Review: The 5 Minute Journal – A Cool Way to Get Journaling

As someone who has journaled off and on throughout my life, I have to admit that the last few years have been more off than on.  I’d always appreciated the process and found it an excellent outlet for organizing my thoughts, but had somewhat fallen out of the habit.

Over the last year or so, I somehow seemed to keep stumbling on one article or another about the benefits of journal-keeping, but couldn’t quite get back into making it a habit.  Enter The 5 Minute Journal.

I decided to try it after hearing an interview with one of its creators, UJ Ramdas.  It incorporates some of the basic principles of positive psychology, and that’s what got my attention at first.  I also appreciated that the beginning of the day starts out with three things you are grateful for.    Knowing the benefits that a grateful mindset can bring (better health, more happiness and stronger relationships, for starters), I got hooked in a bit further.


I’ve been keeping the journal for almost two months now and here is what I’ve found:

  • It really doesn’t take more than a few minutes, morning and night.
  • The book starts out with a clear explanation of the principles behind the morning and evening prompts. For example, starting the day with three things you are grateful for automatically puts you in a state of not only looking for the good things in your life, but being mindful of them.
  • The morning prompts set you up to be intentional about your day. Asking yourself, “What would make today great?” at the beginning of the day acts as a catalyst that programs you to be more purposeful about how you go about your day.  Improving your days on a daily basis over time lead to an improved, happier existence.
  • That same question (“What would make today great?”?) also serves as inspiration – encouraging you to look at specific actions you can take to make it a good day, what you have control over. (“Going for a run with my dog,” is something within your control ; having that great job land in your lap, not so much…..)  The more you act successfully on your own behalf, the more empowered – and better – you begin to feel.
  • I’ve found that reflecting on three “amazing” things that happened during the day has helped me to focus on things I may have otherwise overlooked. Recent entries for me have included things like a surprise call from a long-ago friend, a beautiful spring day, an interesting conversation, and a red BMW convertible in the lane next to me filled with 3 (HUGE) St. Bernard’s out for a ride.
  • The evening question, “How could I have made today even better?” effectively encourages actionable problem-solving and trains me to look for better ways to do things next time. Since life (mine, at least) tends to have recurring problems, I get a chance to think about what I might do next time in the same circumstance.

Each day starts with an inspiring quote, and the book itself has a rather simple, minimalist look to it.  I’ve never really been one to journal in the morning but now that I have, I’m enjoying having those few minutes to plan what I’d like my day to look like.

Overall, this journal has been a simple, yet effective investment of my time each day.  Some critiques I’ve read are the price (I paid $22.00, the journal lasts 6 months), and that it can become repetitive.  I find that the consistency of the questions works well, for me at least. Knowing I’ll be answering the same questions each day is training my mind to be on the lookout for the answers. I’m definitely a fan of The 5 Minute Journal.

The “What the Hell Effect”

Something I’ve observed over the years (in my own life at times, as well as others) is what’s come to be known in some circles as the “What the Hell Effect.”  It goes something like this:  “Well, I really blew my weight loss/healthy eating/no sugar/Weight Watchers/Skinny Bitch – or whatever -plan today.  What the hell – I might as well really blow it.  I’ll start over tomorrow.”

Researchers have given this phenomenon a name – the Abstinence Violation Effect (AVE), which has also come to be known as the “what the hell effect.”  The “what the hell effect” comes into play whenever we indulge in a behavior that we have decided not to indulge in, sworn off of, or committed to giving up. When it comes to food and eating, for example, a “dieting mindset” can trigger feelings of guilt and shame, of not “being perfect,” which can then spiral down into an overeating binge.

When it comes to change, an all or nothing mindset simply isn’t realistic.  Research shows that most individuals don’t overcome a problem on their first try.  Expecting perfection from yourself is a setup for failure.  The process of change very often involves trial and error, “one step forward and two steps back.”  Knowing this can prevent a full backslide into the old behavior.


