• Andrew Wien

Writer’s Block Be Damned—How Habits Help Us Overcome Failures

Six weeks ago, I attended a training on thought leadership. Afterward, my motivation was high, and I set a goal to publish an article once a week. Up until then, I had published a total of eight articles in the previous three years. Once a week was going to be quite the step up.

I came out of the gate fast, with articles every week: What made me lose it on a plane. How to get into flow at work. Learning how to show up. I even wrote about Freddie Mercury. And then…nothing.

I tried to write. I carved out the time. I sat in front of my computer. I even wrote 50% of two posts, then scrapped them. At some point I thought, “this is just too hard” and I gave up.

The rest of the week I had a pit in my stomach. Part of me said, “I can still post something.” Another part said, “This is just too hard.” The latter voice won.

We’ve all been here. We have high motivation and set high goals. At some point, our motivation falters, and we fail. We tell ourselves that the task was just too hard, or we were not motivated enough. We go to a place of self-blame, thinking, “If only I had more willpower!”

Stanford behavioral researcher BJ Fogg explains that motivation and willpower are hard to control. In fact, so hard to control that we should not rely solely on them.

If motivation and willpower are not the answer, then what is?

Writing a blog is easy when I have a good idea. Throughout my week, I have tons of good ideas. But last Tuesday when I went to write, I had zero. And that created an impenetrable road block.

Which is to say: my failure to write was not due to a lack of motivation, but rather a lack of good ideas. What if I create a micro-habit of writing down ideas as soon as I have them? Then, each time I go to write, I simply pick from the list, thereby removing the most difficult part of writing a blog.

This is just another example of the power of habit-forming. When we fail, our knee-jerk reaction is to criticize ourselves for not trying hard enough. The next time this happens to you, try reflecting on what happened objectively, identifying the reasons why the endeavor failed, and then creating a small habit that can ease the endeavor in the future.

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