I am Not a Good Starter

I am Not a Good Starter

Here I’ll share my experience on starting a new habit. I am developing a habit of writing. I write this as a reflection for myself. And I hope this will be helpful for you too.

Developing a new habit is hard. Very hard. I am challenged to form a new habit after getting inspired by reading several success stories. One that comes up first in my mind is to build a writing habit. I assumed that writing was the easiest and quickest to get up and running. Affordable to get started. And no need any work or equipment to publish my first story.

You can write and publish your stories with no hassle nowadays. You can publish on the old Google’s Blogspot, the growing’s WordPress, the shining’s Medium or on the controversial Tumblr. Sign up for an account. Write and hit publish button, and your story will spread across the internet. With no technical knowledge or money investment upfront.

Although free to use those platform, I’m not considering using them as my main channel to publish my writing. There are many reasons why. I’ll talk more in the next post. Now I’ll focus share my story on the challenge of building a writing habit.

Forming habit takes much times

a timer

Habit, as defined on Nir Eyal’s Hooked is something you do on the instinctive mind. While something you do on a conscious mind is call routines. To start a habit, at least you had the same routine as the habit you wish to build. And do it constantly, breaking no streaks, until you get used to.

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal

But for how long we should do that until we can convert a routine become a habit? 10.000 hours as Malcolm Gladwell wrote on Outlier? Or 20 hours is enough to positively self-claimed we’ve learned a new thing as Josh Kaufman told on his TEDx Talks?

I haven’t tried both. Neither planned near future. To achieve practicing 20 hours sound easy and take a short in time. But let’s get real. Who wants to do the same stuff as long as 20 hours continuously? You won’t watch the same movie for 20 hours over and over, want you? Typically, we need a variation on our routines. People will get bored face at the same thing again and again.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

The human brain is not designed to do the same work repeatedly. It will make boredom. The better way is to practice steadily. And evaluate the advancement. Let’s say you allocated 2 hours every day to practice, you need at least 10 days. Or you can double to 4 hours a day, but you still need 5 days to achieve 20 hours practicing. With 20 hours of work a week, my rough calculation is you need for 10 years to achieve 10.000 hours.

That was so much time. We can’t spend the time doing one thing at that long time. There are many other things to get ripped off. In fact, the 20 hours’ Josh Kaufman is for learning a new thing. And 10.000 hours’ Malcolm Gladwell is to be a master on a certain subject. Not for forming a new habit. But I thought the approach to learning or mastering a skill is not too different with forming a new habit.

The scientific study on build a habit

a teacher writes on the blackboard in front of the class

I can’t rely on those authors’ though. As a person who educated scientifically, I need science-backed opinion. So, what does science has learned about habit formation? Sadly, there are only a few studies on this topic.

Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz
Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz

The scientific study has a little answer on how much time does it take to form a new habit. According to Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon, he notices that his patient takes 21 days to adopt a new condition and behavior. He has written his experience in his book, Psycho‑Cybernetics published in 1960. And his ideas on forming a new habit is last for decades.

Until in mid-2009 when Phillippa Lally a health psychology researcher publish her research. She and her colleagues had conducted a real-world modeling on forming a habit. Involving 96 people to take a new simple habit for over the 12 weeks period.

The researchers analyzed the data at the end of the 12th week. To find how long it took each person to go from starting a new behavior to do it on the instinctive mind. The result varies. Depending on the person, the behavior and the circumstances.

It took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to gain a new habit. On average, it takes over 2 months, 66 days to be exact, until they can do it unwittingly.

Taking habit with a different approach

people desperate

I felt overwhelmed after knowing this, almost desperate. Not interested to write anymore. All the writing ideas stuck in my personal notebook. I wonder why it takes a long time to build a new habit. While on the other side of the earth has launched the rockets to the orbit over 100 times on 2018 alone and still counting. (But that was a different story though :p).

I may choose writing as the wrong choice as a new habit to form. Or I require taking another approach. Or I need another paradigm, another point of view. Without worrying much about how much time I should spare.

Writing is painful. You need a lot of time, energy and coffee. You need full of mind to finish a story. stringing words cannot be done on the unconscious mind. It impossible to synthesize the idea and compose the sentences on the unconscious mind. Which human in this world could do that?

Probably what I want to build is too far to be called as a habit. Let’s assume this as a new movement, that I have to achieve. Just write what comes up in my mind, write the topic I care, unnecessary write it in-depth, and share it to you when finish. I got this idea look more practical to do.

Personal Resistances

people chill and relax on hammock

A simple task does not mean an easy task, does it? Whatever how simple, there are always obstacles to carry out. Specifically, from my inner self.

I am just an ordinary person. Sometimes get bored with my activity. Need to take a break. Have chillax for a moment. But thing goes wrong when I draw too much time for a rest. Make me reluctant. Hold me back to write. And that was what I perceive.

So how to overcome this such a problem? I retake a course I have enrolled a few months ago on Skillshare. Teach by Kevin Siskar, this short course teach me on managing attention on the digital age. The key points I can conclude is not how much time we spare, but on how we pay attention to. How we manage intention and focus to finish the task is key to achieve our goals.

We could spare much time as we want, but with no intention and not paying attention, the time will go on. No matter how little time we have if we have set our intention and attention to do something it will finish with no headache reasoning about time.

Self Excuses 

do something great

Writing is hard. Harder than you expect. Especially for those of you who never have been taught. Try Google search “writing is hard” and you will find one million search result. But hard doesn’t mean impossible. Break your idea into some understandable points and start elaborate your sentences.

How to start a writing habit if you have no skill? No one born gifted with an expertise. What expert got now is from their hard work in prior. And earn an expertise after a long time practicing, at least 10.000 hours of the time work. 

You unnecessary to have mastered a certain topic. You can write your own story about your life. Or share an experience you got. Or anything you prefer to write. Get feedback from your audience and evolving to be a better one.

The last thing that prohibits me from writing is that I too demand for an ideal condition and best moment. Until I realize that there is no such ideal condition in this world. There is no 100% ideal condition, I should create my own ideal condition, or adapt to condition around and compromise with it.

Instead of waiting for the best moment, prepare yourself to embrace any moment you will face. You will get used to facing any moment in your life, take it for preparation. When the best moment comes, you already well prepared and ready to seize it. The best is yet to come.

Build a habit is a marathon, not a sprint

people running a marathon

The one thing we must take a note is that building a habit is not a onetime project. It a lifetime project. We can’t set and forget it. We will take a long route, a long run, a marathon. Our inner self-competes with ego. Ego is the enemy that inhibit us achieving the lofty end.

Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Don’t worry start well. Kick off soon. Or better now. You will evolve. Don’t take too much energy and time on starting up. You need to shift your focus on the more important thing. Setting up the system. A system to make you last for a long run. The system that makes you focus on doing, makes you more on practice and support you to achieve at least 5% growth per week.

Narrow your ideas. Simplify your plan. Make more actionable. Don’t focus so much of your time and interest on starting. There are bigger things than starting up itself you will face. You have to deal with the fluctuation of consistency and persistence. How long you can compose a writing consistently with quality enhancement?


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