“The Five Minute Journal is one of the simplest ways that I have found to consistently ensure improving my well being and happiness. Both in terms of achievement and actual measurable, quantifiable results.” Tim Ferris
As a student of human behaviour, I am particularly interested in what behaviour results in happiness, and what behaviour creates stress and worry.
One of the focal points of my interest right now is to find tools, tricks, and ways to guide our mind away from stress and anxiety and towards fulfilment and happiness.
But how do you direct your brain? What habits create worry and what habits help us to guide our mind towards gratitude and joy.
What Habits Create Worry?
I got this part covered. Since I never shied away from failure and fucking up in a big way, I, by accident, did my PhD in how to feel like horse crap.
My monkey mind was non-stop in problem-solving mode. Always stressed, super imbalanced, and totally not happy. This provided me with a manual on how to feel worried all the time. This, in combination with me being a psychology student, put me in a perfect position to deconstruct unhappiness and chronic stress.
After spending years on finding patterns, mindsets, and behaviours that resulted in worry, anxiety, and depression, I got curious about what the opposite would look like.
What was the opposite of worry? Of anxiety? I needed a group of people who did things radically different. So I looked to the other side of the spectrum of happiness. Of people who were kicking ass in life.
What were the habits, routines, and patterns of pro athletes, stars, millionaires or even billionaires? Are there commonalities to be found among them?
I was curious about what would happen if one straight copied the behaviours of successful people. What would happen to a person who was prone to despair and depression, if that person started to emulate habits of high achievers and happy people?
Would this result in them getting better results and eventually more happiness?
Sounds easy right? Well, there was one problem.
As a broke psychology student, I did not know many millionaires.
This was when I stumbled over the Tim Ferris Podcast.
Tim Ferris is a Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur, who made it his life mission to deconstruct world-class performers from various areas (investing, sports, business, etc.).
He does so by interviewing high performers to extract the tactics, tools, routines, and habits of the super successful. This means that he asks them about their favourite books, their morning routines, exercise habits, their time-management tricks, and so on.
His guests have included people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Foxx, Edward Norton, Tony Robbins, and Peter Thiel.
This show for me was a good nugget, and as you can hear, I am a big fanboy of this show. Since at that time, I did not have enough leverage to interview successful case studies myself, this show was the next best thing for me.
One habit popped up over and over Journaling.
Apparently, the perfect antidote to stress and worrying is to take our thoughts and put them on paper. There seems to be something highly therapeutic about guiding our brain by asking the right kind of questions. Our brain is, in my opinion, a big, grey answering machine. It cannot help itself but answer the questions we ask ourselves.
But, I was not into writing at that point, where do I start when I want to implant the habit of journaling?
Tim Ferris pitches a product that is exactly that. Journaling for starters.
The Five Minute Journal.
So, what is the Five-Minute Journal…
The first part of the Five Minute Journal is about your Morning Routine. The first few minutes after waking up are crucial.
If you win the morning, you win the day” Tim Ferris
You have the chance here to prime yourself positively for the rest of the day.
The best way to finetune your brain is by asking questions.
The quality of questions that we ask ourselves continually decides our mental state more than anything else. Click here to read my article about how to ask questions better.
The morning section asks you three questions:
- What are you grateful for …
- What would make today great …
- Daily affirmations, I am …
Starting your day with gratitude is a habit that I heard many high achievers mention. I believe that happiness is a habit, as well. Click here to read my article about gratitude and meditation.
One thing that unhappy people have in common is, in my opinion, their inability to see the good small things that are in our life. I believe that humans are first and foremost designed to survive. Happiness is secondary. Our brain is hard-wired to look for danger, and in my opinion, it does not give a fuck about happiness. We can hack this by asking our brain questions consciously to guide our emotions. It is very hard for our brain to separate words, thoughts, and posture from emotions. When we jump around and think about the awesomeness of life, it is much harder to hold depressing thoughts and vice versa.
Starting by asking yourself what you can be grateful for emphasises that there are amazing things around you. This can be as big as having a loving family, or as small as seeing a bird that you like or feeling a cold refreshing breath on your face.
Happiness is a learnable skill. Gratitude is training that very skill by giving us conscious control over our perspective. I believe achievement is overrated, and that it is really about how we experience and perceive achievement and our pursuit of the things that matter to us.
