Topi Kettunen

Fragmented essay on computer science and art


Reawakening Long Lost Habit (or Forming a New One)

January, 2021

A couple of years ago, I had a good habit of writing semi-regularly about various exciting topics. Unfortunately, time passed, and I began to write less and less, and recently I’ve gotten out of the habit altogether. This is a shame in many ways since I’ve always felt writing to be immensely therapeutic.

At the time of writing, this world is also in a very odd place. Most of the countries worldwide are quarantined due to COVID-19, and people are staying in their homes. Yours truly included! So as a way to pass the the time during these times, I’m trying to reawaken this habit.

Habitual writing has been on my mind for a long time, especially since it has been so present in my life before. I’ve also somehow lost a few other healthy habits, which lately have made me think about how I can reawaken them in my day-to-day life. Healthy practices that come to mind that I’ve lost would definitely be workouts and meditation. Although you could argue that the lost habit of working out is mainly related to the current difficult times, I’m not too worried. That I believe that eventually, when the world calms down in terms of this pandemic, I can relearn that habit quite quickly. But losing the regular practice of meditation is really a shame, in my opinion. Similar to working out, meditation has been playing a big part in my life for years.

Even though my meditation practices have been irregular lately, the earlier “hard work” has definitely helped me in my everyday life. But recently, I’ve started thinking about how I could relearn this habit. I’ve learned that at least in my own case best way to learn habit has definitely been doing something often but not in an excessive amount. So in meditation, this was easy. Start by 5 or 10 minutes (which is nothing, and everyone can find time for this) and just do it the same time and place every day. Current times supported in relearning this since people are mostly working remotely, so it is easy to start your day with this practice. With these simple steps, I feel like that I’ve been able to reawaken this practice that was once very present in my life.

This got me thinking about utilizing a similar approach in some other practices that I’ve forgotten. The practices that came to mind were music and writing. Although some could argue that these are more or less the same thing. For some reason, I’ve had a real hard time picking up my instruments and writing some new music during the pandemic. I believe that many others have the same feelings in their own area of interest. I don’t know the cause for this; maybe the constant staring at the same four walls for over a year is the culprit. Who knows? A similar thing has also happened in my writing.

What really got me wanting to reawaken these habits was when I stumbled upon Richard P. Gabriel’s poetry. Gabriel is a legendary Lisp programmer. As a Lisp programmer myself, I’m always interested in what other like-minded people are up to. Gabriel started a project of writing one poem a day on March 18, 2000 to end a lengthy poetry-writing slump. Gabriel agrees that he is not necessarily a great poet, even though many could argue that, but I think that is non-essential. While forming this kind of habit, you don’t necessarily need to be the new Robert Frost. But since writing poetry (or anything) is a technical skill, constant practice is bound to help you in your journey. I stumbled upon a similar approach while reading Pat Pattison’s Writing Better Lyrics, where he talked about “daily object writing” in terms of getting better at writing. Pattison also noted that forming a habit is the big thing in this, which will eventually result in getting better at writing.

This approach is more or less similar to how I learned the healthy habit of regular meditation. How could I apply a similar approach to my composing and writing? Knowing myself, I cannot do this kind of creative work sporadically (or waiting for the creative slump to end), or I’ll never do it. If I tried to write one piece and post every day, I feel that doing both daily would be a little bit excessive (mainly timewise). So I need to find a healthy balance in practice and not making it over-encumbered.

In my case, I believe that some time-boxed, very focused practice on something works the best. So what I’m intending to do is that I’ll focus on a period (half an hour, an hour or so) on the given task, whether it is composing, writing, or programming (another healthy habit that I practice which thankfully haven’t been lost, but I always feel I could do more of it). I’ll set a healthy goal for this time-box, so I don’t expect to write some new groundbreaking sonata, some earth-shattering blog post, or the next big open source project. I’ll just want to do something in these fields regularly to hone my skills in the given area. I also understand that since I’m trying to work on multiple habits, I might not always have time to do everything. That’s okay. I can most likely squeeze in a smaller session so that you have at least some practice. Or if I just simply cannot do anything, that’s fine too. I just don’t want to see myself doing something excessively one day and then slacking off the next day since “I did so much yesterday” (learned from Pattison).

Productivity overall has been really close to my heart, even though I occasionally lack significantly in that area. But maybe with small steps, everyone can benefit somehow in a slight boost of their own productivity.

Or just procrastinate… As long as you’re happy.

Have a comment on one of my posts? Start a discussion by sending an email to mail@topikettunen.com.