Coffee & Talks — Journaling as a habit
Do you love journaling?
- You would love to know more about journaling and its benefits.
- You have been trying to build a journaling habit with no success.
- You want to know how to create long lasting healthy habits in any area of your life.
And make sure to check out Julie’s Instagram page too! ❤️
My name is Olena. I’m the founder of Breverie, and I’m very excited to talk to you today about journaling, and habits and journaling as a habit!
And for those of you who don’t know you, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself? What do you do and what makes you passionate about it?
I’m Julie and I created a journal a little over a year ago. It’s called the JMB living journal. And JMB, in addition to standing for my initials, also stands for joyful, mindful, and balanced. Or joyful, mindful, balanced living.
I actually had a group of friends that are also female entrepreneurs. I was trying to come up with a name for the journal. So, we got together for a weekend and mostly, like, just helped each other out on different things on each of our businesses. And my main request was to try and find a name. So it actually was that group that helped me come up with that name. It was kind of fun.
I had the idea while I was still working in corporate America. I used to head up a tax department for a publicly held company. And that work was, you know, it probably trained me for where I am today. It helped me in a whole lot of ways. I learned a lot, but it was not what I was passionate about. So somewhere along the way, I knew I wanted to share tools that had helped me over the course of my life, and get through some of the challenges that I’d had in my life. And one day, when I went through another planner, I loved planners, I was always using them. I think they’re a great tool, but I would only use them for a couple months usually. And so I thought, you know, hey, wouldn’t it be great if I could put together a product that that would help someone like me that maybe has a shorter attention span with things like that. A journal to encourage them to keep going and using that tool in a way that will help them have a better life?
So I wanted to infuse it with some of the things that had helped me most and back a couple of years before I had started teaching yoga. Mindfulness was something that was really important to me. So, the journal itself does have a whole lot of weekly mindfulness tips within it, and a whole lot of other prompts and things to help people live a more joyful, mindful, and balanced life.
How did you get into journaling yourself? What made you get into this habit? How did you find that it has any benefits for you personally?
You know, the funny thing is, is when I first created the journal, I was using it myself too. I was using different prototypes before I actually released it. But even after I first released it, I knew that I wanted to make it in a way that was very flexible for people. So a lot of things are very open.
For instance, there are some blank lines on the daily pages that just say My Day, so that people can use it to list what they need to do for the day and use it as more of a planner. Or if they wanted to journal on that space, they could journal on that space. And honestly, at that point in time, I was using it more as a planner. I had originally used it and I was listing down everything I was going to do for the day. In the journal now, I solely use it for journaling. And my to-do list is more something that I have in ActiveCollab on the computer. So it’s more digital.
But the journaling, I found helpful in so many ways. And for different purposes. And that’s one of the things I really love about it is that it can really help with strong emotions. So in those times where I’m feeling angry, or very stressed, or anxious, or that type of thing, it’s really wonderful to be able to release all of those feelings on paper. Particularly having that habit of doing it at the end of the day. I really like that, because you’re kind of releasing whatever happened throughout the day. And I have a very busy, busy mind. So in recent years, too, I think that busy mind just doesn’t want to shut off at the end of the day. So it has become really important for me to release some of that in some way, shape, or form. And journaling is a great way of doing that.
“I find that when I put it on paper, let it go that way, I’m able to sleep better. I don’t keep churning through it all.”
So that’s one big thing that’s been really helpful to me. And I know so many people get benefits from journaling in that way. The other thing is like over time I found it makes you more in tune with yourself or more mindful of your own habits, your triggers, and what you’re doing that’s working for you. Particularly when you end up spending a lot of time looking back and reflecting. I think the habit of journaling can help you get into that more reflective state of being as a practice. Then you start to recognize, well, this is working really well for me this week, I should keep doing this and this is traveling with me, so I need to do something different here, right? So I think that can be really, really helpful too.
