Adopting the habit of reflecting and journaling in your PKM


Lisa’s blog post last week titled “Reflection and Journaling: Seek, Sense, Share,” reminded me how hard it can be to stop bad habits and form healthy new habits. She observed that the stumbling block for many of us in the Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) process occurs when:

…we get stuck on the seeking information part of the PKM process, and don’t make sense of our resource collection or share out what we learn and the resource gems we find. How do we take the time and create the ritual of reflection, which is key to understanding what we learn as well as what we need to learn?

I, too, find it hard to stop gathering information and begin analyzing and synthesizing the meaning of “resource gems.” We did a blog post in 2015 that delved into why many of us are unable to stop the seeking phase of PKM. We cited David Brooks writing for the New York Times who ‘likened being online to “the greatest cocktail party ever … going on all the time.”’ In our constant online cruising for ideas and perspectives, we said that

We never have to commit ourselves to in-depth interactions or sustained thinking. Whenever challenged or bored, a few clicks will take us to more inch-deep mental crossings to skip through. Indeed, Brooks explains that “The ease of movement on the Web encourages you to skim ahead and get the gist. …This fast, frictionless world rewards the quick perception, the instant evaluation, and the clever performance.”

Another factor in being unable to move from continuously seeking more information to sensing is hormones. Yes, it’s true. Howard Rheingold documents in NetSmart that two hormones, dopamine and oxytocin, are involved.  Dopamine “appears to be associated with a reward for ‘seeking’ behavior”, i.e., braving the exciting ups and downs of ancient hunting/food gathering activities, with the modern day equivalent being information collecting activities online.  Additionally, oxytocin, another “normally occurring human hormone that appears to facilitate bonding between friends, lovers, or parent and child—appears to come into play as well” (NetSmart, page 47) as we connect with diverse views and people online.

Therefore, it was easy for me to read Lisa’s blog post on reflecting and journaling several times, checking out each link and graphic to refresh my understanding of growth mindsets for learning and how a simple journaling plan can take us from wishing to doing. I particularly liked the simplified, daily LAF journaling format she identified: “LAF – what I Learned, what I Accomplished, and what was my Favorite moment.”

But starting to journal, even in a simple way, requires repetition to form new neurological loops in our brains to make it a habit.  I succeed (most of the time!) in bi-weekly blogging because I wish to uphold our weekly blog publishing schedule a la Jerry Seinfeld’s guidance. Blogging every two weeks forces me to make sense of the content I curate in our Diigo-based WLS library. The published blog posts reward me with evidence of my learning and work.

Since blogging and journaling to reflect and capture one’s learning leads to valuable performance-enhancing activities, what can we do to make these processes easier to adopt and sustain? 

Charles Duhigg

Understanding habits is one way to increase our success. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, breaks habit into three parts: cue, routine, and reward.  He explains the “three-step loop” (page 19).

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:

From Charles Duhigg's book, The Power of Habit, page 19

From Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, page 19

Over time, this loop—cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward—becomes more and more automatic.  The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges.  Eventually, whether in a chilly MIT laboratory or your driveway, a loop is born.

Duhigg posits that “simply understanding how habits work—learning the structure of the habit loop—makes them easier to control.” Further, he believes that “habits are malleable throughout your entire life.”

One bad habit that Duhigg wanted to change for himself was eating cookies in the NYT cafeteria every afternoon.  He determined that between 3:15 and 3:45 PM, he had a strong craving to go to the cafeteria.  However, after studying the cues and rewards, he realized that he really desired socializing opportunities, not snacks to satisfy a sweet tooth or hunger. It was easy for him to stop visiting the cafeteria when he could engage in the true reward he was seeking: ten minutes of casual talking with colleagues each day. He also lost weight!

Lisa Edwards, a visual recorder with Get the Picture Graphic Facilitation services, summarized the main concepts of The Power of Habit in the graphic below.  The power of keystone habits for prompting other positive changes in personal lives and organizational routines agrees with my experience.  For instance, exercising regularly is a keystone habit for me. When I work out at least 3x a week to improve my health, almost everything else in my life—time management, sleep, frustration level, relationships, productivity—improves, too.


Lisa offered a simple five-step process for a reflective learning practice in her blog post. But just in case you encounter problems with implementing it, Duhigg provides a change framework in the appendix to his book to diagnose and shape habits in our lives.


Think about and identify the three-part neurological loop at the core of every habit—cue, routine, and reward. Know the bad behavior that you wish to change.


Alter your routine to deliver a different reward over the course of a few days, week, or longer.  Look for patterns in how you think or feel after you try out the rewards.  After trying the alternate rewards, ask yourself if you still have the original urge.  If it’s not there, then you may have found a better behavior to reward yourself.


Most cues in habits stem from reasons of location, time, emotional state, other people, or immediately preceding actions.


Once you know what your new, improved routine should be, write a plan.  In Duhigg’s case, it was: At 3:30, every day, I will walk to a friend’s desk and talk for 10 minutes. He needed human interaction, not sweet treats.

I concede that journaling is another keystone habit for me to adopt.  I want it to become part of the 40% of what I do each day without even thinking about it. Armed with Lisa’s LAF journaling model and implementation steps, I am ready to give it a whirl.  Even if I am only partially successful, I will still accelerate my learning in life and work.

What about you?  When will you start journaling for reflective learning? How might we at the WLS help you?


Resources used to write this blog: 

Forbes, Just 8% of People Achieve Their New Year’s Resolutions.  Here’s How They Do It. — Dan Diamond

Get the Picture, Intro to Powerful Habits Series. –Lisa Edwards

Harvard Business Review, Habits: Why We Do What We Do — Justin Foxx interviewing Charles Duhigg, NYT reporter and author of The Power of Habit 

Netsmart — Howard Rheingold

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business — Charles Duhigg

Women’s Learning Studio blog

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