haiku Practice

The Death of Haiku Habits

Growing Practice

I typed the title of this particular post, and then realized that I’d not done a haiku in several days. Picking up my iPhone, I found a picture (the handle to a local genetics company I passed yesterday on a walk) and whipped out a quick 17 syllables that, in fact, relates pretty well to this post.

Here’s another one:

Sporadic attempts
Reveal deeply buried truth:
Haikus kinda suck.

Therein lies the problem, or one of them: while haikus are by no means a “lesser” form of poetry, they are something that I enjoy reading far more than I enjoy creating. They are, to be blunt, to easy to create when you’re just whipping them off. There isn’t much payoff for me in them.

So that’s one of the reasons that this haiku practice has not really caught on for me: it’s so easy that it seems not to be worthwhile.

Slings & Arrows

But it’s by no means the only reason. Here’s a few more:

  • It was not internally driven. I completely take the fall for this one: I thought it would be a nice way to involve you, the reader, in the process. Unfortunately, when your only motivation for a thing lies in the vague area of “an artistic discipline” that you’re choosing for someone else, it falls into the realm of “foolish consistency” on some level.
  • It was not prioritized. I set up a journaling habit by tying it to the reward of coffee – something I did every day, first thing. The haiku was put more into a “an’twere done, twere best done quickly” context, and so quite often simply slipped through the cracks in my day.
  • It was not nourished. I didn’t start every day reading classic haiku, I didn’t study the history, I didn’t give myself the pleasure of really exploring the art form. Instead I limited my exploration of the medium to a picture and seventeen syllables, which meant I was less than invested.
  • There wasn’t a long-term goal. There was never a “Big Book of Gray’s Haiku” or sushi extravaganza or honorary gold-plated calligraphy brush at the end. There wasn’t a paycheck, in other words, which is something that can keep a creative habit going when other things are less than optimal.
  • There wasn’t a desire to continue the habit. I think this may have been the most telling problem: the purpose of a practice is to change something about yourself that you feel needs changing. I didn’t need to change into “the Gray who can write haiku”; I’m already him. Nor do I have a desire to write a haiku every day for the foreseeable future. Relating back up to the first reason, it just isn’t something that resonates as being important.

It’s easy to tell the difference between a creative habit I care about and one that I don’t; I’ve spent close to 600 hours in the past year working on this blog, making sure that I have an (almost perfectly) consistent series of posts, thematically arranged. This has been through traveling around the country, illness, poverty, and simply bad moods (like today, in fact) when the last thing I want to do is write.

But what I want to be is the Gray who has written. I want to be the blogger, the public speaker, a person who can help make your day a little better in spite of the slings and arrows that assail you.

That is important to me, and that’s why I seem to have this habit, and not the other.

What I Could Have Done Differently

Now that the month is almost over, I can say that the experiment was a success. Not in that I have created an ongoing practice, or that I have maintained a practice for a month straight; no, what I have is a clearer understanding of the creation of practices for myself. This is valuable stuff; it helps me keep from randomly picking a lifehack and just slapping it on my life, without taking the time to ask: is the person who does this practice the person I want to be? It may seem like an obvious question, but I think it often gets lost in the similar-sounding but completely-different: is the person who does this practice the person that people would like me to be?

When that question is answered, instead of simply “doing it” when there’s time, it might be a good idea to take the advice of experts such as Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit . He outlines the three important phases – more important than “21 days” or any other metric – of the “Habit Loop”

  1. Cue/Trigger: that thing (like coffee, Monday, feet hitting the floor) that is the signal to do that thing.
  2. Routine: the actual actions involved in that thing you do.
  3. Reward: the positive reinforcement (negative rarely works) that you get from having done that thing.

It’s worth noting that the Habit Loop is neither good nor bad; it is present in anything that we tend to do habitually, whether it’s healthy or not so much; the power lies in understanding how it works and then harnessing the power to change or instill the practices in our life that we desire.

Lifehack.org has also developed an entire “Lifehack Lessons” course on developing a creative habit that contains a more concise recipe, complete with week-by-week goals, tasks, and time set aside. I can’t speak as to its efficacy, but the site itself has always been one of my primary sources of inspiration, so it very well might be worth a look.

As storms surge within
Failure yields a victory
Through deeper knowledge

2 thoughts on “The Death of Haiku Habits”

  1. Anytime you learn something is a success, even if it’s just “this isn’t for me!”

    Find your passion, just find it!! It’s such a prevalent message. How about get close and refine your passion through trial and error? Not quite as catchy, I guess.

  2. Journeys of knowledge
    Gain wisdom through work, effort,
    And, often, failure.

    But failure is not
    Worth the effort if you have
    Learned only nothing.

    Instead acquired
    Information now brews in
    Your brain; good job Gray.

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