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.