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Tips on Forming Good Habits

November 19th, 2011 Matt Leave a comment Go to comments
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Last week I wrote a bit about how long it takes to form a habit. Obviously this is useful for anyone wanting to solidify their writing routine. But can anything be done to make that habit “go in” more efficiently?


I referenced this study by Phillippa Lally and colleagues from University College London last week. While it talks about how long it takes to form a habit, there is not a lot of detail about how you can make a habit stick. Here are some common sense tips that can help however.


To reinforce a habit it’s best to perform the behaviour in the same context. As the association grows it’s possible that the context itself can trigger the behaviour. Like it or not, we’re all just salivating dogs! With something as complicated as writing (as opposed to something more basic, like sleep or, I don’t know, going to the toilet or something), this is unlikely to happen, but using context can certainly smooth the way.

Here are some ways to control the context of your writing sessions:

  • Same time each day
  • Same location
  • Listen to music (maybe even the same piece), or perhaps ensure your environment is always silent.

Reduce Distractions

As attractive as writing might be to your psyche, there are always other actions vying for your attention.

  • Remove other low resistance actions. These are behaviours that are easy to fall into, like browsing the internet. Turn it off!
  • Make sure you have everything you need around you (glass of water, all your writing equipment). That way you don’t have to keep getting up to see to these needs. I’d draw the line at having a bottle to pee in though.

Reduce Resistance

Now that low resistance behaviours are out of the way, you could go some steps to ensure that writing is as low resistance an activity as possible.

  • Make sure your writing space is always set up, ready for work. If you feel you have to get things ready before you start, you’re less likely to want to start.
  • Finish in the middle of a paragraph, or even sentence. An old trick, this. Next time you start, it feels a lot less like starting and a lot more like carrying on, which is much easier.
  • Make sure other people know when you will be writing. It’s much harder to go and do something if people are expecting other things from you. You could also add this as a way of removing distractions – that “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door should be a clear message.

Of Course I’m a Hypocrite

Naturally, I do all of the things above, except for when I don’t. My writing space is always the train during the week. Granted, this takes care of context (I actually do put music on most of the time, depending on my mood and the mood of what I’m writing. Often it’s still ambient music like Treefingers by Radiohead, just to cut out other distractions).

Distractions are still a problem. I should never have installed The Binding of Isaac on my laptop. I had just bought the game and wanted to see what it was like, honest!

Since my baby boy came along I still haven’t really sorted out my writing at the weekend. The dining room table is constantly cluttered now, which means I need a better writing space, which means cleaning my “office” up on the top floor. And, well, it does rather look like a bomb’s hit it. If the explosive in question was a paper cluster bomb. Everything else kind of falls apart until that’s done.

What about you folk in internet land? What’s your experience of writing on a regular basis? Has anyone got any tips to reinforce that habit?

In other news, I’ve just seen that this is the 150th post on Getmewriting.com! Yay us!

  • Laura Stanfill

    Great list, and timely for me. I am usually fairly disciplined, but have had a couple slow weeks where the writing has felt like slogging and the distractions have been gaining too much traction. I do think that having a kiddo–and having much less free time on the weekends–has helped me focus what precious writing time I do have. Author Yuvi Zalkow put together a hilarious presentation on time management that posits that being a parent improves one’s writing discipline. You can find it here if you’re interested: http://yuvizalkow.com/blog/failed2/

    • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

      Hi Laura, and thanks for that link – I will definitely have a look at that when I’m back at my computer. I think having a bubba can work both ways – sometimes it can end up being a great excuse not to get anything done :-s Glad you liked the post

      Glad you like the post JR Nova! And cheers for the chat on G+!

  • http://www.facebook.com/authorjrnova JR Nova

    Good post!

  • Craig

    Not having distractions is probably the number one way to ensure you get your writing done.  When i first got my netbook that is all I used it for (In fact its official designation for me is ‘the writing terminal’).  So every time I switched it on I knew all I’d be using it for is writing.

    But then i got wireless internet and installed a few other programs on it and it became too easy to just flick onto the net and NOT get the writing done…

    • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

      Having a device just for writing is a great idea and one I’ve toyed with on a few occasions.