A friend of mine challenged me about a month ago. She challenged me to start keeping a five-minute diary. Apparently the five-minute diary is an established concept where you at bedtime, and possibly also in the morning I can’t really remember, spend five minutes writing down positive thoughts or the positive things you’ve experienced during the day. Just quick bullet points. The reason she suggested it was that I was talking about how when thing are very hectic, and let’s face, in this day and age they mostly are, I feel like everything I experience during the day just disappears from my consciousness. I may be very present in the moment but then when I move on and start doing something else it almost feels like it never was. So she suggested writing these things that I wanted to remember down in order not only to be able to actually remember them, but also to give me a chance to reflect.
Well, it sounded like a good idea to me so I accepted the challenge, but a modified version of it. I don’t like the idea of just writing down positive thoughts. I’m interested in all my thoughts and experiences, whether positive or negative or something else. It is not only the positive that is meaningful. Without reflecting over the whole range of emotions I experience, I don’t think I would ever grow as a person, and honestly I think it would make life kind of boring. Besides I find that it is especially in the contradictions that real learning and development takes place. It is in those moments that you actually learn something about yourself.
This constant striving for positivity that you see all over the place gets to me. Sometimes I see 365 days of positivity challenges circulate, sometimes it’s three positive things per day seven days in a row. Positivity is positively all the rage in this day an age. It actually stems from the positive psychology movement that came about at the end of the 1990’s about the time motivational speaking became so popular. Positivity became the answer to career success, to health, to life. However, although being positive is a good thing in many situations, and I would say I’m generally pretty optimistic myself, there really isn’t a lot of empirical evidence to support that positive psychology really works. On the contrary, it is argued that striving for constant positivity can, instead of leading to success, actually make people feel like failures when they just can’t live up to expectations and be positive all the time because they are experiencing the whole range of emotions, which is natural and necessary in life. (See The search for happiness for more on why this is problematic.)*
So I accepted the challenge, but with modifications. I said that instead of listing only positive things, I would write down the three most important things or thoughts that I experienced each day. And that is what I’ve been doing almost every evening for the past month or so. Sometimes I forget, but mostly I don’t. It doesn’t take long although I sometimes have trouble sticking to only three points, so I’ve discarded that rule. I write as many points as I want; sometimes it’s three and sometimes it’s more, but I don’t think I’ve ever written more than five or six. Sticking to bullet points is actually quite liberating because it keeps it short and I don’t try to outdo myself composing well-written diary entries, which I wouldn’t have the energy to do every evening. Sometimes my points are work related, often not. Sometimes it’s just something beautiful that I’ve seen or an interesting thought I’ve had. Sometimes I write about positive things or things I’m thankful for, sometimes it’s things I’m frustrated or feeling very ambiguous over. I don’t spend a lot of time analyzing these thoughts as I keep it short, so I’m a bit unsure of what the long run benefits are going to be, but for the moment at least it feels meaningful. This five-minute diary gives me a chance to reflect over the day, and remember the things worth remembering. And capture time in a notebook.
So thank you my friend! I’m pretty sure I would never have come up with this myself.
* I can also recommend one of my favorite books: Psychobabble: Exploding the Myths of the Self-Help Generation by Stephen Briers. Or if you’re really interested: Virtues and Vices in Positive Psychology: A Philosophical Critique by Kristján Kristjánsson (available on Google books)