Not too long ago, my morning routine would probably sound familiar to many: wake up begrudgingly, blindly sleepwalk to the kitchen to start the coffee, and hope no one else in the house is up yet to intercept me, ask questions that make me think, or wish me a chirpy good morning—because f*ck that.
I’m not a friendly person in the morning. I’m not angry, and I’m not mean-spirited. I’m just not awake.
Until caffeine and silence have had their time with me for at least an hour post-alarm, there’s to be “no talky.” I’m not the friendly Christy my friends and family normally adore and are used to being around. The version of myself in the mornings kinda sucks.
However, about a year or so ago I was introduced to a practice that completely changed my morning routine, and as a consequence, paved the way for a positive and productive day ahead. It involves a little meditation, sometimes a morning walk, always coffee, and still no talky, but most of all, it involves writing in what I call a Five-Minute Journal.
In this journal, I stick to a scripted series of brief writing. It’s hardly writing, really. Mostly it’s note-jotting in scribbly, messy penmanship filling about half of a page, but it directs my morning thoughts to focus on three very important things: gratitude, manifesting goals, and affirmation.
The first words I write are three things I’m grateful for.
I’ve been consistent with my Five-Minute Journal for two years now, and I’ve noticed growth and progression in how I adjust and pivot my morning thoughts. I used to be thankful for—nearly every day—good coffee, a good night’s sleep, sunshine, or something related to the small amount of sensations I had taken in and thoughts I had acknowledged since waking.
These points of gratitude were often repetitive and became boring after several entries, so I’ve tried to give myself a few more minutes to really think about and connect with something unrelated to my surroundings that I am truly grateful for.
I try to go both inward: “I’m thankful for my beating heart,” “I’m thankful I recovered from the cold last week,” or “I’m thankful I didn’t wake up sad, or to noisy construction outside.” Or I reach outwards: “I’m thankful for my neighbour who loaned me $20 to refill the gas tank for my stove,” “I’m thankful for the unexpected email I received from a friend I had lost track of,” or “I’m thankful for the free yoga class I’m going to attend later.” I choose three things to be grateful for, and genuinely feel thankfulness for them in the moment of writing.
Selecting the goals I wish to manifest each day comes next.
I used to just choose my favourite things from my “to-do” list that I had already compiled for myself, and rewrite them in my journal. That served me not at all.
The point of morning writing is to think about three things that I have some kind of control over that would make my day awesome and play out just a little bit better than if I had wandered aimlessly through each daylight hour, for example: “Call my mom,” “Go for a beach run,” or “Make a smoothie with kale.” These are things outside of my workload, which I would complete anyway, that would add value to my life in the 15 hours when I’m awake.
I finish my quick morning writing by choosing a positive affirmation to believe in.
Here, I try to be my own cheerleader: “You got this,” “Trust the universe—she’s on your side,” or simply, “I am awesome.” Something—anything—to set an intentional positive focus in motion. This is important. I read the words of encouragement and feel their strength before the doubt and worry wake up fully and hold a pep rally in my mind. It’s my way of giving myself a little morning hug before I wander off toward the rest of my day.
To be a mindful, effective practice, I must write first thing in the morning and I have to be specific. I try to not get distracted or involved in anything else until I’ve taken the time with just myself to write in my journal—no emails, no messages, no adjusting the to-do list, no hellos to roommates or neighbours. Meditation and coffee are the only guests allowed to sneak in early, but these two serve a purpose and support my focus for the morning.
Finally, at the end of the day, I come back to this journal. I write down three things that made the day great. These could be the goals I listed that I was able to achieve, or often it is an unexpected surprise: “Bumping into Joan, who I haven’t seen in a while and having lunch with her,” “Going for a run and finding motivation for an ab work out,” or “Mom called me.”
Also, I reflect on what went wrong and write down something that could have been done better if I had been more conscious or careful or mindful, like “Not losing my patience or freaking out about my flat tire,” “Exercising more,” “Fitting in a nap,” or “Eating healthier—(what happened to the kale smoothie?).”
So, I suppose I have two mindful moments that bookend my day. One of gratitude, intention, and positive focus to begin the day, and one of reflection to end the day. I give myself the credit for a day well-played out, and also acknowledge room for improvement.
On occasion, I’ll flip through past entries, and think, “Hey! Look how much of what I set out to do actually happened!” and I feel giddy and energized and successful, which makes me want to keep going. Other times, I read my past intentions and goals, and think, “Sh*t. I was a little overambitious that day,” or “Wow, I totally walked away from every intention I set.”
When I travel and skip a couple of days of writing, I notice I feel off-center, as if I’m not quite in focus or in tune with what I want to be achieving—like I’ve been driving in unfamiliar territory and haven’t checked the map in a while.
When I don’t practice mindfulness each morning through writing, I feel a little unsettled and like I’m going through withdrawal, but I love that I’ve implemented this habit so seamlessly that I miss it when it’s not with me. It can often feel like life is spinning rapidly away from us, or around us, and these morning minutes with my journal give me something solid to hang on to.
This practice has helped me feel more of a responsibility for my own day-to-day experiences and how I respond to them. It has made me more mindful of the course my life is taking, as well as the emotions and actions that I take to shape it. Mindful morning writing in my Five-Minute Journal keeps me in check and helps me feel positive and hopeful about how far I’ve come on my journey.
My hope is that this practice can be a source of comfort, drive, and clarity for anyone who tries it.