Sunday, September 29, 2013

In Gratitude We Trust

A few months ago, my coach Sarah asked me to start a gratitude journal. I was pretty skeptical about the whole thing. I'm not typically a rah-rah person and I really couldn't see how writing down things that made me grateful would help me in the least. But everything else that Sarah had suggested had worked out pretty well, so I decided to give it a shot.

At first, I treated it like an exercise in recordkeeping. Every evening, I would sit down and rack my brains for moments throughout the day that made me feel grateful. It wasn't that hard to do. I set a quota of three items a day, and I was often able to hit four or five. The thing that frustrated me the most was forgetting to include key moments. The other was repeating the same items. It felt a little like cheating if something made me feel grateful on both Monday and Tuesday.

After about five weeks of dutifully filling in my gratitude journal, I decided to take a step back and assess how the journal was working for me. Even though it felt like I had low expectations going into it, I must have expected something because I was disappointed not to feel some positive, internal changes at work. I knew that Sarah wouldn't have suggested the gratitude journal if there wasn't more to it than this.

When I brought all of this up with Sarah, we put our heads together and thought about how the journal might work better for me. Sarah suggested that, instead of using the journal for recordkeeping, I use it for dipsticking, recording what I was grateful for in the moment. She also said that repeating myself was normal, and that she had gone through a long period where her gratitude journal entries were almost identical day after day. After all, it makes sense that there would be things in our daily lives for which we would be constantly grateful.

Some people will argue that keeping a gratitude journal and imposing a quota on it forces you to make things up or to be artificially positive. I would argue that we are genuinely grateful all the time, but our gratefulness can get covered up by immediate circumstances and negativity. We are not defined by the outermost layer of our consciousness. Digging down to our gratefulness uncovers something real if we are real with ourselves. That is the power of the gratitude journal.

Dipsticking and uncovering the things that made me grateful gave me a nice boost of positive energy each and every day. It reminded me of the good things in my life and gave me a chance to break out of a rut if I was in one. How long that positive energy lasted, I couldn't be sure, but it was nice never going through a whole day completely down in the dumps.

The breakthrough happened early this week. I was feeling particularly down because I had been battling a cold for three weeks and suffering a severe case of writer's block at work. On Sunday, I decided that I would use my gratitude journal to dig my way out of negativity. But when I sat down to write on Monday, I had absolutely nothing. I couldn't feel one ounce of gratitude. And that threw me into a rage... at myself. I had been feeling pretty awesome about myself just two weeks earlier, and here I was with nothing to be grateful for! I started pounding things out in anger on the keyboard, and here is what I wrote for item 3:


And for item 7:

Hmmm… I'm up to seven items in this gratitude entry :) Feeling a little better now!

That immediately snapped me out of my headspace, and since then, I've been a lot looser and conversational with my gratitude journal. One positive entry triggers more. My writer's block ended (coincidence?) and my cold has almost cleared up. Planning on getting on my treadmill for the first time in weeks tomorrow. Today, I pulled out my kitchen shelves and cleaned behind them. If you know me, that is huge.

My gratitude journal has changed my life. Thank you, Sarah.

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