The Five Minute Journal by UJ Ramdas: Update on My Progress

Podcasts and books: Let's break it down.

A couple of weeks ago I posted about some of my favorite podcast episodes. I've been seeing some changes in my mindset since I've started using UJ Ramdas' Five Minute Journal so I thought I'd spend a few minutes riffing on my progress.

When I started The Five Minute Journal (about two months ago), I was in a really strange place. My health is pretty good; there's enough money in the bank; I'm happily married; I love our new life in Colorado and my mother's suffering is finally over. There are daily challenges, of course, but in the big picture? Everything's basically fine.

The problem? I don't know how to do "fine." I was born into "complicated" and so it is "complicated" that I have always been comfortably uncomfortable with. "Complicated" snaps at you all day, every day but hands you a nice to-do list each and every morning. "Complicated" keeps you plenty busy.

"Fine" gives you peace, quiet, and the freedom to choose. "Fine" wakes you up in the morning and asks you what you'd like to do with your time, your money, and your skills. For a person who has spent their entire life being "complicated?" It's "fine" that f***s you up.

In this clean, quiet space there has suddenly been time to listen to the things I tell myself. " Without "complicated" to hand it to me the list I noticed I had begun to seek out all the reasons I could not possibly be o.k. Each morning, my failures fanned out in front of me on life's table like a deck of cards just begging me to choose one and jump back in the game.I revisited old mistakes and wondered if I was making new ones. I focused on what I didn't get done instead of the good work behind me each day.

I was in this place when I started keeping The Five Minute Journal. The theory behind the structure of The Five Minute Journal is that this kind of writing taps into the brain's RAS or reticular activation syndrome, changing how you look at the world. Ramdas says in the introduction,

"When you write 'What would make today great?' you're taking a step to influence your RAS to point out and engage in activities that would make your day better. You're building new pathways in your brain that allow you to 'see' what you can do to improve your well being every day...your mind [naturally] learns to improve your happiness. Doing this consistently gives you consistently better days."

I wouldn't say I had much invested in that theory when I started The Five Minute Journal. I was really just thinking it was easier than keeping a regular journal (and it is.) But two months on, I've noticed something. That constant inner chorus of disapproval has faded pretty significantly. I'm not saying that I think I'm "healed" or anything. It's there; I know it's there; the inner chorus of disapproval knows that I know it's there. But I just get on with it and it's fine.

Kind of like an age spot on your skin. You see it, you don't like the way it looks, but you have to just get on with life. You can't get rid of it. try, but your dermatologist says cutting it out will leave a scar. You could laser it but you'd have to keep coming back to deal with it, because it will never really go away. So if the choice is between keeping the age spot or having a scar that you have to cover with makeup or spending thousands of potential retirement dollars on IPL lasers over the course of a long life? Sometimes you just decide ignore the age spot and get on with it. Depending on the age spot. Lots of dermatological problems can be used as analogies for life's problems.

While I was out on a run a few weeks ago I experimented with this new knowledge. That old ways of thinking will never be completely suffocated, but I can acknowledge them when they pop up, then tamp them down and just get on with the business of being "fine." Somehow just recognizing that they're still there -- but not useful anymore --  just helped me. The Five Minute Journal played some role in this acceptance process that I can't entirely explain to you, but it did. And it continues to help me move toward being just "fine."

I recommend the book.



15 Things You Need to Give Up in Order to Be Happy


I've always been a ruminator on the subject of happiness. The last few years more than ever. You could say that three years ago I started almost from scratch - picking apart what it is that feeds me and choosing to discard what does not. In that space, I've had to focus on learning how to sit with what I've learned about what I want and need to live a good life. I've re-learned that happiness isn't static. And that it's fragile. 

Happiness evolves and is protected by a series of decisions you make in everyday moments. Some of those decisions might be as small as what you decide to eat for breakfast or as large as your choice about who to wake up next to for the rest of your life. To protect myself and the happiness I've gained, I've had to learn to analyze my decision-making process. Why I lean toward one thing instead of another. I've had to learn to let myself be uncomfortable for longer stretches while the better answer becomes clear. I'm not all the way there but I'm getting better.

