Let's start with January, the holidays are over. School and work are back in full swing. And it’s already mid-January. Or it could be March, April may or June. Pick a point and just start.
Thus, remember January, it’s time to get our minds clear on all our big ideas for 2020, and what really matters in the days, weeks, and months ahead…
Let’s make a pact to finish January mentally strong!
First, let’s remind ourselves that the best way to achieve anything worthwhile in life is to build small daily rituals that you practice every single day (or at least every day you’re physically able to). A small daily ritual is a practice you regard as special, an activity not to be taken lightly, that you prioritize and set apart from the rest of your routine.
It’s something you willingly surrender yourself to, not allowing yourself to reject the parts of it you dislike, but instead pushing forward and committing to the full experience for a short time each day. And of course, the small bits of progress you make each day add up to something big, and ultimately change the trajectory of your life.
A good example might be a five-minute daily writing ritual, where you decide to write every morning after breakfast, shutting off your phone and other distractions, and just writing quietly. You have a clear intention, then you set a timer and give yourself fully to the writing, not allowing yourself to switch to other tasks until the timer goes off. When it goes off, you bow your head in gratitude for a job well done, smile, and go about your day. (This is just an example of how I do it; you don’t have to do it exactly this way.)
With a small daily ritual like this, you have a clear structure and a reliable sequence… and yet, you’ll still find yourself wanting to rebel. You’ll catch your willpower thrashing about sometimes, as you struggle with your habitual tendency to reach for the nearest distraction. This thrashing isn’t a bad thing though, because that’s where the most powerful growth process takes place—in the consistent practice of your small daily ritual, despite your inner rebellion.
In the discomfort of staying in it for the long haul, you grow stronger and more self-disciplined with each passing day.
Truly, a small daily ritual can be unimaginably transformative in a relatively short time.
And today, I’m challenging you to jump on the bandwagon with me and begin such a ritual in your life.
In fact, the specific challenge is to implement some of what we’ve just discussed…
A Five-Minute Journaling Ritual for Your Mental Strength
As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, journaling is a priceless tool for inner strength and real-world success.
Oprah keeps a journal. Lady Gaga keeps a journal. Eminem keeps a journal.
Successful people all over the world—those who consistently experience positive growth in their lives—reflect daily and learn from their life experiences. And they often use some kind of journal to accomplish this.
For the longest time, I knew the value of journaling—I heard the success stories of others—and yet I never took action. Why? Because I thought I didn’t have time for it. I was “too busy.”
Needless to say, I learned the hard way, but YOU don’t have to.
If you want to get somewhere this year, you need a map, and your journal is that map. It’s a place to capture significant thoughts. It’s a place to sort out where you’ve been and where you intend to go. And it’s one of the most underused, yet incredibly effective personal development tools available to the masses.
So, I’m challenging YOU to wake up tomorrow morning and get started with journaling, consistently, until the end of the month. I’ve listed 20 five-minute journaling prompts below (which are also excerpts from our New York Times bestselling book) that I’ve personally used in the past to nudge myself into growth-oriented self-reflection. These prompts will bring awareness to the beliefs and assumptions you have. And they will help you think through situations, big and small, and make better decisions going forward.
Challenge yourself to read and write on one prompt for five minutes each morning for the next few weeks. See how doing so changes how you think, as you prepare for everything the rest of 2020 has in store for you…
You’re not the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or a week ago. You’re always growing. Experiences don’t stop. That’s life. And the very experiences that seem so hard when you’re going through them are the ones you’ll look back on with gratitude for how far you’ve come.
What’s the hardest thing you’re trying to achieve or cope with right now? What is something small and necessary about this struggle?
Train your mind to see the beauty hidden in everything. Your positivity—your graceful acceptance of life—is a choice. The happiness in your heart depends on the quality of your mental perspective.
What’s one thing you could be incredibly grateful for right now, if you wanted to be grateful?
As human beings we are constantly outgrowing what we once thought we couldn’t live without, and falling in love with what we didn’t even know we wanted. Life literally keeps leading us on journeys we would never go on if it were up to us. Don’t be afraid. Have faith. Find the lessons. Trust the journey.
What’s something you’ve moved on from that once meant the world to you? And, what’s something you love today that you never even knew you needed in your life?
