In his book, “Tiny Habits“, BJ Fogg outlines five links in the “Ability Chain” which effectively act as barriers to us taking a particular action. In others words, your ability to do any given activity is only as strong as the weakest of these links in the chain.
My fatal weak link is definitely “Mental Effort”: if a task requires too much mental energy and focus (especially after a day at work) then it doesn’t happen. That said, I am also starting to realise that any task that needs to be inserted into my established Routine – especially at the end of the day, after work – is vulnerable.
When I added putting on my training shoes to my morning routine, way back about two and half years ago – as my first tiny habit, at the foundation of what has become my morning run/walk, it proved easier than trying to add any kind of hobby-based activity to the end of my working day.
The only success I have had with end-of-the-day habits has been this one: posting to my blog. Why is that the case?
Fogg’s analysis would imply that it’s a combination of (relatively) high Mental Effort being required at the same time as trying to establish a new Routine. For me, simply remembering the new habit – no matter how tiny it is – eludes me when my mind is running on empty. My motivation is simply too low and the task too hard. I need to make it even smaller and link it to a much more effective prompt.
But why is blogging seemingly easier than (say) adding an entry to my hex map? Writing a blog post usually takes longer. I struggle with the question of what to write every single time. And yet I usually show up and do the task. Surely choosing something to add to my hex map is easier? What’s going on here?
Perception is everything.
For me, writing a couple of hundred words on anything vaguely to do with the hobby is easier than choosing something to add to my hex map. Blogging has already become established in my routine and my motivation is higher because I feel that people are out there waiting to read what I have to say.
Right now, with my hex map, there is no commitment to anyone else but there is still the nagging anxiety that I won’t “get it right”. In other words, no one is expecting to play on that map anytime soon and I feel that selecting cool locations for my map is harder than sharing what I am thinking today. In a way, the very fact that the content of the hex map needs to remain secret helps me to hide.
I had imagined that choosing a cool dungeon idea and typing it into my hex key Word document would be easy. But it’s just not that simple.
Every time I add something to the hex map, I am choosing to give myself a chunk of extra work in the future. For example, if I was to add the Stonehell megadungeon to my campaign, I am setting myself up to read, annotate, understand, potentially modify and then run that location as part of my game… maybe. Because it’s only going to show up in my game if a) people choose to play, and b) the player characters actually go there. But it feels like a huge commitment.
What’s the solution? Tinkering with my behaviour design is key here.
Two changes might help:
- Changing when in my Routine I seek to add the activity.
- Making the action even smaller.
And there is the core of the problem: subconsciously, I have begun to feel like, “Wow, there’s loads of cool stuff in my hexcrawl game but, crikey, now I have to go prep all of it.”
Which isn’t really true because you would only prep the locations players declared they were going to seek out and enter… but perception is everything to the mind. My amygdala is dealing with a whole load of stress every day and adding in “go read the Stonehell megadungeon” to my schedule is scary.
Thankfully, I realise that another part of the solution is to go back to the basics of playing a classic Dungeons & Dragons game: start with a single dungeon, recruit some players, and stick with the dungeon for a while. Only once the players start asking about and looking for other challenges do you need to concern yourself with adding to a hex map.
Of course, the corollary is that should I find something cool that I fancy adding to my hex map, I can do that. My point, I think, is that it’s more sensible to save up mass population of the campaign map for when I have loads of time and when mental effort is sustainable… say, during a long three-day weekend break or short holiday.
All of which is to say that taking a more scientific look at why you’re not getting your hobby goals done is turning out to be very helpful.