Here are some solid strategies to get you back on track fast when you derail in the moment:

  • Don’t use blowing it as an excuse to REALLY blow it. Acknowledge the lapse, forgive yourself and move on.   Everyone makes mistakes, blows it, from time to time.  Get right back on the horse, minimize the damage done.  Keep your eye on the bigger picture – a change to a healthier lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Remember your why – the commitment you’ve made to a healthier life and what that means to you. Keep a strong vision in your mind of the person you are working to become and hold to that vision at times like this. The power of this kind of personal vision cannot be overstated.
  • Hopefully you have a support system of like-minded friends, family members or a group. (If you don’t have one, you need to get one!) This is the time to use them.  You may be feeling some weakening in your commitment – having someone to talk things through with can help you get back on track more quickly.
  • If you’ve blown your food plan for the day, and someone just dropped off a box of fresh pastries direct from the bakery, realize this: You have a choice, you really do. You can renew your commitment  by walking away and going on with your day, or not.  The choice is yours. Keep in mind if you continue on with your “slip,” it may not be as easy to start over the next day as you think it will be.  Each time you make the right choice for yourself, you strengthen your emotional muscle, and it becomes easier to make good choices in the future.
  • How’s that working for you? Love Dr. Phil or not, this is a great question to ask yourself if you find yourself in the same situation repeatedly.  If you break down and have a cigarette in a moment of stress, and then go all in and buy a pack (and find yourself doing this repetitively, having to start over – again) – How’s that working for you?
  • A side effect of relapse into old behavior can be a loss of confidence in yourself and your ability to change. Self-criticism and shame are not your friends. Reaffirming your commitment to change is.   We sometimes think chastising ourselves is a way to make ourselves “tow the line.”  It isn’t.  Forgive yourself and move on by renewing your commitment as calmly as you can,
  • Learn from it. What can you learn about yourself here that will help you deal with challenges in the future?  Were you exceptionally upset or stressed about an occurrence, worrying about the future, bored, sad?   What can you do differently when this occurs in the future?  Knowing that you will be challenged again – and developing a plan of action to deal with it – is key.

Remember – Change is a process, not an event.  You are in the process!

Got Time?

Do you know anyone who isn’t pressed for time these days?   Everyone I talk to seems busier than ever in their work and family lives, often with little left over for themselves.  And I’m just talking about the basics:  Healthy food, exercise, sleep, downtime.

Extreme business is probably a topic for another day all by itself.  What’s important here is that staying  physically and mentally fit is the most important thing you can do to ensure  you give your best to what’s important to you.   Not doing so impacts your energy, mood, performance and ability to enjoy life.  Ongoing neglect can eventually result in health issues – heart disease, hypertension, obesity, insomnia and lowered immune capacity, just to name a few . One of the most effective – and simple – ways to achieve fitness is to eat right and exercise.  I know we’ve heard it all our lives.  But how many of us actually do it?  Most current statistics show that only about half of Americans exercise regularly (that is, at least three sessions a week of 30 minutes each.), and obesity has reached an all-time high in the U.S.  So what gives?  We have all the information we need   about what’s good for us – why aren’t we doing it?

What I hear from people goes back to that time thing – too much to do and not enough of it.  Lack of energy is often blamed as well.  And the thought of making changes can be daunting – but it doesn’t have to be!

Making even one small change can make a difference in how you feel and look – and serve to inspire you to continue making additional changes that, over time, can have a significant impact in your wellbeing.

So what about chunking it down, and looking at one small change you could make in the interest of a healthier you to move the needle a little closer to an improved lifestyle.

I’m going to list a few ideas here to get you going, most of which will require an investment of no more than 10 minutes a day.  Some will take under a minute.  Choose one that fits for you, and notice how it makes you feel.

