Life hacks are everywhere. From the obvious — getting a good’s night sleep to become a “morning” person — to the exotic — placing your phone in a glass cup to maximize its alarm — each comes with the same promise: Life doesn’t have to be so hard.
But is it possible to hack your life in just five minutes a day?
Productivity genius Tim Ferriss, the king of passive income Pat Flynn, and social media influencer Mimi Ikonn think it is. And thankfully, they’re willing to share how.
Tim Ferriss: Focus
New York Times bestselling author and self-proclaimed human guinea pig Tim Ferriss has spent his career hacking the rituals of uber achievers.
As he explains in the introduction to his new book, Tools of Titans: “Success, however you define it, is achievable if you collect the right field-tested beliefs and habits.” With over 100 million downloads on his podcast, upon which the book is based, Tim’s advice has reached gospel-like adherence among some people.
Morning rituals — like making his bed and preparing “titanium tea” — form a major part Tim’s productivity. One of those rituals, which he recently pulled back the curtain on, is the Five Minute Journal. Composed of three straightforward questions, it’s the second that Tim credits with guiding his focus in one strategic direction: The now.
Tim’s Five Minute Journal from the morning of November 25th, 2016
“If you're stuck in the past,” explains Tim, “that's depression. If you're stuck in the future, that's anxiety.” Rather than becoming “obsessed with pushing the ball forward as a Type-A personality,” journaling is, in his own words, “a therapeutic intervention.”
Of course, even in journaling, present focus doesn’t happen by accident. We all struggle with resentments from the past or fears about the future. And certainly there’s a great deal we can glean from both perspectives. Past mistakes are easily our best teachers, and imagining possible futures is crucial for setting goals.
Unfortunately, all too often we over emphasize those perspectives at the cost of living in the now. Focusing on the present allows Tim “to not only get more done during the day but to also feel better throughout the entire day, to be a happier person, to be a more content person — which is not something that comes naturally to me.”
So start small and ask yourself, “What would make today great?” Your answers don’t have to be earth shaking. In fact, as we’ll see next, small, seemingly mundane wins — for Tim “Stretch (or not)” — lead to huge mental shifts.
Pat Flynn: Gratefulness
Pat Flynn is an entrepreneur extraordinaire. His site, Smart Passive Income, is home not only to Pat’s podcast, blog, course materials and monthly income reports, but a host of business experiments along with ruthless reflections on their results.
Perhaps most famous for the line, “The riches are in the niches,” Pat brings that insight to bear on his personal life during his morning practice. Small tweaks (the niches) reap big rewards (the riches).
For Pat, his life-shaping habit is all about gratitude.
Pat’s Five Minute Journal from the morning of January 3rd, 2016
In his own words, “I use it… immediately when I wake up. That’s been incredibly eye-opening for me: To wake up and think about the things that I’m grateful for and reflect on those.” Gratefulness, Pat’s discovered, is capable of making him not only more content, but more productive.
It’s no secret why.
Gratitude has been shown to have profound physiological benefits. It lowers depression and stress, improves the cardiovascular and immune systems, lengthens and improves sleep, increases self-esteem while reducing envy, resentment, aggression, and regret, and raises “relational satisfaction, perceived partner responsiveness, and positive emotions.” What’s more, gratitude has also been proven to positively and measurably impact business growth.
Whether you follow Pat’s template or not isn’t the point. The point is that front-loading our day by strengthening our gratitude muscles — whether at the small scale or by revelling at length in the love-producing details — is one of the most potent and life-altering disciplines we can cultivate.
Mimi Ikonn: Positivity
Mimi Ikonn, lover of style and people, is the star of MimiIkonn.com where she sports everything from winter get-ups to maternity outfits. Her rabid social media following totals over 2 million across Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest, which puts her in the top 0.1 percent of lifestyle influencers.
One of her core principles is that happiness can be cultivated. In other words, happiness isn’t something passively experienced, but something practiced and honed.
An advocate of intentional positivity, Mimi explains why Intelligent Change, a company she co-founded, created the Five Minute Journal: “It’s the simplest, most effective thing you can do everyday to be happier, and the best part is it only takes five minutes a day.”
But Mimi’s more than just an advocate. She’s also an avid user:
Mimi’s Five Minute Journal from the morning of January 2nd, 2017
In the positivity vein, the third morning reflection — “Daily affirmations. I am…” — are potent. At the risk of getting all Stuart Smalley on you — “I’m good enough. I'm smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.” — self-talk is, in fact, rooted in science. As psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains in The Happiness Hypothesis:
“Depressed people are caught in a feedback loop in which distorted thoughts cause negative feelings, which then distort thinking further. . . . [Y]ou can break the cycle by changing the thoughts. A big part of cognitive therapy is training clients to catch their thoughts, write them down, name the distortions, and then find alternative and more accurate ways of thinking.”
The good news is this negative “feedback loop” also works in reverse. By training ourselves to think, speak, and write positive affirmations we can reshape our mental defaults. And actually, it’s a practice I use myself.
My own Five Minute Journal via the app from January 2nd, 2017
Small investments, big changes
Take note (pun intended), using a specific tool like The Five Minute Journal isn’t the point.
Tim Ferriss, for instance, augments his practice with both morning meditation (10 to 20 minutes) and another journaling approach called Morning Pages. Similarly, Pat Flynn uses apps like Muse to meditate and Sleep Time to wake up. Plenty of other apps and tools exist as well — like Happify and my other personal favorite, Dan Sullivan’s WinStreak. Each enable you to hack your mind, productivity, emotions, and life often in less time than your favorite YouTube video.
So what is the point?
Few of us devote intentional time to (1) focusing on the now, (2) cultivating gratitude, and (3) changing our self-talk. The truth, as evidenced by these two kings and one queen of life hacking, is that small investments in ourselves not only make us more successful but profoundly happier. Now there’s a life hack worthy of the name.
Aaron Orendorff is the founder of iconiContent and a regular contributor at Entrepreneur, Lifehacker, Fast Company, Business Insider and more. Connect with him about content marketing (and bunnies) on Facebook or Twitter.