“When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” —Lao Tzu
I’m coming up on my eighth anniversary of being a gratitude person.
When I started working with Jackie Woodside (she was my business coach for over six years), I am sure I radiated disillusionment, disappointment and resignation. You see (I learned this much later, but let’s lead with this powerful knowing, shall we?), I was (and still can be if I’m not mindful) habituated to be negative. For whatever reason (we all have ’em), I embodied a victimized, deprived and entitled response to life early. Negativity became my habit. Worse, it became my comfort zone.
Jackie, intuitive brilliant one that she is, offered me this assignment in our very first session: Write a list of 15 items for which you are grateful every day. “Fifteen?” “Every day?” “Seriously?” Yes. Yes. And yes. Well, I took it on (one of my very first mentors told me that my willingness would set me free, and I think it has). I wrote that list every single day. For the first four years, I wrote my grats in an email and sent it to Jackie, who read each one, and commented on the ones that moved her. She reflected back the jewels that found themselves onto my list among the mundane and the agonized. How beautiful and inspiring it was to have that goodness in me recognized!
Really, I get how agonizing developing this habit—developing the gratitude muscle—can be. While gratitude lists and gratitude practice are common now (I get 31 million results when I Google “gratitude practice” and 37 million for “gratitude list”), which might make one think it’s an easy thing to do, I remember how it was when I started. There were more days than I care to remember when the best I could come up with were things like “I’m grateful that I’m not having surgery without anesthesia.” Or “I’m grateful I’m not staked to a hill of fire ants with honey poured all over me.” With gnashing teeth I began to write. Like this:
- I am grateful for life
- I am grateful that I’m sober
- I am grateful for this roof over my head
- I am grateful for a reliable car
- I am grateful that I have good food to eat
- I am grateful that I am an amazing cook
- I am grateful for friends
- I am grateful for my coach
- I am grateful for technology
- I am grateful for entertaining tv and radio
- I am grateful for bills being paid
- I am grateful for my smarts and curiosity
- I am grateful that my daughter is safe and healthy
- (just counted, 13 down, two to go)
- I am grateful for dancing
- I am grateful for music
The substance of my lists haven’t changed much over time. Sometimes they are very deep, powerful and profound. Sometimes they are a list of simple blessings.
Here’s a big fat important secret: More than one of the items on the list above are a reach. I write: “I am grateful for bills being paid,” even though there are monkeys in my head screaming “Not enough money!” “You’re running out of money!” “Business is bad and not getting better; be afraid!” Or I write: “I am grateful for my friends,” while those monkeys remind me that “You’re not popular,” “Nobody loves you,” and my personal favorite “You are just unlovable—too old, not cute enough…” This gratitude practice creates new neural pathways. My monkey mind has been in charge of my thoughts for many years, and those monkeys dug deeply grooved neural pathways: Someone I like doesn’t accept my invitation=I’m a loser. A coaching client leaves my practice=I did something wrong and I’ll never succeed. What gratitude does to heal this: Every written gratitude scratches a new pathway. It takes time and consistent practice to make the new pathways deep and habitual, habitual enough that the old ones start to fill in, dry up from lack of use.
Here are some of the new thought pathways I can recognize in myself: I look around at who has accepted my invitation and I express gratitude for their presence. I accept the invitations I receive and make sure to let the inviter know how happy I am to be included. When the time is right, I release clients with love and thanks knowing that I am exactly where I am supposed to be in my business.
It all comes back to the central tenet of transformational technology— doesn’t it?—which is [trumpets please]: Change your thinking and you change your life. Or, put another way: Thoughts in mind proceed after their kind. Or one more: What I think informs my experience. When I think positive thoughts I have a much better experience of Whatever.Is.Happening. When I think fear-based, victim-based, entitlement-based, deprivation-based thoughts, I have a crappy experience of Whatever.Is.Happening. Get it? Life happens. Joyful stuff. Difficult stuff. Illness. Death. Endings of relationships. Financial setbacks. Fabulous wealth. Life happens. And it’s completely up to me how I react and what I think, say and do about what life serves up to me every moment of every day.
More about gratitude practice: I mentioned earlier that I wrote a list of 15 grats every day. Over the first few years, clients and other friends asked me to share my gratitude list with them, and my audience grew. In December 2007 I launched this blog, and wrote my gratitude list in here. Over the last few years, my practice has become once or twice a week (sometimes more). I hope I never stop doing this, because, as I noticed quite a few years ago, today’s serenity, generosity and inner peace are not strengthened by yesterday’s gratitude practice. Or meditation. Or… It’s about being as close to daily practice as possible with all the things that help those black clouds and negative thoughts we all carry around dry to dust and blow away.
Announcing the 2012 Gratitude Challenge.
Starting January 1, 2012, I invite everyone to join me for a year of Gratitude. Although this is a year-long program, you can join any old time you want, simply by sending me your first gratitude list in an email. We’re going to create a Magnolias West Gratitude 2012 community! There are two ways you can participate.
- Embrace a Weekly Gratitude Practice. Every Friday, beginning as soon as you like, send me an email with a list of ten items for which you are grateful.
- Or get the Full Bloom by sending me a ten-item Gratitude List every day. That’s ten grats x 365 days—3,650 gratitudes!
Either way, schedule time in your calendar to write this list (hint: might take twenty minutes when you start; with a little practice count on about ten minutes per list. Send your emails to Sue [at] MagnoliasWest [dot] com.
My part: I will read your emails—every one of them! I will respond privately on occasion, especially when I’m moved by your gratitudes (which I often am; how can I help but be moved?). I will send out a weekly email to the Magnolias West Gratitude 2012 community with my own gratitude list of that day. This weekly email will include the most moving gratitudes of the week from those you’ve shared with me (anonymously, unless you tell me you’d prefer attribution). The email will also include an inspiring quote about gratitudes to inspire your gratitudes to bloom!
I will also write a weekly Magnolias West Gratitude 2012 blogpost and include those most moving gratitudes in there! This is going to be fun.
So, as you move into this next phase of the holiday season, take some time and dive right in. Join me in Gratitude. I promise you, you’ll be glad you did.
Thoughts? Questions? Email me or toss something in the Comments.