Posted October 01, 2015
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. Well...you 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.