Putting a habit trigger to work: daily journaling

Have you heard of habit triggers? In addition to helping you get rid of bad habits, you’re supposed to be able to use them to get develop new, positive habits, too.

According to Leo Babauta,

Habits become automatic after we’ve created a bond between the trigger and the habit — the stronger the bond, the more ingrained the habit.

He then goes on to outline some common triggers, which include waking up, eating breakfast, your morning commute, your afternoon commute – really, anything that you do every day can become a habit trigger.

I have wanted to develop a consistent journaling habit for a very long time. The key term there is “consistent”. I have so many notebooks and journals lying around with a page or two filled, a sign of my many attempts to develop a journaling habit.

journal

And why do I keep trying? Because I do feel that compulsion to write things down, as Joan Didion describes in her marvellous essay, “On Keeping a Notebook” (pdf):

The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle. Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.

It’s just that I don’t feel that compulsion consistently. Hence all those aborted attempts at keeping a regular journal.

So I decided to try using a habit trigger. I have a morning ritual that’s quite indulgent – it includes meditation (good) and surfing around online (not so sure about this one). It’s not the most productive of rituals, but it’s definitely become my morning ritual.

Last week, I decided I’d add journaling into the mix. And to make things easier on myself, I also decided to use my Bullet Journal. I put all of the rest of my life in that journal anyway, so why not, right?

What I’ve been doing is writing in my Bullet Journal every morning. I write about what I’m thinking, ideas I have, what I’d like to get done. Then I do a very very short to-do list for the day. I love the idea of to-do lists but I’m very bad at them. Even though I only have between two to four items on my daily to-do list, often I only accomplish half of the items. Some days, only one.

How has it been working out? It’s only been a week, but it’s already starting to feel like a habit! So this habit trigger thing seems to work.

Once I have this new routine nailed down, I’d like to work on a nightly observation log a la Lynda Barry.  The only problem? I don’t have something I do consistently every night (other than going to bed and all the things associated with that – none of which feels conducive to sitting down and writing).

When I’m on deadline, I usually work until I am too tired to think straight. And when I’m not on deadline, I do a lot of puddling around, but nothing consistently. I was thinking maybe my night time ritual should be reading followed by an observation log. And the habit trigger could be … feeling tired? Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like it will work!

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2 thoughts on “Putting a habit trigger to work: daily journaling

  1. Beth F

    I’m a strong believer in the trigger. That’s why I don’t manage to read many eBooks — no trigger and I just can’t find one that works. I never forget to listen to my audiobooks because I have plenty of triggers, but nothing seems to remind me to pick up my tablet or eReader and read (I tend to play stupid games instead)

    Reply
  2. Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll)

    I tried for over a year to develop a late afternoon / evening ritual that works for me. I call it Tea Time (a great name helps) but it still wasn’t working. I finally tied it to the clock. If it’s after 6pm and I haven’t done my Tea Time yet, do it now! I also borrowed something from your bullet journal technique — I made 28 boxes to check when I do my Tea Time in February. I managed all but two nights — and those were evenings out.

    It’s really great, so that will probably help me keep going. I have enough energy to make a good plan for the next day (using a lot of journaling to figure out what that is), process the mail so it doesn’t build up, clear my email.

    Reply

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