Monday Motivation: Here’s an addiction worth cultivating
I often contemplate the power of habitual behaviour. I observe it daily in our cats. One habitually sits with his front paws – I tend to think of them as his hands – resting neatly on his curled tail. It’s a habit he cultivated, I think, to keep his hands off the cold concrete floor every winter. It’s a habit that, cemented into place, lasts the year round.
The other feline inhabitant of our house has developed the habit of greeting me in the morning as I get dressed, repeatedly curling himself round my stockinged feet, rubbing his head against my calf, begging for attention. This behaviour began as his attempt to draw my attention to the fact that his bowl had run out of pellets – but now it seems to have nothing to do with food. It is just his habitual way of displaying affection, of saying hello.
I know that if I truly set my mind to something I can quickly make a habit of it. Take my early morning swimming. I decided recently to start swimming every morning as a matter if absolute routine. First morning was, to be honest, a struggle. I couldn’t find my rhythm; I swallowed mouthfuls of chlorinated water on more than one occasion; I felt exhausted after just five lengths…
But I persisted. After three days, my old rhythm had reasserted itself. By five, I was swimming thirty lengths. By seven, I couldn’t imagine not swimming…
Writing, too, is habit forming. The first morning you’re aghast at your temerity at committing yourself to this appalling practice. The words come out haltingly, if at all – or if fluently, then they’re not at all what you intended.
On day two, it’s not much better. You’re so tempted to throw in the towel. What is the point? You fancied yourself a writer, but look at the rubbish you’re producing. Or worse, you sit miserably in front of your screen and the word you want eludes you, like a particularly nimble child can evade all attempts to snaffle it when bedtime approaches.
Day three? Well, there’s a little flash of something there. A phrase that you actually rather like. And that train of thought… or cascade of dialogue… That’s rather nice, though you say so yourself.
Day four, you’ve leapt out of bed minutes before the alarm went off because while you were asleep, something occurred to you that you must get down before it escapes.
And by day five, you’re more or less hooked. You can’t sit down without curling your tail beneath your forepaws. They say that we become addicted to exercise thanks to the endorphins we secrete. I’m convinced a different kind of chemical reaction sizzles into action when we write. But the neurons they affect don’t really respond until the writing’s become habitual. That could be on day five – or it could take slightly longer – but there’s no doubt in my mind that regular creative writing, which requires a really complex, sometimes quite technical response to an imagined scenario, is about as satisfying as life can be.
So get addicted to creative thinking and writing. It could be the most productive, and the most satisfying, habit you’ve ever cultivated.