Last week, I shared Habits of Famous Writers in an attempt to bring bestselling authors down to Earth and understand the routines that fuel their creative output.
I feel like it didn’t resonate in the way I hoped.
I realize it’s hard to think of yourself on the same level as big-time authors like Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, Haruki Murakami, Maya Angelou, and Emily Dickinson. So, let’s discuss habits on a more relatable level.
But first, if you’re looking to build habits that last, I’m starting a new, daily journaling challenge aimed at helping you find goal-seeking habits, implement them, track them, and fine-tune your routine to support your goals. Join us here before February 1st.
In this post, I share my current journaling habits as well as the habits that helped me:
- Run a marathon
- Ship over 80 consecutive monthly Ink Flight boxes
- Grow YouTube following over 100,000 subscribers
- Pay off all my credit cards
Why Journaling Works in Habit Formation
Putting intentions on paper has a powerful effect on the mind. First, it clarifies the end goal. Then, using a planner or Bullet Journal method, the end goal is broken up into smaller, more manageable objectives. Breaking it down even further at the weekly, then daily view, the journal serves as a log for positive habits to support your goals.
Many journalers use “habit tracking” as a way to reinforce the formation of desirable habits. Each day one completes a habit - a workout, drinking a gallon of water, writing 1,000 words, reading 15 minutes, etc - a box is filled in on the page. Marking the completion of a habit acts as a physical signal of your progress. It’s rewarding.
Not only is it satisfying to check off the completion of a task, but it’s also motivating to see a continuous streak form over time. No one wants to break a streak. And, the longer it gets, the more adverse one is to break it.
How to Use a Journal for Habit Building
While there are plenty of digital solutions available (timers, reminders, and alarms, for example) using a journal is a more satisfying, less distracting method for building and maintaining your habits and routines.
Start with your desires and values. You write reflections in your journal to reveal the motivation behind the habits you wish to implement. Then, as you clarify the desirable changes you want to make in your life, you can implement them by writing daily reminders in your planner/journal.
Here are my values:
- Growth - personal growth in life experiences, knowledge, skillsets
- Stewardship - leaving a place in better condition than I found it.
- Understanding - developing wisdom, empathy, and fuller appreciation
- Well-Being - physical and mental wellness, health
- Independence - freedom to choose what I want to do with my time
- Creativity - making things for others to benefit and enjoy
Here are examples of the habits I currently track:
- Completing a daily Duolingo lesson
- Working out 5 times a week
- Taking daily supplements
- Writing weekly e-mail newsletters & blog posts
- Writing scripts for YouTube videos
- Creating short videos for social media
- Contributing to retirement accounts & savings
All these habits stem from goals that have deep meaning. Because I value my wellness and know that “health is wealth,” doing weighted workouts 5-times a week is an important habit that I cross off first thing in the morning. The “AM Workout” is listed at the top of each workday and I have a routine that helps support this habit, even on days when I don’t feel like it.
Over 10 years ago, when I first started running to help accelerate weight loss, my habit was running multiple times a week, slowly building the total number of miles from week to week. Combined with the “slow carb diet” outlined in Tim Ferriss’ book the 4-Hour Body, I lost 70lbs and completed my first marathon race. It took about 15 months of persistent effort that relied upon a system of habits.
Digital Habit Reminders versus Paper Plotting
Our computers, phones, and wearable tech can do many nifty things and keep us connected to others in ways inconceivable by humankind up until the last 30 years. Yet, they cannot keep us focused. Most tech invites us to multi-task - a method of work where you can do many things, none of which are done exceptionally well. Your attention is diverted, splintered, and fatigued from rampant task switching and browser tab hopping.
When working on the important and striving toward your value-driven goals, you need to say “no” to a lot of nonsense. This includes many of the distractions that tech (particularly the web and social media) offers. However, certain digital tools can aid your quest if implemented responsibly.
My approach is to rely heavily on pen and paper for goal-setting, habit tracking, reflection, and planning. I also use timely reminders on my phone (like an alarm, or the “Reminders” app) to nudge me when there’s an appointment or time-sensitive task.
Preserve Brainpower - Putting your Habits on Autopilot
Your brain naturally wants to conserve energy and have less to think about. The less you have to decide, the fewer decisions you have to make, the easier it is for your brain. Then, you have the energy, willpower, and enthusiasm to focus on the higher-level important things.
When you set your intentions in your journal by writing down the day’s tasks, appointments, and priority (“priority” should always be expressed in the singular form), all your body has to do is follow the instructions. It’s like building a Lego set or baking a cake. It’s a lot easier when you follow a clear set of instructions. Your brain doesn’t have to think as hard to remember all the steps and make decisions about what needs to get done when.
In addition to pen and paper planning, you can utilize the power of automation in technology. One of the biggest applications of this principle is in personal finance. Making decisions about money is fraught with so many conflicting emotions and attitudes. It’s taxing on our emotions and can leave us feeling exhausted and defeated every time the topic comes up. Here, having a plan and the proper mindset can make all the difference.
In balancing our finances, automation allows us to pay bills, save money, and invest in securities that have their own automation built in. Saving for retirement, for example, is an automatic pre-tax deduction that might be matched with your employer, then deposited into a 401(k) account, which is then automatically dispersed into different mutual funds or index funds. Index funds follow the markets (like the S&P 500), which automatically buy and sell stocks that belong (or don’t belong) in that index. Instead of having to constantly make the decision, “how much shall I invest this month?” and the follow-up “what shall I invest in?” automation keeps the investing habit going without much thought. Your brainpower is preserved for the bigger picture decisions instead of the minutiae.
If you’re interested in learning more about building productive habits and making them last, please feel free to join the journaling course I’m hosting in less than 2 weeks. Hope to see you there!