Carol Northcut | Wednesday, 28 December 2022

I listened to a thoughtful podcast today wherein the author of “Atomic Habits”, James Clear, was interviewed. I’ve not read the book, but after listening to him, I will. Clear’s book is the result of synthesizing the studies and writings of researchers who study the behavioral, psychological, and physiological nature of habits, how they are formed and broken. I found it fascinating because so much hinges on doing small things that combine into something bigger. One big take away for me is motivation: Why do we want to form new habits and break old ones. Of course, I was thinking in terms of motivating students (and myself) to develop good casting-practice habits.

I am going to be plagiarizing Clear, who said that goals are the desired outcome of habits. Having a goal, such as obtaining a certification, does not get you there. What gets you there is a system of habits. For instance, in the case of training to win a marathon, you may need to change your diet (avoiding cookies, one at a time), stretching daily, and ensuring good sleep. All are habits that form a system. Goals are for people who want to accomplish one thing, whereas systems are for people who want to win again and again, people who want to continually improve. If your goal is to cast at the level of Rajeff or Aitor, you need to have a complete system in place. There may be some genetic constraints that prevent you from rising to that level, but you can be the best you are capable of. One very important point made is that we don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems.

So, what is in the system for improvement in casting? How do we develop the habits that comprise the system? To form habits, we need four things:

1. Make it obvious. Make visible the cues that set off the habit. That might be to have the fly rod rigged and in your car or next to the door to the yard, or keeping the measuring tape laid out in the yard with cones.

2. Make it attractive. What does that mean and how do we do that? This is where I think fun, not drudgery, comes in. Make the drills fun. Listen to your favorite music while practicing, even dance a bit between drills. Enjoy the sunshine. Enjoy being outside. Watch for wildlife.

3. Make it easy. Again, have everything set up and ready to go. Keep the necessary clothing in one spot near the door. Let your family know that you are going to practice, that this is your time for yourself. They need to develop the habit of allowing you this time and not infringing upon it. The later may not be easy at first, but your consistency will help mold them.

4. Make it satisfying Sometimes just the keeping the habitof practice alive becomes satisfying. Gawd knows that, for me anyway, the results are not very satisfying in any given practice session, but when your mentor/coachnotices that you’ve made improvement, that praise provides a shot of dopamine. You then want another shot of dopamine from encouraging words and provides motivation. The surge of dopamine in anticipation of praise is a strong motivator.

I struggle with number 4 because my progress is so slow, and I’m continually falling back into old movements. So the pleasure is not often there. This is where some internal tenacity comes into play and remembering the bigger picture of what I want to accomplish.

Other things that help you maintain a good habit might include being in a group that supports the new habit, or having someone to whom you’re accountable. If you are in a group where others are practicing regularly, you are more likely to have the support you need. There is a little peer pressure too. If you have a mentor/coach who is taking the time to work with you, that becomes someone to whom you are accountable. Accountability is helpful for long-term consistency.

There is a group of women fly anglers that a friend works with every year. It seems that few of them develop the habit of practicing. Rather, they seem to use each lesson as social time. I have to wonder whether, if the group met weekly just to practice, it would provide sufficient motivation for them to practice on their own between meetings. If not, at least they’d be practicing once a week. That social time might be satisfying enough.

Keeping the habit is important. There will be times when you have to miss practice. Don’t make that a habit. Get right back in the groove. (I write this after having only practiced once in two weeks due to frigid sub-zero temps and now freezing rain. Butthe MPR is at hand, which is the best I’m willing to do in this weather.)