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At this point, half-filled journals stack themselves in my bedroom. I’ve probably bought at least five of them (excluding a defunct planner) throughout the past year, and each one demonstrates a precarious period in which nothing felt stable and everything — from work to personal relationships — intertwined. Lines of poetry clash against notes from job interviews and incomplete to-do lists, in part because I have never been the type to dedicate a journal to one subject.
That changed after a particularly low point, when the task of landing a full-time job after graduating during a pandemic seemed overwhelming. My sister told me that writing in a gratitude journal helped her find solace, and might help me, too. I tried to write “three things I’m grateful for every day” in one of my five journals, but abandoned the task after a few tries. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon The Five Minute Journal by Intelligent Change that something stuck.
The Five Minute Journal is a gratitude journal with pages for six months’ worth of daily, undated entries. The journal starts with a preface about the reasoning behind positive thinking, as well as its overall value. It recommends that you commit to writing in the journal for at least five days in a row and share how you plan to do so before you even start writing your daily entries. I appreciated this because I find it hard to commit to a challenge and follow through on goals. The form helped me keep my intentions in mind and hold myself accountable.
It also champions positive reinforcement: For example, if you finish the five days of writing, the journal suggests that you gift yourself a reward of your choosing. Raising the stakes is an inverse result: If you don’t finish the challenge, you hold yourself accountable by following through on another action, such as donating $100 to a charity. For my part, my accountability challenge was a promise to “try again (for real).”
The journal’s preface suggests keeping the book by your bed so you can write in it as soon as you wake up and right before you go to bed. Each entry starts with an inspirational quote or weekly challenge, followed by a “morning routine” section and a “night routine” section. In the morning, I would start my day by writing three things I’m grateful for, three things that would make my day great, and daily affirmations. At night, I would be prompted to share three amazing things that happened that day and how I could have made the day even better.
During the first few weeks, I found it difficult to come up with three things I’m grateful for in my life. A lot of my initial responses were morning-related, like my night-guard, the sun, coffee, or sleep. However, the real magic started in the “What would make today great?” section. When I woke up in the morning, I focused on what I needed to get done, not what would make me happy or feel fulfilled. Answering that question every day lets me think more intentionally about how I want to spend my time. In turn, it helped me tap into gratitude throughout the day. I also feel great at night whenever I can easily think of three amazing things that have happened.
The system hasn’t worked perfectly for me, though. Over the months, I’ve taken notice of a similar theme in my entries: I almost always end each entry on a negative note because I tend to answer “How could I have made today even better?” with a wish that I got more work done than I did. While the journal provides tools to establish a positive mindset, those negative work-related thoughts still creep in. I’ve had to put in a consistent effort to feel better at the end of each day, which I’ve started to do by creating a checklist for each workday so I can recognize that I have completed any tasks that are truly necessary.
I’m still trying to strike a balance between holding myself accountable and not being too hard on myself. This past year has been tumultuous, draining, and life-changing, but writing in The Five Minute Journal has kept me grounded and helps me find beauty in myself and daily life. On days when I thought I had nothing to look forward to, the journal has challenged me to take my life into my own hands and think about what could make it great. Thanks to consistent journaling, I’m starting to put those thoughts into action. And while you could certainly do this in a blank notebook, each page’s gentle guidance is a nice companion amidst the uncertainty and chaos.