It’s a new year, and with it comes resolutions. I resolve to re-invigorate this blog, which has languished in the throes of a new job and new life patterns.
For me, a new year also means cracking open a new journal. I have tried, on and off, to keep a diary or journal since 1983. In 2008 I started a sporadic journal that had entries every few days or weeks, sometimes skipping entire months or seasons.
That changed in 2013. Since then I have kept a daily journal: every day, without fail, for 6 years (OK, sometimes I go back and record a few days at a time). That’s certainly not a journaling world record, but it’s an achievement for me.
The consistency happened when I developed a method:
- I use a planner with a page for every day of the year, rather than a blank notebook.
- I give myself permission to write only a little bit every day, even if it’s just a couple of the facts. The journal has the space to write more, if I want.
- I journal at the same time every day. Quiet mornings before anyone else awakens work best for me.
- I make sure that journaling ends with a small reward, such as reading the quote that comes with every left page of the journal, or re-reading an entry from a prior year.
- I make the experience as pleasurable as possible, with a nice planner and a carefully chosen pen or pencil.
The reason why this method works for me when so many others have failed is that the details are rooted in methods used to create effective processes:
Visual management: A space for every day makes it clear when I have skipped a day. There is also a natural tendency to try to not break a streak.
Shrinking the change: Writing several pages of detail was discouraging, so I made the change as small as it had to be for me to actually do it. If you can create a habit with even comically small change (journal one word per day?) you can build on that foundation.
Rewards: It doesn’t have to be a big reward. A tiny celebration. A crisp high five. Anything that marks completion and celebrates yourself.
Opportunity for growth: You might start with a tiny habit, but it should be easy to expand it. More space on the page. 10 minutes available for a 5 minute task. A small habit is just the seed and you need to give it space to grow.
I’ve made many resolutions over the years and most of them failed. Why did this one stick? It’s because I finally focused on the process more than the motivation. Motivation feels powerful; resolve, willpower, high emotions – they should make us change ourselves, shouldn’t they? Motivation is powerful, but it has a short half-life, and eventually succumbs to the slow drone of habits.
Leaders and managers misunderstand this all the time, which is why so many change efforts consist entirely of explanatory meetings, burning platforms, and systems of rewards and punishments. I’ve been a part of many of these projects, some of which have barely lasted to the end of the meeting. All of them conveyed the motivation, but what if they focused instead on making the process of change as easy as possible? Then the motivation finds a place to live in the work.
It’s been a week since New Year’s Day. Maybe you already feel your resolve weakening. Don’t make your motivation carry the weight by itself – try changing your process, and let a new habit create the difference you want.
Note: If you are interested in reading more about habits, Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit is a good start.