The third thing that I use it for is a more proactive approach of really using tools that are like prompts for the purpose of positivity. Whether it’s gratitude, listing things that are abundant in my life, or even certain prompts that I’ll come up with just to help chart that path forward. For instance, one prompt that I had for myself a few weeks ago, was when I reach this particular dream, what do I feel like? And so putting all that on paper, and then looking at it, it’s like, okay, what do I have to do now from where I am today? What do I have to do to get to that end state that I need to be in in order for that dream to be realized, right? And so as you can step back and say, well, here’s where I am, what are some different things I can do. And then in using that knowledge, then to kind of chart yourself, you know, a path forward of, here’s some steps I can take to get me closer to that ideal version of me that I need to be to be able to do that. So I think journaling can be really helpful for that, too.
It’s really amazing how much clearer you become on things when you write them down, right?
[Olena] Even sometimes you think that you know it, but once you start writing it down, this is when it really clicks. Or this is when you really don’t realize that this is not how you even were thinking about it. So like just trying to write it down really creates so much more clarity. I’ve seen this, even with myself. And it was really interesting that you said that your journey started. So you started using it as a planner. And then as a journal. For me, it was quite the opposite. I was never into writing at all. I hated writing in high school, I just hated it. And when I started my job, and I didn’t need to do any more handwriting anymore, I was very happy. I just, I just could never express my thoughts on paper. It just wasn’t my thing.
But then a couple years ago, I just got to the point when I was getting too stressed, and I needed something. And I just decided to give it a try. And I didn’t really know where to where to start. So I found the prompt in a journal, which they said it would only take five minutes a day, which it really did, which was very easy, right? It only required me to write three sentences. Right? I could handle that. I could do that at that point. And yeah, and the more you do that, the more I got into the habit. And then I actually after that I started buying planners and really writing down my to-do list for the day. And then I found that helpful. And now I feel much more comfortable just writing things on paper in general. It has been great! It has been awesome!
[Julie] Yeah. And I think that I don’t remember exactly what I read. But I think just that physical process of writing something down actually helps with building a different neural pathway in the brain kind of cementing more than what you’re just thinking. It’s actually strengthening whatever that thought is.
[Olena] And maybe it doesn’t make sense what you have written, but that gets you thinking about, okay, so I really want to do this, right? Like when you really dump it all on paper, and you when you look at it, it can either be very clear, and really create the path for you, or you might just look at it and be like, okay, maybe I want something different. So it really helps to increase the level of clarity.
For somebody who, like me two years ago, has no idea what to do with journaling, and how to even start, what would you suggest as an easy way to get into that habit?
I think it’s really helpful. And this is something that I’ve spent a lot of the last two years learning more about, and I’m still trying to learn more about it. Because, you know, as I want people to continue to be successful in using the journal that I’ve created, anything that I can find out to help them with that’s really important to me. So I’ve been doing a lot of reading up on it and that type of thing.
I think one of the most important things to understand first is, is what really causes a hap habit anyway. And so I just understand a habit in general. And I think understanding that habits are formed when you’ve got this feedback loop that goes on in your brain, and that consists of some type of cue doing something, and then a reward. And the habit happens when that cue routine reward actually becomes automatic. So knowing that you have that structure, first of all, and just understanding that when you want to build any new habit, including a journaling habit, I think it’s really important.
So the first thing you have to think about is okay, well, what’s my cue? And, for me, I’ve found with respect to journaling, and getting in that actual habit of it, that I need to see it. So I’m, I think, if you’ve been journaling for years and years and years, you know, and it’s already a habit to you, you could probably stick your journal in a drawer beside your bed, and it would you probably still remember to do it, right, because it’s already ingrained in your brain. So that’s what you’re going to do. But I think for someone starting out it’s really important for them to be able to see it where they want to use it.
So for me, I actually use it both in the morning and the evening. I use different parts of it for different parts of the day. So in the morning, it’s sitting like right beside this little chair and a little desk space that I like to lay a little candle and grab a cup of, you know, hot tea or something and just make myself cozy there. Sitting right there was first thing when I walk into that room. Which is where I also have other things that I do. And as part of my morning routine, I’m going to see it and the same thing. And then when I get done using it there, it’ll either go onto my desk, if I have something that I really want to make sure I continue to think about, or it will go in, and I’ll put it beside my bed on the little table because I want to use it again at night. But if I forget, and I don’t put it on that bed at night, then I’m less likely to see it. And you know, I might forget to use it. So I think seeing it and having that cue, I think is really important.
