Oops, I did it again.
At the start of 2019 I wrote my post on what I’d like to do with the blog this year. In that post, I set a goal of posting here once per week. At this point, two full months into the year, I realize I made a mistake. It’s the same mistake I’ve made a hundred times before–I made a goal focused on outcomes, not on process.
It hasn’t gone well for me. In the 8 weeks since that first post went up, I’ve published 5 posts. While this is certainly an improvement in productivity over pretty much any other time in this blog’s history, it’s hardly a passing grade (5/8 = 62.5%, a D- in American schools). Thing is, the grade isn’t even the point! I didn’t set this goal so I could get a gold star on my homework.
More worrying is the pattern of behavior this goal creates.
Generally, my week looks like this: I spend six out of seven days pondering, worrying, and procrastinating, culminating in a frenzy of writing on a Sunday afternoon or evening. That’s not healthy. That’s cramming for finals, not studying gradually over the semester.
Why have I done this to myself? To understand how I got here, I have to hop back two months to think about why I set that goal.
Back to the Beginning
I made a big stink in my post about process and 2020 being the “year of process”. At that time, I thought setting myself a goal of posting on the blog once per week would create a habit of regular writing. In other words, I thought the goal would lead to the creation of the system.
I was wrong.
Sure, I’ve posted more on this blog in the last 8 weeks than I have in a long time. However, what I don’t have is a regular writing habit.
Turns out I missed a critical detail when thinking about setting goals and creating new behaviors: the habit creates the outcome, not the other way around. But even that’s not the whole story.
Being is Becoming
Many people try to change habits by changing the desired outcomes (i.e. goals).
The alternative is to change our identity. We should focus on who we wish to become. As James Clear says in his book Atomic Habits:
True behavior change is identity change.– James Clear, Atomic Habits
I want to be a writer. “To be” is a verb indicating a state achieved through action.
To become a writer, I have to write. “To write” is a verb, an action. “Writer” is a noun used to reflect state of being, an identity.
To be a writer, I have to focus on the verb, not the noun.
I’ve been going the opposite direction this whole time.
I don’t think it’s fair to say I am a writer because I’ve posted one blog post a week. It only makes sense to call myself a writer when writing is what I do. I’ll consider myself a writer when it’s a part of who I am. The only way to arrive at that kind of conclusion is to be what I want to become consistently and repeatedly.
Again, from James:
…the word identity was originally derived from the Latin words essentitas, which means “being”, and identidem, which means “repeatedly”. Your identity is literally your “repeated beingness”.– James Clear, Atomic Habits
You may also see this same idea communicated using the following quote:
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.– Will Durant (apparently not Aristotle)
There was a sign with this quote up on the wall at my high school. I walked under it hundreds of times and never stopped to truly understand it.
Youth is truly wasted on the young.
The Score Takes Care of Itself
Okay, so I’ve established I need to make a change. What’s next?
I’m going to put one of James Clear’s Laws of Habit Change into practice here: “make it easy”.
With that in mind, my new experiment will be to write 500 words a day. 500 words a day with no pressure or expectation to publish those words. This post is already over 600 words long at the point of this sentence. How hard could it be to do 500 words a day?
If I need to make it even easier I might simply switch to 30 minutes of “butt in chair; hands on keyboard”. I’ll allow myself that option after another evaluation in couple weeks.
Like the late coach of the San Francisco 49ers Bill Walsh once said: “The score takes care of itself.”
This time, I hope focusing on producing words, the post count will take care of itself. By moving the ball forward one yard at a time I’ll wind up in the end zone. Hopefully, repeatedly.
Eventually, I’ll look up at the scoreboard and know for sure I am what I’ve always wanted to become–a writer.