How to Change Bad Habits

This is Last Minute Lucy. She’s late picking up Addie, her first-grade daughter, from school. Lucy was so busy writing she lost track of time, and now she feels awful about letting Addie down again. The last time this happened Addie had been the last one waiting, sitting at the curb in front of the school, her teacher at her side, tapping her foot, her arms crossed. Addie was crying. Lucy felt terrible. Addie’s tear-filled question rang in Lucy’s ears as she hurried her steps, “Why are you always late?”

Are you Last Minute Lucy, never planning ahead, always late? Or do you suffer from a different bad habit?

Many of us have bad habits. Writers have some of the worse. We get into our writing zone and forget the time, pig out, ignore our families, forget to exercise, and procrastinate. Then there are those who want to write but have excuse-itis, stall, or spend so much time researching they never write a sentence.

I was thumbing through an old issue of The Writer’s Journal and came across an article written by Dr. Dennis Hensley, an English and writing professor at Taylor University, on how to modify behavior. Doc had some good ideas on how to improve our writerly ways that I thought might help. Here they are in my own words:

  1. Decide if the change will benefit you.  How will it affect you? Assess whether or not working on a change will be worthwhile. You have to be able to see the benefits of the change. If there’s nothing in it for you, then why do it? If your motivation is to please someone else, it’s not going to work. YOU have to WANT it. In Lucy’s case, her motivation to break her “late” habit might be to regain the reward of her daughter’s trust.
  2. Realize that success won’t come easy. Having realistic expectations is important. Expect to “fall off the wagon” but have an alternative plan in case it does. For instance, last week I had a writing goal of organizing my current wip with 3 x 5 scene and pov cards, but my son had family problems and needed my help, so I didn’t have the writing time I thought I’d have. But I had an alternative plan: to edit two short stories. It wasn’t much, but at least I felt like I’d accomplished something.
  3. Create an action plan. Lucy’s plan could be to set her clocks fifteen minutes early and set the timer before she sits down to write to make sure she’s on time for Addie. Your action plan needs to be specific to you. Early in my writing career, I used to be loosey-goosey about writing. I figured I had a lot of time and that I’d “get it in.” But it never happened because I had excuse-itis and let everything else take priority. My goal was too ambiguous. It wasn’t until I made my goal more specific and found an accountability partner that I began to reach my goal.
  4. Reward your achievements. Lucy’s reward might be Addie’s big smile when Lucy shows up on time. Your reward will be different. What motivates you? When I met my writing quota I got bragging rights. I was able to tell my friend how well I did for the week. That was enough for me. But sometimes that isn’t enough. Decide what works for you. Your efforts should bring rewards.
  5. Pass along the lessons. Once you master your behavior modification, share what worked for you with others. Listen to a friend’s struggles and help them reach their goals, too.

What has helped you modify your bad habits?

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