Three years ago I read “Habit Fields”, an article by Jack Cheng on A List Apart. It struck a chord in me and although I didn’t reorganise my life as much as I should have, I did become very aware of how different spaces effect the way I do things. But time moves on and the recent house change has thrown the ‘habit field’ ideas into a sharper focus.
The idea behind Habit Fields is that if we do the same type of thing in the same place, then we create an association between that place and what happens there. Not just the place, but also the objects, sounds and context will contribute to the “field energy” of that place. Sitting at this desk with this laptop at this time of day is the time to get work done, that is what I associate with it. It’s not time to play guitar, start cooking or do any other of a myriad jobs in day to day life.
When I originally read the article I took the idea to refer mainly to places but the scope of a habit field is much greater than that. I originally came across this concept with meditation. Doing the same meditation at the same time of day in the same place (even with the same style of dress) creates a powerful habit that makes meditation that much easier to move into. Creating a conscious space for something helps make that action more conscious, a virtuous circle. Although I didn’t often move my laptop to a different room to do, for instance, writing or social media or research, I did buy an Android tablet for reading papers and magazines, so that in itself became a sort of Habit Field.
A recent apartment move has thrown some of this into sharp focus, mainly around playing music. In the old apartment I had a part of a spare room to set up my guitar and music and then practise scales and pieces without disturbance and without disturbing anyone. The new apartment doesn’t have that, we have a kitchen/diner, bathroom, bedroom and office space. Suddenly my guitar learning has crashed. In a somewhat prescient mood I had sold my Yamaha classic guitar before moving and kept only the Yamaha SLG silent guitar. Ideal for hotel rooms while travelling and now ideal for a small apartment. But it’s the Habit Field that is missing and now I’m trying to think how to create a new Habit Field without space. One option, with an electric guitar, is to plug a pair of headphones in and create a “virtual” space in that way. I see people walking around with headphones on and they definitely seem to be in a their own space! But still, the physical space has an effect, maybe it takes time. As Jack Cheng says, memories and habit fields are malleable so I’ll give it a try, at least for a few weeks. I have no other options at present anyway.
And, in a slightly ironical touch, most of this article has been written in the same space in which I work… :) Although I’m planning on creating a ‘writing space’ in the kitchen, by the window. Writing is a very different task to programming. Programming requires, apart from focus on a set of code, the ability to switch between reference sources, code and the results of the code. Writing is a more relaxed, open activity which is more in tune with sitting by a window, working on the small screen of the laptop… on, basically, one document.