…probably not something I’m going to figure out any time soon.
I’ve been reading and thinking about habits lately. Well, okay, that’s a damn lie. I started thinking about habits because I’ve been thinking about productivity. Another lie there, by the way. Sort of. More on what’s going on around here in a bit: truthfully it’s all more personal than that. So this post is somewhat difficult to write.
On the surface, well, I’m trying to focus not on each day’s results but on the process of achieving small wins in service of some goal or other. That whole thing got started around Christmas when I was too sick to do much of anything, and somehow slid into wanting to dictate fiction, which was a skill I simply didn’t have (getting better at it, though).
Another skill I don’t have? Productive habit formation. In fact I seem to be almost completely habit-resistant over time (meaning everything that seems semi-constant in fact fades within a few months), with all the good and bad results you might expect from such a trait. But…I’m working on it.
What I always have been able to do is hit/maintain insanely productive spurts of activity. Thing is, when I’m in that zone I really can’t do anything else–potentially for weeks at a time, depending on what I’m trying to get done. And when I’m not in that zone it’s hard to do much of anything that’s productive. This is not helpful when dealing with my family. Or even refilling my iced tea at McDonald’s, for that matter–I actually screwed that process up in three separate ways in a single trip this morning. Without spilling a drop. Probably I set a record and will soon be internet famous. Soon.
So meanwhile, as I wait for that, I’m trying to find stuff in my life that’s unproductive so I can replace it with stuff that’s productive, hoping that’ll end up leveling out my performance a bit. While preserving the fun-factor. For instance: (lately) I really enjoy my very very black French Roast cold-brew, often enhanced with chicory, of a morning. When I start drinking I reach for the nearest electronic device, because that way I can get daily news and commentary online. I love diving into it all. So…what’s that do for me? It distracts. Powerfully. Whatever I was going to do that morning? I’m interested in something else by the time I’m done. Maybe even something worthwhile, but that’s not really the point.
I tried just doing without my morning caffeine infusion and news-binge. Ick. It was okay, but diving straight into writing when I wake up turns out to be not much fun–my brain wants to spin up to speed first. So I needed something to do while I woke up, so I went right back to what I’d been doing. Then I tried making the whole process less palatable–and potentially shorter–by not sweetening my go-juice. Ew. (Okay, actually I liked it well enough to otherwise act as I had been…but that just meant I gained nothing there, so I went back to drinking coffee the way I prefer it this month.) I tried putting coffee/news off until after a morning writing session…and telling myself it was a reward! In case that mattered!
You know what? I felt cheated. And kind of stupid too. Plus it still spun my mind off on a tangent no matter when I did it.
So, instead? I’m printing stuff out (primitive, I know) and sitting down with it and my coffee. Always, always stuff I wrote the day before. Then I’m thinking about it, making whatever notes and corrections seem useful, and brainstorming a bit about near- and far-future developments in the book(s) I’m writing at the moment. Afterwards, a break (or a breakfast). Then my (first) writing session follows.
It may work; possibly even for more than a month or so. Too soon to tell. So far it’s at least an interesting change.
All that said? I’ve written three novels in my life thus far, plus a bunch of stories, plus (not that you guys care) I’ve taken on and completed lots of software projects. And I’ve studied various subjects to various depths along the way. And…well, other stuff, but that’s probably enough to mention here. Doing things like that is…well, is it a habit? I dunno. It’s at least a major factor in my life. I’m a get-it-done addict, though perhaps a bit inefficient in getting my fix.
Which brings me to a kid I’ll just call my son, though there’s no biological relationship (probably…maybe…small town…hmm).
This kid is smart. He means well. But I don’t think his early life was all it could have been. He’s got no learn-stuff habit. No reading habit. No do-stuff habit. He’s actually succeeded and won praise in at least three areas (swimming, bull-riding, and [REDACTED SO YOU’LL WONDER]), but you know what? He was naturally good at those things. There was very little training involved. No sustained effort, and in all three cases he lost interest fairly quickly.
I wonder: does that kind of trivially-obtained attention actually inhibit future success? He’s a teenager, so this goes with the territory, but the kid really seems to live much of his life in a fantasy-land where he’ll get all sorts of goodies at some point, if he just hangs out with his friends for long enough.
And, look, this is a really good kid I’m talking about. I suspect all he needs is…well, a few small wins. Like, you know, a reward for actually showing up in class every day. Or for making progress in a small business he intermittently wants to start and run. Something.
But instead? See…he grew up around a bunch of other kids who looked out for each other. I could tell you stories. Heh. But seriously, his relationships with his peers were critically important to him. They kept him fed and housed when other systems failed. For years. So, now? He’s around a bunch of other kids, who may or may not have his back as he’ll expect ’em to…okay, that’s a separate issue. And these kids (like the last batch) are essentially slackers. For good reasons, in many cases, I’m sure. But the fact remains: they don’t conspicuously value effort, or project-completion. Good stuff comes to the talented kid in a 30-second montage in the teenybopper movies, right? Not as a result of sustained effort. If it’s hard, see, that means it’s not worth doing.
He gets the opposite of a reward if he commits the social error of progress. Nice.
Incidentally? I’ve decided to avoid too many specifics here. The whole post has gotten much easier to write as a result. A cop-out, maybe? Let me know if you think so; I’ll enjoy reading all about it.
And there’s a girl involved with him these days. A girl from a different sort of disadvantaged background. But…wouldn’t it be nice if they could team up and help each other? They could play let’s-get-ahead and swap really encouraging bodily fluids or whatever! (Ahem. This is my mind on Mardi Gras. You’re welcome, as always.)
Maybe they could pick one thing they both want to do, and help each other. Make a daily habit of it. At least a habit of talking about it. Maybe?
Well, come on. We all know they could, and it’d lead in all sorts of good directions for them. But will they? Too soon to tell. I’m going to be hopeful about it for now. What the hell. What’s it cost me anyway?
What I keep wondering: is there anything I could say or do that’d help my son with this stuff? Probably not. I mean, he’s been listening to me (no, really…he mostly pays attention, and it’s flattering as hell although of course almost certainly a poor decision on his part) for years now. We’re pretty close. Some stuff he may just have to figure out on his own, when he’s ready. Which might even be this week. For all I know.
Oh, and laisser les bon temps rouler out there. It’s the day for it.