After two weeks of not writing and three weeks of not training or running (due to illness), it is hard to get back in the saddle. What was once a breeze is now a pain — staring at that blank page or lacing up is now a terrifying ordeal. The easiest thing to do is cut myself some slack and not write, not train, not run… and feel like a failure.
So I put a timer on for my writing, and forced myself to just work on it for 15 minutes. Timers are a godsend for this. They always help me get over the hardest part of writing, which is starting.
As for the training, it helped that Streaks was nagging me about it, but that wouldn’t have been enough of a motivator at this point, since it was so long since I’d trained and I was still not 100% well. So I selected a beginner’s workout in NTC, and told myself that I could take as many breaks as I needed, skip a few of the exercises, and stop if it was too physically punishing. It took a lot of the pressure and guilt off, and I ended up surprising myself by completing almost all of the workout (NTC’s 46min Start Training, I did everything but the burpees, for those interested). It felt great, and gave me the confidence to go out for a 20 minute run today.
Was it my best run? Far from it. It was slow and hard and I had to stop and catch my breath halfway through. But I finished it, and I now know where my new baseline is. There’s only room for improvement from here.
I was in a bit of a writing slump over the past two months or so, and I tried to solve it by trying to get as long a streak as possible of writing every day.
I managed to go three days in a row, and then failed.
Now I’m using a writing plan that I drew up for myself, and I’ve gone 7 days in a row with more words written each day than I planned, and I’ve written more each day than I did during my short-lived streak. Why is that?
Streaks are something that we think helps us move forward, create habits, but I think they only give us the illusion of being helpful. Yes, if you’re on a streak, you really don’t want to break it — especially if it’s a long one. But streaks don’t motivate you to finish your daily goal early, or go beyond the goals. Streaks let you postpone things to the last minute — after all, you only miss your goal when the day has passed. They are inflexible — you set the same goal for each and every day, no matter what.
Plans allow you to do just that — plan your daily goal to accomodate your life. Busy day? Set a smaller goal. You have the day off? Set a more ambitious goal. They also don’t set you back to zero if you fail, and encourage you to try for at least a partial success, because not everything is lost if life happened and you didn’t meet your goal. There’s also less of a pressure with a well made plan to “keep extra words for tomorrow”. If you have something to write, write it.
Just like athletes use training plans and not training streaks to prepare for a race, writers should use writing plans and not streaks to get their daily words in.