I read in the New Scientist recently about what makes our brain create habits. Or, rather, how and why we form them and the role of the brain.
It spoke about how the brain tries to sort repeated behaviour from that which changes or are isolated incidents it has to deal with. So, if you make your toast every morning for breakfast with marmalade, for example, the brain then shifts that into the subconscious or non-consciously thinking part of the brain. Basically, it does this so you don’t have to worry about it anymore. So that making toast is a non-stressful activity. Bluntly, it needs no conscious thought anymore. Let’s face it, you have enough to worry about and the brain is just trying to help. You need to eat and toast is, well, tasty, but not rocket science.
But, by moving it into becoming a habit, well, you stop thinking about it. So the idea goes that it frees up your brain to think about what it needs to – like the bills which have come through the post, the exciting invite about going for cocktails tonight and what to wear, and what to cook your picky family members for tea tonight etc… Your brain has enough to worry about, so filing away all those jobs which can become automatic makes them habits. If you eat toast every morning with marmalade, so it becomes a ‘habit’. So changing it becomes harder. If you decide to quit smoking, eating chocolate, or decide give up drinking for a while you’ll know that your brain is constantly reminding you of the habit; 'gotta eat chocolate'. I know that one far too well. Apparently, depending on the task, the person (lots of variables) it can take around sixty four days to stop a habit or start a new one and get it into being a subconscious action or activity.
What has this got to do with writing? If you are a new writer and reading stuff that writers have written about being a writer, you’ll frequently read them saying ‘just write’, or ‘I write 1,000 words a day’ or ‘it doesn’t matter what you write, write anything’. For a new writer this is tough, it seems like a mountain. Also, it doesn’t always make sense. Surely you want to write quality stuff. Not anything?? But for a writer who has been writing for years, unless they are faced with writer’s block and then they write through it most of the time, this is just a habit. They are saying, join our club and make writing a habit. You can’t call yourself a runner if you don’t run. Or a jam maker if you don’t make jam. Just write.
It isn’t hard for an old writer, because it has already become a habit. So, if you are reading this finding it hard to write, find the time to write, write really well, write stuff you are proud of…just write. Write until it becomes a habit. Then you’ll be trapped, just like us, with the writing bug. I may not be the best writer – clearly (ahem) – but I do try to write every day. Certainly Monday to Friday. It is harder at the weekends, when people descend on you, or you find yourself going places. You have to live, it mustn’t be a stressful task. Writing is a hobby, a habit, a place to escape.
You’ll wake up sorting out your day so you have a few hours if you are lucky to be able to write. You’ll be amazed what you will give up, as a writer, to write. A great invitation to go out. A sunny day outside. The chance to spend time cooking, or learning the ukulele. Why? Because all these things take time when you could be writing.
For more information from the article in The New Scientist about how your brain turns actions into habits, read Teal Burrell’s article: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22930560-600-take-control-of-your-life-by-mastering-the-force-of-habit/