I am not going to vex you with my COVID-19 story because if you’re going to read any more on the pandemic, it shouldn’t be from me. Instead, I am going to tell you about yet another trending quarantine activity that likely makes an appearance on your IG stories feed at least twice a day; next to a likely watery but annoyingly aesthetic iced latte and green succulent for that #minimalistvibe, you guessed it: the 5-minute journal.
But I’m not here to rave about a $26.95 notebook or tell you how I’ve confronted my inner demons by writing them down on paper. For those of you who feel as though you are likely the next Maya Angelou or have in fact conquered your greatest fears as a result writing them in this journal, my sincerest applause. For those of you who deem this journal as complete bullshit, keep reading. (I would love for the next Maya Angelou to keep reading as well, although you may have some virtual meet and greet to attend so in that case, thanks for getting this far.)
Generally speaking, we have had more time than ever before to reflect on our past, present and future-selves throughout this pandemic. Even if you haven’t had time, you likely have done more reflecting now than your pre-COVID-19 self ever did. Me too. My pre-COVID-19 sarcastic, competitive self would probably have made some snarky remark about being able to write my entries in less than 5-minutes, implying that I need a 3-minute journal instead. For the record, this is the same self that still tries to lick the oreo cream off the cookie faster than her dad or secretly times herself at the age of 22 when instructed to quickly go get something from the basement (I always do both in record time).
But introspective, becoming-a-better-version-of-herself Stephanie decided to give in to her curiosity and buy the darn thing (the $7.99 version because COVID-19 Stephanie was also more economical).
When the mysterious delivery man brought my parcel, I was embarrassingly eager to open it- I already knew what lay within the journal's pages, but I was excited for COVID-19 Stephanie to channel her newly found inspiration. I opened the page and began to scribble my goals, manifestations, and what I intended on improving.
I completed it for a week, and then another one, but what happened next was not at all what I expected. This supposed guide to increasing gratitude and happiness began stressing me out; I felt added pressure to my already busy days. Consider the dreaded interaction you know you have to carry with your grade 9 geography teacher at your high school reunion; that’s how I felt about this stupid 5-minute journal. I pressured myself to wake up and do this thing that felt like work and then restlessly waited until bedtime to fill out the night portion. How could blank pages of a notebook feel demanding? I was doing everything right; I was writing quality yet attainable goals, showing gratitude for the big and little things, and was more conscious of the things I needed to work on. So why wasn’t it working for me?
These feelings of stress associated with the journal were a consequence of my mindset; my intentions were amiss. I thought this book was going to make me a better version of myself, I thought by writing in it, my thoughts would become my actions. But this book is not God. It doesn’t change you, better you, or help you; that’s YOUR job. This journal is exactly what it markets itself to be a guide. It helps users navigate their goals and worries in a succinct, digestible format. There was no “right” way to do this journal.
So how did my story end? I didn’t touch the journal for a few days and found that, while the pressure of completing it was gone, I no longer took those five (or three) minutes of the day to smile about the good stuff, confront the not-so-good stuff, or reflect on my blessings. As much as completing the journal started feeling unnatural, I enjoyed taking the time to focus on these things. The problem was not completing the journal, the problem was forcing myself to think of different answers every day, even when some days felt the same.
Today, I fill out my 5-minute journal when it feels right. I don’t wake up or go to bed thinking about the thing, but instead fill it in when I’m compelled to do so. And as soon as that became my mindset, I found myself filling the journal out regularly. I find myself wanting to keep track of my day’s fleeting moments, wanting to take me-time for my mental health, and wanting to improve from yesterday. The journal guides me to do that, but I am the one making that possible. The difference is I now recognize that if I skip a day, it doesn’t mean I skipped a day of self-improvement or progress towards my goals. It is just a journal but when you complete it in a way that is true to you, it becomes honest, easy, and relaxing while also encouraging, challenging, and helpful. So, don’t give up on that $26.95 notebook just yet; be true to yourself and do it when it feels right. If it never feels right, then maybe it isn’t for you, but taking that time every so often to either reflect, daydream, or channel whatever emotion it is that you are feeling in that moment will indirectly enhance your day. Whether it’s for three, 15, or five minutes.