Breaking a habit is fun.
Last week I wrote about what happens when you stop showing up and how quickly it can undo a lot of great work.
What I didn’t mention is that stopping is the fun part.
It’s easy and gives us a whole slew of immediate benefits – more time, more energy, less on the mind, the opportunity to go off and do whatever little things we’ve been labelling as “distractions.”
Any new project started will welcome and shield us from the one previously given up. We’ll hardly find distraction in the little cries begging us to get back to what we were doing, and before long they won’t be heard at all.
Yup, stopping can be a relief. It can be fun. It can be exciting.
At least relatively. Because what’s tough, what hurts, what will make us regret having ever stopped is starting again.
With some time, complacency morphs back into respect and appreciation for what we might have accomplished before we stopped.
In the previous post I wrote about bricks. While we’re working, that’s all we see in our hand, because we’re too close to see what they’re building up to.
But when we stop for a while, seeing the bricks becomes too difficult, and all that’s visible is a castle. A fortress.
Surrounding it will be fear instead of comfort; complex and impossible tasks instead of small decisions and routine.
We might remember how we did our work. We might remember portions of the processes. But those bricks will be damn heavy, hard to hold, and impossible to lay as squarely as all the other bricks we see, bricks we’ve laid before.
The loss of confidence and skill compounds. We have memory of being good at practicing, but the longer we’re away from our routine, what we’re capable of will wither.
If it were a chart, our skills, let’s say our “line of competency”, will go from a steady upward rise, to a dismal downward arc.
But we can put a stake in it. We can stop the line from arcing down further and hopefully start to push it back up again.
The Problem Isn’t Showing Up Again. It’s Showing Up Again and Again and Again and Again and …
The first time we start practicing a lost habit it’s easy to feel lost.
Wait, no. Lost is too kind a word.
It’s easy to feel like we’ve completely screwed everything up, that we won’t ever make it back to where we were, that we’re losers and fakers and phoneys and we don’t deserve to call ourselves designer or developer or writer.
I love the idea that angers grows from unmet expectations. We expect people to behave one way on the road, but then when that expectation is broken because someone cuts in front of us, we get angry.
I think what happens when we come back is much the same.
We have the expectation that our line of competency has stayed on the same path as when we stopped, and are then frustrated when our new efforts show that it’s heading down.
But there’s a few things we can do to make starting again not only easier, but exciting and motivating.
Don’t Expect Anything. Explore Instead
Don’t start making marks expecting anything.
We often go into practice expecting a certain result. It’s a toxic way to work, especially now. Because it will bring nothing but disappointment.
If our skill-set is exactly where we left off, we’ll be disappointed it isn’t higher. If it’s lower, we’re angry we didn’t stay where we are.
It’s better to explore. To start working and seeing what comes of it. It’s better to be pleasantly surprised by what is found than frustrated by what isn’t.
Enjoy The New Perspective
When walking old grounds anew, it’s easy to notice the landscape from a different perspective. What might once have looked a mountain will reveal itself as an anthill. What was once a dull paddock might now be a majestic field of rolling hills.
These 10,000ft views of your work and skill-set don’t come along often, so enjoy seeing how things were, and how they can be. Such perspective can help guide your craftsmanship for years to come.
It might even save us. We might notice that all our skill-building has been in a direction that you don’t actually want to go.
Start Small, Expect Less
If you wrote a thousand words a day, aim for a hundred. Or worry less about the edit and be happy with 2,000. If you were making leaps in understand a new programming language, look to become familiar with the fundamentals again.
There’s no point in being bothered by flat, boring, dull, even ugly design work, as long as it’s being made.
Worry that’s put into the quality of the result means a lot less than taking pride in the fact that there simply is a result.
Enjoy the small wins of having started again, of having made a small mark – at this point quantity triumphs over quality.
Start With One Thing
Almost any craft can be broken down into a bunch of smaller components.
Designers have to worry about grids, colours, imagery, call to actions, guiding the eye, balance, harmony, typography, and on and on and on. Most of those could be broken down again. Take typography for example – it turns into typeface selection, readability of body copy, balance of headlines, balance of text blocks, font size and weight.
We might remember those bricks we were laying as entire projects, but they’re not. They’re smaller than that. They might even be made up of a whole heap of bricks themselves.
So start small, as small as you can. It’s less to expect out of yourself – it’s a wonderful small win.
The designer might start by just trying to match two colours. Over, and over, and over. It’s a great way to collect small wins.
Start Small, Slow, and Enjoy the Small Wins
Trying to restart old habits, especially ones in which you’re going through the ups and downs of skill building, is rarely going to be fun.
But by lowering your expectations, exploring your options and methods, and starting with one small aspect of your previous routine, things can be a lot easier.
Doing so builds in very little pressure, which means you’ll approach your practice calmly, and enjoy watching the gears starting to move.
It won’t be long until a series of small wins will start building momentum, and before you know it you’ll be building your castle again.