If You Are Hounded by the Ghosts of Your Good Habits, Read This
I vowed at the beginning of April that I would publish on Medium every single day for at least a month. I succeeded until day 27, and then I failed. I missed two days because of outside circumstances that I could have easily overcome.
I’m upset about the two days I missed, but the really disturbing part is how painfully difficult it was to start writing again today.
The thought of sitting down and coming up with a topic actually caused a flutter of anxiety with a hint of existential dread. Instead of writing in the morning, I waited. The feeling got worse. I waited longer. The hint of dread grew from a minor butthole-tightening dread to a full-body grimace.
I procrastinated until 5 PM until I couldn’t take the shame anymore.
How?! Why?? I wrote every day for the past three weeks with no issues! How can missing two days destroy my good habit so quickly?
New habits are easy to start and offer instant rewards.
I love starting new habits.
“Look at me! Aren’t I a good boy? Now I really deserve the inevitable results that I’m working towards.” Starting a new habit feels so good that I sometimes start the same habit dozens of times just for the rush.
Starting habits is great. You should try it.
The only downside to starting so many good habits is the feeling of self-loathing when you realize how many are floating dead in the water.
Staring at failure hurts.
When I was sticking to my resolution to write every day, every morning was an opportunity to pat myself on the back. “Hooray for me!” I enjoy the writing process, but I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment even more.
When the feeling of accomplishment disappears for even a moment, my motivation withers and dies. Most habits die young. The mood-boost of a starting new habits can become more addictive than living out those habits.
Did I really fail?
There was nothing magical about the “one month” mark. Yeah, it would have felt good to succeed, but the whole point was to force myself to write. I’m supposed to be interested in improving my craft and building an audience. Arbitrary goalposts are just tools.
I wrote more this month than I ever have in my life. I’ve learned a lot. My methods will evolve over time. I will probably have a radically different idea of what success looks like in the future. But failing to write for two days doesn’t erase everything else I accomplished.
Lapsing once in a new habit doesn’t automatically kill it dead, but the shame might.
Today was a close call for me.
“What’s the point?”
“You already dropped the ball.”
The shame of failure almost convinced me to fail even more. How does that make any sense? Rationally, it doesn’t. But human beings aren’t rational.
The good news is that as I write this closing sentence at 7 PM, the shame is starting to dissipate. I don’t feel like a piece of crap any more. I need to seize onto this feeling of relief and remember it. That “piece-of-crap” feeling will hound us all our lives unless we stare our failures in the eye and pluck success out of them.
I hope this message helps someone else who is tightening their butthole or full-body grimacing at their own lapses right now.