Start One New Habit and Stop One Old One

Hello and welcome to Magick Month!  For the entire month of October The Guitar Witch will be posting a new tip or challenge to help your creativity flourish and pulse with all the energy and life it deserves! You can find previous days here. Today I will talk about strategies to start one new habit and stop one old one.

Building new habits

Earlier this year I read Atomic Habits by James Clear.  This book has sold millions of copies for a reason. 

I will not do a full review here, but want to illustrate a couple of the main things that I thought he emphasized well. 

Consistency builds greatness

One thing I particularly loved in Atomic Habits is the emphasis on developing systems for continuous, small improvements.  As Clear puts it, if one improves by 1% regularly, even twice a week, by the end of a year you will see a 100% improvement. 

As a music teacher, I see this principle play out in students over hours, weeks, and years.

Those who develop a good study pattern and thus achieve regular successes develop passion and prowess.  Alternately, those who do not put in regular and consistent effort, even if they come from a stronger baseline of skill or a natural talent, eventually give up.

Growth is not linear – but effort should be

When picking up a new habit it is normal to want to put effort towards it in an ebb and flow.  I do this myself with my ‘non-essential’ hobbies, like painting.  But they suffer for it.

The natural tendency when met with resistance is to slow, and when things flow smoothly, to speed ahead. 

This lack of consistency can lead to an unevenness in skill, and an increase in overall difficulty in maintaining the habit and the sense of self that comes with practicing a skill consistently. 

We are what we do

Clear also writes that we are able to stick to habits much more easily if they are consistent with our self-image.

I have always been of the belief that if one is a musician, they must make music.  If someone is a singer, they have to sing, and etc. We become and are by continuous doing.

So, think of yourself as you want to be. Chances are that if you are reading this, you likely are already on your route to becoming that person.

Whether or not you are good or bad by some standard does not determine whether you are a musician or a writer.  Making music or writing makes you that thing.

So this begs the question, what are you?

Our multiple roles

Are you a television watcher? A parent? An accountant? A burlesque dancer?

Everything that we do becomes a part of who we are.   Sometimes we try to be too many things to too many people.  Sometimes our roles cause internal conflict – chaos and static which zaps vital energy and attention.

Working mothers in particular have been found to struggle with ‘role fatigue’, in which their multiple sets of responsibilities overlap and interfere[1]


Plurality can be beautiful

Pluralities of roles and skills can be amazing and can give you freshness in other areas (see my article on Cross-Pollination for Creativity), if they are consciously navigated.

However, everything has a cost, and the cost of spending hours honing your skills in one area is often the loss of hours building them in something else.  

Navigating this takes planning and, unfortunately, sometimes sacrifice.   

The Power of NO

Many of the greats in various areas have gone through periods of their life in which where their roles were extremely focused. 

Dancer Rachel Brice, virtuoso guitarist Steve Vai, and compositional master and guitarist Frank Zappa all had practices of 8-12 hours a day or more.  There is no room for a day job with that level of dedication.

While I don’t participate in that level of dedication myself (or recommend it to most people), one cannot argue with the degree of skill and mastery that can be attained with that level of focus. 

Make decisions about your time and priorities with precision, consciousness, and intensity.  Regardless of all obstacles, you are the one who chooses your life. 

 Start One New Habit and Stop One Old One

Leaving an old habit behind will open an existential vacuum in which another, healthier and more conscious habit can thrive. This is the same concept as doing a shadow-work style purge of old pain and erroneous beliefs so that newer and healthier ones can take root.

Check out Part I of my post about shadow work here.

We need to create room in our lives to deepen current roles or develop new ones.  Sometimes the decision is easy and without much conflict.

For example, I used to be someone who would sit and read on my phone for an hour every morning.  Now I am someone who set up a standing desk at which I write for an hour every morning. 

Some days are hard, some days ideas do not flow smoothly.  But because I want to be ‘a writer’, I make the daily commitment to write. I do that at the expense of my role as a consumer of other people’s writing (although I do feel that I read other’s work more deeply now).

Planning it out

  • Write down your current major roles: What are they? How important are they to you?  Do you do these things consciously, unconsciously? Are you doing them out of obligation, necessity, or choice? 
  • Write down a new role for yourself: What do you want to be? To accomplish?  How do you want to feel day to day?  Get present in your body.  You are already whole and perfect, but what would help your soul to sing?
  • Time: Think about where you spend your hours and where you would like to. What can you do to cut down on time spent unconsciously or in roles that do not resonate with you? Be bold, be open.  Life is often more malleable than we assume.
  • Start One New Habit and Stop One Old One: Make a small but consistent change. Do not try to do everything at once. Every once in a while its nice to do a whole life overhaul, but we cannot rely on those waves of inspiration when working towards greatness.  We need grit, consistency, and a zen-like approach to boredom and drudgery.  Again, even a 1% improvement or movement towards to role or goal we want will lead us so very far.
  • Recalibrate: After a given amount of time, say a month, look at what is different in your life.    Set backs are expected and what is important is moving through them without letting it destroy that sense of self, of who you are, and what you do.

In Conclusion

Habits turn into roles, turns into identity.  This is a constant dance as we become what we do and put into practice who we are.  We have so much (often unrecognized) power to gradually, one moment and one choice at a time, become who we are meant to be.   Seize the power of now. 

There are difficulties and sacrifices along all paths. 

But are you walking on the right one?  Answer that question and you will know what is worth it and what is not. 

My personal habit tracker can be purchased here.

If you have any questions do not hesitate to comment below.

Thanks for reading!

~ Blessed Be and Happy Creating ~

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[1] Margaret Matlin – The Psychology of Women.


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