making gratitude a habit, not a holiday: a q&a with alex ikonn
We're coming up on Thanksgiving this week which means lots of friends and family, food, football, and most importantly, gratitude. We sat down with Alex Ikonn, creator of the beloved 5-Minute Journal to chat about the genesis for the journal, how he got where he is today, and how we can all make gratitude a habit, not a holiday.
Tell the story of using struggles as fuel. That was kind of from what I was out of the field that I still doubt you when you realized like you didn't ever want to not have money.
If I look back at our business and what really drove us to succeed, it was really desperation and struggle. I remember that moment when I was put against the wall internally. I was actually living my mom, I was engaged to my future wife, and my mom came into my room and she said, "Alex, I need money for rent." I didn't have money to give her for rent, and as a man who wants to provide for his family, who was about to get married, I felt like a total loser. That was a big struggle, the struggle that I couldn't provide for my family; the struggle that I wasn't really living my full potential. I talked about how I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I was a want-repeneur. I'm wasn't an entrepreneur. I wasn't somebody who was actually making these things a reality. So in that moment, the struggle of not having resources, of not having finances, really pushed me to the point where I said, "Never again." I never want to feel this way. I will always provide for my family. I will always be financially responsible and create financial abundance in my life to provide not only for myself and not only for my family but for others. I wanted to deliver value to other people. I was literally crying, breaking down, because I just felt so low at that point because here I was living with my mom and not really making things work. It really pushed me to the edge to actually get it done and to go out and succeed. I think the reason why most of us don't do anything is that we're too comfortable. That's why sometimes we have to welcome the struggles that we have in our lives to push us over the edge to be focused and to get action done. But if you're too comfortable and too safe, you're not going to do anything.
How did this experience help shape your ability to find gratitude in any situation?
So I think even looking back at that time in my life, which was a very painful time and was a huge struggle of mine, I'm grateful for that time. If it wasn't for that time of struggle, if it wasn't for that time where I was really pushed over the edge to really get my stuff together, I wouldn't be where I am now. This is why I'm so grateful for that hard time of my life. It gave me fuel to go forward and really achieve the life of my dreams.
When I broke down and my mom came to me, I just got pieces of paper out of my printer and I had a Sharpie pen. I just wrote there, with confidence, affirmations that I will always create abundance in my life; I will always be a great provider for my family; I will always succeed in life in a certain way. But it was with confidence. It was in a way that said I never wanted to feel this struggle and this pain again, and I'll decided to do whatever it takes to create this in my life.
What gave you the idea for the final 5-Minute Journal?
I think most importantly if I look back on my journey to creating the life of my dreams, the one habit that I've created over the years has been gratitude. One of the things that I've used to instill the habit is as soon as I wake up I try to just think of one thing that I'm grateful for, and that's how I created real gratitude in my life. I was thinking about gratitude.
Then my business partner had this journaling technique where he would journal for like one to two hours a day, and that's great. It's great to journal. However, I think most of us, including myself, don't have hours in a day to journal or to practice gratitude in that way by actually writing it down. So I thought, how can we create a tool that is like a toothbrush for your mind? Something that is quick, that doesn't take you forever. It just takes you five minutes a day, but it gives you that frame of mind for the rest of the day. A tool that allows you to start your day with gratitude and begin the day with thinking of the things that you're grateful for. Those moments of, "Hey, you woke up, you're alive. You have this day, you can make it happen." Or, "Hey, I'm grateful to have my wife next to me," or "I'm grateful to have friends in my life," or "I'm grateful I have health that I can get up and walk and make things happen." And so the idea of the 5-Minute Journal was really based on creating a tool to just be that toothbrush for your mind. We are always surrounded by negativity, news, and notifications, all that stuff. There's always impulse and negativity really pulls us all around. That's what sells in today's society. So I felt it was very important to create a tool that you can really use to change your mindset each day. And as you do this, over time, your life changes because internally, your voice changes. How you think changes, your thoughts change.
