Staying Curious through the Five Minute Journal

What does it mean to be curious? It means paying attention to moments.

Credit: Thomas Renaud, Unsplash

There are a few lines from a book that keep popping up:

“Each event spoke with a cryptic tongue. And the moments of living slowly revealed their coded meanings…

There was the delight I caught in seeing long straight rows of red and green vegetables stretching away in the sun to the bright horizon…

There was the yearning for identification loosed in me by the sight of a solitary ant carrying a burden upon a mysterious journey…”
— Richard Wright, in his novel Black Boy

What stands out is how vivid the words are. Visceral, open and curious, to the moment that’s unfolding.

What use is there of such poetic approaches? Are we all to be poets in reflecting on our existence? Well, not necessarily. But there’s a case for making the time to journal about the moments that make up our days, even if we’re not “writers.”

Three ways a journal keeps us open and curious:

  1. When we write down what we’re grateful for, we learn about what gives us joy. It’s a simple act of recognition.
  2. When we write down what we want out of our days, we lead with intention. We move through the day with confidence.
  3. When we make space for compassion, we accept the suffering in ourselves and in others. We learn to accept obstacles as they arise, and maybe even transform them into something opportunities for growth. We learn to practice psychological flexibility — which is the art of reframing our thoughts.

So below is my template for a Five Minute Journal. I’ve adapted it from this blog post.

Having a blueprint for reflection creates space for both action and equanimity.

It’s split into two sections, Morning and Evening. In the morning, I’ll spend five minutes, sometimes 30, to set some intentions for the day. And in the evening, I’ll spend a bit of time as well to celebrate and honor the day. I don’t give myself a mandate to do this. Instead of treating this as another task, I want this to be something that I delight in exploring, rather than completing for the sake of checking it off. So if I miss some mornings and evenings, or even a full week, it’s fine. No big deal.

Morning

I am grateful for…

Gratitude is meaningful when it’s concrete, like the lines from the passage at the beginning of this post. It engages the senses. It reminds us of the ways that we can experience joy. If nothing else, starting the day with gratitude warms up our minds. It gets us to simply notice.

Examples:

I am grateful for…

  • The aroma of morning coffee, the cool breeze while I jump rope.
  • The feeling of refreshing energy after sleeping for eight hours.
  • The radiating sense of satisfaction as we complete a month-long project in the day ahead.

What would you like to appreciate today?

The original post had the line “What would make today great?” I changed this up. The original has us set up expectations, which may not materialize. Life throws us curveballs, and things often don’t work out.

So I borrowed from Leo Bautata in his blog Zen Habits, who wrote about how to turn expectations into appreciation. When you switch on a mode of appreciation, you make space for obstacles in a process. You write about what you want to get out of something, while acknowledging that it might be challenging.

Even an act as simple as making a cup of coffee can cause frustration. What if that cup of coffee doesn’t taste as good as you expected? What if you burn yourself or waste some beans in the process?

Or we have a presentation coming up. We want it to turn out “great,” but of course, we can’t control how people perceive our presentation. So what’s left? Well, maybe we can appreciate the content of the presentation. Maybe we get out of our minds, and think about how to get our audience excited about the topic.

Examples:

I would like to appreciate…

  • The difficult process of spending half an hour free writing a rough draft.
  • The gratitude I’ll feel after initiating a tough conversation.
  • The tranquility at the summit of an eight hour hike.

Daily affirmations. I am…

I used to think affirmations were corny. And maybe they are. But we don’t have to overthink this. Now I value the practice of writing daily affirmations as a chance to take stock of my strengths. We can go through the day beating ourselves down so frequently, that it’s not a bad idea to counter our negativity with some positivity. It’s a chance to hype ourselves up.

Examples:

I am…

  • An active listener.
  • A patient explorer.
  • A helpful coworker.

Evening

Three cool things that happened today:

The original post had this as “Three amazing things that happened today.” Again, that’s setting up exaggerated expectations. The word “amazing” is awkward to use, because culturally we like to call everything amazing, from a latte to an IPO announcement.

So instead of amazing, I choose to use “cool.” A hundred years from now, we may not use this word. But for now it conveys a healthy degree of appreciation. It’s matter-of-fact. There’s less pressure on us to see our day as perfect or social media-worthy.

Examples:

  • Seeing my newborn niece over a video call.
  • Biking to a park I’ve never seen before.
  • Hearing that my friend got a job offer.

Three ways I’ve shown kindness to myself:

This line doesn’t exist in the original post. I added it because it’s important to recognize ourselves when we practice kindness. It’s about valuing our effort, because self-compassion can be hard. We don’t get paid for it. And yet, the rewards show up over time. This is a chance for us to build a toolbox for practicing compassion, which is a skill like any other.

Examples:

I’ve shown kindness to myself by…

  • Signing up for an investing workshop.
  • Telling myself it’s ok to feel anxious about a work project.
  • Spending a day to work on projects that are fun to me.

How could I have made today even better?

We can balance compassion with adaptation. Asking what we could’ve done to make today even better is like asking how we can adapt what we do the next day. We can’t avoid entropy. But we can slow down, and recognize that even when we’re headed in a direction that’s different from what we value, that is still informing us of what we do value.

Examples:

I could have made today even better by…

  • Asking more questions during my conversations.
  • Drinking coffee earlier in the day, drinking one less cup.
  • Setting a time limit on how long I spend shopping online.

Compassion Log

This part is optional. It’s similar to “Three ways I’ve shown kindness to myself.” But it’s a parking lot for thoughts that come up through the day that might be uncomfortable. It gives us a chance to reframe our thoughts.

Examples:

  • Feeling guilty at burning my pot => Feeling grateful that the house didn’t burn down and that now I know to be more careful. 🤓
  • Feeling anxious about an upcoming meeting => Feeling curious about how I can contribute meaningfully.

So that’s how I stay curious through the Five Minute Journal. What matters is not the amount of time you spend on it, but the amount of space it creates for you. This is still a process that I’m still exploring, and I would love to know your approach to journalling.

Observations on living and working 🔅 Senior Motion Designer at Planned Parenthood // bytanchan.com

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