Improve Your Focus: Try the Writer’s Magic Bowl

Do you have trouble maintaining your focus while writing? Are you easily distracted by things around you? Do you get up and down to get drinks or snacks? Do you wander over to email or social media? Do you stare out the window every few minutes? I do.

All of these can quickly become built-in habits that are hard to break.

There are many ways writers can improve their focus on writing and break bad habits. You can use timers, turn off notifications, or write on a cleared screen. All of these are great methods. But sometimes those are not enough. You just have to break the habit. And a magic bowl might be the perfect way to do that.

What is a Magic Bowl?

James Clear in Atomic Habits suggests that one of the keys for changing a bad habit is to make the new habit replacing it more attractive. Habits according to him are dopamine-driven feedback loops. Anticipation of a reward will get us to change our habitual pattern, and we will get the same gush of good feeling.

He also suggests that the reward be simple and easy. One of the ideas he suggests is to take a jar and put a paper clip in every time you do not succumb to whatever habit you want to change and instead follow through on your new habit. Over time the jar will fill, and you will gain a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. For example, every time you start to get up and get a snack and you DON’T, you put a paper clip in the jar and then continue on writing.

However, a jar and paperclips are boring and small, and I found after trying this method for a while that I would forget to add the paperclip and eventually the old habit would come back.

That’s when I decided to design my own Magic Bowl. I wanted something that would be easy to see my accomplishments, that was beautiful to look at, and most importantly made a lovely reinforcing sound. After all, we are more likely to do something if it pleasures our senses.

Create Your Magic Bowl

Would you like to try the Magic Bowl trick? Here’s how to make one. You will need a container and some counters. Begin by looking around for a beautiful jar. It doesn’t have to be large. Clear or colored glass is a good choice because it allows you to see your success build up. It also makes a nice sound when you drop in carefully selected counters. Ceramic or metal are other good picks. I chose a low-sided brass incense holder that sits on my desk. I can look down and see my counters inside, and it makes a ringing sound when I drop in my glass beads.

For your counters, select small, attractive objects about an inch in diameter. Do you have a collection of stones or seashells? Natural objects that have a special meaning or unique texture will increase the pleasure of changing your habit. But other objects can work just as well. Perhaps you have a button collection or some colorful marbles. Or try metal wingnuts, LEGO blocks, metal bottle caps, tiny plastic figurines, or whatever strikes your fancy or matches the theme of your writing. The important thing is that they are more visible than paper clips and that the counters make a great sound when dropped into your chosen container.

How to Use Your Magic Jar

Now you are ready to change your writing practice and improve your ability to stay focused. Choose the distraction you want to eliminate and add a counter every time you resist that behavior. Slowly the jar will fill, and you will be able to admire it and know that you are conquering your selected habit.

Decide how long you will fill the jar. It could be done each day or for a week or until the entire writing project is completed. The exciting moment comes when you empty out the jar and feel the satisfaction of knowing you have increased your ability to focus and either broken a bad habit or created a good one.


To learn more about the relationship between maintaining focus and writing creatively see my top-selling writing guide: Fast Draft Your Manuscript And Get It Done Now


What do you do to stay on task?

2 thoughts on “Improve Your Focus: Try the Writer’s Magic Bowl

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