Rarely will I decline a challenge, especially if that challenge involves something I want to do anyway. On our drive home from the Ozarks Writers League meeting over the weekend, Steve challenged me to do my own NaNoWriMo. Now. Not in November, when the national event takes place. This basically means committing to writing 1667 words per day for the next month.
I agreed to the challenge, with the following caveats:
- I’d start today, Monday, 5/18.
- I’d do it six days a week. This gives me a day off for any emergencies that might arise.
- I’ll do it until June 10, when family will start to arrive from out of town for my sister’s wedding.
Will I have the willpower to achieve this goal? Coincidentally, I recently watched a video on willpower by psychologist, Kelly McGonigal and author of The Willpower Instinct. One of the many interesting things she discussed was that in trying to achieve goals, we should focus on the things that cause may us to fail.
The entire video is interesting, but if you want to see the segment on focusing on failure, go to time stamp 35:30.
McGonigal suggests we ask ourselves, “What will be the obstacles to my success?”
Here are mine, in order of potency of distraction:
- Social media–Facebook, emails, texts
- Requests by others for my time
- Writer’s block
The big, big, big one, and the one that always contributes to my word count failure, is social media. How about you?
Now that we know the negative impact of social media, click HERE to read an excellent Time article on why social media affects our success. It’s titled “Are My Devices Messing with My Brain?” Here are a few excerpts:
Combine that sudden beep [ie Facebook alert, incoming text or email] with the implicit promise of new social info, and you have a near-perfect, un-ignorable stimulus that will pull your focus away from whatever task your brain is working on.
“Every time you switch your focus from one thing to another, there’s something called a switch-cost,” says Dr. Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Your brain stumbles a bit, and it requires time to get back to where it was before it was distracted.”
One recent study found it can take your brain 15 to 25 minutes to get back to where it was after stopping to check an email.
“You’re not able to think as deeply on something when you’re being distracted every few minutes,” Miller adds. “And thinking deeply is where real insights come from.”
In fact, the “beep” notification of Facebook and incoming emails has distracted me twice while writing this post on obstacles to success!
So, my solution to overcoming all three obstacles during my personal NaNoWriMo session is to remove all social media distractions each day until I accomplish my goal of 1667 words. This means:
- Logging out of Facebook and Gmail until I accomplish my daily word count. (I need to keep wireless on due to necessary research.)
- Placing my iPhone somewhere far, far away. This way, I won’t hear texts, yet I will hear any incoming phone calls, which typically is how I get notified of emergencies, since most everyone texts non-emergency greetings these days!
Both of these should help me also with obstacle #3, writer’s block, since, according to Dr. Earl Miller above, social media distractions prevent me from “gaining insights” and “thinking deeply.”
And, if you’re interested, here are a few other interesting little tidbits on your prefrontal cortex:
Dr. Paul Atchley, cognitive psychologist at Kansas University says in the Time article referenced above:
“…more research suggests lots of device use bombards your brain’s prefrontal cortex, which plays a big role in willpower and decision-making.“
The part of the self that enables us to act in a way that is consistent with our long-term goals is based in the prefrontal cortex, and McGonigal advocates body-mind practices that she says prioritize the function of the prefrontal cortex, rather than parts of the brain that are orientated toward instant responses, which is the brain’s default setting when under stress.
Not only is social media a hindrance to the quantity of my writing and especially to my long term goal of finishing the sequel to The Red Kimono, it also impacts the quality of any words I DO manage to get written.
So, starting today, I’m signing off of social media until I attain my word count. I hope to be back in the evenings, but if not, you’ll know I didn’t make my goal for the day.
Feel free to offer kudos or boos as appropriate. :)