In January, I shared my newly formed walking habit with you and wondered what the next habit might be, and how else I might improve my morning routine. I wondered especially—whatever I was going to tackle next—if it would stick. A second habit didn’t build right away, though I made attempts, ranging from mindfulness meditation to earlier wakeup times to being more religious about strengthening exercises. In the process, I’ve continued reading Zen Habits and have also read a few other influential pieces on habit forming, namely this piece by Charles Duhigg featured in the New York Times Magazine in mid-February (if you’d rather listen than read a very long article, similar content was featured on Fresh Air with Terry Gross this March). Here’s the most important nugget about habit forming from Duhigg’s essay:
First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop — cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward — becomes more and more automatic.
By April, all of this had sunk in and I’d decided to start journaling (I purchased a shiny new notebook in order to do so). With a desired outcome in mind, I just had to find a cue, a stimulus that would put me into automatic writing mode. I built the practice around an already well-established habit—my morning coffee (really milk with a splash of coffee). Once finished eating but not quite finished with my coffee, I’d pick up my journal and write a half page, a few lines, or a page and a half, being careful not to judge the entry based on word count, readability, or style. I wrote, and continue to write, whatever comes easiest or feels right for the day. After a week and a half of this, Tom opted to join me and asked for his own notebook, but bigger! We’d banned computers/the iPad/iPhones and other reading material from the breakfast table earlier in the year in order to eliminate distractions that took away from conversation, but writing—especially at the close of the meal—seemed like a positive addition.
It has been.
With Tom writing along with me, we’re doing this habit right — Make it Social, remember? Done at breakfast, journaling has also become a Top Priority in our day. Having ticked all the boxes for the four “top principles for forming habits,” it’s pretty easy to see why we’re writing daily with ease and enjoying our mornings more and more.