Richard Wiseman in his book 59 Seconds: Think a Little Change a Lot explores the importance of journaling to reach your goals, increase happiness, and boost the longevity of your relationships. What Wiseman found and explains to the reader is that it takes just a few minutes of writing to drastically change your thoughts. I would not call Wiseman’s findings mental “hacks”, but rather simple tools that help boost self awareness and shift your mental focus. Our culture has become obsessed with finding “hacks” to simplify life and produce desired changes without much effort. To me the idea of mental hacks misses the point. The real idea is to become more self aware, so that you can consciously decide to change your attitude and behavior as opposed to adopting some hack to force you to change and achieve some quick goal. While Wiseman’s journaling suggestions are short a and quick, they cannot be described as hacks because they require a level of mental focus to be useful.
Wiseman outlines this simple three day journaling activity to help improve your relationship:
Spend ten minutes writing about your deepest feelings about your current romantic relationship. Feel free to explore your emotions and thoughts.
Think about someone that you know who is in a relationship that is in some way inferior to your own. Write three important reasons why your relationship is better than theirs.
Write one important positive quality that your partner has, and explain why this quality means so much to you.
Now write something that you consider to be a fault with your partner and then list one way in which this fault could be considered redeeming or endearing.”
What really surprises me is that Wiseman openly encourages us to compare our relationship to others. I grew up playing basketball and learning about John Wooden, and one of Wooden’s key philosophies was that you can never compare yourself to another person. According to Wooden’s philosophy, comparing your relationship to another persons relationship is useless since your background will differ, and since you can not control the actions or fortunes of the others. Wiseman however is asking us to compare and specifically think of a relationship that we deem to be negative. The purpose of this reflection is to have us think about ways in which the other relationship is not going well, and then identify why ours is going well. What we could see is something that we want to avoid in our relationship, or we may see that our relationship is also filled with the same negative qualities. While Wooden may still be correct, the exercise of day two does help build self awareness.
The most powerful day in my opinion is day three of Wiseman’s relationship journaling. I believe that many people in relationships work hard to avoid thinking of the characteristics they do not like in their partner. There is definitely an idea in our culture that things are ok if your ignore the bad and only focus on the positive. In relationships I believe this idea may be even stronger. It can be scary to think about the qualities we do not like in our partner, but when we think about how those qualities build up to the entire person, and why they align with the person we love, it can boost our feelings for them and reduce the importance of that negative quality. Wiseman helps us to see past the single negative quality by placing it in a more positive light.
Ultimately Wiseman’s ideas for increasing the longevity of our relationships through journaling helps us gain more awareness in our relationship and focus our thoughts and energy towards the love we feel for the other person. He encourages us to venture into scary places thinking about the negative quality of our relationship and the relationships of others. By doing so we can see how to better our relationships and what pitfalls we wish to avoid.