I'm just a big believer that your thoughts can really transform your life. Because coming from a dark place to a certain degree, of not having a lot of my life and having been able to build the life that I have with my family and our businesses, it all comes down to really seeing the things that we're grateful for, even in the times that we don't have a lot. Then the trick is using whatever you have at that moment to keep going. And that's why the 5-Minute Journal is just a reminder every day to think of the things that we do have in our lives. Think of the amazing things that have happened today. Think about what I can do to make today great, and also to reaffirm to myself on a daily basis of who I am. Who am I and what am I here to do?
So what was your catalyst for living a more grateful life?
It really started when my father passed away. I was coming from a dark place. I was a teenager with a father who had passed away and a newly single mother. Really, my childhood often was really living with struggle. And the gratitude really came about as I chose to not be a victim of my situation and chose not to look at all the things that I didn't have in my life.
There was a day where I said, "I'm going to take responsibility for my life. And this is not about things that I don't have, but the things that I do have." This is how gratitude really transforms your life because you're able to see the glass half full, and you're always able to see the things that you actually have because we always have something in our lives. If we're alive, if we're breathing, if we can see, hear, taste, any of those things, we have things to be grateful for.
These are just the basic fundamentals that I remind myself on a daily basis that allow me to live such a joyous life. I think in today's society where we compare ourselves on social media and Instagram. Instead, we should just focus on ourselves and the things that we have in ourselves and not compare ourselves to others, because as the quote goes, "Comparison is the biggest thief of joy." The only person we can really compete against and compare ourselves against is ourselves. That is why gratitude really gives you a focus on asking yourself what do you have, what are you working with, and what can you use your advantage to help you go forward?
What advice would you give to someone who wants to live a more grateful life?
I think it's really simple, and it really starts with making a habit of when you wake up in the morning to think of one thing that you're grateful for. You don't even need the 5-Minute Journal or anything like that. It is just really about honing that mindset. Gratitude isn't just, "OK. I'm grateful" and you just think of stuff. Gratitude is really a feeling inside. And to get that feeling inside, you have to make it a habit. You have to make it a practice. That's why we created the 5-Minute Journal. But at the same time, anybody can create a practice for yourself by making a habit of when you wake up to let the first thought in your day be one thing, just one thing that you're grateful for. A lot of us start our days saying, "I want to have this going on." We check our phones, we check our social media. But if you just focus your mind on that one thought, with time, and it will take time, your life will transform and you will actually feel gratitude. You'll be able to see the world in a different way, and that is a very transformative effect because you then see the joy in life and see that there's so much opportunity.
This is when you're able to create financial abundance or personal abundance or be happy in your family. You can be a millionaire, a billionaire, or you can have a great family, but if you don't really see and are grateful for the people in your life, then you are missing the gift that you have. All it takes is really changing that focus and seeing the things you have: seeing your partner, seeing that the good qualities in your partner, and not just seeing what's not enough. A lot of us have the habit of seeing what's not enough: this partner is not enough. My career is not enough. My boss is not enough. My business is not enough. I don't have enough. In that thinking pattern, that mindset, you're focusing on the things that you don't want. But as you focus on that negativity and the things that you don't want, you actually bring more of that in your life.
And that is why when you think of just even one thing that you're grateful for, you're focusing on the things that you actually want to have or the good things that exist in life. Your brain is the most powerful tool that you have. If I anchor in and tell that brain navigation system to focus on the things that I want or I have in my life that I'm grateful for, you will begin to truly be grateful and your life will transform. I've learned, especially on my journey from being an immigrant in North America and coming from Russia and really starting with nothing, that the reason my life transformed was simply that I started being grateful.
How has being grateful changed the way you measure success?
The way I measure success in my life is always by asking myself, "Is this the life that I want to live?" Mimi, my wife, and I are always looking forward and seeing what life we want to live. And not material things. We don't think, "Hey, we want this massive house and this amount of money in our bank account." That's not actually what we think about. We think about what life we want to live. What emotions do we want to feel? And gratitude is one of those emotions. We want to feel grateful. We want to feel in love and be in love. We want to be excited and happy. And we want to have a great community around us and enjoy our everyday life.
