I have this embarrassing secret of reading books on self-improvement and, oddly enough, career productivity. I say “oddly enough” because I don’t have anything approaching a traditional career. I’m a novelist. I’m usually just winging it.
But some of those businessy books are based on “this works for anything” fundamentals and I often get something useful out of them. I learned about the Pomodoro Technique in one, for example, and abide by it now.
This week I’m reading a book called The One Thing and it’s surprisingly good. In a nutshell: Focus on one important thing instead of all the lesser things, distracting crap, and to-do lists, and everything suddenly gets better.
Our son plays guitar. He’s thirteen and slacks off sometimes, failing to practice for days, and then I give him a fatherly pep-talk / lecture, which of course never works. Thing is, he loves playing guitar as much as I love writing. But the two of us, slackers both, forget that we love guitar and writing, and so we procrastinate and focus on nonsense, etc., and then feel bad about ourselves.
Do we need super-discipline? This book The One Thing says no, super-discipline is horse shit. All we need is just enough discipline to form a single good habit, and then it’s a habit and we don’t need discipline. The habit itself will start rewarding us, and we’ll just happily do the good thing automatically.
Which I’ve found to be true at various points of my life. I stopped drinking soda years ago, for instance. I used to love soda. Then I must have used just enough discipline to quit soda for a while, and now I’ll go weeks without soda and never miss it. I look like Mr. Disciplined No-Soda Man when in fact soda never crosses my mind.
The book says it takes about 66 days for a habit to cement itself. This sounds like one of those pseudo-figures from a single study at some university, but whatever: I’ll try it.
My son and I have agreed to form one new habit. He’s going to play guitar every day. I’m going to write fiction every day. We can play/write badly, we can play/write resentfully, but as long as we play and write, that’s OK. We’re going to do this for 66 days and see if it becomes pleasantly automatic.
He’s actually up for this and not merely going along with the plan because it’s Dad’s Idea. I’m up for it, too. Because we know we actually enjoying playing guitar and writing fiction once we start. It’s the starting that kills us.
We start tomorrow.