How I (Finally) Started a Journaling Habit

It seems that almost every site I follow recommends keeping a journal:

For the longest time (think: years), I’ve tried and failed to keep up a consistent journaling habit. But in the last 100 days, I’ve only missed two and by now it’s a solid habit that doesn’t take any willpower in the morning. In fact, it actually takes willpower not to do it.

So what finally did it?

Fountain pens and nice notebooks. Let me explain…


Journaling is one of those things where you don’t see much benefit from it until after you’ve consistently done it for a while. This makes it hard to fit into the cue-action-reward loop that is required for habit formation.

With meditation, my cue is sitting down at my desk after weighing in and the reward is the feeling of calm immediately proceeding it. With working out, my cue is a certain time every day and the reward is the endorphin rush and chocolate protein shake.

I had the cue worked out for journaling, but was never rewarding myself with anything. When I finally shelled out for a nice pen, ink, and paper (TWSBI Eco, Pilot Iroshizuku, and LEUCHTTURM1917 for you nerds out there :p), the act of writing itself was a pleasant experience and didn’t need an additional reward.

Aside: this is an example of friction and snowball mental models. Reducing friction lets the snowball start to roll down the hill to produce something exponentially greater than what you started with and the energy added.

This makes it much easier to get the action reinforced and once you add a bit of willpower to do it consistently for a bit… Voila! You have a habit!


Something else that helped me was the idea that you don’t need to follow any sort of type of journaling. Just start, experiment, and do what works for you. I tried quite a few that were so complicated that maintaining them took much more time than it was worth.

At first, you may think that you don’t have enough going on in your life to justify journaling, but believe me, once you start, you’ll want to write down everything.

For now, my journaling habit looks something like the following:

  • Immediately after waking: stream of consciousness, 1 page minimum
  • During the day: modified bullet journal to track habits, food, and condensed learnings as well as pending to-dos
  • After BJJ: freeform, anything I learned
  • Before going to bed: what went well and what didn’t

How I Work

My friend Aaron made one of these here, emulating Lifehacker’s famous series, and I thought it would be fun for me to do one as well!

Location

Troy NY when school is in, Kent CT, Chicago IL, Toronto or Montreal when it’s not except for summer, when I am in whatever my city my internship is (Pleasanton CA next summer, DC last summer).

Current Gig

Computer Science Junior at RPI, will be interning next summer at Workday in their Data Science Team as a dev.

Current Mobile Device

Samsung Galaxy S7. I have mixed feelings about Android, but depend on having a back button way too much. Will probably get an iPhone next just to see if I can deal with it.

Current Computer

Apple MacBook 12″. Fucking amazing laptop, the only bad thing about it is that there are no drivers for the trackpad or keyboard on Linux. But I’m sure that’ll be resolved within the next year though and then it’ll be absolutely perfect.

Background

See my about page for my background.

How do you organize your work?

I use my own version of the Bullet Journal along with the Productivity Planner to get everything in my life in order. Might try to switch to purely Evernote though in an attempt to carry less things.

What tools do you use for development?

Vim all the way! Plugins I use are NerdTree, CtrlP, Airline, Flake8, YCM, Surround, and Solarized.

Whenever I try to move away from it to get the admittedly awesome features of a full IDE like PyCharm, my productivity takes a huge hit from having to delete jk and :w everywhere and I end up switching back.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

My Kindle Paperwhite, nothing even comes close. I definitely spend more time on it than my phone and am probably more emotionally attached to it than my laptop.

What do you listen to while working?

Drum & Bass, trying to match the energy to my mood. Currently obsessed with these mixes and this album.

What are you currently reading?

As I’m writing this, the books in front of me are Song of the Dodo, G.E.B., Cashvertising, and Secrets of Closing the Sale. See here for more.

How do you recharge?

Cycling, especially mountain biking, but since the whether turned cold, I’ll either lift or play basketball. If I can’t exercise for whatever reason, I’ll go for a meditative walk or a nap.

What’s your sleep routine like? When do you work best?

Over the summer, I slept from 8:30PM to 4:30AM and it was great! Unfortunately, this is not even close to compatible with a college schedule (gym doesn’t open until 7:30AM and most club meetings and sports are at 9PM or later), so I just try to go to sleep as early as I can, which usually ends up being somewhere between 11 and midnight.

I definitely work best around 1-2 hours after I’ve woken up and have had a chance to drink my first cup of coffee. I try to do some deep work for at least 3 hours every day at this time before I have to go to class. I’ll usually eat lunch around 12 and then try to get the rest of my work done. After 4PM classes, I’ll hit the gym, eat dinner and leave the rest of the day for reading, socializing, and random admin work I have left.