My Formula for Consistency
Let's face it, we all procrastinate one way or another. But that's what makes us humans and not robots. It's impossible to never procrastinate but it is not impossible to be consistent.
In this article, I want to take what I've learnt from Tapas Adhikary's insightful talk at the Hashnode Technical Writing Bootcamp and reflect on how I stayed pretty consistent in writing for over 4 months at Hashnode.
Identify Bad Habits
They say humans are creatures of habits. It is our habits that drive our day-to-day activities, routines and behaviors. From the time you wake up to the time you sleep, habits are the control centers that determine that.
So, in order to write consistently, I identified and fixed bad habits of mine. As I mentioned in The Scientific Approach to Planning and Prioritization, before working towards your goals, fix your system (i.e. habits) first.
Some bad habits of mine I noticed are:
- Late sleeper: Bad for cognitive functions, made me easier to get distracted in the day
- Too much caffeine: Addicted to coffee 5 months ago, became a late sleeper (+1 bad habit)
- Comparing with others: Made it difficult to stay motivated
- Perfectionism: Criticized my own work too harshly
- Poor planning: Did not plan ahead which resulted in frequent writer's block
After identifying these bad habits, I realized that they were the source of my procrastination and made me inconsistent. After all, people tend to procrastinate not because they want to, but because of a deeper underlying reason.
Breaking Bad Habits
So how did I break these habits? Well, these habits themselves do not form overnight so breaking them is also not something that can be achieved in a short amount of time.
Here's what I do - I don't remove the bad habits, instead, I replaced them with good habits.
So the replaced good habits are:
- Wake up 2 hours earlier: That would make it hard to stay awake late into the night.
- Drink tea: Yes, this is how I ended my relationship with coffee. Tea has less caffeine and I would also drink ones that makes it easier to fall asleep as I adjust my sleep cycle. Note I still drink coffee occasionally.
- Compare with myself: Celebrate my small wins regardless how small and track my progress helps me feel more confident and motivated to stay consistent.
- Focus on growth than perfect: This was the hardest for me, since it's been ingrained since childhood and even now, it's still hard but it's definitely better.
- Be forward-looking: Poor planning is caused from lack of long-term goals. So I become more forward-looking, always thinking about what's next and it naturally helps be a better planner and stay consistent.
After I replaced the bad habits with good ones, I start putting them into action. Gradually but surely, these new habits develop while old ones fade away.
However, along the journey, I noticed pitfalls that almost break the momentum of developing these good habits. Recognizing and overcoming them ensures that these good habits stay as they are developing within you.
Yes, overplanning is a thing. A very neglectable pitfall that can hinder your success at being consistent.
When you overplan, you list out everything you plan to do but you rarely execute them. Because you think so much about the future, you forgot your present reality to start getting things done and checking items off the to-do list.
Once I realized I am overplanning, I do the following:
- Be mindful of how I spend my time: take notes (mental or physical) on what I do most of the day. Am I doing more than planning? If the answer is no, start doing.
- Set deadlines: Set a date and time of when things need to be done. I set my publishing date on Monday, which helped me to act instead of plan because I know I have to get it done by the deadline.
Overthinking happens when you start worrying over the smallest details. This probably happens as you overplan. You'll start thinking of negative "what if" scenarios...
What if my articles are terrible? What if everybody hates it? What if I just can't finish the next one on time?
This often leads to stress and cause a person to become demotivated, resulting in a halt of the good habits' development. It can even completely stop you from doing anything productive.
When that happens, I tend to:
- Don't think about negative outcomes: See the things that will turn out great if you stay consistent. Focus on the benefits like being able to learn, interact with others and you'll realize they outweigh the worries you have.
- Don't be a fortune teller: You can't progress if you don't start. So don't try to predict the outcome before even trying. The future is never predictable. Embrace it, not fear it.
- Accept your effort: Regardless of the outcome, tell yourself that you did your best and that's all that matters. Accepting that you are not perfect and you can always use this opportunity to grow will preventing overthinking.
3. Burnt Out
When you start replacing bad habits, it might take a lot of mental energy and discipline to start getting used to your new routines.
Over time, you may feel burnt out and it becomes tempting to go back to your bad habits. To overcome burnt out and stay motivated, I'd usually:
- Take Breaks: Sure you want to develop the habit to write consistently, but if your daily routine to write an article a day is too much, take a small break. Go for a walk to refresh your mind. Life is about balance.
- Cheat Day: Set aside a day to truly rest and do anything you want to do to recharge.
- Reflect on your reason: Go back and revisit your 'why'. Why do you want to cure this bad habit in the first place? Remind yourself of how much you have progressed and it will be a waste to give it up.
My final formula for consistency is:
Identify bad habits -> Replace them with good ones -> Keep doing it (Habit Loop) -> Recognize/Overcome pitfalls that may hinder you -> Stay positive and healthy
Thanks for reading. I hope you find my experiences helpful in some way. If it does, please like and share it around. Thanks Tapas again for the inspiring talk on How to Write Consistently. Also, what are some of your personal tips on being consistent? Please comment below, I'd love to read them.
Till next time, cheers!
Wonderful article :) I stopped drinking caffeine since August 2020 and it's been helping me think clearly. Taking breaks is essential, especially when starting off.