This guest post is by Bea Kylene Jumarang of Writing Off the Rails.
You tell yourself you need to exercise, but you don’t do it. You tell yourself you need to write, but then you go on Twitter. Or, my favorite situation, you tell yourself you need to save more, and then you blow out your cash on that shiny new bag.
It’s a vicious little cycle, and you know you need to end it, but you don’t. Of course, you tell yourself it’s your fault, and add in, “If only I had a little bit more willpower.”
Well guess what? Willpower’s no good.
It’s a limited resource and it’s generally a bad one to draw on when it comes to eliminating bad habits. Barring sudden epiphanies, you’re going to stay stuck in your cycle if all you do is tell yourself that you need more willpower.
What I’m going to show you in this post is a different approach, and how you can use it to remove and replace bad blogging habits.
1. Eliminate temptation
Okay, I realize that sounds trite and sort of stupid. Still, you would be surprised at how many things just need to be removed in order to remedy your bad habits. Like Robert Downey Jr. says in Due Date, “If you’re allergic to waffles, don’t go to a waffle house.”
Now, let’s apply that to you. Say you’re a blogger who’s a little too addicted to being online. You know that it damages your productivity, but you tell yourself you can limit your online time just by having more willpower. If that sounds like you, please do take a reality check. You already know it doesn’t really work that way.
Why? Again, willpower’s no good.
So what do you do? Once you open your laptop or tablet, or wherever it is that you write, get your writing done first. The moment your device boots up, go straight to your word processor. Don’t open a browser. Seriously, don’t even think about it. Just click the word processor icon and start getting words on a page. Remember, you’re not a writer until words are on the page, and you’re not a blogger until you have a blog post published.
Got that? Eliminate temptation. It’s the first step.
2. Now, just show up and do it
So here you are. Your word processor’s open, but you’re just itching to close it and come back later. You’re thinking of all the emails you might have, or how many tweets have piled up in your timeline. You’re in the danger zone.
Solution? Tell yourself out loud, “I will not open my browser. Instead, I will write 1000 words.”
You’d be shocked at how a verbal affirmation can do wonders for your behavior. By speaking the words out loud, your thoughts get redirected to the affirmation you just said. And did you notice the 1000 words bit? That wasn’t random. That amount is a manageable daily goal. It’s not that hard to reach, and it’s a specific, measurable number. Remember, getting specific with your goals is always a good idea.
Now you might say, “But I need willpower to reach the goal!”
I get that, which brings me to the words, “Just show up and do it.”
If you’re a writer, just start writing. Turn off your internal editor and just get words on a page. Just write. Free yourself up to write really badly, because at the end, you’ll have something. Far better to have a poor chapter or a flat blog post to edit, than to have nothing at all.
Each time you’re tempted to stop, whip out the verbal affirmation again. “I will not open my browser. Opening it will make me unproductive. I will finish my writing.”
If you just keep on going, you’ll find that you’ve gone over the 1000 word goal, or you’ll have finished the blog post you needed to write.
Here, I’m giving you the template—you can apply this advice to whatever blogging task it is that you want to get done. That said, it’s a good thing to know what your personal limits are. That way, you can customize your affirmations depending on how many words you can normally write.
It’s now time for the feel-good step in this process.
3. Reward yourself
Let’s say you’ve finished your writing goals, or you’ve done your blog post. Congratulations! Two things can happen at this point.
The first possible outcome is that you might feel so good you’ll want to continue. If that’s what you feel, by all means do it. However, if you’re just starting out on the road to dominating your habits, the better thing to do is to stop and reward yourself.
This is pure conditioning, by the way. Studies show that we do what rewards us, and we actively avoid what punishes us. As much as you may want to claim being above such caveman simplicity, in the end it’s a matter of psychology and common sense.
So, what I want you to do is just stop. Go say a verbal congratulations to yourself, and then reward yourself with something that makes you happy. Now would be the time for you to open your browser, check your email or say hi to Twitter in all its 140-character glory.
To be clear, you can only reward yourself if you did what you set out to do. Don’t go cheating (hint, use the verbal affirmations and stop yourself), because cheating will defeat the entire purpose of rewards in the end.
4. Take it a step further: automate
The three steps above are a rinse-and-repeat process. You just do the whole thing over and over again to replace bad habits with good ones. Of course, ones the habits are in place, you won’t need rewards because the actions will be automatic.
However, you can still tweak this process to get even better results. If that’s what you want, my advice to you is to automate. To make it easy, here are some extremely actionable automation posts, courtesy of finance whiz Ramit Sethi.
How can you apply automation to your blog writing?
The answer is, you can’t. The only things you can automate are the things that get you even more writing time.
Let me give you an example. Social media is a huge distraction when you want to get writing done. Usually, that’s because you’re always on the hunt for things to tweet or link to. Now, I love Twitter, so this applies best to that service. If you want to get more time and not have to manually tweet, you can use a scheduler like HootSuite or Buffer. If you’re more of a Facebook person, HootSuite also has scheduling for that.
Throughout the day, you can list content in these apps, then just schedule the updates for the next day. With that method, you’ll have more time to write and get other errands done. Even so, you’ll still have the added comfort of knowing that you’re sharing great stuff.
These are my tips on dealing with the limitations of willpower. If you have some to share, I’d love to know in the comments!
Bea Kylene Jumarang is a fiction writer and the blogger behind Writing Off the Rails. When she’s not working on her books or her blog, she’s writing on tissues inside a Starbucks café, or socializing with people on Twitter.