If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said, what was felt, you will look at your present and future through that same dirty lens and nothing will be able to focus your foggy judgment. Realize this. What you do now matters more than what happened yesterday.
What’s one unchangeable reality you’re still holding on to and resisting? What can you do right now to ease your mind into the acceptance of this reality?
Happiness is letting go of what you assume your life is supposed to be like right now, and sincerely appreciating it for everything that it is. So, RELAX. You are enough. You have enough. You do enough. Breathe deep… let go, and just live right now in this moment. Then, let your renewed presence fuel your next step.
Who would you be, and what else would you see about your present life situation, if you removed the thought that’s been worrying you?
When a flower doesn’t bloom properly, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower itself. The same is true for YOU. You can’t heal yourself in the same exact environment where you got sick. Realize this, respect this, and do your best to surround yourself with people and situations that push you to be your best. Less drama, less mess. Just higher vibrations and intentions, inside and out.
How has your daily environment been affecting you recently?
There are hundreds of people in every town on Earth who live their entire lives on the default settings, never realizing they can customize everything. Don’t be one of them. Don’t settle for the default settings in life.
What’s one small example of how you have “customized” your life for the better?
A big part of your life is a result of your choices. If you don’t like some part of your life, it’s time to start making changes and new choices. And it’s OK to be low-key about it. You don’t need to put everything on social media. Silently progress and let your actions speak for themselves.
What have your most recent actions been saying about your priorities? What kind of silent progress would you like to make in your life by the end of the month?
If it entertains you now but will hurt you someday, it’s a distraction. Don’t settle. Don’t exchange what you want most for what’s easiest at the moment. Study your routines and habits. Figure out where your energy goes, and remove distractions. It’s time to focus on what matters.
What’s one distraction that has been getting the best of you lately? Why?
You become a true master of your life when you learn how to master your focus—where your attention goes. Value what you give your energy to. Rise above the pettiness trying to draw you in. Focus on what matters. Where attention goes, energy flows. Where energy flows, things grow.
What truly DOES matter to you most right now?
Get up. Make that call. Go on that date. Apply for that job. Start that side-hustle. Don’t be afraid of rejection, struggle or failing forward. There’s no shame in trying your best. Live, learn and grow through every risk you take towards inner growth and fulfillment.
What’s one small risk you believe is worth taking in the months ahead? What’s the first step?
Nothing big happens overnight. True progress takes time. Don’t give up because you can’t yet see the results of your labor. It can take months of focus and dedication to get outcomes you can actually see. You gotta believe even when the immediate results are invisible to the eye.
What’s something big you’ve accomplished in the past that once seemed impossible?
Life doesn’t want to give you pain, it wants you to grow and evolve. Repeated struggles aren’t punishment, they’re opportunities to demonstrate strength and progress. Anybody can talk about how strong they are, but life requires you to prove it. Prove that you are ready to level-up!
Why are you ready to level-up right now? Ans why are the painful parts of this process totally worth it?
Working hard is important, but rest is too. It’s tempting to fill in every waking minute of the day with tasks. Don’t do this to yourself. Leave space. The space between the things we do is just as important as the things we do. Your overarching goal right now is living a life uncluttered by most of the things people fill their lives with, leaving you with space for what truly matters. A life that isn’t constant busyness, rushing and stress, but instead mindful contemplation, creation and connection with people and projects you truly need in your life.
How can you give yourself a little extra time and space to make the right decisions on a daily basis?
It’s OK to… Say “no.” Speak up. Tell the truth. Ask questions. Believe differently. Change your mind. Prioritize your needs. Learn from your mistakes. Embrace your imperfections. Forgive and seek forgiveness. Begin again, stronger than before.
What’s one thing you would do differently if you knew no one would judge you?
You can’t control how other people feel, or how they receive your energy. Anything you do or say gets filtered through a mindset occupied by whatever they are going through at the moment, which has nothing to do with you. Just keep doing your thing with as much love as possible.
What’s one good, recent example of someone with a negative attitude completely misjudging you? How did you handle it, and what did you learn?
When you guide somebody who is confused, when you hold somebody who is sad, when you hug somebody who has lost their hope, you too will feel yourself healing and growing stronger. So, no matter what has happened, or what happens today, let kindness be your superpower. Being extra kind to people is a peaceful way to live in each moment, and a beautiful legacy to leave behind in the long run.
