When it comes to journaling, the most common thread that ripples through the conversation is “I NEED THE TIME AND MOTIVATION TO JOURNAL.” It’s the biggest hurdle to overcome about journaling (alongside being afraid of what you’ll discover when you start digging).
It’s time to address HOW to develop a journaling habit. (Read on and join my journaling challenge at the end of this post.)
How long does it actually take to develop a new habit?
A lot longer than the 21 days we’ve been led to believe…
According to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, on average, it takes 66 days before a new behavior becomes an automatic habit. And those numbers vary widely from 18 to 254 days, depending on the person, the behaviour, and the circumstances.
The good news: the study also found that if you miss a day here and there, it doesn’t negatively affect your journaling habit creation. All you need to do is pick it up again the next day.
All of the “21 Days to a new you” hype make it really easy to think, “Oh, I’ll just do this and it’ll be done.” But habits never work that way. You have to embrace the process. You have to commit to the system. And you have to keep renewing your commitment.
Hopefully, I haven’t scared you off because creating a journaling habit is so worth it. In fact, journal writing is considered a Keystone Habit, according to Charles Duhigg, who wrote the book, The Power of Habit. Keystone habits are habits with super powers.
Keystone habits lead to the domino effect of creating a whole series of related good-for-you habits. So, getting up earlier to write in your journal can lead to a self-care ritual that includes meditation, yoga, eating a healthy breakfast, arriving at work on time (and with less stress), increased productivity… and on and on.
Likewise, turning off the TV a half-hour earlier to write in your journal can lead to less procrastination, improved hygiene habits, better sleep, reduced depression, more wakefulness during the day and a sense of gratitude and peace created by going to bed with a calm mind.
Once you are locked in the journaling habit, you will automatically see an increase in other positive life habits. Personally, I started to feel less worried about things. Before I journaled, I sometimes felt big confusion. Now, all that confusion is downloaded to my journal and without even knowing it my unconscious mind is working on solutions for me while I go about my day.
The habit of journaling has allowed me to become more sensitive to small things around me, to appreciate the individual moments better, to write more, to communicate better, to be more comprehensive, and ultimately — to live a more peaceful life.
According to Duhigg, the development of a habit is created in three parts:
First, a cue, a trigger (a craving) that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Second, is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there’s a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.
How to create a lasting journaling habit
Make the commitment to YOU
I know how hard it is to get started but think of journaling as self-care. If that doesn't help, ask yourself why you are having a hard time doing something so loving for yourself. There's probably a month's worth of journal exploration just on that topic alone (trust me, I've been there).
Once you make the commitment to journaling and follow through, your soul will be so happy and it will tell you so many amazing things.
Design a journaling ritual
One of the most important parts of creating the keystone habit of journaling is that you create a ritual around it.
If you are a morning person like me, try getting up a half-hour earlier each morning. Simply get up and go to the bathroom so that you're comfortable. Don't wash your face or do anything else. Just sit down at the time you decide and begin. You may find it helpful to set a timer so that you have some sort of time pressure.
How early I get up in the morning will dictate how long I write. I’m not perfect. So, on days when I only have five minutes, I write for five.
I have often blogged about my 4AM Freakout. These days, I look at it differently and use it to my advantage. If you wake up and can’t go back to sleep, get up and journal — because isn’t there ALWAYS a reason why you can’t get back to sleep? There is probably a looping tape playing in your head that’s nagging at you about something. Listen in... Download whatever is looping through your brain that’s causing you to lose sleep. Address it, and you will probably be able to go back to sleep.
Sometimes, waking early is your body’s natural waking time, too. This could actually be the start of a new wake/sleep schedule!
Same goes for nighttime rituals — wash your face, brush your teeth, get into your favourite jammies (or go au naturel), crawl under the covers and begin. Set a timer, or just write until you’re sleepy.
You can also write on your lunch hour, your break. It doesn’t matter what time of day you write in your journal, but that it’s the SAME TIME EACH DAY and you make an appointment with yourself. YOU ARE WORTH IT.
Create good juju with a sacred journaling space
When you’re creating a habit, it’s a good idea to keep it consistent. Where are you most comfortable and calm? Some people journal best at their kitchen table, some on their comfortable couch with their feet up, others in bed. It doesn’t matter where, as long as you have privacy and will be undistracted.
