Habit (partie deux), plateaus and follow-through

“Best advice I’ve ever received: Finish.”


– Peter Mayle

Last June,* I wrote about habit and routines, and my readiness to examine my own. My creative side has always resisted them: I wanted to choose what to do and when to do it, letting spontaneity rule. On the other hand, I was happy I was practicing good health habits (like eating a light, healthy breakfast and exercising regularly) and I was ready to dispose of my bad ones (like drinking too many diet Cokes).

Two truths from a book I had just read were helpful:

1. Replacing a bad habit with a good one works much better than just discarding the bad.

2. Routines save mental energy: you’re freed from making daily choices, and can focus on more important decisions.

I decided it was a mid-year’s resolution time, and I made changes. But it wasn’t until three months later that I began to hold myself accountable to them.

In September, instead of just drinking fewer sodas, I cut them out completely and replaced them with water. I started keeping track of exercise and meals, and when the right choices (soon) became habit, they were much easier to maintain. I felt as though I had discovered the secret (for me) of a healthy lifestyle.

I didn’t make my new choices routines impossible to practice, and since then I’ve stayed on track. Because I was afraid I’d jinx myself (or maybe because I didn’t want to have to defend my decisions), I didn’t tell many people about my newfound resolve or progress. And when others offered unsolicited advice, I smiled, listened, and carried on. What I was doing was working.

I had to be more flexible when it came to my work routines – not what they were, but when to perform them. In the fall, I worked my writing schedule around taking a seriously ill family member to her medical appointments, but I managed to keep it up; thankfully, she’s now healthy again.

Then there was the publication of my novel MAKE THAT DEUX. A short interruption in my writing routine, it took a little time and effort in October to travel from my computer files to e-readers and booksellers. Then, I added marketing to my routine.

But in health – and in writing – I’ve hit some plateaus….which can be very frustrating. I’ve learned something very important about them, though:


Helicopter views of plateaus in the Grand Canyon

photo copy 3

They don’t go on forever…and to get past them, you have to keep going.

I’m an East Coast girl: I love Atlanta and the Appalachian Mountains, where my ancestors lived, and I’m not crazy about the rugged majesty of the Rockies. Sometimes, when I hit a plateau, I feel like I’m out west facing a beckoning frontier, but one that’s not getting any much closer.

Mais, il faut continuer.

Which brings me to follow-through. I like to bring my endeavors to completion – I don’t like to start unless I feel that I will, come what may. It may sound inflexible, but it’s not; flexibility is key to finishing. I try to save my choices for when I’ll need them: to adapt, to redirect, to coach myself, to revise and improve. I’m determined to get it done, so I keep going, and then…I finish.

“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.”

-Henry Ford

* See my post of June 6, 2012: D’habitude: routine

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