Who was the last person who was unexpectedly kind to you? What can you easily do to be a little kinder than usual today, and beyond?
As you get older, what you look like on the outside becomes less and less of an issue, and who you are on the inside becomes the primary point of interest. You eventually realize that beauty has almost nothing to do with looks—it’s who you are as a human being, how you make others feel about themselves, and most importantly, how you feel about yourself.
What makes your significant other (or someone else you love) truly beautiful on the inside? What make YOU truly beautiful on the inside?
Just breathe, be, and pay attention to what it’s like to be YOU in this moment. Nothing to fix. Nothing to change right now. Nowhere else to go. Just you, breathing, being, with presence, without judgment. You are welcome here. You belong here. Here, you are enough. Close your eyes. Breathe…
What’s something true about yourself that you need to embrace more openly and lovingly today?
There will come a time when you think it’s all over, everything is finished… you’ve reached the end of the road. That’s the starting line. Be humble. Be teachable. The world is bigger than your view of the world. There’s always room for a new idea, a new step… a new beginning.
What does “a new beginning” mean to you right now?
Choose to Live YOUR Truth
My greatest wish for YOU right now is that you leverage the journal prompts above to live your life not as a bystander…
Not as a prisoner to the false beliefs that sometimes keep you stuck in your seat.
Instead, live in this world, on this day, and every day in 2020 as an active participant. Every morning, ask yourself what is real and important to you, and then find the courage, wisdom and willpower to build your day around your answer.
It’s your choice.
You are choosing right now.
And if you’re choosing…
to be stuck in the past…
to act like a victim…
to feel insecure…
to feel anger…
to feel hate…
to be naive…
to ignore your intuition…
to ignore good advice…
to give up…
…then it’s time to choose differently!
But, let me also remind you that you are not alone. Generations of human beings in your family tree have chosen. Human beings around the world have chosen. We all have chosen at one time or another. And we stand behind you now whispering:
Choose to be present.
Choose to be positive.
Choose to forgive yourself.
Choose to forgive others.
Choose to see your value.
Choose to see the possibilities.
Choose to find meaning.
Choose to prove you’re not a victim.
Choose to let go of your false beliefs and stories.
Choose to find the mental strength needed to take a real, productive step forward today.
I Tried This 10-Minute Journal Exercise to Boost My Joy—and It Worked
I generally think of myself as a happy person: I want for very little and I smile often throughout the day.
But until recently, I never stopped to think about what happiness means, or whether or not it was a trait that I could cultivate within myself rather than just accepting it as a feeling that either washed over me or...didn’t.
Luckily, I ran across the work of University of Central Lancashire lecturer Sandi Mann.
She’s the author of Ten Minutes to Happiness, a book that walks you through ways you can instill more happiness into your life.
The book asks you to keep a daily journal and answer six questions in 10 minutes, ranging from reflections on moments of pleasure to thinking about how you were kind to others.
According to the BBC, each of the questions are research-backed prompts to help you shift into a more mindful state of being.
Plus: Studies show that taking 15 to 30 minutes to handwrite about how you feel each day can help lower stress and boost your mental and physical health.
Knowing all this, I was in—so I grabbed my favorite journal and committed to trying the exercise for a week. Here’s how it went for me, question by question.
1. What experiences, however mundane, gave you pleasure?
Separating pleasure from gratefulness (don’t worry, we’ll get to gratefulness later) was an interesting thought exercise for me.
Most of the time, when I think of things that give me pleasure, they mostly double as gratitudes—so finding the difference in the two of them was a great way to flex a different part of my brain.
Most of these pleasures ended up being surface-level acknowledgements of little moments that made me smile.
On one day, it was the sun shining on my face as I walked to pick up some lunch.
Another day, it was color of the fall leaves and being able to see the Shine HQ pup, Lucy, over Zoom.
All of these were small moments that I normally don’t find myself dwelling on, and realizing that they actually gave me pleasure made my day feel so much more meaningful.
2. What praise and feedback did you receive?
As someone who cringes in the face of compliments or praise, thinking back on moments that I felt praise and feedback from others was generally hard.
