And I am not talking about a new diet, supplements or exercise regime.
3 weeks ago, at my team’s off-site meeting, we each received a gift – The Five Minute Journal. Normally, I would politely receive such a gift, privately roll my eyes inside my head, bring the book back and chuck it to one corner somewhere to gather dust for all of eternity. And if I were browsing at a book store, I would never have picked up something like this, thinking it too much of a gimmick or band-aid self-help.
This time around, for some reason yet unknown to me, the universe conspired and I felt compelled to open the journal and look through it. I read through the first few pages that explained the philosophy behind the design of the journal, which I do get, because I do coach others in the work I do using similar principles.
Essentially, The Five Minute Journal ask for one to take a brief amount of time every morning when one wakes up to reflect upon 3 things that one is grateful for, plan to do 3 things that would make one’s day a great day and give oneself a positive affirmation; and at the end of the day at bedtime, to take another brief moment to recall 3 things that happened to make the day an awesome one and to reflect on 1 thing that one could have done to make the day even better.
I wondered to myself how this would make my life better, I was skeptical because I am generally someone who already does spend some time everyday thinking about things that I am grateful for and plotting to make the day a wonderful day (as you would know from my blogs about grinning madly on my regular morning runs).
I decided no harm giving this a try, since I am already sort of doing something similar in my head as I went about my day. And so I began and have been at it for slightly more than 2 weeks.
And something magical did happen – I noticed that I was actually a lot calmer and happier over the past 2 weeks, less irritated by my kids, and I learnt a few surprising truths.
The first learning is that there is power in the written word.
Sure I am generally a grateful person and would spend a little time everyday as I went about my day feeling grateful that I am alive and well and that I have my kids with me. And I do often think back to what I have done in the past few hours or a few days earlier in the week, picking out from the streams of memory what was surprising and what made the day wonderful.
Writing down these thoughts took it to a different level of awareness. It crystalized my thoughts and made it tangible. And because it was tangible, I could read it as I wrote it, bringing the things I am grateful for closer to my truth. It also meant that I could start to see patterns in my reflections over time – What was common? What was universal? What might be new? What might have changed? What might have been discarded?
The second learning is that it is so hard to write a positive affirmation about oneself.
I think this holds true for most of humankind. This was my least favourite part of the journaling and something I was always tempted to skip and if not, to just write something cursory. And as I wrote my positive affirmation to myself, I often felt a twinge of guilt – as though it was a bad thing to say (or in this case, write) something wonderfully positive about oneself.
The third learning is that little changes to one’s life made consistently over an extended period of time really can make a noticeable difference in a short amount of time. And little changes are a lot easier to make and to have stickiness in them.
In the course of the two weeks, I saw that I was consistently grateful for the same 3 or 4 items with a few other items of gratefulness popping up once in a while. Reading back, I was also able to pick up the things that I did not mentioned I was grateful about and that in itself also revealed to me my frame of mind and how I prioritized.
The net effect of these little changes to how I reflect has been profound. The children’s antics and bad behavior at home fazed me a lot less. And in dealing with the children and meting out discipline, I was a lot calmer. And whenever life threw me a curveball at work or in other matters, I was a lot less stressed and upset and recovered my footing more quickly to focus on dealing with the issues. It was a butterfly effect that rippled beyond my own physical existence to those around me too – not just my kids and family and friends but even to the random strangers I bump into on the streets.
So I would invite you my friend to do the same: spend some time reflecting and planning your day in small and meaningful ways and more importantly, write these reflections down. It’s 5 minutes of soul food that you individually and our society could collectively do with.