Based on my gmail history, my first journal arrived between April 15, 2015 - April 29, 2015.
It wasn’t any kind of journal, it was the ‘five minute journal’ — the brand touted as ‘life changing’ by four-hour workweek type people like Tim Ferris and Charlie Hoehn.
The landing page for the journal promises a lot of things, namely happiness. “The Five Minute Journal is your secret weapon to focus on the good in your life, become more mindful, and live with intention.”
At the time, that seemed valuable to me, or at least valuable enough to shell out 20 clams.
Journalling has been agreed to be a healthy habit, like meditating or running around the park. But I think I started to journal just to see what would happen. It didn’t spring from any specific need or breakdown.
The journal is broken into two segments, day and night, and within each segment there’s a few different prompts. I wanted to quickly run through each prompt and talk about how I used it and what I found good/bad.
At the top of every page there’s a new empty slot for a date, an icon of a sun and a quote. I basically ignored this section. I occasionally would scrawl the day of the week like ‘monday’, but never the date. The quotes were awful — awful in a bland, mediocre way that’s hard to describe, but makes me feel a little hollow inside — like a quote from Gandhi or Nelson Mandela or a Ted Speaker. One interesting emergent habit was if I had a really nice day, I drew a smiley face inside the shape of the sun. Moving on.
I am grateful for…
Here, I listed out three things I was grateful for. This sounds easy, is a bit more difficult in practice, but after a few weeks becomes easy again. It can be small things, things in the past, opportunities in the future, anything.
What would make to day great?
Again, three things. This wasn’t too hard to fill out, but the challenge for me was to prevent it looking my to-do list (something else I write every day). Instead, try a few simple things that make you feel a little uncomfortable like — Complimenting a stranger. Sounds stupid, especially in the morning when you just want to eat breakfast, but worth it.
Scott Adams wrote about affirmations. I agree with him that there’s something there, but I’m not exactly sure what. In a corporate environment teams will band around aspirational, motivating missions or ‘objectives’ — These really motivate complex projects and help to hit performance targets. So something like “I’m going to be a successful professional author” - is a powerful statement. I think people often use this to build up confidence too, like “I’m a good, attractive person.” - which in my opinion is a bit sad, and probably not the right way to go about things.
3 Amazing things that happened today…
This was probably my favorite part of journalling. There’s a few reasons why. We forget so much stuff! I can’t tell you the number of times I really had to rack my brain to even remember what I had for lunch! There was also a loop that connected the morning question (what would make today great). Often those things ended up happening, or something better. The other insight was the type of events that I listed here. It was usually inter-personal things like a nice phone call, dinner with a friend etc.
How could I have made today better?
Finally, this caps the analytical phase, and forces you to consider your actions, in true Stoic style. I don’t love the framing of this question, but regardless, it’s an opportunity to improve your behavior. For example, “prepared more before my presentation.” These are usually small things, that will often get done next time.
Journalling isn’t for everyone.
You don’t have to be some self-optimizing freak to enjoy the practice. Like any ‘small practice’, like reading, meditation, exercise, you are not likely to experience any life changing insights, shocks or vast leaps in success.
For me, the cumulative practice, has been enjoyable, and at the very least, I have a diary of my life for the last few years.