In Douglas Adams’ Life, the Universe, and Everything,the protagonist Arthur Dent learns to fly by throwing himself at the ground and missing it. According to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (the fictional book within Adams’ five-part “trilogy”), the key to doing this successfully is not to think about it. Otherwise one will realize it’s impossible and “fail to miss the ground.” (It helps greatly to be distracted by something surprising at the last possible minute, thus missing the ground by accident. For Arthur this is spotting a tote bag he lost on another planet in a different time.)
Good habits in general are challenging in this way. When I realize I should be doing something on a regular basis – flossing, filing, scrubbing the tub – I’m great at coming up with schemes to remember and making charts to keep track. Sometimes this helps for a while, but then I fall off the wagon and drop the habit.
However, I have succeeded in keeping up one good habit for over a year now.
I’ve long believed I should write in my journal every day and have tried to make a habit of it several times, but because that requires thinking about what to write, it’s been easy to let myself off the hook now and then. Now-and-then soon evolves into rarely, and before long I’ve completely forgotten about it.
At the beginning of 2011, finding myself less and less able to remember what I did the day before, I began writing down each morning all the things I’d done the day before, in part for future reference and in part to help me realize I actually was accomplishing things. It took just a few minutes, and I did it absolutely every day for a few months. I lapsed for a while over the summer but I still wrote sporadically, at least once a week. After awhile I realized I missed that daily grounding, so I started up again, sometimes even branching beyond my list of deeds to write for several pages about other things on my mind.
I don’t seem to journal much on weekends, and I miss other days here and there, but I don’t get upset with myself, and I feel like I’ve been sticking with it with very little effort.
I believe that like flying (in a sadly fictional world), the key to my success has been not over-thinking it. Distracted by my own distraction, I just began writing every day without planning it out, without expectations, without telling myself how important it was to stick with it. Practically inadvertently.