Years ago when the Star Wars prequels came out I remember being annoyed by the young Anakin Skywalker. Though he was nowhere as annoying as his whiny older self, played by Hayden Christensen, I hated that the young to-be apprentice seemed to accidentally be the hero of the story. Something struck me as false about young Anakin being so consistently lucky and successful throughout the film without much effort or thinking on his part.
As for those of us to whom fate does not so easily grant the role of victor, we are left to create our own opportunities through building positive habits, consistency and hard work. For me, being a creature of comfort has always been a threatening potential Achilles heel to developing the kind of disciplines that propel me to success.
Flossing. Drinking plenty of fluids. Writing. Playing guitar. Going to bed early enough to get plenty of sleep. Reading. These are all habits I’ve committed to practicing at one time or another. Some have lasted a day or two, or maybe a week while others have become a part of me via trial, error and determination.
Today I was reading an email I receive from original Ninja Writer Shawnta Grimes, who has learned strategic habits to help her meet her accomplishments. The article wasn’t about that, but in most of her writings she shares what helps her.
I can become overwhelmed with some habits. Take flossing. I didn’t used to do it much, yet I knew it was important for my teeth. Wrapping the floss around my fingers was uncomfortable, as was slipping it between my gums and teeth. I often conveniently forgot to handle it. When pre-strung floss came out, the discomfort seemed to virtually disappear. It worked for me, so having a new strategy of flossing became a support, flossing now became a daily ritual.
I went through something similar trying to eat veggies. I’m really not a fan of them. Oh, I’ve always eaten them—it’s not like I cry and make myself throw up. But they’ve always been a should and hardly ever a want. Usually my motivations have been guilt-induced. Occasionally I’d have an ambitious impulse to make it happen with veggies and buy a garden of ingredients to spend a day during the weekend to prepare salads for the coming week.
Magic occurred, though, when a friend at work gave me half of her salad kit. To my amazement, not only was the garden premade, but it came with healthy toppings and dressing. It was delicious! Excitement flowed from me as I asked, “Where did you buy this? Do they have other kinds? How expensive are they?”
I was soon reminded just how much a difference prep work can make in my level of personal success. When all I had to do was go buy a sack of salad from the store, I knew I’d won. I’m pretty sure I haven’t gone a day without eating salad for at least one meal for a month now.
With running, reading and writing the same things are happening. I have an app that tracks my running progress and sweetly reminds me how great a job I’m doing and gives me virtual prizes. I post my progress to Facebook and Twitter to remind myself that I’ve already gone public with it and keep myself accountable. My salad friend asks me almost daily if I’ve run. She’s a coach and knows the importance of consistency. I bought a cheap treadmill two years ago, so I can’t whine about it being cold outside or hot having enough time to make it to the gym. Also, I don’t run just for the sake of health and running, but I register for 5K races. I’ve run five so far.
I’m unsuccessful at reading books with pages in any consistent way, so I’ve given myself permission to read books on audio, and I now read between 2-4 books a month while I drive.
Writing I’m still figuring out, though my success has been building. It’s’ easiest to write an essay or a poem, then harder to write flash fiction, and harder yet to complete a short story. I’ve yet to write a nonfiction book or a novel.
I’ve found that entering contests helps keep me motivated to write and to do give my best effort, so I’ve entered poetry in Rattle and participated in several of NYC Midnight’s story contests. The contests also both awaken my competitive nature and help me with most of the strategic elements of SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable, time-sensitive).
I’m working on finding daily or weekly coaches for the writing and reading, but the supports I’ve found thus far have taken me to a different level than I was two years ago. I’ve found that consistent direction is usually more important than inconsistent quantity.
I may not have created an opportunity to save the world yet, but I still honing my Jedi practices.