“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
- Aristotle -
Life becomes easier when you build good habits (and reduce bad habits). But that is easier said than done. Because building new habits is painfully difficult when your brain has not adapted yet.
So how do habits actually form? Let's take a look at the basic science:
Your brain responds to cues and triggers to perform certain actions (a routine) and then gives you a "reward" for doing it (or not doing it). The more rewards your brain receives, the more likely it is for your brain to like the routine and to turn it into a habit. If it was up to your brain it would always try to make any routine into a habit. Because habits allow the mind to direct activity towards other tasks. This also includes habits that are potentially damaging to you (eg. drug addiction, gambling, etc.)
- Habits are found in an area of your brain called the basal ganglia. The more often you perform an action or behave a certain way, the more it gets physically wired into your brain. - http://bit.ly/neuroscience_of_habits
One key mistake people make when trying to build new habits, is to try to change too many things at the same time. For example, people who want to lose weight would go on a week-long extreme diet that is completely different from their usual pattern. But habits form by positive reward cues. And because the change in diet is so extreme and short-lived, the brain can't adapt to it. So, after a week long of suffering negative reward cues, it is very likely that your brain will steer you back to fried food and ice cream. We've all been there!
The way to build sustainable habits then, is to make only minor changes, but to do them very regularly and for a longer period of time. The average time it takes people to build a sustainable habit is 66 days (but it can be up to 254 days). Support this approach with physical triggers which can help remembering and to anchor the routine in the brain.
So how does this translate to your journaling routine? if you want to build a daily journaling routine, consider the following plan:
The Trigger - Pick a time of the day to write in your journal. It should be a time of day where you would usually have about 10 minutes without being interrupted. Leave the journal in an obvious spot where you see it regularly.
The Action - Write or draw about one task you have to complete that day, no more. It should take no more than a minute.
The reward - Reward yourself with something you like doing for the remainder of the time.
Build a routine - Repeat daily and build in physical triggers to make it easy to pick up your journal. Set an alarm and always put your journal in a place where you can see it.
Train your brain slowly - Increase your input only slightly in the beginning. By building your routine slowly, and in a way that you enjoy, the likelihood of building a sustainable habit increases significantly.
After 6-8 weeks your brain will adapt and start to form a habit. Most likely, you have started to feel an urge to extend what you write down in your journal, and because you’ve done it at exactly the same time of day and you've built in physical triggers to support the habit, your brain will push you to do the same thing every day.
It sounds simple, and it is.
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