Mental itches and forming habits (unfinished)

The most powerful thing in the world is the urge to scratch an itch.

That was the moral my mind Aesop-ed up this morning after I’d given in to the pull of the irate, scratchy bumps on my legs, attacking them with all the vigor of every animal from three pages of angry animal YouTube compilations (yes, many exist).

I didn’t care if I wouldn’t get to wear dresses or shorts for the next few days. I didn’t even care if I had to wear a dress later today and give everyone a live viewing of Yayoi Kusama’s Red Dots – Red Dots”) painting (I counted more than 50 bumps). The itches had to be dealt with. And once they were dealt with, the relief was delicious.

Drawing is the artist's conceptual rendering and is for illustration purposes only. Accuracy of depiction is not guaranteed.

After scratching vehemently, I went through the five stages of grief for my legs plus irritation at myself for giving in (and also regret). But then I had another sudden thought: “Man, if only I felt this way about all the stuff I have to do.” This of course led to the epiphany that led to writing this post. I’m now attempting to deconstruct the idea my brain pooped out as I do with it what I do best: overthink it.

I’m pretty sure you already know where I’m going at this point, but bear with me as I voice the thought out so it becomes more real and I become more attached to it.

What if I treat habits like itches?

For the past two years, I have sucked at habits. Despite being a complete nerd about all things productivity and being subscribed to James Clear’s newsletter and having more stock knowledge about efficiency and systems than any sane person should, I still failed to muster up the momentum to see things through past the first few days. Seriously, I sucked.

Last year I wanted to regain my writing habit and I ended up with eight posts in 365 days. I wanted to regain my exercise and healthy eating habits and I ended up gaining weight and disliking my body by December. I wanted to regain my reading habit (with a lofty, already realistic Goodreads goal of 24 books for 2022 — as compared to my 2021 Goodreads goal of 60), and I read three books. I wanted my journal to have more stuff and look better and, well, yeah no.

Funnily enough, my most productive year was 2020. And back then, I had no specific goals. I didn’t have a blog, but my OneNote was stacked with drafts and things I didn’t complete but am super proud of. I was working out consistently. I read a ton of books. And manga. And articles. My journal was the prettiest it’s ever been. And I wrote more than 27 songs!

So yes, my whole schtick for this post: see if it makes sense to compare my 2020 habits and behavior to scratching an itch. That’s it. Please feel free to leave if you want to, because that really is the entire thing here.

Before I go off, yes, I know itches and habits are fundamentally different. One is — thank you, Google — an uncomfortable sensation on the skin that causes a desire to scratch, and the other is a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. One is a physiological thing that occurs randomly (or upon the instance of a mosquito bite or other triggers) and compels you to do something. The other is a psychological thing that, for our purposes, does not occur regularly, if at all, until you begin it and work to maintain it.

Now that I think about it (I’m sorry, I warned you this was going to be a long train of thought thing), it’s probably better to compare the scratching with the habit. Both are actions you take in response to a stimulus. Maybe what I need to do is set up habit triggers to behave like itches. Saving this thought to overthink later.

So with all that said, how was my 2020 habit process similar to <paused January 26, 2023)