I’ve recently read that, scientifically, they found that it’s not that people that seem to have a whole lot of willpower usually aren’t any different than someone like myself. It’s more than the people that appear to have a whole lot of willpower for things that they do in their life, they just have a really good plan. And so I think when you want to do anything, whether it’s reaching a goal, or building a new habit, is to have a really good plan. And so you step back and you say, okay, I’m gonna set up my queue. So if you’re building a habit, you want to be able to see it if you’re breaking a habit goes out of sight. When I was trying to stop eating the Christmas cookies that I had baked, I finally took them down to the basement freezer and got them as far away as possible. So kind of same thing is the opposite. I didn’t want to queue there when you’re trying to break a habit.
I think it’s putting it in your plan and figuring out a time and a place for it. I think anytime a habit, including journaling, if you can already find something that you enjoy doing and is already a habit and a routine for you. And you can pair it with that. So you know, for somebody, maybe it’s a morning cup of coffee, I grab my morning cup of coffee that the journal goes with that, right?
Something like that. Or it’s the last thing I do before I wind down the day, you know, maybe there’s something that you like to do at the end of the day. So pairing it with something you already do kind of helps with that queuing process. And doing it at the same time. So again, that’s going to help make it go on automatic. The other thing is making it super easy to do and not trying to think if it gets overwhelming, then it’s easier to quit, right? So, I can do this for five minutes. I can write down three things for five minutes, right? And I think if you start really small and keep it to just a couple of minutes, whatever you’re doing, and then build on that there’s gonna be a whole lot greater chance to have a higher success rate and keep going with it. Actually making it a true habit that you keep going with it.
Lastly, what’s your reward going to be? And that can be a number of different things. I think one of the easiest things, particularly with respect to journaling, and that’s why I put it in the journal to begin with, is a habit tracker. Those forms of rewards.Because your brain, when you check that off, I did it, then you had a little dopamine hit for that, right? And your brain is like, Oh, this is great, I did it. It can be really powerful, honestly, of helping set up that little feedback loop and helping you to stick with it.
The other thing is when you see it on your habit tracker, if you can get yourself going for a while, you’re more inclined to want to keep going. I don’t want to break that little chain that I’ve got going on. So I think that can be really helpful as well. So those are a couple things, I think of it first, in terms of trying to start a journaling routine.
[Olena] Yeah, this is all so great. You’ve just mentioned so many great things. And they’re just so true. What was hard was tracking and just making sure that you do it consistently and you feel accomplished. I’ve done another day, I haven’t broken my streak, I’m gonna keep doing this. And another thing that I find very useful, especially with journaling is don’t overdo it. Don’t be pressured to write the whole paragraph. And finish while you still have something to say to yourself, so that you don’t express everything today. And then tomorrow, you don’t know what to write about.
But if you will leave it while you’re still hungry, if you still want to say something, but leave it for tomorrow, then tomorrow, when you grab your journal, you already know what you want to write about. And then I think it helps get started for the day, while you might not have something you to reflect on. So I find that really helpful as well. And yeah, and having a plan in place is great. The thing that I think is important to remember is to not try to create the perfect plan. Know that the plan will change.
When I first started, I would do this, I would do it in the morning and in the evening, because that’s what the journal was telling me. So you do these in the morning and evening. And then after a couple months, I realized that my mornings are just so stressful because I need to wake up, prepare breakfast for my daughter, and get her ready for school. Adding five, even five minutes of journaling in the morning just makes me feel more stressed rather than less stressed.
Okay, maybe that’s not really working for me. But evenings are much better. Evenings are much quieter, and I’m not in a rush. So then I was like, Okay, I want my habits to help me. So if the morning doesn’t work for me anymore, I will just switch it to the evening. So I think it’s important to do those self checking points with yourself to see if the habit is serving you. Or if you’re starting to serve the habit.
[Julie] I think it’s a really good point. I think that constant process of reflecting is this working well for me. And then, you know, thinking about and brainstorming is like, How can I revise to make this work even better? It’s so important to actually being successful. And that’s another really good point, too. When I think about that, there’s a few habits, since I started, like using the habit trackers when I first released the journal that took me months and months to actually make the habit stick. Which I think you know, there’s a couple of thoughts in there.