I am fortunate to have an office at home with a door that closes. Since I do creative work, I created a little cozy corner in it with a comfortable chair and ottoman, a table beside me for my coffee with a plant on it so that it feels alive and creative, a blanket, and a lamp on the other side for those early morning writings. I call it my dream chaise. As soon as I sit in this chair my body, mind and soul, know that I am there to write. It has made it so much easier to sink into writing because my journaling juju is there.
Make your sacred space a distraction-free zone
Turn off your phone, email, the TV, the radio, the music with words. If you want to improve your concentration, find a source for concentration music. YouTube has wonderful one-hour or longer recordings of music for concentration or studying. It really does work! Another option with a good deal of variety of concentration sound types is my personal favourite, focus@will.
This is your time. A time of complete focus and relaxation.
If the reason you don’t write is that you don’t know what to say, I can offer two options:
Take Writing From the Heart course to learn how to listen to your heart and break through your resistance to journaling. Even if you’ve done this course in the past — go back to it and refresh yourself.
Try Word-A-Day journaling prompts to get the pen moving. These one-word writing prompts are meant just for that. Start by writing what the word of the day brings up for you, and then allow your heart to wander. Follow it wherever it leads you. Be the butterfly and flutter all over. Eventually, your heart will land on some juicy nectar of discover. And if it doesn’t, well, you’ve still written and you’re still building your habit.
When you sign up, you’ll receive a new list each month. They will always be there if you have a ‘stuck’ day.
On the days when you got nothin’, all you have to do is one minute. It can literally be opening your journal and writing, “I don’t have time to journal today” or “I don’t know what to write.”
Try it for a week and see what happens. Then commit to another week.
Allow your journaling habit to evolve
So yes, do all the things I say above as a start, but don’t be rigid about it.
I highly encourage you to start by writing with a pen, but when you are comfortable and journaling is fluid to you, if you prefer to type your entries, go for it. Just make it distraction-free by using an app like Day One or
Weekends are a classic example. They tend to be the time when I write for far longer because I’m more relaxed and not sticking to a schedule. I also don’t write in the same place on the weekends. I write on my reclining loveseat with my dog lying down the length of my leg. AND, I’ll let you in on a big secret: I OFTEN WRITE ON COMPUTER… Why? Because I’ve learned that these marathon journaling sessions often become the topic for a blog post. And if not, I print it out and tape it into my journal. Besides, my hand gets cramped. I just make sure I turn off the distractions. I have an iPad with a keyboard and I’ve turned off all notifications because I typically use it for long sessions of writing.
You don't have to get up at the same time on the weekend, but still, make it the first thing you do if that’s your time. And if you go to bed later on the weekend, allow yourself that 15 minutes (or however long you allow) before you turn out the light.
I find the weekends are when I really get into journaling and most times I just keep going (and I will admit, I journal in a different place in my house on the weekends). And in the summer I LOVE to be on my deck in the morning, wrapped in a blanket as I write serenaded by the birds.
Be kind to yourself if you miss a day
It will happen…
The wonderful thing about creating the keystone habit of journaling is that missing a day won’t mean you have to start all over again. Journaling is like riding a bike and you will very quickly get your writing muscle back.
Allow journaling to become an addiction
To me, journaling is like yoga; the more I do it, the more I need it. When I stop doing yoga, my body goes completely out of whack, I have pains, lose my flexibility and my body won't move the way I want it to.
That’s how it is with journaling. Once you’ve been doing it for a while, your body, mind, and soul become addicted to letting down the walls.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to do it. It's all about creating a new habit. The habit only becomes automatic, and powerful, once the cue triggers a craving.
And creating this habit could lead to all kinds of other self-care habits, which is a huge bonus.
HERE’S WHAT I KNOW TO BE TRUE
There is no magic solution to suddenly becoming a journaler. Pick up the pen and write. Then pick up the pen again tomorrow, and tomorrow after that. Habits take time and tenacity.
If you want to journal, make it a commitment by scheduling it into your life. I am not a resolutions type person, but on January 1st of this year, I made the commitment to make journal writing a part of my daily routine and I committed to getting up earlier each day to do it.
Make this commitment to yourself. Start with a week, then another, then another...
Ready to make the commitment to YOU?
Find out more here:
kathy mercure is a storyhealer, storylistener, and storyteller. Her life’s work is to gently draw stories from her students to help them unblock their writing, find their voice, and heal their lives. Her passion is to support women in realizing their true identity as wild women, claiming their passions, and speaking their truth as they become their most authentic selves. (Photo by EagleSpirit Soul Shots)
Oooo, I just noticed that I set this blog to release at 2:22 on the 22nd day of the month!