Have you admired nature journaling from afar? Have you searched around on the hashtags for creative journaling ideas? Now is always the time to make a healthy new habit. Thus, why not try nature journaling? First, it provides a medium to express your innate creativity that wants to emerge. Second, it inherently brings stress cortisol levels down because by its very essence, you need to go outdoors and see scenes of nature.
Common reactions to not do something healthy are, “But, I don’t have time!” There is always time to create healthy new habits. You can spend five to fifteen minutes a day in your backyard or at your local park and jot down a few observations.
Another common reaction is, “But, journaling is so expensive!” Journaling can be as expensive as you chose. You are in control. You hold the steering wheel. It is totally possible to start with a yellow legal pad, composition notebook, or whatever spare paper you have lying around! If you already keep a journal, just add natural observations to your current entries and give it a go.
So, you’ve taken a deep breath and want to create a new habit. Try these tips to make it stick!
List of Contents
1.) New Habits Start with Convenience
Grab whatever journal you have chosen and a pen or pencil and put them into the bag you take with you when you leave the house. If you eat lunch near a park and you see a squirrel running between trees carrying food to store, you’ll have a place to write about it. Since you have already taken the first step to have the materials with you, you can then easily take the second step and record an observation.
Say, you’ve forgotten your notebook. Almost everyone has a smart phone that has a camera and a notes app of sorts. Take a picture of a plant that strikes your fancy. Then, pull up your notes and write what you see. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar, just get down what you’re thinking. Remember, the important part is to take the observation down so it does not get lost in your thoughts.
The other day, I forgot my notebook, but I had my phone, so I used the Notes App:
Start small and focus on making observations about nature. This does two major things in your mind. First, it focuses your mind on a task. When you have a focused mindset, your mind can clear some of the day to day clutter and accomplish something. Second, it focuses your mind on something healthy.
Lastly, if you want more convincing, according the this article in the New York Times, starting a small new habit and doing it consistently every day sets you up for success.
2.) New Habits have Accountability
: the quality or state of being accountable
especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions”Miriam-Webster Dictionary
Give yourself a break! You’re working hard. Bring a friend or family member along for the ride. If you do, this person will become your accountability partner in starting your nature journal.
Remember: your accountability partner does not have to live near you. For example, you can have a college roommate who lives across the country from you as your accountability partner. With FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, or a simple text message conversation can hold you accountable to your new healthy habit. You can even grab a few accountability partners and have a group text or Zoom to talk about the new experiences you’re all having! Agree to check in once a week to see how your new habit is going.
In the current pandemic conditions where we find ourselves complaining more often than having new experiences, creating a nature journal with a friend can spark new conversations about safe experiences. Walking around your local park increases local knowledge, gets you fresh air, and provides a new topic that will expand your friendships!
3.) Use Art Mediums You Already Enjoy
Almost everyone has a medium of art that they prefer. And, YES, I am including taking a picture with your smart phone. That totally counts, especially if you are just starting. If you’re starting small, just take an extra second to snap a great picture from your phone. You can post it to your instagram story or facebook.
If you have created art in the past, but you just do not have time for it now, maybe it’s time to reconsider. Art allows you to express yourself and use a different side of your brain. For example, if you painted in the past, maybe bring those supplies back out and paint a squirrel that steals all the heads off of your sunflowers along the fence (I’m still frustrated at that squirrel!). Also, I have a great beginner post on nature journaling if you want to review that, as well.
Point being: whatever type of art you have liked in the past, bring that back. Start there. Once you’re comfortable in that medium expressing your experiences in nature, try a different medium. Who knows? You might like a new medium better!
For more proof, in a review of research on the arts by the American Psychological Association, one review found that people who are doing a creative activity reported higher levels of happiness. Therefore, if you start adding time for creativity into your life, you may experience more happiness. Furthermore, having a nature journal as a creative method lessens writers block because you always see new creatures or plants each time you go out to naturalize!
4.) Use Apps like iNaturalist and Seek
iPhone and Android identification apps have become better and better in the past few years. Alongside the increase in camera technology embedded in smart phones, apps now have the ability to identify a heap of new plants and birds. These apps can revolutionize your ability to start nature journaling as a new habit. Apps work very well if you have forgotten or don’t have access to my favorite guidebooks.
Take iNaturalist for example. The free download makes it affordable and they crowd source information. Once you complete an easy sign up, you can use the observe button to take a photo with a geotag. If you know or think you know what a plant is, you can add it and others can double check or correct you.
Furthermore, let’s say you go for a day hike. First, before hiking, locate your day hike on the “explore” section of the app. Second, scan the points that others have added. Some points show “research grade” meaning they have a proper identification. Other points indicate observations that need further identification. Even if the points need further identification, they remain helpful because they can often lead you to where in a guidebook to complete further research.
Before you head out on that hike, you see on iNaturalist that several points already exist with “research grade” information. This means that they have been properly identified. You click the point, then click the name of the identified object. This will bring you to a page which tells you the common name, the scientific name, some basic information, and source links to gather further information if desired. At the bottom, the app depicts a “map of observations which shows you the range of the object based other app users.
Seek is another great app. Made by iNaturalist, it also can provide a wealth of information. However, it conveys information in more of an instant gratification sort of way. On Seek, you can identify: plants, fungi, insects, mollusks, arachnids, amphibians, fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals by pointing the camera at it for a photo. If the seek camera knows, it will pull up options for you to examine. Seek uses the data base of identified objects from iNaturalist to help you identify objects faster and with more reliability.
Now, when you go on that day hike, you have seen some plants along the way to keep an eye out for that have already been identified for you. Also, you have a tool to identify more on the fly. Take some of your own pictures and jot down some field observations. If you choose, you can “post to iNaturalist” straight from the Seek App immediately after identification.
With Seek, you can take photos, earn badges, and post them over to iNaturalist from the same app. You’re on your way to starting a great nature journal this way!
For more information see my post on How to Use the Seek App for Nature Journaling!
5.) Track your New Habit Progress and Be Kind to Yourself
This is a big one, y’all. In your nature journal itself, I recommend making a habit tracker. Don’t know what one is? The world of bullet journaling has gotten creative and made many habit tracker templates from the basic to elaborate, artsy journal spreads. To keep healthy habits going, like starting a nature journal, you need that accountability and you can do that for yourself with a habit tracker.
Here is my favorite habit tracker. This method allows me to track ten different healthy habits at once! You can choose any ten or shorten it to fewer if ten is too many:
This can be simple. I highly recommend printing a small calendar out or drawing one into your nature journal. This way you can color in the day blocks that you do something for your nature journal. Heck, you could even get some gold star stickers and give yourself a gold star every day that you take that walk to observe the natural world around you! Really, any stickers would be pretty fun…especially these unicorn stickers!
Here is my November Calendar that I’ll be using:
Want to make it even easier? You can google “free printable habit tracker” and find a zillion different options to suit your style.
Lastly, be kind to yourself. If you’re having a terrible day and you just could not make time for nature journaling, don’t beat yourself up! There is no use in making yourself feel bad. Take a deep breath and decide to make it more of a priority the next day.
So let’s dive in and begin to explore the natural world around us! If you have other amazing tips, feel free to comment below!