Monday, April 10, 2006

It's All About the Reps

I was thinking, last night, about when and how I'm going to move into the second phase of de-erstwhiling. The first phase, of course, consists of writing every day - what my friend Rachel (in her comment on Sunday) called "the time-honoured 'Butt-in-chair' technique."

Now, I'm not going to roll out Phase Two of my diabolical scheme just yet. Partly because this is a process, and I don't know yet if the path I really end up following will be the path I foresee. But mostly because I'm just not ready yet.

I'm still in the Honeymoon Stage - sitting down and writing each and every day is exciting and new, and it doesn't feel like a chore. But it isn't a habit yet, and there's going to be a time, between Honeymoon and Habit (which sounds like a great title for something - wish I knew what) when it will be a chore. A slog. A misery. When I will hit the wall and have to peel myself off and Just. Keep. Going.

And this got me thinking about habit-building. There's a pop-psychology meme floating around, and it suggests that there are a specific, scientifically-established number of times that you need to repeat a behaviour for it to become a habit. But here's the thing - the sources don't agree on what that number is. 21 and 28 get thrown around the most, but that's not the whole list by any means.

A little quick Googling only served to reinforce my suspicion that this idea is utterly bogus. It's clearly connected to one of the key principles of marketing, that "people need to hear your message 7 times before they take it in." It's also probably derived from the self-help industry, which makes a pile of money from the Quick and Easy Steps to Weight Loss/Financial Success/Better Sex/Making Friends racket.

The truth is, it all depends. What habit are you trying to build? What reinforces you in building it - is it pleasurable? If not, does it have tangible results? Does it fit within your lifestyle? Your aptitudes? All these factors play a role in developing a habit.

The magic number is whatever.

Whatever works. However long it takes. Conscious behaviour does become unconscious habit, with time and repetition. You - and I - just have to keep working at it until it comes naturally. There's no secret known only to the Highly Effective People. You'll know it's a habit when you realize you've been doing it without thinking about it, and that'll happen when it happens. Until then, it's just about doing the work.

Huh. You know, at this rate, I'm never going to get a big fat contract for a self-help book.

But I am going to get back from erstwhile.

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