Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

This is annoying as hell. My dogs, Tim and Joe, are obsessed with the trash chute in our vestibule. Whenever I drop a bag of garbage down the chute, they go nuts, growling and barking and trying to leap up and into the chute in pursuit of the disappearing bag. This has been going on for years. In fact, it’s so obsessive that whenever we open the garbage can in the kitchen or even the dishwasher next to it, they go scrambling to the chute, waiting for something that’s just. Not. Going. To happen. It’s a habit, a pure, Pavlovian habit.

Habits can be a pain, like biting your cuticles or forgetting to floss, but they can also be a real boon to a creative person. They are a little subroutine we can plug into to our neck-top computers to make sure we draw or write or play the dulcimer on a regular basis, a basis that will make us more skilled, more expressive and happier with our work.

Habits have three basic parts. First, there’s what I call ‘the Spark’. That’s the event that triggers the habit. In my dogs’ case, it’s anything to do with throwing out garbage. Garbage in, the madness begins.

Next, there’s the habitual behavior. In this case, running like a lunatic across the apartment and gnashing your teeth at a small steel door in the wall.

Third, is the reward. Tim and Joe never actually get the reward which must be diving down the garbage’s burrow to throttle it deep in the ground (they are dachshunds after all, bred to kill badgers in their lairs). Or maybe it’s just the thrill of the chase.

In any case, think of those three steps in setting up whatever brain program you want to write. Let’s say you want to find time to draw on a regular basis but the monkey voice in your head tells you to watch TV instead. So let’s create a habit. 1. Put your sketchbook on the coffee table next to the remote. When a commercial comes, (spark), grab the remote, mute the TV, pick up your sketchbook and draw whatever’s in front of you (your feet, your coffee table, your slumbering Rottweiler, scenes from the commercial on the screen)  (habit) until you fill you up your sketchbook with awesome drawings (reward).

Think of other sparks you could link to habits. Every time you make a pot of coffee (spark), draw the view out the kitchen window (habit). Every time you sit on the toilet (spark), draw on a sheet of toilet paper (habit). Every time Donald Trump says “Mexican”(spark), draw your neighbor’s Chihuahua (habit).

Or, subscribe to my blog (sign up in the column on the right) and get an email three times a week when I post (spark), and do a drawing based on my featured image (habit). That will be rewarding for us both.

19 thoughts on “Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?”

  1. I love your writings! Husband commented yesterday as I was sketching in front of TV “you are always sketching!” – I guess that’s a good thing!

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  2. I hate mixing politics with art – well, actually anything. But your idea here is just too good to not do! So I’m going to.

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  3. So instead of whining and overwhelming myself with all the stuff I should be getting done before work today I am going to pick up my sketchbook and go out to my lovely porch and draw. (really I am.) Merci, for the reminder to just stop and draw. Cheers-Darlene

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  4. I always wear a shirt with two large breast pockets. One has my sketch book and pens and the other has my tiny watercolor box. I look extremely weird but I have filled over 150 sketch books. I love being constantly prepared!

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  5. I am smiling. The dog story reminded me of our dog wo was also a dachshund, may he rest in peace. And thank you for your as usual very handy advice it is so simple really, isn’t it? Alas, sometimes you just need a kick in the butt from someone else.

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  6. I keep a sketchbook at my place at the breakfast table. Every morning I draw something I see, while my DH fixes breakfast. Only trick here is you have to had a mate that cooks!LOL! Been doing this for several years…got a pile of “breakfast books” now! Love the doggie video!

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  7. Hey Danny, your blog is as entertaining as it is funny. Up to this very day I had never ever thought of the origin of the word “Dackel”, as we call it in German. When you called them “Dachshund” it suddenly all made sense: They are actually bred, as you pointed out, to kill badgers, hence the name, because “badger” in German is “dachs”. Thus a “dachshund” is supposed to kill the “dachs”, and we are supposed to nail the next drawing…let’s get to it…spark…habit…reward. All the best

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  8. i love your inspiration and motivation…and your entertaining imagery…they make me laugh. This post is another delightful combination, thank you for sharing. Now, off i go to find (spark) and get some good habits rolling.

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  9. haha – for my pack of six Jack Russells (yes that is 6) – the arrival of the post lady is the trigger for an almighty noise, then a chase along the garden wall (she’s on the other side..) until she gets to the neighbours post box. Their reward? To have chased her away – every day…to see the yellow van disappear into the distance and then anticipate it all again for the next day. Routine?

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  10. Thanks for the inspiring post. For me it’s breakfast ready, make tea or coffee, run to my work table and create for at least 30 minutes. Started on Aug 17th, turned it into a year of daily creating by September 1st. And it already is ingrained and it feels wrong not to do it. Not a party every day yet, but often. And the first sketchbook is almost full!
    Thanks Danny, for the other options. Cool! I’ll remember them – in case I need a new routine. 🙂

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