The first thing I do every morning is make my bed. It gives me closure from the night before and starts my day off in a clean, tidy and organised way. The second thing I do is an affirmation of gratitude, whether it’s for my immediate fortunate surroundings [such as] family, friends, health, home or gratitude for unknown people and unforeseen situations that come my way. Every person that enters your life and everything that happens to you has some greater meaning. It’s up to you to dig deep and ask why. “
—Angela Mavridis, founder and CEO of Tribal Foods, a company that produces organic grass-fed protein patties.
What Can I Do To Make Today Great?
In this part, you basically force yourself to think about what you need to do today to feel like crap in the evening. What tasks have I been postponing that will cause me guilt today when I am in bed?
What do I have to do to feel tonight that this was a nice, productive, fruitful, and exciting day? This means for everybody, something else. For me, it is about balance. I need to have the feeling that I get holistically better. This can mean for me going to the gym and lift heavy weights, or going to the library and working on my dream.
It also means doing something fun. Have a new date, or make the life of someone around you a little bit better. It also means doing something just for you. Maybe watching a movie, or getting a fly new shirt. The idea behind these questions is to feel out what your idea is of a perfect day, and how you can design a life that aligns with your true values and wishes.
Here you write down how you are. What are you feeling, what is going on inside your brain? In my opinion, becoming an expert on your inner life is a necessity when you want to achieve anything, and if you want to have the chance of living happily.
Being unclear about why you do things will result in you doing the wrong things completely. For example, if you feel undervalued and unappreciated, you might make completely different career choices.
Maybe you become a doctor to become validated by society and not because it is your heart’s desire, instead of doing pottery. The point I am trying to make is that by listening carefully to your emotions, you can avoid habits and decisions that are bad for you.
Not listening to your pain and your needs makes you very vulnerable to bad habits such as alcoholism, avoidance, or distraction. If you face your true feelings; however, you can manoeuvre your behaviour consciously, and you can make conscious decisions for your life.
Also, a great advantage is that you can look back in your journal to darker, or happier times, and reread what you did differently back then. Either to realise what new behaviours are not good for you or to see what you have stopped that was giving you happiness and fulfilment.
What Was Awesome Today?
The night section asks you to reflect on three things that were amazing that day.
Again, life is not so much about actual results, but about perception, in my opinion. The amount of what we have and what we are is less decisive than in what way we evaluate our pursuits—forcing yourself to write down three things that change your perception of your life, each day, a little bit.
In our society, we are motivated to only pride our self with big achievements, but celebrating even the tiniest of our successes results, in my opinion, in much more happiness.
Often people with depression think they have nothing good in their life. Here, you are forced to write down three things. This can be as small as the fact that you saw a nice butterfly, or even that you made your bed. Click here to read my article on why making your bed results in more happiness.
Furthermore, you are asked about something that you could have done better.
Two things that The Five Minute Journal helps you to do in the evening:
- You end your day with positivity.
- You evaluate your day.
Often, we are caught in the business of life, without really moving forward. The feeling of being stuck, of not moving is a sure ingredient of worry and unhappiness.
This part of the Five-Minute Journal forces you to think about the positive things that life gave you this day, and also, lets you think about ways to make it better, richer, fun, and more productive.
For me, this part was important. I think I am naturally a very motivated person. That is great, but also very dangerous because when I do not keep it in check, I work for months in the wrong direction, inefficiently without a plan or strategy. Asking myself every night how I could have given more, planned better, enjoyed more fully lets me go to bed with the feeling that tomorrow is going to be even better.
I am always on the hunt for behaviour-changing products. I believe that this product is really great when you want to start to journal. Later, you can create your own journal with questions that are more fitting to your unique personal values.
But for starters, this is a beautiful product that will train your brain to become more aware of all of the beautiful little things in your life.
I have been journaling for about two years right now, and I can honestly say that this habit has made me happier and more productive. And, if you do not want to spend the money, just create a journal for yourself, but the simplicity, and that it only takes 5 minutes makes it perfect to implant it into your schedule, and then later, build more positive rituals on top of it.
Call to Action
- If you want to check out the Five-Minute Journal on Amazon? Click here!
- Write down three things that you can be grateful for.
- Write down three things that are amazing about you.
What is one area in your life that is still holding you back?