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