One, I think it’s really important. I tried to share this a lot because this isn’t something that I knew. So I often tell people that it’s really important to understand that a lot of people will hear that it takes 30 days to make or break. But there really isn’t just a minimum amount of time. It really can take a lot longer depending on what you’re working on. I mean, it could be 30 days, but I think the average time is a whole lot longer than that. It’s usually closer to like 45 or 60 days, something like that. And depending on what you’re working on, it’s really important to realize and so people don’t get discouraged when you know, it’s not a true habit and they can’t stick with it yet.
It’s like when you find yourself going for a number of days, and you’re marking off that, you know, you didn’t do the habit on your habit tracker or whatever, you notice that, you know, it’s just not working. That’s the time you really have to say, Okay, why isn’t this working for me? What can I do differently? And, you know, really stepping back to get creative about making tiny changes. It’s like, well, do I need to, you know, have a different queueing system? What can I do differently to queue myself so that I’ll do this?
The other thing I didn’t mention at first, and I said, I’d come back to, is when I talk about my morning routine. Setting up and lighting a little candle and having my hot tea and sitting in my cozy chair. If you can make it something that you enjoy in some way, when you want to create a new habit, like all the things that make it something more enjoyable to you, is going to make you much more likely to succeed as well. And so I think when you get into that reflection process, what’s working, what’s not, it’s like, okay, how can I make this more enjoyable to me? Or on the flip side, if you’re trying to break a habit, okay, how can I make this more painful for me to do, right?
I think that’s the other thing, too. It’s a mindset thing. Right? So, when you’re trying to break a habit, I think it’s important to really be focused on what the benefits of not doing that are, right? So you’re focusing kind of on the positive side of like, if I don’t do this, this is what I’m gonna get out of it. Right? And then, with the mindset in general, too, I think the other thing that is helpful to reinforce that, the habit behaviors, if you will, is attaching them and creating certain beliefs about yourself, that will help support that habit, too.
So, for journaling, you had said that you didn’t really like to write. Well, if you pair that with a habit of wanting to have a journal, that’s kind of tough, right? So if you can, in some way, try to shift a belief that you have, that’s more supportive of what you want to create. And in your situation, if we were to take it back a few years, to the point where you weren’t liking to write. You have that thought, maybe it is, I’m the type of person that likes to explore new things, and I’m going to explore writing. You just take it instead of saying, I’d love to write, it’s like, well, what can you do and have a belief that kind of takes it one step closer to making it something that’s supportive of what you want to do? I think that can be really helpful, too.
[Olena] Yeah, actually, now, looking back, I think that it wasn’t that I didn’t like writing, it was that I was told that I’m better at writing. And my, my problem was that, for example, at school, when I would write essays, my essays would always be too short. They would be always to the point, when the requirement was to write five pages. I could only write three pages or two pages because I just didn’t know what else to write about. I was just so like, precise about my point. And I was told that that was a bad thing. So it really took me a long time to figure that out.
About a year ago, I was also taking a writing course, about how to write for the media. And there was a point that the person said, so if we, if we think about writing the way we speak, everyone can write. Just write the way you speak. And I was like, that is so genius. That is so awesome. It makes so much sense. I don’t have to be inventing anything. I can just write the way I will talk. It was just such an eye-opener for me. And it really released that pressure that Oh, I don’t know how to write. I do!
[Julie] Yeah, that’s it. That is a really great thing to remember to share with people honestly. Because I do hear that from time to time. I don’t know what to write. You can! You can speak so it’s kind of the same thing in point.
[Olena] Yeah, yeah, it is. I also I have been thinking about this recently. So it does usually take a long time to create good habits but for some reason, bad habits, they stick to us. Way faster than in 30 days. And it made me think about it. And I think one of the reasons is because for the bad habits, it comes from, I want to do this. We know, I love sweets, I love to eat sweets. It’s just desired. We often say I should do this, or I need to do this. And so what I have been telling people lately is, maybe switch that perspective. Switch that narrative from I shouldn’t be journaling, because blah, blah, blah. I want to be journaling, because… And it will help you think that you really desire to do this. And I think it is also really helpful to create a strong habit.
