Let’s just get the truth over with okay?
Assuming that you’re ever going to feel like journaling every single day is like eating a cupcake and expecting to gain muscle. We all want to live in that universe but sadly we live… here.
… Where our motivation ebbs and flows and sometimes (often when we most need it), journaling feels like too heavy a lift.
Before we get any further, let me be clear:
You do not need a journaling habit.
Yeah, I said it.
The habit aspect of things is secondary. Journaling is a tool meant to enhance your intellectual, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. It’s not yet another thing you need to add to your never-ending list of things you need to do/learn.
So please don’t use habit-building to make yourself feel bad.
Though millions of people all over the world journal daily or almost daily, few of them likely do so as a habit. In other words, they don’t do it without thinking, they do it more as what BJ Fogg, the world’s leading expert in habit research and the author of Tiny Habits, calls “reliable behavior”.
Think of it this way, a habit is something you do unconsciously or without thinking. A reliable behavior is something you do reliably even though you have to remember or think about it.
Fogg also notes that it isn’t actually repetition that helps form behaviors – this explains why some habits can be formed right from the start and some don’t “take” even after months of effort. So what really helps with habit formation?
“People are more likely to form and stick with habits if they feel good,” explains Fogg.
So what happens when you’re feeling decidedly NOT good. What if you’re not feeling anything at all – apathetic?
Here are some things to think about when you don’t feel like journaling.
- The Spoon Theory
I first came across the concept of Spoon Theory after watching KC Davis’s brilliant TED talk called “How to do laundry when you’re depressed” – highly recommended for anyone who wants to know why grief, chronic illness or depression rob us of seemingly basic abilities.
The concept of Spoon Theory was actually invented by lupus sufferer, Christine Miserandino (you can read her essay on it here) and it basically uses “spoons” as a visual metaphor for energy capacity.
Each of us has a certain amount of energy (or a number of “spoons”) each day and must decide what to spend it on. Folks struggling with depression or chronic illness might have their number of “spoons” severely reduced and so might have to make choices like “shower or eat” because they might be using a whole bunch of their energy just to keep from committing suicide.
If you’re anywhere under 4 spoons, it’s unlikely you’ll have the energy to journal. You might and if it feels inviting and restful to vent on the page, by all means do so. But if it feels like a struggle, the diagram above might explain why.
Keep reminding yourself: The goal of journaling is to support and enhance your mental health. Period. Habit building is a means to an end, not the end in and of itself. So if it feels too heavy at a time when your spoon drawer is a little sparse, cut yourself some Slack and focus on what you can do to take care of yourself.
Journaling daily is a morally neutral exercise
Lots of folks journal daily and have messy lives. Lots of folks seldom or never journal and seem to have it all together. Journaling is a tool. Tools are morally neutral. Use them if they serve you and put them down in any context when they don’t.
You don’t have to journal daily or even weekly. You don’t have to journal at all unless it helps you.
Now that that’s been said, if you have all your spoons but are simply wrestling resistance, I’ve got a treat for you.
- Give your resistance the microphone
Resistance, like fear, feeds on our unwillingness to meet it head on.
Just like with Spoon Theory, if we can realize that resistance is morally neutral – that you struggle with it says literally nothing about your worth as a human being because everyone from Hitler to the Dalai Lama deals with it… well, there’s only one thing left to do.
Understand and learn your resistance and its tricks.
Befriend it, acknowledge its thought process (without necessarily agreeing with it or letting it run your actions).
The horizon you’re working towards isn’t so much NOT having resistance – it’s knowing what to do when resistance inevitably shows up.
Imagine handing your resistance your pen. What worry thoughts or problems does your resistance want to point out to you?
This might look like:
You’re so tired and now you’re staying up to journal instead of taking advantage of this time and going to bed early. Well, actually there’s probably no point going to bed early anyway, since you’ll just lay awake worrying about money and how you’re going to have enough to buy everyone gifts this year.
And of course then you’re going to wake up tired and not want to go to the gym. My God, how many conflicting habits are you trying to build at the same time? Sleep, journaling, exercise, lead generation. Why do you do this to yourself?
To prevent the venting from turning into introspection’s evil twin, rumination, maintain relaxed awareness throughout. This means that you’re breathing evenly and monitoring your body’s signs of arousal. You’re deliberately staying calm no matter what your pen brings up. You can write it and let it go and while you do that, chances are ideas and solutions will begin to reveal themselves.
These might look like:
What if I simplify and make the changes I’m trying to make smaller? What if I bundle them with pleasurable activities like journaling with a really nice pen and a cup of tea, and what if I sleep in my workout clothes to make it easier to transition in the morning?
Remember, there’s no right or wrong answer to find. Journaling is an exploration. The idea is to run some experiments and approach what you find with curiosity and relaxed awareness.
8 times out of 10, this exercise has shown me that I have more solutions and wisdom than I thought I did.
If apathy is your issue
Sometimes it isn’t really resistance or temptation to do something passive (like watch Netflix). Sometimes there’s a numbness or apathy in the mix. If you have enough spoons and have covered your basics, try this exercise to bust you out of the blahs.
And if you, like me, tend to be a maximizer who overcommits, try this awesome 1 minute exercise that has helped a lot of busy people find the fun in their journaling.
Most of all, be curious. Because your apathy or resistance is trying to tell you something. And you are worthy of being listened to.
For a deeper dive into ways you can use the power of journaling to enhance your wellbeing without trying to guilt or force yourself, check out my 21-day journaling course.