What You Need to Know to Stop Giving Up on Journaling
How to Use Psychology and Mindfulness to Finally Journal Consistently
What is the biggest obstacle you find yourself struggling with when you try to commit to using a journal or a planner? Do you start out color coding your to-do’s and events and tracking your moods and sleep only to give up after missing one day? Or, do you buy one only to pick it up when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed?
I started calling the use of the JMB Living Journal a “Journal Journey” because that’s what it is: an unpredictable path that you travel as you navigate each day. Everyone’s journey is different, and so is the way that everyone uses a journal.
No matter what your reason is for using a journal, it’s possible to find a happy medium between accomplishing what you want with a journal without feeling obligated to use it or easily giving up when your journal journey doesn’t look how you expected it to.
There are ways to create sustainable journaling habits with no pressure or high expectations. Now is the time to begin to create a routine that works for you where journaling becomes a habit, so you can set yourself up for success in the new year.
What You Didn’t Know is Holding You Back from Consistency: Release Before You Revamp
I recently listened to the Basecamp with Pat Dossett podcast where Dr. Andrew Huberman was a guest. Dr. Huberman is a neuroscientist and professor at Stanford School of Medicine and was such an insightful speaker as he discussed working with intentions.
In the podcast, Dr. Huberman sheds light on the common experience that when we work on bringing in new habits, routines, etc., we often don't pay near enough attention to what we need to let go of.
Before you create ways to develop your desired new habits and routines, it is essential to take a good, hard look at whether or not your current habits and routines are supportive of the new ones you want to add into your life.
If you have current behaviors that will slow you down or prevent you from establishing the new habit you want, these old habits will quickly sabotage your success if you don't let them go. In fact, letting these old behaviors go may very well be the key to your success.
The Science Behind Consistency and Success
Our brains are the core of our behaviors. Sure, there are external factors that contribute to our emotions and personality development, but when it comes to habits and behaviors, we can use the science of neuroanatomy to our advantage.
Once cemented and practiced often, habits become reflexive behaviors. Do you pick your phone up first thing in the morning when you wake up without even thinking about it? Do you have to think about it in advance when you turn on the light in the bathroom and reach into your cabinet to brush your teeth? When you get in your car, buckling and starting the engine is likely muscle memory.
It only makes sense that when habits come so easily because the brain has developed pathways to perform these behaviors consistently, it can be extra difficult to overcome and change your brain’s tendencies to dissolve old habits and create new ones.
Because these habits are so ingrained in our daily neurological processes, extra effort is required to override neurons from automatically sending signals to do these habits and routines.
When you take advantage of neuroanatomy to rewire your brain, this is called self-directed neuroplasticity.
Essentially, to truly get rid of the old behaviors that are holding you back from successfully creating a new habit or routine, we need to intentionally rewire our prefrontal cortex. Fortunately enough, you can strengthen your prefrontal cortex’s function by practicing mindfulness.
Rewiring Your Brain to Create Consistency and Release Old Habits
How do we do this?
To take advantage of our current knowledge about how the brain works, there are two key steps we need to take to create a new behavior:
- Get very specific about the habits you need to change or get rid of. Reflect to identify the behaviors that will distract you from your goal. Then, in detail, write down the specifics of these behaviors: why you still do them, what they contribute to, why they started… any relevant information that will help you override these behaviors. When it comes to rewiring your brain, your brain loves as much detail as possible. Think about these habits and behaviors; the brain needs to know exactly which neural connections it needs to redirect or override.
For instance, if you decide that one of the things that could hold you back from journaling consistently is social media, you can't simply write down, "I'm not going to spend as much time on social media." Get more specific. If you know that you want to journal after making your morning cup of coffee, but get on your phone first and look up to find that you’ve spent 20 minutes on social media, you might say something like, "I will no longer pick up my phone after making my morning cup of coffee.” You may even write down where you are going to leave your phone.
- Get very clear on why you want to let go of this old behavior. What are the negative effects of continuing it, and what are the positive effects of letting it go? Be specific about this, too. Your brain needs some compelling rationale to provide motivation for the rewiring process. With our phone example, some things you may want to list could be:
- Scrolling through social media always ends up making me feel stressed because of the time I've wasted.
- It prevents me from having time to journal.
- If I don't journal, I don’t start my day with intention and the positivity I desire.
- Journaling provides useful insights that help me live a happier life. If I'm wasting my time scrolling through social media, I won't have the opportunity to receive such insight.
- Social media is not contributing to my mental wellbeing, whereas journaling leaves me feeling calm, centered and positive about how I am going to start my day.
Five Steps to Actually Let Go
- Choose a time frame for when and how often you are going to do the new behavior. Make it a short enough time frame that you are almost certain you will do it. Perhaps this is just two days. Your brain experiences rewards when you successfully perform these new behaviors, and these results are crucial in creating new habits. So, start small and build on your success.
- Only try to let go of one behavior at a time. Again, start small and build on your success. When you are getting specific about what you want to change, try to get to the root of the problem and choose that behavior to change.
- Don't beat yourself up if you don't follow through. This is not helpful and in fact, can often make it harder for you to make changes. Rather, reflect on why you didn't follow through so that you can make tiny changes if necessary to get you closer to success.
- Make your reasons realistic for why you are letting go and replacing the behavior. It may be tempting to blow it out of proportion to make your brain realize this really is important to you, but the brain is very good about recognizing when you are doing this and if so, it will just ignore the statements.
- Be sure to write down the specifics of what behavior you are going to let go and replace and why. If you write this down and read it to someone, that will make it even more likely that you will be successful in making the change you desire.
If one attempted routine doesn't work, maybe it just takes a small tweak to make it successful. Keep noticing what is not working and making tiny shifts and changes until it does. And believe that you can do this. I believe in you.😘