How to change a bad habit into a creative habit

How to change a bad habit to a creative habit

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How to change a bad habit! As I stated in my previous post about habits (you can find it here), good habits are extremely valuable to have as a creative and for your creative work. It gives us more energy to focus on the tasks that we want to do. It’s literally all in your head as our habits are neurological patterns in our brain. And, all habits can be changed and re-written in your head. We only need to know how to identify them to change them!

To understand a habit

To be able to identify a habit and to change it or to create a new habit – we need to understand how a habit works. A habit is a thought or an action that we have done so many times that we often do it automatically and we are unaware of that we do it – by habit.

A habit consists of three steps: a trigger, a routine and a reward. A habit can look like this.

  1. The trigger: It’s 3PM and all your colleagues simultaneously gets of their chairs and onwards to the kitchen for the afternoon break with the standard cinnamon bun and coffee.  
  2. The Routine: As the clock turns 3PM and you see all the others walking towards the breakroom. So, you also do the same. As you always do at 3PM.
  3. The reward: You get a break from work to chat with your colleagues. You feel low on energy and that cinnamon bun gives the sugar boost you need to get through the rest of the day.

Habits, triggers, routines and rewards can be anything and comes in many shapes. Another example of a habit (that is pretty common) closer to the creative freelancer can look like this.

  1. The trigger: You see a Facebook or an Instagram post from a company who need help with your kind of services.
  2. The Routine: As a freelancer, gigs can sometimes be scarce. You rush to reply to the post in the comments that you have sent a DM to notify the OP about to look in their inbox. In the message you have sent a link to your portfolio or Instagram account for them to review. You have also, in a bit of desperation to get the job, offered to do it cheap. 
  3. The reward 1: This is a trickier reward, as it’s not a delicious cinnamon bun. There are two possible outcomes. The first one is that you don’t get the job because you didn’t think through your offer to suit the needs of the company, you just sent a DM as everyone else. You also undervalued yourself with a very cheap price that gives an impression of desperation. In the end it doesn’t feel good.
  4. The reward 2: The second outcome is that you get the job. But, you undervalued yourself with a low price tag, so the aftertaste will be a bitter one as well. As you spend probably more hours than you expected and you feel taken advantaged for.

How to change a bad habit to a good one

As you can see habits can appear in many different ways and not always for the good. But the good thing is that we can change a bad habit to a good one! The tricky part can be to identify what the triggers, routines and rewards are, but when we do, that’s when we can create change. I will go over the two examples above and how we can change them for the better.

  1. The trigger: It’s 3PM and all your colleagues simultaneously gets of their chairs and onwards the kitchen for the afternoon break with the standard cinnamon bun and coffee.

    The trigger here is a social one together with a need (need for energy). Which in itself isn’t a bad thing. Breaks helps us focus more.
  • The Routine: As the clock turns 3PM and you see all the others walking towards the breakroom you also do the same. As you always do at 3PM.

    Our routine during the break is that we have a snack. A snack to refill energy is good. But an unhealthy snack as a cinnamon bun 5 times a week isn’t good for our health or waistline. We need to create a healthier routine!
  • The reward:You get a break from work to chat with your colleagues. You feel a bit low on energy and that cinnamon bun gives the sugar boost you need to get through the rest of the day.

    The reward where youchat with your colleagues isn’t a bad one, we all need social interactions. But the sugar boost is the thief here. We need healthy energy.

So, now we have the trigger (you need social interaction and energy), the routine (break room with your colleagues for Swedish fika) and the reward (a cinnamon bun, social interaction and energy). It’s time for change!We need to change the routine but achieve the same kind of reward. That is, we want some social interaction and get some energy to get us through the rest of the day. When we know that we need energy we can swap it out to a healthier one, such as some fruit, nuts or something else that gives us the energy we need. The reward will be the same.

A common sight in the break room!

Let’s do the same for the example with the freelance gig.

  1. The trigger: You see a Facebook or an Instagram post about a company who need help with your kind of services. For this the example we say photography. As a freelancer, gigs can sometimes be scarce.

    The trigger is a chance for work and money. By habit we jump up from our chair to seize the opportunity.
  2. The Routine: You rush to reply to the post in the comments that you have sent a DM to notify the OP about to look in their inbox. In the message you have sent a link to your portfolio or Instagram account for them to review. You have also, in a bit of desperation to get the job, offered to do it cheap.

    Our routine is to haste to be the one of the first to respond so we will get noticed by the company. As we are scared not to get the job we also offer a lower prize to make us more attractive.
  3. The reward 1: This is a trickier reward, as it’s not a delicious cinnamon bun. There are two possible outcomes. The first one is that you don’t get the job because you didn’t think through your offer to suit the needs of the company, you just sent a DM as everyone else. You also undervalued yourself with a very cheap price that gives an impression of desperation. 
  4. The reward 2: The second outcome is that you get the job. But, you undervalued yourself with a low price tag, so the aftertaste will be a bitter one. As you spend probably more hours that you expected and you feel taken advantaged for.


The rewards in this case are bad ones as both outcomes are negative. This is what we call a bad habit, like smoking for example.

Here we need to change a bad habit into a good one. We have the trigger (chance for work and money), the routine (quickly respond with a too low price), the rewards (negative feelings of our choice). We need to change the routine completely to give us another reward / outcome.

So how do we change a routine? Well, first of all you must really want to change for the better. If we aren’t willing to work for it – it won’t happen. To change the routine, we need to identify what is wrong with the reward. In this case it is the bad feeling of selling us too cheap, the feeling of desperation and being taken advantage of. So, we need to change our routine so the reward makes us feel good for ourselves, even if we don’t get the job.

In this case we need change our routine to play it cool and do some researching. To take a few minutes to research the company that is asking for our kind of services. Have you done anything in the asked topic before that you can show and maybe get a recommendation from that client? If you haven’t been shooting the exact topic, do you have something similar or a smart idea that will solve the company’s problem? 

We also need to calculate how many hours the gig might take and what you feel is a comfortable hourly compensation for it. Underselling is never a good idea – because it always leaves a bad taste.

If we aren’t willing to work for it – it won’t happen

So by changing our approach to the request (the routine) we also change the feeling of the outcome (reward), even if it’s a negative answer. Because, if we have done our research, offered a solution to the problem for a reasonable price tag – we can still keep our head high and feel we did our best if we don’t get the gig. If we get the gig we won’t feel used or that we are doing it out of desperation.

A win–win situation!

Do you find this post useful? Let me know by leaving a comment below or reach out on my Facebook page or Instagram or share it to a friend!

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