[Julie] I think that’s a really good point. You’re taking the time to assess your beliefs about something and then genuinely creating a belief that’s supportive. It’s interesting how you were told, essentially, that you couldn’t write when you were younger. Really step back and take an assessment of your belief system. It’s amazing when you do so. And you take the time to write down beliefs in particular, about the things that you find challenging in your life. Right?
Find out how many of those beliefs were actually something that someone else provided to us. A teacher, a friend, whatever. They didn’t necessarily come from us, right? But we adopt them, and we carry them with us then up into adulthood. And until we step back and assess, okay, I’ve got this challenging thing going on in my life, whether it’s a habit I want to break or whatnot. Taking a good look at what those beliefs are about the situation and deciding, Are they helpful and supportive of what I’m trying to accomplish or are they harmful?
“Then it’s about recognizing the fact that we get to choose what we want to believe.”
And even that we can choose how strongly we feel about things. You can manipulate that the brain is a marvelous thing and what you can do with the Amaze, right? And so we just have to put it to good use for us.
[Olena] Yeah. And in so many cases, we just don’t even realize that we carry those beliefs. Because as you said, we weren’t born with them. We just got them from somebody. We don’t even know that they are there. And this is where journaling is just such a powerful tool. When you start digging into yourself and asking why, get into the root cause of why am I feeling this way? What is causing that? Why is he responding to that event in such a way? Why does it trigger me this way? And especially as we were talking about in the beginning, when you write it down, and we’ll look at it, and it just sometimes opens your eyes… it’s like mind-blowing. You realize you can forget those aha moments. Okay, this is why and I never knew that this is what was going on with me.
[Julie] Yeah. And it’s so fascinating sometimes that things seem so obvious that it’s like, how could I? How is that even possible? Right? It’s so simple and so easy, but it stays hidden within you until you really take some time for that exploration. Yeah, I totally agree with you.
“Journaling is really, really great for a better understanding of self. And through that better understanding of yourself, you can start to design your life in a way that is more supportive of what’s going to bring you more happiness and joy.“
I think, oftentimes, it kind of goes back with the childhood thing, again. We’ve also structured beliefs about what we should do in our life, right, or what our life should look like. It’s not until we take that time to really kind of dig deeper into ourselves that we can really understand what does make us feel good. What makes us happy in the morning, and a lot of times, it’s just not what we thought it was that someone else, you know, put into our space. But it takes a while sometimes, to be able to actually start to uncover that, right?
For those people who struggle, they might think, Oh, I’m a busy mom. I don’t have time to sit on the couch, be cozy, light a candle. Is it not for me? What would you recommend to such people?
What I have found over time, is when you try it out, and you stick to it, I think you start to feel the benefits. You have to give it a fair amount of time. But I think once you realize and can start reflecting about how it makes you feel, after you do it, right. It really only takes five minutes a day and can do a world of good for someone when it comes to just jotting down some thoughts in a journal. And, you know, we can all find five minutes in a day. I know we’ve got busy days. I think the harder part maybe sometimes is finding where that five minutes is easiest, right?
For people, particularly people with young children, like my children are grown now. And so you know, it can be a little easier for me. I was listening to a podcast the other day, and I heard someone suggest on their podcast, which I thought was great for moms, in trying to work through having some self-care routines for herself. She also in order to even get that, and it’s not perfect, I’m sure you know, life is messy. And you know, particularly with children, it’s not just cookie-cutter, and you can’t make it work exactly like you want to. But I thought she had some good ideas from the standpoint of also thinking about setting up routines for your children as well. Routines that coincide with your routines. So she had a box of toys that was their self-care time or their self playtime, if you will. And so getting them in a routine that knowing Okay, for the next half hour, I am going to play by myself. And making sure that the toys that are picked to be in that special box, you know, are special me time for them too.
