Helping leaders emerge


Why 20 Minutes of Journaling Makes All the Difference by Ari of Zingerman’s

Our family was lucky enough to meet the very humble yet famous Ari Weinzweig during a visit to Michigan while dining at Zingerman’s Roadhouse (Ari was the water boy, refilling our glasses summer of 2018). Usually, my husband Brad refuses to dine at a restaurant two nights in a row, but we enjoyed our visit so much we found ourselves dining at Zingerman’s for two consecutive nights!

Since then, we have gotten to know Ari and become inspired by his community values, compassionate leadership style, and business success. And as we continue to live in uncertain times, I find it refreshing to have resilient leaders like Ari to turn to during this pandemic for inspiration – leaders who show up in deep service and commitment to others, their staff, communities, and customers. Thank you Ari!

And so with Ari’s permission, thrilled to share ….

Why 20 Minutes of Journaling Makes All the Difference (April 29, 2020)

One of the most common questions I’ve been asked over the last four or five weeks comes after the conversation has already covered an update on the state of our business. The first things most people inquire about are sales, how our staff are coping, how we’re dealing with safety, the state of our cash flow. But when we’re done with that, what comes is something along the lines of: “What are you doing to take care of yourself through all this?”

It’s a good question. And I’m glad they ask. This is, no doubt about it, an exceptionally stressful time to be in business. Or for that matter, just to be human. Everyone, everywhere, is stressed. I’m no exception—trying to figure out how to do the right things in the business; working to do the best we can for the greatest number of staff; owning that we furloughed over 250 people in two days. Trying to do right by customers, serve the community, take extreme care for the safety of staff, be present, while still conscious of personal safety, and help keep our 38-year old business in business so we can still be here when the world moves to the “next phase,” whatever that might be. It sounds like a lot when I say it, but really, almost every business owner I know is in a similarly difficult position.

So . . . what am I doing to take care of myself? Although these are clearly completely unprecedented times, and none of us have any experience living through a pandemic, the answer for me is pretty much the same one I’d have given you a year ago. And the same response I’d have shared a year before that. And the year before that. (OK, granted, I’m washing my hands more than I ever have, wearing a mask out in public, and keeping my distance. That part is new.) I’m not being flip—really my routines for “self-care” aren’t any different than they’ve been for a long time now.

There are four activities that I engage in daily, all of which work to help me hold onto some semblance of internal stability in, even this, the most uncertain of times.

  • Tammie and I end every evening by cooking a good meal together (which you sometimes read about here).
  • I run every single day.
  • I try to talk to a fair few friends to connect, commiserate, listen, and learn.
  • And, my subject here: I start almost every single day by journaling.

Whether journaling will help you as much as it helps me, I don’t know. What I can say with certainty is that journaling has been hugely helpful to me! I’m not exaggerating when I say that when I started doing it 30 years ago, journaling changed my life. Nor am I exaggerating when I say that the 15 or 20 (even five minutes for me is meaningful and better than not doing it all) that I spend doing it every day, combined with the cost of the legal pads I use (yellow, detachable, fine-lined) and the pens (right now, it’s Pilot Precise, fine point) are one of THE best investments I’ve ever made in my whole life. The $10 or $15 a month it costs me for raw materials and the short bit of time I spend doing it pays for itself a thousand times over.

What do I journal about? Whatever comes to mind. Sometimes it feels important, sometimes silly. Sometimes I write in whole coherent paragraphs, sometimes it’s one disconnected word. At. A. Time. Sometimes I swear up a storm. Some mornings I make a list of people and things I appreciate. Sometimes I journal about work. Other days it’s about the news, the weather, or what I’m worried about. Sometimes it’s about Tammie, or our dogs, or what we made for dinner the night before. I write about books and music, bread and coffee; memories and what I’m doing next Monday. Sometimes I just write “Breathe” to remind myself how much one meaningful breath can matter. Then I do it. It helps.

Essentially, journaling for me is a way to begin my day by doing what Julia Cameron (she calls journaling “morning pages”) suggests in her amazing book,The Artist’s Way: “Ask yourself how you are feeling. Listen to your answer. Respond kindly.”

How much difference can 20 minutes of free-form writing like that really make? It helps me stay sane. And I’m not exaggerating. It helps quiet the (often kind of crazy) voices that are almost always active in my head. It helps me reground and get centered. It helps me remember the plethora of positives by which I’m surrounded every day even in difficult times. It helps get me at the root causes of my consternation. It reminds me to be thankful for the people, dogs, food, ideas, books, and music I get to be with. It helps me to stay super appreciative of the moment. And to remember that ultimately, while I’m very high on long-term visioning, still, all we really have is the moment. As one guest shared with me about talking to his young son, the truth is tomorrow never really comes—when what we think of as tomorrow arrives, it will actually have become “today.” Journaling has helped me—no matter how I’m feeling when I sit down to do it first thing in the morning—to live each day to the best of my ability. To appreciate what we have, even when it happens in the middle of a global pandemic.

At any time over the last 30 years that I’ve been doing this, if I miss a morning of journaling, I feel seriously off-center and stressed all day. And in the tension and uncertainty of our current situation, that makes my morning journaling all the more important. It’s a small thing, but it makes a big, big difference. As Julia Cameron writes, “It is impossible to write morning pages for any extended period of time without coming into contact with an unexpected inner power . . . Anyone who faithfully writes morning pages will be led to a connection with a source of wisdom within. And right now, I think we can use all the help we can get.”
Ari Weinzweig

  • Click here to learn more about Ari!
  • Click here to learn more about Zingerman’s!
  • Click here to read how Zingerman’s Roadhouse was just named finalist for a James Beard Foundation Award!
  • Click here to sign up for Ari’s amazing newsletter!
  • Click here to email Ari (at his request, he loves connecting!)

I’m sure you enjoyed Ari’s article as much as I did and hope you give journaling a try…..

Wishing you, your families, friends, and colleagues health, strength, and moments of joy during this challenging time.

And if you’d like to join our free community Zoom mindfulness meditation 5p EST weekdays, please email me for link and more details!