I collect some helpful visual tools on my Pinterest board, "Deep Thoughts" if you'd like to follow me there. Here's a list of "15 Things You Need to Give Up if You Want to Be Happy" that I pinned from LifeHack. It's popular with my Pinterest followers and seemed worth sharing here.

Happy Monday!



15 Things You Need to Give Up if You Want to Be Happy



Martha Beck on Choosing Happiness

A snake at the Baltimore Aquarium.


The last few weeks I've been going back and forth about a decision I need to make. I know that I don't want to do this Thing, and it will likely lead to unhappiness in my everyday life. A tough choice, if it comes to that, given how hard I've worked to establish a calm, happy, loving home. The Thing came at the same time as another opportunity that puts my heart on the opposite end of the spectrum - excited; energized for the work.


I know it seems obvious to you which option I should choose, but it's more difficult than that viewing it from here. Clearing out some files I came across an article by Martha Beck that I snipped out of O Magazine a couple of years ago and it helped me. Perhaps it will help you too:


"I labored for decades to make sad people happy, rigid people flexible, aggressive people empathetic, and so on, before finally noticing that (1) this never worked, and (2) it drove me insane...The key, I've found, is to stay the heck away from the idea of "making" someone do, feel, or think anything. This is not your job. Your job is to maximize your own happiness, kindness, and health. Let others choose whether to follow...You've already had enough life experience to notice when a situation, a person, or a task is marked "poison." Remember how much that situation hurt the last time, and choose one that feels better now. Take small steps, lying down often along the way. Tell the truth and stay in your own business. Anything else is poison."


--Martha Beck


and Heidi


Smell and Motivation

Chocolate has been shown to influence browsing and purchasing decisions of bookstore patrons. Marketing teams use scent to direct behaviors and decisions of shoppers.


How to Make an Artist's Flutter Book: Video from Otis College Book Arts

We can make habits about of emotions. According to Seth Godin, anger is a habit. Distrust is a habit. So, too, we can make happiness a habit. This morning I try to get back in the art studio by making a flutter book designed by book artist Rebecca Chamlee at Otis College.


The Best $5 I've ever spent.

What's the best $5 you've ever spent? Leave a comment on the Anti-Bad-Mood Sprays' Facebook page! If you post a response you may win a free set of mini-sprays!


30 Ways to Improve Your Life


I read when I'm looking for life inspiration. I found this article, 30 Life-Enhancing Things You Can Do in 30 Minutes or Less and thought I'd share it with anti-bad-mood spray customers. The idea is that completing some or all of these activities will have a positive emotional impact on your life - and we all need that, right?

By coincidence, I completed a couple of similar items this year and I've been really surprised by how much happiness those activities have brought to my life. I signed up for a class on Behavioral Economics, taught by Dan Ariely. I loved every minute of it. I watched the video lectures while I packaged anti-bad-mood sprays and did the readings in the evening. I absorbed an incredible amount of information and months later I am still thinking about what I learned and looking for ways to apply it in my arts consulting business.

I also started a new DIY project - staining a new fence and hand-building a retaining wall in the back yard. The retaining wall was such a small project that I had a hard time getting a landscaper interested. Finally, a friend encouraged me to strike out and try doing it on my own. I felt like such a grownup when I went to purchase a pallet of rock by myself! (I'm still 19 in my head.) My husband has helped alot with this project and it's been hard work but also great fun. Our house was built in 1866 and we became amateur archaelogists as we dug down through the layers of dirt. We found dozens of hand-forged nails; lots of broken pieces of glass and china; a 1911 nickel; a 1945 wheat penny; glass marbles and a heart-shaped padlock with an eagle crest similar to this one. The yard is looking really good and we have really enjoyed our time together poking around in the dirt. A good relationship isn't all about going out to dinner. Sometimes it involves a metal detector and a giant can of bug spray.

Those two activities have greatly improved my year - and I wouldn't have expected how much enjoyment I got out of both. Particularly since I more-or-less stumbled into them. What brings you happiness? What have you tried and found, almost by surprise, that you love to do?


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