A Creature of Habit

I have more or less stuck to my guns over the past week.  (Which means that’s one down and, well, the rest of them to go.  Anyway…)  I have learned that bad habits are as difficult to break as good ones are to begin.  To give a little background to this story, I’m about 5’10”, and I weigh around 165 pounds.  That’s important because two years ago at this time I weighed closer to 215 pounds.  I lost 65 pounds over the course of the following year, bottoming out at 150 or so, and now I’ve settled into 165.  

I’m not bringing this up to fish for compliments about my weight loss.  What I’m getting at is that losing the weight all came down to one thing:  breaking bad habits and developing good ones.  

It actually began with a stupid, lucky accident:  I got really, really sick.  I lost my appetite and dropped almost ten pounds.  (I’d say it netted “lucky,” because that was the same sickness that put me out of commission, and the sunshine, for a solid week, resulting in a nasty bout of seasonal affective disorder, but that’s another story).  So anyway, I got over the strep that seriously messed my stuff up for a week, and my appetite gradually came back.  The next part is sort of mysterious to me:  I had been overweight and not upset enough about it to make a change since high school, so I don’t know what was different at that moment, but I made a decision to start eating healthier.  

This is not a fitness blog, so I’ll spare you the intermediate details.  The short version of the story is that I started watching my caloric intake.  The nitty-gritty of daily recommended allowances was not all that important to my method (although the MyFitnessPal app, which I can’t possibly recommend enough, certainly helped with some of that).  The most important rule I had was to keep it under 2000 calories.  Simple.  Not easy, but simple.  

The first few weeks were really, really rough.  I was hungry all the time.  I wanted that cheeseburger badly, when I knew I should just suck it up and eat a salad.  It was hard.  Weeks became months, though, and eventually I got into the habit.  I realized how much I love salad.  The cheeseburgers became few and far between.  I stopped missing dessert.  

Bear in mind that this is a heavily abbreviated version of the story.  I had a cheat day, I don’t eat as healthily now as I used to, etc…  But the moral of the story is that we are creatures of habit.  I am a creature of habit.  And my weight loss experience taught me that I can choose to let my habituation be weakness or strength.  With respect to my weight loss, I made it into a strength by choosing to take control of my habits.  (My expanding waistline informs me that it’s a choice I need to make again, but anyway…)    

The connection is probably pretty clear by now, although I’m told I tend to take long strokes to get to the point:  given the New Year resolution I made last week, this is a period of time in which I need to get back into the driver’s seat of my habits, so to speak.  I spent the first twenty-four or so years of my life in the habit of not taking writing seriously.  Yikes.  That’s going to be a serious habit to break.    

A couple of summers ago I read Stephen King’s On Writing.  I loved it, but I remember thinking that King is very absolutist with regard to writing processes and habits.  The phrase “no exceptions” appears a lot in that book, I think.  I kept thinking that those ideas were nice and all.  For him.  For a lot of people maybe, but that I didn’t need that kind of extremism to be a good writer.  I thought that I didn’t need to impose a lot of strictures on myself in order to produce good content, or to do it with any kind of consistency.    

Well, I was wrong.  It seems laughably obvious now.  I absolutely need to be absolutist.  It is literally the only way to change a habit.  That’s why I’m forcing myself, for one more week, to continue writing a series of vignettes about Coventry even though it feels like a dead project.  It’s why I’m writing this blog in the car while Rachel drives us through Virginia.  It’s why a recording of Alec Baldwin berating me wakes me up in the morning: I am horribly undisciplined.  Right now, my habits control me, and if I’m going to turn that relationship around, I need to stick to my guns.  Not “more or less stick to my guns,” but really stick to my guns.  

So anyway, that’s where I am right now.  The vignettes are coming very, very slowly.  I’m starting to think (again) that fiction might just not be my niche.  The only thing to do at this point is to keep writing the vignettes, keep playing with the side projects, and see how I feel about it next Sunday.  

I really appreciate all of your visiting my site, by the way.  It makes a difference to know that I’m being read.  I write because I love it, but I think that most writers write to be read, regardless of what some of them might tell you.  In any case, I appreciate your reading as well as your comments and messages.  In other good news, the writing is starting to become more natural.  I certainly do not yet have the kind of habits I’ll need to make this work, but I can feel the foundations of them forming.  It feels good.  It gives me hope.    

Thank you for reading.  More to follow.


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