So the way we measure our success is really by that feeling that we have inside. Do we have that feeling of gratitude in our life that really propels us forward and makes us feel good? That feel-good feeling of just being thankful. When you have that it makes you become appreciative of everything.
A lot of people ask, "How do you guys get great service all the time? Everyone seems to know you." All we do is we just practice gratitude. We're appreciative of people. We're appreciative of the people who are serving us, maybe cooking food in the restaurant or taking our order or a person that's cleaning up the street. That's gratitude. You start being appreciative of everything and everyone. You start being appreciative for nature, for the sun, for your breath, for our family, for our family's health, for a healthy child. That's how we measure success--that feeling of gratitude, the feeling of joy, the feeling of happiness, the feeling of being connected and the feeling and being authentic. Really living your truth and not being fake and really showing up as yourself and having others accept you for who you are on your journey. So that's success to us.
I'm once again really, really grateful to be in this place and most importantly, to have built this life with my wife Mimi and our daughter, Alexa, day by day. That is the true measure of success. Out of everything that I have, it's that. Those are not the easiest parts to maintain, being a good father or having a good family. Those are the hard things. Going to work and making money is easy compared to the emotional labor it takes to have a family. However, the payoff is huge. I think a lot of us, especially men, have to focus on that. How do we dedicate time to our family and be present with our children, because that's hard, especially in today's day and age.
Often we are good at being grateful towards the end of the year. The holidays bring out a more generous, more thankful side of humanity. What would you suggest to help people make gratitude a habit and not a holiday?
For many of us, there's one day a year, maybe two days a year--Thanksgiving and Christmas Day--that bring out that feeling of gratitude. I think it's important for all of us to really have Thanksgiving every day. Thanksgiving is every day. Christmas is every day. This is how I feel in my life. And the way I get that feeling, and how anybody else can create that feeling in their life, is by doing the things that I spoke about today. It's really understanding that life itself is the biggest gift to be grateful for. This is what I understood from losing family. I'm grateful for those moments, and even for that struggle of understanding how precious life is. This is what happens sometimes when we lose somebody in our lives. We start to understand that life itself is a gift. And for me, the way I'm able to have Thanksgiving every day and be grateful every day is, like I said, the moment you wake up, the moment you open your eyes is the best moment for you to think of one thing that you're grateful for. Because you woke up. You're alive. You have another chance at this thing called life. No matter where you are, no matter how hard it may be, you're alive and you have the chance to make this a great day. And this day can turn into a great life. It's what you do about today. When you start your day with gratitude, even if it's just one thing you're grateful for, it has the power to change your whole life as it has for me. It truly has.
What are you grateful for?
The thing that I'm most grateful for is definitely my family--my wife, Mimi and my daughter, Alexa. Through gratitude, you really understand how precious people are in our lives. A lot of us really take our family and our friends for granted, and we're so inside our heads. These people allow you to have a greater purpose in life. Especially when you become a father, you really understand that there is a responsibility for you to keep this life going and that it's precious. I'm really grateful for my family and I'm really grateful for the opportunity I have in life. And even if you don't have a family, you can be grateful to be living in the time that we live now. People may say otherwise, but we live in a time of abundance. There's so much opportunity all around. We as people are now empowered.
I was able to create the businesses that we have with the power of the Internet, with the power of social media. And that is because we now, as people, are no longer dictated just by big media. Now there are companies like Rhone or our company, Intelligent Change, that are invested as businesses to actually help people become better. Our sole mission at Intelligent Change helping you live a more positive life. And with Rhone, I think it's the same thing. It's not just about clothing. It's about a movement. It's about empowering people, whether that be men or women, to really be their best selves and to move forward.
Alex Ikonn is an inspirational entrepreneur who created the 5-Minute Journal as well as Luxy Hair, with his wife Mimi. To hear more from Alex and his thoughts on gratitude, follow him on Instagram: @alexikonn