When searching my brain for these moments every day, I realized how uncomfortable I can be with positive attention—and decided to delve into that “why” a bit deeper in my Angsty Journal™. (We all have one of those right?)
After day two of this exercise, I found myself picking up moments of acknowledgement and thinking, “Oh, I can write this down for my happiness exercise!” which helped me process the praise.
Over time, I found myself getting more comfortable with moments of positive feedback, whether the remark was about a project I completed at work or a mention of my outfit.
I recognized the power they had to boost my mood, so I also started to reciprocate them when possible.
3. What were the moments of pure good fortune?
Of all of the question prompts, I found this one to be the hardest because of its rarity.
It can be easy to consider simple things as pure good fortune, which meant that many times throughout my week, I found myself writing “Got a seat on the subway!” in this portion of the exercise.
Beyond that, the moments of “pure good fortune” were fleeting which made them even more special—a couple included finding $5 on the ground and getting a free coffee.
Luck isn’t something you can cultivate yourself, but just acknowledging the moments that I did manage to strike gold made me smile.
4. What were your achievements, however small?
In many ways, this exercise paired nicely with the praise and feedback question, because I found the moments of praise were often tied to accomplishments that I had made publically.
I wrote these down—but I also tried to focus on achievements that no one else witnessed but me.
Things like “drank more water” or “went on a run” were two big things that I managed to get done one day.
Even things like “keeping my room clean” showed up in this portion of the journal entry.
Accomplishing these things gave me a boost of joy, but acknowledging them after the fact prolonged that feeling.
I realized how often in my life I brush past my achievements, especially if no one else is around to witness them.
It just emphasized the fact that I am my own cheerleader, through the bad times but also through the good.
5. What made you feel grateful?
As someone who just started a gratitude journal I found this question the easiest and breezed through it most of the days.
Building a habit of expressing gratitude before I go to bed has helped me savor my days much more, but folding them into this happiness exercise reframed those gratitudes in a new context.
I loved answering this question towards the end of the exercise, too, because it forced me to think harder about what I really was grateful for about the day. Some days it was for my time.
Other days, it was a new song (thank you, Ariana Grande).
But I found that the ones that made me incredibly happy to reflect upon were things that aligned so closely to some of my personal values—like community, generosity, and empathy.
A simple text from a friend saying that they loved me and hoped my week was going well made it to my list, and the support network I have amongst co-workers snuck in my entries during the week.
Taking the time, however brief it may be, to hone in on these deeper moments of gratefulness really injected some serious happiness into my day and melted a lot of the stress that piled up without me realizing it.
6. How did you express kindness?
These questions all forced me to reflect in one way or another, but more than the others, the question of “How did you express kindness?” forced me to bring care and compassion to my day-to-day.
Expressing kindness is one of the easiest things we can do, but often times it can slip into the cracks of our lives. Because we get so consumed by the day-to-day hustle, we don’t purposefully instill warmth or sympathy or understanding in every day.
Finding big and small ways to express kindness—whether it was just listening to a friend through relationship woes for however long I was needed, or cooking for my father after a long day—helped me just appreciate the small ways others are kind to me. It was the first time I really felt the impact of what researchers have been studying for years: random acts of kindness really do boost your own wellbeing.
But this prompt also helped me reflect on how often times, I’m kind to others but not necessarily to myself.
Being kind to myself used to feel selfish.
But through this exercise, I began to understand that if I’m kind to myself, it makes showing kindness to others a lot easier, too.
So, am I happier now?
As the days piled up, I realized how much joy I really did find in taking time every day to reflect.
I did my exercises at night, which helped me center myself before a clean slate the next day.
I found myself doing more self-checks than I had before.
But am I happier after all this work?
That’s a great question—and I’m not sure I know the answer.
I feel more full and content, and I find myself savoring moments of happiness more, which helps the feeling last longer.
But as I answered these questions, over time I also realized that being happy on a day-to-day basis isn't necessarily my motivating factor in life.
Accepting whatever it is I'm feeling, and using that as fodder to learn more about myself, feels a lot more attainable of a goal than just happiness.
I’ll definitely keep up with the daily exercise—perhaps at a less intense frequency—but I’m excited to find joy in more unique moments, reflect back on past entries, and use it all to grow deeper.
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