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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Master Resistance with Two Simple Commands


Can you resist distractions?

No matter how resistant you are – how much or how long you’ve been procrastinating, distracting yourself, doing anything but the writing you want or need to do – two simple commands will change everything.

Well-trained dogs respond to these commands and you can train your brain to respond, too. Yes, I know people are more complex than dogs, but don’t worry, despite our complexity we can learn these simple tricks, too.

Sit-Stay

To a dog, Sit-Stay means “Put your butt where I tell you, keep your head up and remain in that position until you hear the release word.” (‘Okay,’ ‘free’ and ‘release’ are commonly used.)

For a writer, Sit-Stay means “Put your butt in your workspace, keep your head up and your mind open, and remain there for a specified period of time.” (Fifteen Magic Minutes, 10 minutes, or even 2 minutes – you choose before you put yourself in the Sit-Stay.)

Training the Sit-Stay

To teach a dog to Sit-Stay, you put a treat in front of and just above her nose and slowly raise your hand up and back. The dog’s instinct is to follow the treat with her nose, so her head naturally goes up and back, which causes her to lower her butt.

When the dog’s butt touches the ground, she’s given the treat and the release word. Gradually, the interval between the butt touching the ground and the treat and release increases. (For my fellow dog-handlers, yes there are more nuances to this, but I’m pretty sure this is enough info for the metaphor to work.)

To teach yourself to Sit-Stay, select a small reward like a special cup of coffee, tea or cocoa; one M&M or similarly sized piece of candy; or a dollar in quarters. Put the treat in your workspace and give yourself the first sip, taste or quarter when your butt hits your chair.

Gradually increase the predetermined interval between your butt hitting the chair and giving yourself the release. As you increase the interval, feel free to reward yourself intermittently with small sips, another taste or quarter before the release.

Refining the Sit-Stay

It doesn’t matter what you do during the Sit-Stay as long as your butt stays in the chair and you don’t do anything that isn’t related to your writing project. No checking your email, no visiting Facebook or checking what’s trending in Twitter, no computer solitaire. (This is what I call Product Time and discuss in chapter 4 of Around the Writer’s Block.)

It’s fine if you read what you previously wrote for this project, do some research, freewrite, draft, draw a map or sketch related to your writing project. You can do anything you need to do to complete the project.

It’s even fine if you sit and do nothing or if you stare into space, as long as you stay until the pre-determined time has elapsed. Believe me, your capacity to truly do nothing and not distract yourself with something else is limited. It won’t be long before you’re thinking about the writing, which causes you to pick a pencil and start doodling, which easily slips into freewriting or clustering…

If you think about anything else, just notice that and bring your attention back to your writing or to the nothing you’re busy doing. If you truly do nothing and don’t think about anything, congratulations! You’ve just taught yourself how to meditate during your Sit-Stay.

Your brain will adapt. You’ll create new neural pathways to support the Sit-Stay. It won’t be long before you’re almost as good as a German Shepherd or even a Border Collie.

But I won’t lie to you, the Sit-Stay is easier and more effective when you combine it with the second command, which I’ll give you in the next post. Until then, “Sit-Stay!” with your writing.

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8 Comments on “Master Resistance with Two Simple Commands”

  1. Emma February 28, 2016 at 7:19 am #

    Great minds think alike! I’ve updated my post on soggy musings to link here. You go into much more detail on the concept than I do. 😀

    Like

  2. my4winds@comcast.net October 12, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    this is hiliarious !

    Like

    • rosannebane October 14, 2012 at 9:59 am #

      So glad you like it! Claudia also suggested “Come find me” and “Touch” as commands that would help writers… Any other suggestions?

      Like

      • Joel D Canfield October 14, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

        My sister plays a party game based on her dog-training techniques (she raises miniature Australian shepherds.) The game is pure positive reinforcement.

        One person is “it” and they step out of the room. The rest of the group agrees on a simple task: turn on a lamp in the corner, sit on a chair, close a door. Another person, the trainer, holds a little clicker, something to make a clearly audible noise.

        The one who’s “it” comes back in the room and just starts milling around. Any time they move the right direction, the trainer clicks. Otherwise, nobody says or does anything.

        The real training is teaching the trainer to get an appropriate response using only positive reinforcement. She says it’s a lot of fun and very educational. I’ve never gotten a group of people to try it but I’d love to.

        I’d also love some “positive reinforcement only” encouragement to develop the habit of writing every single day.

        Like

        • rosannebane October 15, 2012 at 8:25 am #

          Joel: I’ve played that game, too, but only with other dog geeks.
          Why not start with a clicker and play the party game by yourself (or with someone else in the house) with going to your writing space as the agreed-upon task?
          With the clicker or without it, let me know what happens when you give yourself positive reinforcement only for a week or so. And if you forget and give yourself a little bit of negative thinking, just consider that a “training opportunity” and give yourself a treat for noticing and changing your thinking. (Reference pages 171-176 of Around the Writer’s Block for more details on shaping behavior, especially the Challenge to create your own training schedule on page 175.)

          Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Why you need (writing) space – SOGGY MUSINGS - February 23, 2016

    […] If you know how a dog is trained to sit, then you already know the basic theory behind the advice. You teach a dog to sit by pushing on his butt while saying “sit” and giving him treats when he does what you want. You repeat this training until he can sit all by himself on command, and then you repeat it some more until he does it without the treat at the end. (Update: You can read a more detailed explanation of the concept on Bane of Your Existence.) […]

    Like

  2. Master Resistance with Two Simple Commands Part 2 « The Bane of Your Resistance - October 13, 2012

    […] Resistance with Two Simple Commands Part 2 In the previous post, I promised that you can train your brain to follow two simple commands that will transform your […]

    Like

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