The 5-minute Journal

Last year I bought, in some sort of moment of defeat against the capitalism of productivity tools, a product called The 5 Minute Journal after hearing a few people talk about it.

(Important note: since I bought it the creators have created the following video which would have made me not buy it if I had seen it before, probably due to my overwhelming jealousy. Who in Oden’s name gets to wake up like this?)

The product is meant to increase mindfulness and focus. The idea is pretty simple – you spend a few minutes answering the following every day:

Morning

I am grateful for ____ [3 things].

I am grateful for ____ [3 things].

What would make today great?  [3 things]

Daily affirmations.  I am… [2 blank lines]

Evening

3 Amazing Things that happened today… [3 things]

How could I have made today better?

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I bought the physical product and wrote in it, but they now have an iOS app.

Actual Science

The exact questions are based on positive psychology and the work of Dr. Martin Seligman (author of Authentic Happiness, Learned Optimism, and Flourish).  In his research, Seligman details “Positive Psychology” which has shown that remembering positive events, expressing gratitude, and focusing on core strengths can help people climb out of depression. I knew none of this when I bought this book; I simply heard Tim Ferris say it was cool and if you listen to Tim Ferris enough you will buy something.

My experience

First, I was surprised at how many times I forgot to do it at night. Apparently, in the morning I have a very complex “getting started” ritual and an “end working” ritual, but no “going to bed ritual”. My getting started ritual always happens at my desk, but the good night ritual happens upstairs so I never saw the book to remind me to do something.

Once I established it as a habit it was very interesting to see what I put in there for goals and positive outlooks. An important detail to note is that during the time [Spring 2015] I was using it school ended for my kids, and both my wife and I tweaked our back (separately) and started going to physical therapy. This period was tough as health issues often are – I would feel better and then she would feel worse, and all the kids being around didn’t always help either of us rest. You can see this impatience reflected in the journal, but the question format forced me to think smaller about it.

Rather than just being down about my back I would say things to it like “What would make a good day?” and I would put stuff like My back is the same, and my wife’s is a little better and I would have to say that to myself a few times – define the day-by-day by that criteria.  At night I would have to write that, in fact, our backs were the same or a little better and forced myself to define the day as a win.

Self-Affirmations

I could see this tool helping you to change the way you think slowly over time, especially with large goals. If you are looking to get into college telling yourself a few more times a day will not hurt you and will help you stay focused on that goal. And the “end of the day” items were very interesting – you dream about things you are worried or anxious or have just thought about, so a positive reflection on your day is and effective routine before you go to bed. It simply works.

I struggled to know what to put in the “Daily Affirmations” box. Struggling to figure out what I would put there made me end up putting a goal in there “working towards X” or a reminder of a core strength “good at coming up with ideas”. I never knew that a small book could turn me into Stuart Smalley but here we were.

Gratitude

Another thing that is obvious but made me feel good is that the before-bed ritual served as a way to remember good things that happened. One of my implicit life goals is to hold my temper and be patient with my children. They do not share this goal, but I found myself simply writing down “did not yell at kids” or “good day with kids” or “0 tantrums from anyone” day after day let me see the wins. And reminding yourself that things are overall going pretty well is a very powerful idea. The real revelation with this journal is that there were times when I wrote things I never would have expected like “nice sunset tonight”.