Okay, so that title sounds like the subject line of less-than-desirable e-mail. Don’t worry, there’s nothing intimate or the least bit risque in this blog.
I’m talking about making a commitment or forming a new habit. How long can you keep a promise to yourself?
Have you encountered the colored-silicone-bracelet syndrome yet? Originally designed to promote awareness and support of causes, these bright, soft wristbands have found a new life as part of behavior-modification theory.
Part of that theory is that it takes 21 days to establish a new habit. You put the bracelet on your right wrist, and every time you do something you’re not supposed to do—smoke, swear, make a negative remark at work—you switch the bracelet to the other wrist.
The first goal is to keep the bracelet on one wrist for a set amount of time. It might be five minutes or half an hour, or a whole day, whatever you think you can achieve. The next goal is to double the original time. When you’ve been consistently successful for half an hour, now can you do it for an hour? The ultimate goal is to keep the bracelet on the same wrist for 21 days, the theory being that by the time you’ve done that, you have established a new habit.
Once upon a time a few years ago, I hit a stretch where, between my day job and my writing job, I had a full-day commitment for 16 days in a row. Let me tell you, I was not looking forward to those days. Fortunately, at the same time, I was reading a marvelous book about making very tiny quilt squares. So, I promised myself I would make one quilt square every day for 16 days.
The rules I set for myself were simple: each square had to be 3” on a side; I could use a pattern from the book I was reading or make up my own pattern, but each square had to be different. No cheating and making easy 4-block squares day after day; and finally, I had to finish one square a day. Even if I was sick, or tired, of lacked motivation, I couldn’t let a day slide by and make two squares the next day.
Actually, knowing that there were small bits of colored cloth waiting for me each day made the days go quickly. Some days I did the square first thing in the morning, and that energized me. Sometimes I did it last thing at night, and that relaxed me. Following all of my self-imposed rules, I finished the 16 squares, and eventually—about a year later—put them together into a mini quilt.
As writers, all of us have a “should” list a mile long. Things we really want to do, things we really intend to do, just as soon as we get around to it. So, here’s my tiny contribution to helping you get one thing off that list.
Pick something small—let me emphasize this again: small—from your should list and make up some simple rules about what you’re going to do (or not do) for 21 days in a row. Send me an e-mail with what you plan to do and the date you plan to start and end. My address is in my profile: click on my name under “About Us,” then on “e-mail.” After that, you’re on the honor system.
I’ll check back with you after the 21 days are up. If you’ve kept up the struggle for 21 days, I’ll send you a tiny hand-made box or bag to celebrate your faithfulness to yourself.
So, here's my commitment. I've been woefully slack about reading the mystery journals to which I subscribe. So everyday, beginning today, March 11, and running until March 31, I'm going to read one article out of a journal every day.
Keep that spirit going!
Writing quote for the week:
I look at the writer's journey as a three-part-trip: the struggle to write, the struggle to be heard, the struggle to survive. Each is a mighty battle, unless the writer’s luck is on constant overdrive.
~John Dunning, mystery writer