It was a dark and stormy night. It was followed by a chilly and windy morning. My habit is to get up every morning and walk five miles. Some days walking is easier than others. This day I decided that “just this once,” I was going to walk later, when the wind died down and it warmed up. It didn’t seem like a difficult decision. In fact, the decision was amazingly easy.
Later in the day, however, I got busy. Didn’t check the time, didn’t set a time to walk. Before I knew it, it was dark again. Oh, well, what’s one missed day?
The next morning, I was filled with resolve–to try the later time again. Skip to the end of the day: no walking.
Day three: step on scale, see I’d gained two pounds, reminded myself of having to walk, but really enjoyed getting into an email exchange with a friend.
You know how the rest of the week went, right? Total weight gained: three and a half pounds. No walking.
Routine is one way to get things done. Taking an action at the same time in the same way makes it easier. The instant I break routine, my creativity really kicks in and it is much easier to discover an even better fake excuse to not walk. My knee hurts (my knee has hurt for the last 20 years of walking; generally, it stops hurting around mile 2.) I’ve taken a shower already. (Water conservation is good, but a fast shower after a walk is proof that I should have walked before showering this morning.) It goes on and on.
Metaphor alert. In any practice: meditation, writing, painting, singing, even going to work, the instant you stop following your practice, the easier it gets to break the practice entirely. Never have to do it again. Listen to your great, inventive excuses. Believe them.
One of the reasons I leave my desk ready to work is that I don’t have to figure out what to do. It’s a habit to start checking the to-do list and get to work.
It’s the mental equivalent of “tie shoes, go out, and walk.” Once the habit is broken, the new habit is “Don’t do it anymore. Ever.” And you have to start the long, uphill slog to get back into the habit of walking.
“Just this once” rarely pans out. Creative people develop creative excuses. It’s hard to build a habit, easy to break one. So now I’m up and walking again. Just for today. Not thinking about tomorrow or if I will want to. Just walking. Keep walking. Get ‘er done.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches business writing, helps people whose creativity stalled, and walks.