  • Take a brisk 10 minute walk outdoors.   While any type of movement is good for you, studies show exercising in natural environments increases energy and feelings of positivity, and decreases stress, anger and depression.  Outdoor exercisers report greater enjoyment and satisfaction with exercising and a greater likelihood to repeat the activity again.
  • Start your day with hydration.  Staying hydrated is one of the most important things you can do for your health.  After 7-8 hours of sleep, you’re already slightly dehydrated.  Water is one of the most important sources of energy for the body.  Starting your day with a full glass of water rehydrates you and gives you an energy boost.  And it takes less than a minute.
  • Try a green smoothie.  If you love your morning smoothie, try throwing in a handful of spinach, kale, or other juicing greens.   It’ll boost the nutrient content, stabilize your energy and is an easy way to trick yourself into getting your greens.  Here’s my favorite Green Smoothie recipe.
    1 cup soy or rice milk
    Frozen bananas and blueberries (or your favorite fruits.)  I like to freeze mine for added texture.
    1 cup vanilla protein powder
    1 cup kale and spinach
    2 T. wheat germ (high in Vitamin E, anti-oxidant)The beauty of starting your day this way (aside from the  nutritional benefits) is that studies show  that each time we take an intentionally health action, we are more likely to take other healthy actions.  On the go? It’s portable.   Time:  5 minutes.
  • Take five. Or ten.  Sitting quietly and focusing on your breath for even 5 minutes can work wonders to calm your mind and body, steady emotions, alleviate stress, and help you to re-focus and reorder your thinking.  There is an abundance of information available on meditation these days, and the benefits are too numerous to go into here.  Just try it.  Start with 5 minutes for a week. And see where it takes you.
  • Take time off.  Many of us struggle with this, especially in the world of computers, and smartphones.  It’s much easier to bring the office home with us these days.  But it’s important to know where to draw the line between work and time off.  Taking an afternoon off to spend with family or friends, going for a bike ride, or reading a good book has documented benefits for wellbeing.  Driving too hard without a break impacts focus and productivity over time.   The most successful among us know the value of time off and its impact on performance and creativity.


Making an Impact

Most of us want to be a positive influence, to contribute in some way to the world around us.   Too often, we feel that we lack the time, money, or other resources we need to make an impact on the world around us.  So, despite having good intentions, we often end up not doing anything.

Another scenario is those of us who are already taking care of others in some way – whether that means raising children, caregiving of an elderly parent or, increasingly, both. We may already feel stretched and depleted, with little left over to give.<  We may already feel stretched and depleted, with little left over to give.

Research has found that caring for others or volunteering in various capacities can enhance both health and happiness, especially among older or retired individuals.  Helping others provides a sense of meaning that can boost both self-image and mood, which in turn can enhance our sense of well-being.

“If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.” ~ Napolean Hill.

I like that quote because thеrе аrе mаnу times in life whеn wе саn simply ѕеіzе a mоmеnt аnd be a positive influence.  I like thеѕе оdd moments bесаuѕе thеу usually take рlасе ѕmасk dаb in the middle оf аn оn-gоіng life.  We don’t have to plan them or wait for them.

Anything you do, heck – еvеrуthіng уоu do –  саn mаkе a dіffеrеnсе.  Simply taking the time to hold a door for the person behind you, or sending a handwritten thank you or card to someone, can make a difference to the recipient.   I once went through a Starbucks drive-through ready to pay for my order, only to be told that the person in front of me had already taken care of it.  When I agreed to pay for the person in line behind me, I was told that this string of kindness had been going on all morning – for hours!  Need I mention the good feeling I had for the rest of the day?

If you’re wondering where to start, here are a few ideas although I’ll bet you can come up with your own just by looking around.


Reaching out to help someone else impacts both of you positively.

Lеnd a hand.   Hеlр a со-wоrkеr lеаrn thе соmраnу’ѕ new рrоgrаmѕ, or help your nеіghbоur сlеаn out her gаrаgе.  Acknowledging how much you appreciate someone’s work on a project can make his or her day.

Raise уоur сhіld wеll.   There’s an old сlісhé that says thеrе аrе thrее mаіn wауѕ tо mаkе a difference in the wоrld. Thе fіrѕt іѕ to рlаnt a trее. Thе ѕесоnd іѕ tо wrіtе a book, and the thіrd іѕ tо rаіѕе a child. You may not be able to impact the world at large, but you dеfіnіtеlу can be an exаmрlе tо your сhіldrеn ѕо thеу grоw up tо be rеѕроnѕіblе, respectful and kind adults who contribute to society in a positive way.

