Let’s crack good habits to find new, creative light

Let’s crack good habits to find new, creative light
December 31, 2015 Beth Nyland

I have cultivated good habits. Disciplines I’ve spent months—even years—establishing. Now, I’m going to crack them.

Notice I didn’t say I would break my good habits. Full-on breaks are for bad habits. Stop smoking. Quit biting your nails. Shut down that negative self talk. Bad habits deserve to be broken.

But good habits? I’m ready to see what happens when I put a little crack in them.

“There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” (Leonard Cohen)

Over the past year, I’ve committed myself to several positive disciplines—practices that have helped me improve my professional skills, personal satisfaction, and physical health. For instance:

In February I started Daily Writing.

This may seem like a no-brainer for someone who makes a living as a writer. But I wanted to show up at the page for play, not pay. So, logging my entries in an app called Day One, I attempted every day to write something of my own—not something a client commissioned, but a Beth Nyland original. A rant or essay or observation or letter or poem. From February 18 to December 18, I logged 299 days of personal writing (a figure I know because Day One reported it to me). That’s not flawless execution, but it’s a solid investment in my practicing my craft, processing business ideas, and pushing past a lot of emotional clutter that would have otherwise distracted me from productive work.

I assigned myself one hour of Daily Reading.

A little over a year ago, when a friend asked how I organize my time, I admitted that my mornings usually started slow. I’d take my teapot to my desk, check email, and start clicking into links of interest. An article from Harvard Business Review. A sample chapter from a book on Amazon. A study recommended by a client. A colleague’s post on LinkedIn. An essay from The New Yorker. Before I knew it, I was on my second pot of tea, starting to crave lunch, and all I’d done was read.

For me, reading fills a well—a reservoir that refreshes me so I can start pouring out my own stuff. But it’s also an indulgence. Unchecked, I would read all day. So I gave myself the grace and of a one-hour reading period each morning. Now, I get to fill the well and get down to business before I get to the bottom of the day’s first teapot.

I monitored my way to more Daily Movement.

For 2014, I set ambitious business goals. In order to serve more clients and bring in more revenue, I gave Spencer Grace as much of my time as possible. Each morning, I’d plant my ass at my writing desk, and there it would stay until evening, when family life demanded my attention. This discipline worked, financially speaking. But it also added ten pounds to my sedentary ass.

When you’re self-employed, your health is everything. So, on January 1, 2015, I strapped a FitBit Charge to my wrist and added new metrics to gauge my business success. In addition to new clients and billable hours, I started measuring steps, calories, and body weight. Now that I’ve closed the books on 2015, I’m happy to say that as my business grew, my body shrunk. I’ve lost nine of those ten pounds. (That tenth pound is a bitch.)

If these three habits have done such good things for me, why would I want to crack them?

Because Daily Writing became a chore. “I have to go write,” I would tell my family after dinner. Then I’d trudge to the laptop and sigh. My entries devolved to to-do lists and complaints about not having anything to say.

Because Daily Reading became monotonous. I find myself wishing a new voice would break through. Looking back at my “already read it” list, I see that I’ve read myself into a rut. I consistently choose content about creativity, comedy, and the craft of writing. No surprises. Pure predictability.

Because Daily Movement became a number. One day, as I entered the fitness center for a cardio class, I noticed my FitBit was missing from my wrist. My inner voice whined, “Awww. What’s the point of even working out?” I was exercising to get credit, not to get healthy.

So here’s what this year of good habits taught me.

As much as I need routine and discipline, I’m a creative person. I run toward change, thrive in curiosity, and crave surprise. So in 2016, I’ll be cracking my good habits to find some new light.

Replace Daily Writing with Daily Making. Any creative pursuit will “count.” Maybe I’ll make a paragraph, or maybe I’ll make a pie. I’m excited by the promise of a canvas more expansive than the page.

Apply new standards to Daily Reading. At lease once a week, I’ll read something completely outside my mainstream. For starters, I’m turning to the books my children have been asking me to read for years. Can you believe I’ve never read Harry Potter?

Ditch the Daily Movement tracker, at least for awhile. As a happy accident, my FitBit band broke last week. Now, when I feel the compulsion to check my wrist for a step count (and it happens a lot), I just tell myself to move—and make it fun. Skip steps going up the stairs. Practice a challenging yoga pose. Dance, no matter who’s watching!

So as the new year begins, I’m cracking good habits. Join me.

Where could your habits use a little light?


Photo credit: Andrew Bowden via flickr

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