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Lifestyle Productivity

What I Learned from Writing My Goals Down in the Morning (The 5 Minute Journal)

“Man has it all in his hands, and it all slips through his fingers from sheer cowardice.” 

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Crime & Punishment)

Reflective Experiments

So for the last 5 months, I’ve been doing this thing called The 5 Minute Journal. I originally heard about this idea from Tim Ferriss (as with so many other things), but it’s a popular practice that millions of people are already doing. I figured I can try it for 30 days (because anyone can try anything for 30 days), and I haven’t stopped since.

I’ve found it to be extremely beneficial to my performance as well as my mental health.

The 5 Minute Journal is pretty simple.

In the morning I fill out the following:

I am grateful for…

What would make today great?

Daily Affirmation. I am…

______________

and in the evening I answer these questions:

3 amazing things that happened today…

  • 1….
  • 2…
  • 3…

How could I have made today even better?

______________

and that’s it!

It’s not that invasive and I’ve integrated it into my day so I don’t need to expend much effort to write. I created a notebook in OneNote and synced all my devices on it so I can easily access my journal whenever I need it.

My 5 Minute Journal in OneNote

There are physical 5-minute journals that people can purchase, but I like my digital journal for convenience reasons. Also, OneNote is free.

I also included it on my Streaks app, so I have additional reminders and incentives to keep it up. I highly recommend this app too. You can customize your own habits and it’s so fun to see my patterns.

Streaks on iOS

When I first started the 5MJ, it felt really lame, awkward, and artificial, but over time I learned what things worked for me and what things didn’t.

I (stole from Tim Ferriss) try to use 1 ground rule for my journal just to keep it effective and not feel so dull. I cannot repeat what I am grateful for within 3 days of each other. This prevents me from saying “I am grateful for my dogs” every day even though it’s so true and I’m tempted to write it every morning. I can leave room for gratitude in other things. There have been days when I’ve had to dig deep for gratitude and I find beauty in places that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.

When I started it, I literally wrote down my to-do list in the “What would make today great?” section and felt like my days weren’t great until I finished my to-do list.

This just added to my stress and didn’t help all that much. I noticed that my best days were the days that I created or learned something new. Usually, the 3rd spot doesn’t really matter too much. Today, I try to make sure at least one of the things in that the “What would make today great?” section is “Learn something new” or “Create something new” because that makes life worth it.

The see the Daily Affirmation as a beautiful opportunity to tell me whatever I need to hear most. Most of the time, I wrote down statements that I didn’t necessarily believe but wanted to be true.

A few examples of those statements were:

I am an inevitable success.

I am capable.

I am doing good work.

I am in control of where my life goes.

I am spending my time well.

I noticed that in the morning I usually didn’t believe it, but as I went about my day, I would find examples that supported the affirmations.

Hacking confirmation bias to benefit my mental health. Check ✔

Telling myself something in the morning somehow makes my subconscious look for proof of it in my everyday life. I’m sure this rings true for all the negative things we say about ourselves as well.

Another noteworthy lesson, and probably the most important lesson, I’ve learned from practicing the 5MJ is being able to accomplish the things we set out to do is a skill that needs to be practiced and maintained.

When I first started doing the journal, I wrote down the things that would make today great at the start of the day and be devastated to discover that my days ended up being something entirely different. It’s upsetting to know that the whole day was wasted, in the sense that I couldn’t live the life I wanted to, but it was a great lesson to learn.

I saw that if I could lose track of this day, I could easily lose track of much more time, especially if I’m not tracking it. I realized that this is what happened to me in high school and in college. I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of living that I forget my intentions that I originally go in with. I was upset that I lost a day, but then I realized that there are people who do this for decades of their lives. That’s an excruciating realization. Losing track of our intentions is the fastest way to build a life we hate or at least a life that doesn’t feel worth it.

The evidence was all around me, but it wasn’t clear until I started seeing the patterns externalized in my journal. Now, after paying much attention to carrying out my intentions, I’ve developed a relationship with myself in which I can trust my “busy monkey mind” to still carry out the intentions my best self wants.

Sometimes I’ll go through the day feeling like I haven’t done the things I intended to do, but when I look at my journal, I realized that I did and that’s a pleasant surprise. The peace of mind that this provides me is invaluable, but I didn’t start noticing this until a few months into the journaling. There were definitely enough bad days where I believed for a short while that I always subconsciously destroyed my intentions unless I really really really tried not to.

The last lesson I’ll mention is that it’s worthwhile to write down my seemingly trivial thoughts because reflecting on them is fun. It’s cool to see a tiny snapshot of the past, what’s going on inside my head, and what I felt was worth remembering for that day. A lot of beautiful moments happen during the bad days, and this journal gives me an opportunity to see and relive them when they would have otherwise been forgotten.

I think everyone should start journaling. It’s one of the most invaluable things I have ever done for myself and I know everyone could benefit from it. I think the longer I stick with it, the more value it’s going to give me in the future. If the 5MJ doesn’t fit your style, I recommend just free writing for 5 minutes.

Start writing down your thoughts and intentions. Write anything. Stick with it for a while. Receive benefits.

You give what you get, but maybe even more with journaling.

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