Got free time?   Hаvе extra time оn your hands?   (Lucky you!)   There are literally hundreds of community organizations looking for you with just as many options.  Hеlрing out at a local animal shelter, an organization such as Project Angel Heart, that delivers meals to those coping with life threatening illness, or CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) that act as voices for abused and neglected children – the list is endless.  You can give as much of your time per week or month as you like and you wоn’t juѕt bе mаkіng аn impact оn others’  lіvеѕ.  You might just discover new purpose in your own.

Plant a trее:   Plаntіng a tree, or ѕеvеrаl, is one оf the оldеѕt wауѕ to make an іmрасt оn the rest оf the world.  Hоwеvеr, it іѕ juѕt аѕ important tоdау аѕ іt hаѕ аlwауѕ been. In fасt, with thе grоwіng concern fоr glоbаl wаrmіng, thіѕ ѕіmрlе асt іѕ еvеn more nесеѕѕаrу аnd useful than еvеr.

Fасе уоur challenges:  Challenges can brіng out thе bеѕt in us depending on our perspective.  Fасе your challenges squarely аnd uѕе thеm  as stepping stones to personal growth and and ѕuссеѕѕ.

Help оthеrѕ tо face their challenges:    Support and mentor others in facing their own challenges.  Yоu dоn’t hаvе tо gіvе a speech or wrіtе a book for this.  Sіmрlу ѕhоwіng your own dеdісаtіоn in wоrdѕ аnd асtіоnѕ can serve as inspiration, and don’t underestimate the power of encouragement and quiet confidence in others that they, too, can walk through difficulties.

A study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2013 concluded that, “Help given to others is a better predictor of health and well-being than are indicators of social engagement or received social support.”  Concern and caring for others is part of the fabric of our lives.  Showing that concern and care can be as simple as stopping in to check on an elderly neighbor, or picking up a few groceries for her.  And there you go – you’ve made a positive impact on someone’s world.  I guarantee you the impact you receive will be just as powerful.

Welcome Spring!

Here in Colorado, spring is in the air, that is, in between snowstorms!  We seem to be getting our fair share of those!   Since coming to live in the Rocky Mountains outside of Denver over 20 years ago, the one thing I will say about the weather here is that it’s never boring.  One of the first things I heard locals say when we moved to town was this:  “If you don’t like the weather here, stick around – it’ll change.”  Is that ever the truth.  In Denver this week it was 70 degrees and the lilacs were in bloom.  And the weekend?  A massive snowstorm.

In anticipation of spring weather which must be right around the corner, here are a few things that sound really good to me right about now.  Maybe one of them will resonate with you, too.  I offer them here to Welcome, uh….Spring!

  • Fresh produce is going to start turning up. Now’s the time to start bringing more fresh fruits and veggies into your meal planning.  Fresh fruit salad is a go-to for me this time of year.
  • While you’re in the produce section, why not try making a meal of delicious grilled vegetables. Asparagus, zucchini, squash, corn, mushrooms, eggplant – drizzle with olive oil, a little kosher salt and pepper, and serve with crusty wheat bread – you’re done!
  • Bring the garden indoors when it’s not so spring-like outdoors. Fresh flowers – tulips, daffodils,  your favorite spring mix – are a no-fail way to bring in some sunshine.
  • Open up the windows and let some of that spring breeze in. Diffuse an essential oil, such as  lemon or grapefruit,  to freshen the air even more.
  • While you’re at it, freshen up kitchen surfaces and countertops with a mixture of a few drops of lemon essential oil diluted in water in a spray bottle.
  • Buy some pretty floral note cards and send out a thank you to someone special. In this age of email and texting, a lovely handwritten card is especially welcome.
  • Spring is the time for planting seedlings. Try your hand at planting a vegetable or herb garden, depending on how much space you have.  Mostly anything can be started indoors if you want to get going earlier in the season.  Just be sure to time your seed starting so that the plants are at least four weeks old when it’s time to plant outside.  An herb garden can easily be accommodated on a kitchen windowsill, and fresh herbs are a delicious way to add flavor to your meals.
  • Plan your own spring break. If the days of spring break vacation with the family are behind you, you can still plan some time to take a break.   If there’s a nearby city or town you’ve always wanted to visit, spring is a perfect time for that.  Chances are the weather will be mild enough to get outdoors and explore away.
  • Eat at an outdoor café.
  • Now’s a good time to get your bike tuned up and ready to ride. If you’re lucky enough to have hiking trails or horseback riding nearby, either activity is easy to fit into a morning or afternoon for a couple hours.  Or try something entirely new – on your own or with company.
  • Switch up your tableware and place settings, or use a colorful tablecloth and napkins. A mix of spring flowers adds charm.

