Finite Willpower

Storm in Southern Kansas Torrential rain. Strong winds. Soaked earth. Flood advisories, and the yard looks like a war zone. I am endlessly glad we’re in this house, and not the old one.

I finished the weekend-weekend (today extends yon weekend for the kids, but not for me) by slapping parental controls on my Warcraft account.

No, not for one of the kids.

For me.

Because the shortcut is there on my desktop, the game is built to be addicting, and OMG it’s so tempting to think “just 20 minutes of grinding a little more Golden Lotus rep, it can’t hurt,” and then I realise an entire day has gone. I’d be angry at myself for lack of discipline, but that doesn’t really solve the problem, right? The time spent making myself feel miserable can be used far more productively.

It’s important to have discipline, and the other half of discipline is setting things up, as far as you can, to make it easy to do what you should. Willpower is a finite resource, after all, and it just makes sense to structure everything around writing, as far as I can, to make it easier on me. Practice makes discipline easier, yes, I’ve said that a million times. I also say: try to arrange things reasonably, as far as possible, so you don’t have to struggle more than one already does with the task.

So: parental controls. The Freedom app. Closing the office door, if you have one, if you can. I can work despite incredible distractions, but I often find I don’t want to.

I often quote the old adage “Habit is the best of servants, but the worst of masters”. Nipping a bad habit (playing WoW all damn day) in the bud is easier than wrenching a long-established habit (my writing schedule) around. It’s easier to make the decision to put the damn controls on despite feeling like a morally-reprehensible addict (yes, that’s exactly how I felt) when one already has the habit of writing time burned into one’s synapses and daily decision-making. (The fact that the mortgage needs to be paid is also a wonderful concentration aid.)

I’m sure I’ll click over to sign on into WoW several times today and be reminded that no, that’s not what I need to be doing with my writing time. That’s okay. Falling off is not a bad thing, it doesn’t make you weak or a terrible person. It does, however, require you to dust yourself off and get back on, and it’s easier to do that if you don’t spend a long time beating yourself up. Calling yourself nasty names, engaging in negative self-talk or cognitive distortions, takes up energy I could be using for writing. Stopping and redirecting is hard, but it’s worth it to build the new habit of shortening the time between falling, shaking the dazed noise out of your head, and getting back up into the saddle.

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you can reward yourself with a little RP there… grin.


I suspect the best way to build up better habits is to assign activities a little bit at a time, add them to the things you do daily (and thus subtract from the things you do too much of daily). I’m enough of a creature of habit that once I get used to doing something regularly I’m bothered by not including it. But starting small keeps change from being too overwhelming.