Breaking Bad… Habits: Creating Writing Habits That Stick with the 3 Rs

Written by Claire L. Fishback, PMP

Book Coach & Story Strategist

November 28, 2022

I’m one of those people who just loooves to reward myself for even small tasks. Okay, I’m not talking about big rewards, like buying a new car or a bottle of Dom or anything like that. Even just checking something off on my to do list is reward enough for me! It’s the little things in life!

Because if you can’t appreciate the little things, then what the heck are we doing here?

Life is made up of little moments that create a life so beautifully lived. *theatrical sigh*

Life is made up of habits – good and bad.

Our days are strung (stringed?) Together with habits. We are, after all, creatures of habit. Just like we are ruled by time, time and habits typically go hand in hand.

Consider this… During the week if we have a day job to go to, we get up at the same time every day and carry out the same routine every morning. We eat snacks at the same time every day. Okay, I didn’t mean to lump you in with how my day is ruled by the clock, but I tend to get a little peckish around the same times every day. Ten AM for a mid-morning/pre-lunch snack, and again between 2pm and 3pm in which I typically eat three snacks in a row. Maybe I have a little Hobbit blood in me… My mid-morning snack could be considered second breakfast…

When the clock hits a certain time, the work day is done. Then our evening routine begins. Our pets are also creatures of habit. Who hasn’t been nose stamped by a dog who thinks it’s time to each? My beloved pittie mix, Kira, comes into my office every day and pokes and paws at me around 3:30pm. I log off from my day job at 4pm. She eats dinner at 4:30. But she knows the moment I log off, she gets to go outside and run around in the backyard. That is another routine she and I have established.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

What you’ll learn today are some concepts derived from Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit. The gist of it is, we subconsciously create habits without even knowing it in what is called a habit loop.

Today I’m going to talk about the three Rs of creating a habit, which I tweaked just a little from Charles’s vocab: Rituals, Routines, and Rewards.

Rituals

Rituals are a set of triggers or cues that are strongly linked to an activity.

Routines

Routines are doing something the same way every time. 

While rituals trigger us into action, routines are the action we carry out upon receiving the cue.

Rewards

Rewards are the most important part of the habit loop. They are what makes any habit stick–good or bad.

A bad habit, by the way, has the reward of whatever the bad thing is. Smoking for example, the nicotine hit of smoking a cigarette is the reward. 

To break a bad habit, one must not change the ritual or the reward, one must change the routine.

Here’s an example of my own. At some point in the past few years I developed a horrible habit of picking my cuticles. Sometimes to the point of bleeding. It was a nervous habit I picked up I think at an award ceremony in which I was a finalist. Standing up on stage, decked out in an evening gown, hair makeup… but my hands were in a fit of flurried movement as I moved from finger to finger tearing at my cuticles. I didn’t even realize it, but a friend of mine who was there to support me mentioned it after I left the stage and took my seat.

I lived with this habit for a few years. It became so satisfying to peel a long slice of skin from the base of my fingernails.

Ew gross, I know.

Just this September (2022) I got a thought in my head that this nervous habit was causing me to feel anxious. So, I broke it.

How did I do that? I changed the routine of peeling the skin.

Let me step back just a second. Because first of all, realizing and recognizing the bad habit is an important step in breaking it. Once you become aware of the activity, you have more power to stop it. It’s not easy. I know it’s going to sound easy here, but it really isn’t.

Okay, so, when I realized I was picking at my cuticles, I made a conscious decision to either tuck my thumbs into my closed fists, sit on my hands, or do something else with my hands to distract them from what became a subconscious reaction to anxiety.

To put this into the three Rs:

  • The ritual – Remember, a ritual is a cue or a trigger – anxious feelings
  • The routine – picking my cuticles
  • The reward – The satisfaction of “cleaning up” my cuticles

I changed the routine of picking the skin to sitting on my hands or hiding my thumbs or occupying my hands another way.

The reward then became feeling less anxious. Because little did I know the very act of nervously peeling my cuticles actually was fueling my anxiety!

Let’s look at this for creating a good habit now. Because I know you want to move on from peeling cuticle skin. *shudder sound*

I really should have used a different example, but that was a major one for me, and the most recent. I don’t have a ton of bad habits (said the person in denial) so, there you go. Sorry if I completely grossed you out.

Okay, so creating good habits.

Let’s say you want to start writing (again).

Perhaps right now you have a plan to write every day. Maybe you even have a scheduled time to write every day. That time rolls around and do you write? Maybe. But 67% of writers who have a scheduled time don’t always show up, according to the writing habits survey I talked about in this post.

Here’s how it might go:

  • Ritual: You sit down to write, maybe you even open your writing software (Scrivener is great, if you don’t already know), maybe you have a pre-writing snack or beverage or something.
  • Routine: You write
  • Reward: More words added to your manuscript. Dopamine released in your brain for a job well done.

 

Yay! Good job, you logged your writing session!

Here’s how it probably actually goes:

  • Ritual: You sit down to write, maybe you even open your writing software, maybe you have a pre-writing snack or beverage or something. Something to get you in the zone.
  • Routine: You stare at the blank page for a minute (or less, our attention spans are short these days). You click over to [insert whatever your favorite social media is, or email, or game, or youtube]
  • Reward: the satisfaction of being connected through social media, the joy of playing a game, perhaps laughter (and therefore dopamine is released in your brain) at a funny video or post, you get the point.

 

I know I already talked about Toucan20 and why it works in this post and like every post, lol, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Instead of picking up your phone, or clicking over to a website, or social media, or whatever your distraction of choice is, why not set a timer for 20 minutes at the start of your session? This will be a great ritual to trigger you into writing mode and get your brain engaged and ready to write. 

Change the routine!

Think of some other habits you want to break or create. Try out the method of changing the routine for a week and let me know how it goes!

You May Also Like…

What CAN DO can do for you

The CAN DO Formula is the way to create the writing habit you've always wanted so you can finish your book. You...

Writer’s Block Isn’t Real

Writer’s Block Isn’t Real

Okay okay before you get all up in arms about the title of this post, let me set the record straight! Writers block...