What’s energizing about spring is its newness – new growth, new life, the anticipation of warmer days ahead.   By capitalizing on that energy you bring it into your own life and the lives of those around you.  Happy spring!

The Life You Want to Live

Here is a quote I read recently that really struck me: “It’s your place in the world; it’s your life.  Go on and do all you can with it and make it the life you want to live.”   Mae Jamison

In case you aren’t familiar with her, Mae Jamison is a physician and a NASA astronaut, and the first African-American woman to travel in space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor in 1992, among many other notable accomplishments.    After graduating from medical school, she established her own practice and for a time was the area Peace Corps medical officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia, where she also taught and did research.   Having loved science and astronomy since she was a young girl, in 1985 she decided to apply to NASA’s astronaut training program.  In 1992, she flew into space aboard the space shuttle Endeavor.  Since leaving Nasa, she founded her company, the Jemison Group, dedicated to the research and development of advanced technologies. She is also a professor at Dartmouth College, where she started the Jemison Institute for Advancing Technology in Developing Countries, and is an admired public speaker.

Beach Sunset dreamstime_xs_28983607

So why I am I telling you this?  It got me to thinking about how often as children and young adults, we don’t have a lot of guidance in crafting our own path – the life we want to live.  Yes, we’re encouraged in the traditional ways society emphasizes – get a good education, have good values, have an occupation or profession – but in how to truly plan for and create a life we want to live, I’m not so sure.  There’s also the numerous and inevitable phases we go through in life – what may have felt right to us in our 20’s and 30’s is no longer working for us as we enter a new stage of life.

This is often where a coach or mentor comes – what do we want to create for the next phase of our life.  I know this happened to me in my early 50’s.  I had gone through building a career, starting a family, and accomplishing many of the goals I had set for myself in my earlier years.  And I felt an internal restlessness, an urge for something more.   And it was right around this time that I started working with a coach and creating new plans and goals for myself that moved me in a new and different direction.

If you’re not necessarily thinking of making a life change, but are feeling that you would like to be more intentional about how you want your life to look, you might start by asking yourself some simple, yet powerful, questions:

  1. What do you want your life to look like 5 years from now? 10 years from now?
  2. Why do you want this? Why is your vision important to you?
  3. When you are ninety-five years old, what will you want to say about your life?
  4. What brings you joy?
  5. If circumstances and/or finances were not an object, what would you most want to do with your life?
  6. When are you at your best? What does that look like?
  7. When have you been happiest? Look back at the different times of your life – childhood, high school and college, different jobs, different places.  Think about the happiest times of your life – what were you doing, who were you with, where were you, what was going on?  Is there a pattern, a common thread?
  8. What do you value most? What we value in our lives may shift over time.  Thinking about and listing your values can provide useful clues to what you may want to focus on in the future.

These are just a few questions to ask yourself if you want to be more intentional about how you craft your future.   As you explore these ideas and come up with some answers, you may find that you come up with more questions. For example, is there some small step you can take now, today, to start moving  towards your vision.   This might be investigating your options, or talking to someone who has made the same type of shift in their own life.  What kind of support might you need – a mentor, a coach, a spouse?

However you go about it, creating a vision of the life you want to live, and taking steps to move toward it, can be one of the most rewarding and exciting adventures you ever take, wherever it takes you.

No Matter What

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about grit, and its importance to achievement – it’s one of those popular buzzwords in positive psychology.   The more I’ve heard about it, the more curious I became – what is it, and why is it so critical to achievement?

