Ah-nuld

Here I am once again, hard at work at what feels like a “cop out.”

Blog posts? In my own voice? Just following the meanderings of my mind on a topic? Feels easy and self indulgent, as I’ve said before. I’m not creating a new world, by way of fiction. I’m…. Well, in a way I’ll say it feels masturbatory.

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But hey. That’s a good way to begin talking about habit.

When I’m in the groove on a novel, or even in the groove on a short story tear, one of those tears where I feel like I want to vomit if I don’t get “some good writing” done at LEAST six times a week, it’s easy to like myself. I don’t feel like an evil person murdering potential, like babies, day after day. And it’s habit, that.

But it’s amazing how easy it is to fall off even the most potent habit wagons. One can do one’s best to help the wagon to go at an easier pace, along smoother roads, with trained horses with the “mustang” whipped out of them.

But nevertheless.

Habit, I believe, is a vastly underrated force for the direction of a life. We, I believe, often like, often wildly contradicting daily evidence, that we are creatures of pure willpower. We, we believe, can do what’s right. What we need to. All we need to do is decide to. It is much like smoking, or drinking. We could stop them (and start not doing them) “whenever we want.” We don’t have a problem.

And until then? Everyone should just back the fuck OFF!

You may know the feeling.

Is it with that novel “you’re writing”?

Writer Kill You

Is it with that exercise “you’re doing”?

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Is it with that healthy diet “you’re following”?

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Is it with that degree “you’re pursuing”?

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Is it with those children “you’re spending more time with”?

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(If that joke’s not too subtle for you give yourself a platinum record medal)

Ahem. Habit and goals. Life.

The list goes on and on, for human beings. Most of us are not creatures of pure will. Most of us are, as they say, “normal.” It’s just a question of odds. When it comes to those other things? If we were creatures of pure will, we would have done them already. And saying “as soon as I’m ready” or “when I want to” is just an excuse.

One of the great jokes God…

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…or the Universe…

Miss Universe

…or the Economy…

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…plays on us is that, when we’re young, it’s easy to change. That’s when we’re built to be flexible.

And (here’s the punchline) that’s when we’re resilient enough not to need to be, because we’re young enough to be vegetables and eat broken glass. You remember what it was like to be young? Did you feel like your body clung to every calorie? And, on a related note, do you still believe, fully, that you’re only as young as you feel?

I feel like it’s justice that I’m still 19.

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That’s a yoga position. I call it “Reality Pretzel.” Good luck with it.

Of course, do you know how that dude (who STILL isn’t still 19, despite being as flexible as a baby) got himself into that position? Yeah. Habit. Practice. Lots of it. And, I think most of all, probably daily.

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Yeah. It was a bestseller. Means it must be good. Get off your lazy butt and read it.

I think I’ve talked, before, about how I finally, after 15 years or so, found the “writing switch” in my brain. The flipping thing was so flipping hard to find, I tell you. Took getting fired, being TERRIFIED of slipping back into old habit, and EVERY DAY making sure to write, for months. All the while scared that if I didn’t the monster of the old “this doesn’t feel right and is mentally exhausting…” habit would return.

How do YOU handle, say, that exercise that you know you should do? That you stick out your chin to others and say “I’ll do it when I’m ready and on my own so butt out!”

{Amos pours himself a glass of fine, fine Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey, as the pure cocoa powder looks far enough behind in the rearview}

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Where was I?

Oh. Right. “Butt out!”

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Lucky skinny-ass bastard….

Anyway.

My contention is… that habit, like many things about the body and mind, follows the same pattern for change. How long does it take for exercise to begin changing the body? A few weeks, when done really regularly. How soon does one build a tolerance to alcohol?

Tullamore

A few weeks, when done regularly.

How long does it take to build a habit?

Let’s ask TED!

Thanks Ted!

Or how about this?

Wait.

It takes more than a few weeks? Well, I was about to admit that two months might be good. That’s how long I let fear burn away optimistic overconfidence, in order to build up that writing muscle habit.

Look at it this way. And let me know if you can poke holes in it as a functional analogy.

Say you don’t exercise. That you’re unfit.

You ARE getting exercise. Seven days a week you’re exercising the “don’t exercise” habit muscle. And it’s pretty big. Pretty fit. It’s an Ah-nuld kind of habit.

Ah-nuld Flipped

 

And the “do exercise” habit?

How fit is it?

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And don’t you tell me dude’s gettin’ his exercise!

Now.

Let’s say you make a New Year’s resolution. Let’s say you wanna change. So you tell yourself you’ll start exercising. And you go with the status quo. The dogma. You know. I know you know.

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Right.

Three times a week. It’s what you’re SUPPOSED to aim for, right? I mean, society says so, right? So society must be right, right? The same way society is right about consumerism? And about SUVs? And was right about segregation over a century ago?

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I can’t believe it either….

Now. Think about it. Going back to my “don’t exercise” is a muscle idea.

What happens when you exercise the “exercise” muscle three times a week (if you even manage that), and the “don’t exercise” muscle four times a week? Is that gonna atrophy the “don’t exercise” muscle? Is that gonna build a new habit, when the old habit gets reinforced a fucking MAJORITY of days in a week?

Or is the old habit gonna, at the first “I’m sick” or “I’ve gotta take a week long business trip” opportunity to smack the weakling new habit down?

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Is that old habit just laughing at you just outside your range of hearing, so as not to arouse your real willpower, knowing he has the upper hand?

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Side note:

Bad news.

My body’s feeling funny. Whisky’s gone sideways….

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Turns out the cocoa powder ISN’T deep enough into the rearview mirror. Dunno why they don’t mix, but I’ll just have to keep going.

You know: with willpower.

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Hey! I already GOT my exercise today.

Delayed, yeah. Had to go into work early because the other driving dude didn’t know he was on shift. But I knew I couldn’t have my best writing head on if I didn’t do it when I got home. Nothing like dangling upside down on an inversion table!

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Surprisingly hard to find a photo of a DUDE using one. I guess men prefer getting blood to the other head, eh?

Ba dum bum!

Anyway.

Let me know if you’d prefer I do better at staying on topic and not roving for funny tangents. I’m flexible.

Where was I?

Right.

Days a week.

Is three enough?

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{Editor’s note: prolly tequila, not whiskey, to the right.}

I know that when I start writing just a few times a week for a few weeks, even beloved writing, the focus gets muddled. It’s why I exercise seven times a week. Not for hours every day, only hours a few times a week. The other days? Just twenty minutes. But even that denies the “don’t exercise” muscle it’s exercise.

Much better, I’ve learned, to exercise daily for a total of maybe an hour and a half a week than three times a week for a total of six hours. Only one denies the “don’t exercise” muscle a majority of days to exercise.

And the remarkable thing? Daily is easier than three days a week. Because it’s the rule you get used to… not the exception to the rule that you dread.

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Can you go ahead and improve with three (ironically alone)?

Well, put yourself in a position where you’re battling an entrenched habit by trying to tackle it that way. See how it goes. Then try to detach yourself from you innate human stubbornness and identify if it’s working or not. Will your entrenched habit, fueled by four days a week, say on those days “Ah! Sweet blood flow keeping me strong!”

Will the strong old habit say “Oh jeez I guess he’s (or she’s) serious!” Or will it be… like taking antibiotics three times a week?

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But try it anyway.

Give it time

And then….

Are you writing that novel yet?

 

What a novel way to draw faces!

Now. If you don’t mind… I need to start not combining cocoa and booze, and keep doing it for seven days a week.

Because I feel funny….

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Keep running dude. Just stop at 1:18….

Moe knows booze.

And Amos knows his “Simpsons” clips.

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