Breaking Habits

My poor car, halfway into someone’s garden.

Getting into good habits has been vital to me, both in dealing with my mental health and in building my writing career. A lot of the time, changes to habits take hard work and planning. But just occasionally, they’re thrust upon you.

Back in March, I had a car crash. It was a lot less scary than the last one I was in, and I wasn’t hurt. But my car, not being worth much to begin with, was an insurance write-off.

That left me with a tough choice. It was just about possible for me to buy a replacement, but it would make my finances uncomfortably tight. Or I could stop driving for a bit. The latter seemed like the smart option.

Over the past few years, I’d got into the habit of using my car a lot. I’d done exactly the sorts of things I’d tried to avoid by not learning to drive in my twenties. I used the car for journeys I could walk. I used it over the train for long-distance travel. My own personal polluting machine became my default mode of getting about.

Going without involved some serious adjustments. I now order in shopping rather than going to the supermarket. I spend 45 minutes walking to a friend’s house rather than ten minutes driving. Some places take me two or three times as long to get to, thanks to the limits of public transport.

And the end result is that I feel much better. There’s more exercise built into my day. I’m doing lots of reading and listening to audiobooks as I walk or sit on public transport. Not only am I living a life more in line with my personal values, but my mood has improved. And the money saved on petrol, insurance, taxes, and so on more than pays for the bus and train tickets.

Changing habits takes hard work. But sometimes a moment of disruption can make it easier to make that change. When you get the chance, those moments are worth seizing.

Habit RPG – gamifying my writing

As I mentioned yesterday, it can be hard to get into good habits. Even with the best of intentions, it’s difficult to stick at something if there’s no immediate payback, but rewarding yourself with a treat every time you put pen to paper is impractical. In trying to turn myself into a writer, building up habits is crucial – there’s no-one else to kick me into line if I get lazy. That’s why I’ve recently become a fan of Habit RPG.

Habit RPG is a web-page, and now an app, aimed at the nerdier sort of habit-former, which definitely includes me. It takes the compulsive parts of computer and tabletop roleplay games – the urges to keep your character alive and to see them advance – and turns it into a system for rewarding good habits. You set the tasks that you want to get done, and use the app to earn points towards rewards. Stick with it and your cute little adventurer avatar will become tougher and better equipped. Fail, and he will die. Oh no!

me and my shadow lion companion prepare to slay the blog
me and my shadow lion companion prepare to slay the blog

Gamification’s a fascinating area. The psychology of gaming is used these days in marketing, management, and of course those time-sapping adverts dressed as games on facebook. These techniques create emotional responses that are more powerful than any amount of reasoning. It’s why Habit works so well for me. It’s got me writing fiction nearly every day, and I’ve been flossing for 97 days straight (Habit tells me so).

I’d recommend it to anyone who’s trying to write, or to develop any other sort of habit. It’s free, it’s nifty, and it works.

And of course, writing this blog today – one of those good habits it reinforced.