A new fad has been sweeping through the personal development movement.
Journaling. But is it just a useless fad seen as the next “magic pill” to success or is it legit?
There are even popular journals you can buy include the Five-Minute Journal, Mastery Journal, Freedom Journal, Morning Pages, and Miracle Morning (though this is more of a routine) as made famous by Alex and Mimi Ikonn, John Lee Dumas, Tim Ferriss, and Hal Elrod.
But there’s a huge problem with the current state of daily journals out in the market.
I believe the current options and ideas around journaling are good but far from great. They focus on covering a broad range of goals with the most mainstream studies and habits that are popularized.
Take the Five-Minute Journal, for example, one of the most popular options. It has been popularized by millionaire entrepreneurs, like Pat Flynn and Tim Ferriss.
After years of seeing others try it out, I have finally got the five-minute journal for myself. You are my initial thoughts: it will definitely help anyone who is looking to improve their lives start a daily practice. It is, however, a little on the short side. The exercises are very quick and easy to do, maybe too easy. Overall, I’m excited.
Here’s what I think could be better about it:
If you don’t want to watch the whole video, here is the summary:
- I love how little it takes to do it.
- I love the luxury feel of the cover.
- I like the attempt to infuse science and advice from successful people in the exercises.
- I like how successful people created it and recommend it because it provides credibility.
- Some of the exercises is backed up by anecdotal advice from a single individual or a single well-known scientific study.
- The exercises are simple and you don’t need to pay twenty bucks a month to do it. Eventually, you can transition to using scratch paper.
- It can still become a chore to do, especially if you aren’t seeing any noticeable value.
- As I will cover in more detail later in this article, I feel it may be too generalized at targeting “success in life.”
My Own Noticeable Benefits
Since recording the video, I’ve gotten halfway through the journal. I’ve noticed that it helps align me at the start of the day to the top tasks I should do, which has made me more productive.
Before, I would create priorities in my head or write them down, but would often forget to do so. But this forces me to crystallize what needs to get done so I don’t get off track on irrelevant stuff.
It also helps me reflect at the end of the day towards what went wrong, what I didn’t do, where I’m procrastinating, what I’m neglecting, and what I can do better in the future so this doesn’t happen again.
I never did this before so it was actually quite helpful (and surprising) to see where I’m screwing up.
The generalized nature of the book reminds me to look at success in multiple areas of life (relationships, fitness, wealth, dating, etc.). This is a double-edged sword because it does help me balance vital pillars of success but doesn’t let me focus down on rapidly improving one area, although you could probably choose to only talk about one area, like career, if you wanted to.
The gratitude exercises didn’t have as much effect on my happiness as I imagined. The experiment they reference about how gratitude improves happiness also mentions that doing the exercise more than once a week doesn’t have any noticeable increase because it’s seen as a chore.
Therefore, it may have been better if they cut the exercises to once per week rather than every day.
It’s also worth noting that Dr. Martin Seligmann’s discoveries on gratitude exercises focus on talking about why you’re grateful, which this book doesn’t ask for.
What Would Make the Journal Industry Better
What would make it even better is if it was broken into different journals, like the Five-Minute Journal for Happiness, the Five-Minute Journal for Reducing Anxiety, and the Five-Minute Journal for Productivity, for example.
I get why they did it how they did it. It would be overwhelming doing too many journals and spending too long every day journaling. The concept behind it is to keep it under five minutes and so easy you can’t help but not do it. But you can do that by catering more to each person’s specific goals and delivering better results with more specific exercises.
People have different problems and goals. Some want to be happier, others want to be a millionaire, others want to find a job they love, others want to get over anxiety to improve their dating lives, and others want to become fit and sexy.
A one-size-fits all approach can only get you so far.
Like I said, I like the Five-Minute Journal. It’s exercises asking you to be grateful. count your wins for the day, and reflect on how it could h ave been better are applicable to almost any goal you set out. But it’s missing that extra oomph by niching down.
Take the gratitude exercises. To the general public, this is a new idea. But it’s beaten to death in the self help community that gratitude helps with happiness. And if you did a little extra research, you’d find that gratitude exercises more than once a week don’t have any increase in happiness. Yet they make you do it everyday.
Maybe this shows that the creators didn’t do as much research on this as it may appear. Or they did but still thought it was worth doing every day. Okay, fair enough.
But if your main focus was to be happier every day, wouldn’t you prefer more science-backed happiness exercises? You see what I’m getting at?
Rather than counting ways you’re grateful every day, it may be worth also developing strong friendships and savoring the present moment for small or big experiences in your life.
Other points touching on the most popular, surface-level scientific studies in these journals made me wonder…
It claims it takes 22 days to build a habit. But this is a popular myth that has been severely misinterpreted by many people. The actual study said that 67 days is the average minimum time it took to form a habit and that it depends on the severity of the habit and talent of the individual. It can take twice as long as 67 days for all we know.
So I’ve already hinted at how I’d make my own version of the journal different. What else would I do? I’d add a checklist component.
