Forcing Habit

I am currently reading Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell. I’ve mentioned his books before: The Tipping Point and Blink are excellent books examining the way people think and behave – so good I fully intend to re-read them at some point this year. I can count the number of books I have ever re-read on both hands (one hand if you count groups I always read together such as Lord of the Rings).

In Outliers, Gladwell explores the phenomenon of how when you’re born can affect your chances of success. The most striking example he gives is that of professional hockey. A very disproportionate number of top players are born in January, February or March. This isn’t because being born in those months bestows the power of winter in them, mind you. It’s simply the fact that in North America the cut-off date to join junior league hockey is January 1st. That means those born in January, February and March have to wait for the following year to join up. In that time they’ve gained ten or so months of growth, so it’s hardly surprising that they do better than those born in October, November or December. Because of that natural physical head start, they are given extra attention and training by coaches, and so naturally they end up doing better in later years as well. Talent plays a part, but when you are born plays a bigger part. Go figure.

The same is true, though to a lesser extent, in academic circles. When you start school has an impact on how well you do in school. Only I fear in my case it backfired. I started kindergarten a bit later than I should have, and found things for the first few years far too easy. But rather than push myself to excel, I rested on my laurels and took it easy.

You’ve all heard of the student who never studies and gets straight A’s? Well, I was the student who never studied and got C+/B-‘s. The problem was, I was just fine with that. And just as the hockey example shows a self-perpetuating spiral of improvement, mine spiralled in the other direction. By the time I left high school I still rarely studied, and only Carlton University (aka Last Chance U) would take me. I’m not surprised, I wouldn’t take me, either.

The problem is I never developed any discipline early on, and I really should have. It’s only in the last five years or so that it really – deep down to the core – dawned on me that if you want to succeed you have to do the work.

But when I say discipline, I don’t mean a rigid totalitarian regime of “work eight hours, study eight hours, sleep eight hours.” No. I mean something as simple as one or two hours of focus a day. It seems like so little to me now, but back then I’d just moan about not being able to watch TV. Back then my head was (and still is) in the clouds. What I didn’t realize then is that there is a lot of space up there, more than enough room for homework as well as floating castles.

If I could invent a time machine I would go back to the past and bitch-slap my younger self.

But I’m getting better now. Better late than never, I guess. Working on the Fuzzy Knights comic kept me on a schedule that I forced myself to keep. Writing my first novel in London gave me a routine that paid off. Even working out on the Wii Fit showed me the benefit that can come from just fifteen minutes of discipline a day – taking me from Obese to Normal weight in less than a year.

As long as you can stick to a routine, and keep your eye on the prize down the road, not insist on instant gratification in the here and now, you can achieve a lot.

The problem is my routine is all shot to hell. Moving to B.C. has disrupted just about everything. I’m putting on weight, I haven’t worked on my new novel at all, I’m barely reading (I should have finished Outliers two weeks ago), and this journal is about the only thing I’ve managed to write since I’ve arrived.

So I need to force myself back into routine. Hole myself up somewhere without wi-fi to write, get myself reading wherever I go, put myself into the Wii Fit habit again. I need to get that eye on the prize again.

It’s easier said than done, though. I fear I’m a slacker to the core.

It’s like, the first picture I googled using “slacker” or whatever.

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