Cultivating new habits and why you shouldn’t wait for motivation

I’m just as likely to be reading this type of article as I am to be writing it. I’ve struggled with getting rid of bad habits my entire life. I wish I could tell you I’m the hardest working engineer in the biz, but unfortunately, that’s not the case.  I’m always looking for ways to work harder and smarter. That doesn’t mean I’m lazy or don’t work hard, but there’s always room for improvement. It all comes down to discipline. You can lose weight, quit smoking, get better at basketball if you can improve your self-discipline and are smart about your approach

To give yourself the best chance of getting rid of a bad habit, it’s important to understand your tendencies and adjust to them accordingly. It’s hard not to feel like I’m the pot calling the kettle back, considering I’ve been “waiting” to start going to the gym for the last five years. But that’s not to say I haven’t improved in other areas or displayed self-discipline in other aspects of my life (humble brag; I just celebrated my first anniversary of not smoking cigarettes).

I started writing the “confessions of an audio engineer” series because I wanted to write about issues I am currently struggling with or have struggled with in the past. Even if admitting some of these things may be embarrassing and writing them out may be difficult, putting my thoughts on paper helps me be self-reflective and gives me a sort of third-party perspective. Ultimately, writing my thoughts down helps me better decipher what they mean and how I can fix them.

Lately, I’ve been disappointed that I haven’t been writing as much music as I’d like. I haven’t finished a song in years. I work on other peoples music, and I enjoy it, but like most audio engineers I got into this field because I enjoy creating music. I want to start finishing more songs, I want to begin cultivating better habits when it comes to writing and practicing music, and this is where the idea for this article stems from. I hope it helps you as much as it helped me.

Figure out what you want to change

The first step to fixing habits is figuring out what you want to fix. I think it’s hard for a lot of people to step back and unbiasedly look at themselves and figure out what they would like to change about themselves.  It’s important to focus on what you can change and stop worrying about what you can’t.

The majority of people go through life without stopping to figure out how they can improve themselves on a more significant level. People have egos, some feel they are better off thinking that everything they are doing is fantastic and the way they feel or how they think is always right. The best advice I can give myself and others is to remember to stay humble, nothing is written in stone. It’s okay to have an opinion; it’s not okay to be ignorant. Be open to changing yourself, your mind, the way you think and the way you live.

Make a list

The best way to figure out what you want to change is by making a list. Write out what you like about yourself. Then, write down what you don’t like about yourself. Now look the list of what you don’t like about yourself and try to figure out the best course of action to go about fixing it. For instance, in terms of life if you’re trying to get in better shape, put down a few different ways you can work towards doing that. So using this example you could say, go to the gym twice a week for 30 min or walk 10,000 steps a day.  Make sure that the task is something that’s achievable and not overwhelming. It’s important to keep the goal reasonable or you’ll be more inclined to procrastinate or talk yourself out of doing it. And also make sure that you’re taking into account some of your tendencies. Now, this is the problematic part, and some will be better at this the others. If I hate running on a treadmill or going to the gym then I should try to walk in the park or find exercises I can do at home. If I know I’m not a morning person, then I should schedule my exercise in the afternoon. If you know exercising isn’t easy for you, start slower, start with your diet.

Find out and get rid of temptations and other distractions

Are you constantly going on Facebook? Staring at your phone?

Turn off the wifi! Put your phone in airplane mode! Mitigate your distractions by recognizing what they are before you even start working!

It’s common to find your attention drifting. If you see this happening you should immediately recognize it and cognitively redirect your attention back to what you should be focusing on. I know, easier said than done, the good thing is if you keep at it you’ll get better over time.

Schedule a time

Set aside a specific time to do a task. Make sure that it is written down on a calendar. Writing it down and putting it on your calendar helps hold yourself responsible. As I mentioned before, it’s easy to procrastinate, and it’s easy to give yourself excuses to not do something. My biggest problem is when the time comes to do something I tell myself I’ll have time to do it tomorrow or tomorrow’s a better day anyway, and I find a way to convince myself it’s okay not to do something. I’ll talk myself out of doing something that at one point was important enough to put down on a to-do list but

You can’t wait for the motivation or inspiration to start doing something. You have to show up every day and get to work. James Clear who is a Behavior Science Expert says “The work of top creatives isn’t dependent upon motivation or inspiration, but rather it follows a consistent pattern and routine. It’s the mastering of daily habits that lead to creative success, not some mythical spark of genius.”

If you know you have trouble holding yourself accountable when it comes to completing a task, schedule a time to do it. If you don’t do the task at the time specified, you failed. Once you start fulfilling these obligations you put down on your calendar, you’ll begin to enjoy the feeling of getting shit done. Small wins, add up to big gains.

Don’t give yourself a choice

There’s no excuse for not giving all your effort. If you find yourself always thinking of ways to get out of doing something, realize this is an unfortunate trick your brain is playing on you. If you say you’re going to do something, you have to do it!

A technique I like to use is to think of myself as an optimized robot. If I was the perfectly programmed music making robot what would I do? How would I spend my time? This allows me to take a step back and look at the situation from the outside. Robots don’t have a choice. If you schedule a robot to do something at a specific time, they do it. To sum everything up; be cool, be a robot.

Related articles:
The most embarrassing audio mistake I’ve ever made
How to survive as a working audio engineer
[Even more] Things I wish I learned sooner about audio engineering

The “your mixes sound bad in the car” phenomenon

David Silverstein

David Silverstein began engineering at the age of 14 when he purchased a Fostex four track cassette recorder. After high school he enrolled at Five Towns College where he graduated with a Bachelors of Professional Studies in Business with a concentration in Audio Recording Technology. He has worked under renowned engineers and producers Jim Sabella (Marcy Playground, Nine Days, and Public Enemy) and Bryce Goggin (Pavement, Spacehog, The Ramones and The Lemonheads). David currently works out of Sabella Studios in Roslyn, NY.