Why checklists? Long story short, because of what I learned in the book The Checklist Manifesto. The TLDR of the book, which is written by an established doctor, shows how a simple checklist can help prevent super smart people from making stupidly simple mistakes.
Doctors and engineers have forgotten to do simple tasks that have cost them lives in the hospital and structures collapsing because they were overwhelmed by all the tasks they had to do. Even the smartest people can forget about basic tasks they must do when they caught up with intricate processes. As in the Five-Minute Journal, I’d have a quick introduction at the start of the journal touching on all the reasons the journal was designed how it is.
Here’s a quick outline of the exercises I’d have in each version of my hypothetical journals:
You don’t have to do all of these, but do most. The bold are mandatory.
- 10 Things You’re Grateful For In Detail – Once a Week
- Cardio or HIIT Exercise for at least 15 minutes – Four Times A Week
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep – Every Day
- Do Something For Someone Worse Off Than You – Once A Week
- Connect with someone you have a strong relationship with or form a new friendship – Twice A Week
- Connect with someone you used to have a strong relationship with but lost touch with – Once a Month
Emotional Intelligence Journal
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep – Every Day
- Cardio or HIIT Exercise for at least 15 minutes – Four Times A Week
- Participate in one social gathering where you are talking to other people – Every Day
There are endless hordes of fitness experts online so this journal will probably not be made or will be niched down even further. But you can imagine what would be on it:
- Cardio or HIIT Exercise for at least 15 minutes – Once A Day
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep
- Have healthy levels of sugar and fat intake on a daily basis
The Real Value of Journaling: Trauma, Anxiety, Overthinking, or Other Social Issues
Not all journaling involves a strict procedure where you have to write about something rigid that is already defined to you, like what you’re grateful for or what your goals are.
Traditional journaling just meant stream-of-thought writing on a piece of paper. And this type of journaling may still be the most useful form.
If you’re suffering with having mentally healthy, mutually beneficial relationships and want to improve communication skills with your romantic partner and/or friends, try one of these out:
- 10 to 20 minutes of journaling about a specific trauma or negative experience you had in the past (with your parents, family, or someone else) and your thoughts on it as a distant observer. Repeat preferably once a day for 4 days. Or once a week.
- At the end of the day or right after a social interaction, write down your thoughts and emotions during the interaction as a mindful observer. Wait at least one day so you can detach from the emotions and bias of the event and reflect on what you wrote. Identify weird behavior or thoughts that may not be true or hold you back. Write why you have them.
This second bullet point has been incredibly useful towards improving my social skills and social intelligence. It has helped me identify large issues with how I see the world that I would have missed and gone my whole life with if I didn’t journal them.
For example, I found that any laughter from other people triggers immediate assumptions that they’re laughing at me even if they have nothing to do with me at all. This sensitivity is especially high when I am feeling self-conscious or am speaking to a group of people or recently interacted with the people who are laughing in any way.
Another behavior I identified was my bias to assume others don’t like me based on any sort of cold, distant body language from them when I talk to anyone. It is hypersensitive and often wrong; sometimes, they’re just bored or caught up in something else.
By journaling, I get it down on paper. Then, when I’m more calm and can rationally analyze what I’ve written more objectively, I can identify bizarre thoughts or behavior.
Slowly but surely, I can mindfully improve by adjusting for my inaccurate interpretations of the world.
Journaling with a more specific goal and more specific exercises for that goal could be more beneficial.
There can literally be journals for any big problem including parenting, improving as a writer, men’s fashion, making more friends, improving social intelligence, bodybuilding, anxiety, overthinking, staying present in the moment, reflecting on business management, reflecting on your life progress, airing of past traumas, learning from your dating mistakes, or building your road map to a location-free business.
By focusing down more, these journals can help you solve your problems better than a journal generalized for success in everything.
I have, in fact, found one lesser-known journal that does just this for improving your happiness every day with science-backed exercises. It’s called Even Happier: A Gratitude Journal for Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment by Tal Ben-Shahar. I recommend it and own it myself. You can check it out on Amazon here. If you go through my link and buy anything on Amazon, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you.
The only journals I can think of that may be counterproductive would perhaps be journals for depression, dwelling on negative events, overthinking, or anxiety because they reinforce the problem. However, even these may be useful if you do it only once a week or month and you use these to reflect on your crazy thoughts once you are more centered and can analyze things from a more rational level.
One great point that the Five-Minute Journal makes in its introduction is that “This is not a magic pill.” While journaling can help, don’t expect this alone to solve all your problems. Think of it as a 5% increase in your success every day. It’s not monumental, but over time, it can compound into a large snowball.
Just don’t expect it to work miracles. You don’t want to be the guy with ten journals and little results.
I never understood why people would go out of their way to buy actual hard-cover journals when they can just use scratch paper. But I’m starting to understand how useful a journal can be, especially one that is neat, pretty, organized, and accessible for reflection over your life.
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