Creating some time and space for yourself. Now, I’ll say that and I know probably if it was me, I don’t know that that could necessarily be my journaling time. I think for me, it probably would have to be after a young child is asleep or something and at that point, scheduled right at the end of the day. But that’s the problem. Go back though, to that five-minute thing. I can take five, just five more minutes and jot down these things and reflect if nothing else. Just reflecting on what worked well for you that day, and what didn’t.
Because if you know that that five minutes of reflection at the end of the day will help you be able to better design your tomorrow, I think you’re going to be more or less able to do it too. So if you’re thinking of it from a perspective of okay, what can I do differently that I did today, that’s going to help me have a more efficient or more successful or happier tomorrow. Then those five minutes, you start to understand how important they are and how much they can really help your well being over time.
[Olena] Yeah, this is great. This is really great advice. One of the things that I did when I started journaling, one of the questions that I answered at the end of the day was how could I have made today more amazing? So it is just another way to ask the same question to think about okay, what could have could I have done better right or different? Which means what can I do differently tomorrow? So, it only takes a few minutes. It really doesn’t have to take long.
So for those of you who are listening and who are like, Oh, I don’t have time. I think it comes back to really want. From inside of your heart, and once you really know why you want to do it, finding three, five minutes a day, setting your alarm every day, whether it’s noon, or 9 pm, or seven in the morning, whatever works best for you. And just spend those few minutes writing down your thoughts. Or even just thinking maybe to start with to spend these three minutes, just thinking, not without the phone, just looking out of the window, no noises, no listening to anything. And then get after getting into that routine. Maybe then you grab paper, and you start writing when you feel more comfortable with your thoughts.
[Julie] I think it’s important to also know that our brains are always changing throughout our life. It’s called neuroplasticity. And so you’re always forming these new neural pathways by what you repeat in your life, right?
“One other way that journaling can really help you to live a happier, more fulfilling life, is by setting yourself up for positivity.”
So the gratitude journaling does that. When you’re listing your gratitude, you’re getting your brain into habit-forming these new neural pathways of feeling and thinking about things in a certain way. When I think about my journal, there’s a few prompts that are in all my daily pages that time and again, I have people coming back to me and saying, you know, those are my favorite because they really have shifted the way I feel about life. There are three prompts there. And even if you just use one of those, at the end of every day, I think, they can be really impactful on helping you live a happier life.
And those three prompts are
What was my biggest win for the day?
Setting yourself up for celebrating your tiny successes every day.
What beauty did I see?
Getting your brain in a habit of looking for beauty. Because typically, when we see something beautiful, it makes us feel good inside, you know? And so getting your brain in that habit of actually actively looking for beauty.
What brought me joy today?
Just like you were saying, how could I have made it more amazing. You’re thinking about. What was good? What happened?
And if you start to actively take steps to be positive, on a regular basis, over time, you’re building these new neural pathways in your brain that help cement that and then do help you live a happier lifestyle. And even if you just did one of them. I mean, it takes a couple minutes just to think about that and jot it down, but it can be really life-impacting.
[Olena] Yeah, and I think this is why it’s important to really do this repetition. Like some people might think that answering the same question over and over again, every day is boring. Not helpful. Doesn’t make sense. But you’re right, by doing these daily, you really train your brain to notice those things. And even if you answer the question every day, what am I grateful for today, and I, sometimes I would write just the sunshine outside. Maybe that’s the best thing that happened. But it is still something to be grateful for. Or me feeling healthy, or my family being healthy.
It doesn’t have to be something huge. And maybe some days there will be something huge. But as you were saying, even those small things. You really teach yourself to notice them. To look out for them. To appreciate them. And it makes such a huge difference over time.
[Julie] Yeah. And your brain physically changes with that. Which is fascinating to know that about your life. You have the ability to physically mold your brain by creating these new pathways in your brain. All by doing addition, like we’re talking about, which is really quite fascinating. I think.
[Olena] Yeah, we have this power, we should use it right? We have the power to do anything we want with our brain. But for some reason we don’t do it.
[Julie] It’s interesting when you start making that habit of looking for tiny wins or beauty. Or just tiny little things that bring you joy. You start to realize that those are what life is all about and that’s what’s bringing you the most happiness in your life. I mean, sure, there are things that are big wins. The big things that we celebrate. But we’re not going to have those every day, right?