Grit is often described as the combination of passion and perseverance for long-term goals.  In fact, psychologist Angela Duckworth, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a trailblazer in the study of all things gritty, has a new book coming out entitled:  Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, (May 3, 2016).  In it, she cites her extensive research in her Duckworth Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as insights from studies and interviews with high achievers and peak performers in their field.  Her lab focuses on the two character traits that, she believes, can predict achievement, even more than talent and natural ability:  grit and self-control.

What is it about grit that makes the difference between those who succeed in accomplishing difficult, long-term goals, and those who fall by the wayside?  It’s not just about talent, or hard work, or self-control, although these are components.  Perseverance is part of it, as is tenacity, but not the whole picture either.  It encompasses discipline, courage and resilience – there is no hard-won achievement without these – but none of these characteristics on their own determine grit.

One of the hallmarks of grit is the ability to stick with and pursue a goal over a long period of time, in spite of obstacles, challenges and setbacks along the way.   In a research statement published by the Duckworth Lab updated in May of 2015, grit…..”entails having and working assiduously toward a single challenging superordinate goal through thick and thin, on a timescale of years or even decades.”  (Yes, decades.)  Clearly, sustaining interest and motivation over long periods of time is key.

What about self-control?  According to Duckworth and her colleagues, the two are related, but not the same.  Self-control is defined as “the voluntary regulation of behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses in the presence of momentarily gratifying temptations or diversions (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005; Duckworth & Steinberg, in press.)   Basically, people who have grit tend to be more self-controlled and people who are high in self-regulation can be gritty as well, but not always.  The time factor seems to be the distinguisher: self-control is more typically employed when resisting tempting alternatives in the moment.  (Sitting down to study when you would rather go for a bike ride.)

Clearly, any long-term goal worth achieving is going to involve challenges, setbacks and detours.  Discouragement, weariness and even boredom may set in.  Unexpected roadblocks can occur. That’s where grit comes in.

© Błażej Łyjak |

© Błażej Łyjak |

How do you know if you have what it takes?  If you don’t naturally come by it, can grit be developed?

  • Passion is integral to grit. Without it, it’s going to be difficult to maintain the sense of purpose and drive necessary to keep going when the road gets rocky.  No matter how passionate you are about becoming a concert pianist, there are going to be times of disappointment, discouragement, and days when practice feels like drudgery.  Passion for your goal is what will fuel the resolve you need at those times.
  • Speaking of practice, it’s critical to achievement and mastery of a subject or skill. Studies of those who rise to the top of their field show that thousands of hours are spent in devotion to their pursuit.  Focused practice for hours, days, weeks and months are what it takes to attain mastery, and grit is what it takes to get you there.
  • Psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, in her book, 9 Things Successful People Do Differently, reminds us that “effort, planning, persistence and good strategies are what it really takes to succeed.” Incorporating this knowledge into your goal planning will more readily lend itself to building your grit muscle.  Grit doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
  • Without tenacity – stubbornness, drive, sticking-to- it–no- matter-what – it’s going to be near impossible to achieve something over the course of months or years. Long term goals can get sidetracked by any number of issues – financial, health, serious family difficulties.  A no-matter-what mindset is what will get you back on course and moving forward again. 
  • Resilience is closely correlated with tenacity. It’s the ability to be flexible, to get back up after getting knocked down, no matter how many times – strength of the spirit.  Resilient people have an internal compass that acts as a powerful guide through the inevitable hard times they may experience, and keeps them connected to their core purpose through times of distress or disorder.

Staying physically fit is important to grit – it takes determination and self-discipline to hit the gym or exercise class week in and week out, and physical wellbeing dramatically increases our chances of success in other areas.  Having a strong sense of purpose and meaning attached to your aim is another.  Having a mentor or support network to help you keep going during rough times can play a critical role in  success.  Finally, look back through your life and draw on your previous accomplishments and hard-won achievements. You may be surprised at what you come up with.  Recognizing those successes and building on them can help build the confidence you need to be gritty when you need to be.

I would love to hear your comments and thoughts on this topic.  How has grit served you when you had a difficult objective to achieve?  If you currently have an important goal you’re striving towards, what helps you keep going during times of adversity?