Search & Replace Episode S01E03: Kolina Cicero

Habit tracking sounds like a trendy term — it’s the topic of a book that put James Clear on the New York Times bestseller list for over twelve months, and it’s a tactic that Jerry Seinfeld shared with novice performers back when he was still touring comedy clubs. 

Author Kolina Cicero wasn’t really looking for any advice on habit tracking. A gift from a friend enlightened her to how much time she wasn’t spending doing the things she thought were central to her well-being.

More about today’s guest:

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Announcer: [00:00:00] Support for the following podcast is provided by the user experience specialist at Johns and Taylor. More information follows this episode. 

Joe Taylor: [00:00:10] Don't break the chain. Can checking one box every day, helping you and your goals next month? I'm Joe Taylor Jr. This is Search and Replace.

Habit tracking. Sounds like a trendy term. It's the topic of a book that put James Clear on the New York Times bestseller list for over 12 months. And it's a tactic that Jerry Seinfeld shared with novice performers back when he was still touring comedy clubs. Author Kolina Cicero wasn't really looking for any advice on habit tracking, though. A gift from a friend enlightened her to how much time she wasn't spending doing the things she thought were central to her wellbeing.

Kolina Cicero: [00:00:53] Someone gave me a habit tracking journal. And I thought it was really cool because I think all journals and notebooks and pens and pencils are cool, as a writer. I just thought it was really neat. So what I did was I filled out all of my habits. This was an awareness thing. I was like, okay, let's see, I do yoga.

That's another thing I thought I did all the time. Turns out I didn't. Yoga, writing meditation, a bunch of stuff, reading. I wrote all these down in this chart. And at the end of the month, it revealed how few days I actually carved out the time to do writing for myself. And so it was the very next month where I started with my new schedule.

So it just took that one month to learn. And then the new habits started the following month and have more or less stuck with me. 

Joe Taylor: [00:01:45] To put things into context, Kolina is a busy professional writer. And yet the habit tracking journal revealed some unexpected findings. 

Kolina Cicero: [00:01:54] Just last month I published a children's book. So half of my work is promoting that and thinking about that. The other half is I'm working on a novel.

So just me time, writing time, I write for my career. I write for another company. And I found, I felt like I was writing so much because I was. But it wasn't until I started tracking when I actually was writing for myself that I was able to understand, Oh wow- I think that I'm working toward my goals. And I think that I'm working on my own personal projects and I'm not. Not as much as I need to be.

So I had just major inconsistencies in my writing patterns. And so it wasn't until I changed my schedule, essentially, and carved out that time at the end morning. I have a two and a half year old who sometimes will be up early, but she'll usually sleep until seven. So I started to get up at 5:00 in the morning and get to my desk at 5:02 after grabbing a cup of coffee.

And I just had this amazing, beautiful uninterrupted writing time. And as a writer, that's the best thing you could ever ask for.

Joe Taylor: [00:03:07] If you're not familiar with the mechanics of habit tracking, some folks use calendars, some folks use smartphone apps. But many people, like Kolina, use journals. 

Kolina Cicero: [00:03:16] If I wrote yoga, I knew in my head yoga was a one hour class. So I didn't have to put parameters around that. One parameter I did create was 10 plus minutes of stillness. So that was like a meditation for me. And that was something I wanted to make sure I was creating some time to just think and have some stillness and have no noise, no radio, no nothing. And then for writing, I've changed it over the months but some months it'll be work, write novel. So it's strictly just when I'm working on my novel. Other months, it'll be writing for me. So that's just different articles because I do write different articles. So yes, you need to put parameters around them in order for them to be successful. You need to know what that means to you.

Joe Taylor: [00:04:08] Successful habit tracking doesn't mean piling on a whole bunch of new routines at once, as Kolina explains. 

Kolina Cicero: [00:04:14] I didn't incorporate new stuff in until maybe a month or two later. And when I did, if I wanted to start tracking a new habit, I would do one per month. I make small changes so that I can actually do that. And he says really motivated, highly motivated by putting my little X mark by my habits every night. I'm sitting in my bed, I pull out my habit tracker journal and I'm just, did you do this? Yes, yes. No, no. And I try not to get down on myself when I don't do a habit. But I try to say, okay, I didn't do it today, well I'm going to do it tomorrow then. And you wouldn't believe how much more important it is to me. Writing has always been important to me. Right? But when I realized how many days I can go without writing, when I see it in front of my face every night, it's just so motivating to get up and do it.

And so yes, I have made the most progress on my novel that I've ever done in a shorter period of time. I've spent a lot of time working on marketing for my book, because that was another habit I was tracking. And it's just really led to some great, what I would call, achievements. Even though my novel and progress - I don't know how many pages it is- but it's so many more than it used to be. And that is progress. That is just a wonderful thing to see. 

Joe Taylor: [00:05:39] Kolina's got a little guidance for you if you think habit tracking something you want to try. 

Kolina Cicero: [00:05:44] Spend one entire month just tracking what you already do. If you're a runner track that. If you want to track how much water you consume, track that. Just track things you're already doing. Figure out what your day to day looks like. What's important to you. Spend one month doing that and then just make small changes. Try to think little because those little changes turn into beautiful progress. I'm definitely no habit tracking master. I just was gifted this thing and it has really changed the way I operate. So I don't consider myself any sort of expert on habit tracking. I'm just a really big believer in it. 

Joe Taylor: [00:06:25] That's author Kolina Cicero whose work has appeared in Vogue and the Harvard Business Review. Her first book for children, "Rosie and the Hobby Farm" just landed on bookstore shelves.

You'll find links to Kolina's work on our website, 

And just days after we recorded this interview with her, Kolina gave birth to little Enzo John. Congratulations to her and the whole family. 

Search and Replace was produced by Nicole Hubbard with support from Christine Benton, Connie Evans, Amelia Lohmann, April Smith and executive producer, Lori Taylor. Our theme music was composed by Alex DuFire. I'm Joe Taylor, Jr. 

Announcer: [00:07:04] This has been a Podcast Taxi radio production. Support for Search and Replace is provided by Johnson and Taylor, user experience specialists serving media and technology companies that want their websites to work.

Learn more about how top performing businesses eliminate barriers between customers and their goals at

Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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