can sit for months before I clear up; the laundry won’t start till I run out last pants; grocery shopping won’t happen till I empty everything in the refrigerator.

This chronic evil has a long history. In my childhood, my parents put excessive emphasis on sports and academic attainment; they never ask us to do any housework. We got a wrong message: as long as we excel in study or work, life would be just fine.

This single-minded mentality is further exacerbated by my work. In my field, the promotion takes seven long years of hard work, without clear sign in sight: it is a make-or-break-it deal. Under such pressure, people tunnel: they completely devote to work, keeping everything else to bare minimum.

Procrastination would be fine, if it only inflicts financial loss or daily inconvenience. But tragically, it hurts my credibility, ruins my self-esteem, and makes me unhappy.

Procrastination must go. Here is the simple rule I must engrain:
1) work on two todo (i.e., hated but necessary)  items, for at least 10 minutes each day;
2) post my plan and its outcome online daily.

This blog will record my shot on procrastination.

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[Niagara Falls, Canada, 6/10/2006]

WRITING: ON HABITS, 4

In the book “the willpower instinct”, Kelly McGonigal pins habits to their biological basis—dopamine.

Evolution has wired human brain with primitive instincts. In ancient times of scarcity, those who jump on the first sight of sexy mate or food, survive for another day to spread their genes; those who don’t are eliminate by nature. These primitive instincts—ingrained in our brain—are controlled by the dopamine release. The dopamine release creates craving, the anxious feeling of wanting and desire that propel human into action.

Today we live in a new environment of abundance, food- or sex mate-wise. But genetic old habits die hard—human brain has yet to adapt. Without self-control, jumping on every primitive instinct—cookie or sexy encounter—is a sure recipe for misery: Obesity, gambling, shopping, sex,  drug, all sorts of additions, can traced their origin to dopamine release.

Indeed, this mechanism is how retailers and marketers get us addicted. They drain our wallet by manipulating our dopamine neurons with what we see, smell, hear, and taste. The background music, the lightning, the sexy saleswomen,  free samples of cookie, all are carefully engineered to exaggerate the sensations of food, sex, alcohol, car, gambling, work—the dopamine release.

Naively following our instinct, we fall prey to these sales tricks. Is there any wonder we overspend, buying what we don’t need? Or, the purchase seeing at home is less attractive than we see it in the store? The culprit is dopamine.

So what does the rush of dopamine feel like?

“I feel the earth move under my feet
I feel the sky tumbling down, tumbling down
I feel my heart start to trembling
Whenever you’re around”

—I Feel The Earth Move, by Carole King

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOKx0xy8QE8

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HABITS: WRITING

As my swimming experience testifies, habits can be deliberately planned and developed. So there must be something magic about repeated actions:

When an action is repeated, we no long think about it consciously; instead, we internalize it and code it into the brain as our second nature.

Here is my next planned habit: WRITING. Just as I did with swimming, set a fixed time, do it every day, make it a routine. I will check out three weeks later.

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[sunset, I-5, CA, 10/05/2011]

WRITING: ON HABITS, 3

We tend to moralize in a self-serving way: we are righteous; others harbor ill will. Through this lens, we readily forgive our ‘bad’ behavior; others, well, they are evil.

This tendency leads to the ‘moral licensing’ effect. We reward our good deeds by self-indulging in ‘bad’ ones, often unconsciously. For example, when we exercise in the morning, we tend to reward us with a fatty lunch: we deserve a treat for our morning sweat and tears on the treadmill, don’t we?

If only our waist size is at stake, moral licensing would not be an issue. But too often moral licensing creeps into other matters. Indeed, hardly there is a week goes by without scandals of  infidelity, corruption, etc.

These falling celebrities, teachers, doctors, priests, politicians, athletes, they are  supposed to  hold higher moral ground. But why cannot they resist the temptation of an intern (Bill Clinton) or an extra-marital affair (Tiger Woods)? They may be drowned by power and fame, thinking they are beyond the law?

But at a deeper level, moral licensing may also play a sinister role:  since they have done sufficient ‘good’ for this world, they believe they deserve a treat, just as we treat ourselves a greasy lunch after morning exercise?

If moral licensing is a sneaky enemy we all face, what are our defenses? For one, moral licensing exists because we are more sympathetic to the self-indulgent self—a more authentic self?

To ward off moral licensing, we may have to toughen up our identity, making self-indulgent  so repugnant. For example, in a modern society, even mentioning of incest will disgust most of us,  although there is no other reason  beyond moral itself.

But for many other issues, subduing self-indulgence remains a never ending struggle.

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[Vancouver, Canada, Nov., 2013]