How to upgrade your day through powerful journaling


Journaling is a proven effective method for many things ranging from psychological processing to reflecting and learning from your experiences. Whether you’ve started journaling already or not, I will give you a short and simple journaling routine that’s worth a try!

My encounters with journaling: becoming a believer in its potency

First of all, let me confess something. I have always thought of journaling as a very old fashioned activity. How can writing about your daily struggles in life give you any fun or benefit?

Years later my opinion has shifted radically on journaling. I now think it is useful and beneficial on many levels and for several reasons. One reason is that I routinely found journaling being endorsed by many people I respect and admire a lot. From researchers to creatives: journaling can take a place in the daily life of anyone looking to learn from their own and other people’s experiences.

One big tipping point for me was when I worked on my master thesis under the guidance of Ernst Bohlmeijer, professor in Positive Psychology at the University of Twente. Up to that point I inconsistently and reluctantly tried journaling. Then I found out about the research Ernst and his colleagues had done on writing as a psychological intervention.

It turns out that writing about your life experiences (in other words journaling) can help you not only learn from your experiences, but also improve the processing of life events. It improves integration and coherence of your life story in your mind and memory.

It surprised me to learn about the many benefits of journaling and also how this had been an area of scientific study. With this knowledge I started to look at it with more respect and a better understanding of its purpose.

Since then I’ve experimented with different forms of journaling. I will share with you one routine that’s really helped me get started. It takes the least time of all routines I’ve tried.

The 5 minute journal routine

What we’ll discuss now is the 5 minute journal routine, which I found through Tim Ferriss’ podcast. This is a different routine than the more expressive journaling that I mentioned above. I think expressive journaling is awesome and I use a variation of it to capture and reflect on experiences that relate to my personal growth (e.g. learning from emotional triggers or capturing insights). The 5 minute journaling routine however is more structured and easier to build as an habit. It gives different benefits than expressive writing, mostly focusing on some really important sub-habits to build in your day. The instructions:

Time: Start this routine upon waking or at a preferred moment in your morning routine.

How: For up to 5 minutes fill out the 3 following items every morning.

  • First, write down 3 things you’re grateful for. Make sure you find 3 unique things every time. Also, try different categories (a relationship, something material, something immaterial or an experience that happened yesterday). They can be really small like the fresh morning air or really big like a huge accomplishment yesterday. Also, try to really embody the gratefulness. Really feel the gratefulness in your body on a sensation level. Do you start smiling, do you feel warmer, more expanded?
  • Second, write down 3 things that make your day awesome if you accomplish them. Take this opportunity to focus your day towards the most important steps that move you closer towards your biggest goals in life. Don’t make these items too big: they should be attainable today. Maybe it’s just one new paragraph for your novel, or maybe it’s making a difficult phone call. Whatever you write down here, make sure those are things that make you feel satisfied when you look back on today.
  • Third, write down 3 affirmations about yourself. You can try any type of affirmations you like, for example: I am strong, I am confident, I am compassionate. But there’s a catch. Whatever you do, the most important rule many people don’t know is this: make sure they are true! If you say you’re confident, but your body and mind KNOW you feel completely insecure, it will not work. So try to name things that  apply to you to some degree and deepen them. Also what you can do is affirm towards change: I know I feel insecure about doing X, but I am learning to feel and act with more confidence when doing X. Some statement like that IS true and affirms your intention to grow and develop around what’s not yet strongly developed in you.

As you’ve noticed, the focus with this journaling routine is different than with life journaling. Instead of expressively writing about all that’s going on in life, this routine focuses your attention on 3 key points. First it focuses on gratitude, which is a proven path towards happiness and well-being. I will go into this in more detail in a future article. But for now listen to the words of this monk’s TED talk or to the famous Sufi poet and philosopher Rumi:

If you only say one prayer in a day, make it thank you - Rumi

After you’ve said the most important prayer for this day, we move on to the most important to do list for this day. Point two focuses on the three most important priorities for this day. The essence of this is that if you only get (one) of these items done today, the day will be a success. Make your biggest priority the first item and beware that like me, you may sometimes get lousy and fall for the completion bias. This means you put in items you can easily get done but are not a priority or that valuable to your major goals. So really take this moment to connect today’s effort with your overarching goals in life to make it meaningful.

Then the last point is about affirming something in yourself. I already pointed out the most important rule for this: pick something you deeply know to be true! Otherwise it will do nothing for you.

To finish this up, once you’ve got a solid morning journaling routine started, you can add an evening routine as well. In the evening, you can again name 3 things you’re grateful for that you experienced today. Then you can reflect on 3 things that would’ve made your day better. This is to give yourself some constructive feedback on what to improve in your life and work.


To summarize: journaling is a great tool for both personal development and productivity. In this article we’ve focused on what’s called the 5 minute journal routine. Every morning you write down 3 items for 3 points:

  1. 3 things you’re grateful for
  2. 3 things that make you feel great, if accomplished
  3. 3 things you want to affirm in yourself

If you want you can take it up to the next level by adding an evening routine as well. In the 5 minute evening journal routine you write down 3 items for 2 points:

  1. 3 things you’re grateful for after today
  2. 3 things that would’ve made your day better

The evening routine can help you with a solid finish to your day, creating more feelings of gratitude and showing you points where you can improve in life.

I invite you to try this out for at least a week and see how it goes. Let me know in the comments how it’s working out for you, or share your own journaling routine that works for you!

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