Throughout her work, Brene Brown often makes a distinction between having a attitude and having a practice when it comes to something -- gratitude, authenticity, etc. The example she cites is yoga: She has yoga pants and a yoga mat, which may mean she can claim a yoga attitude, but she doesn't actually have a yoga practice. There is a difference.
I think about this a lot when it comes to everything from values to strengths to goals.
Every morning, I sit down and re-write my most essential goals. I write them by hand, in my calendar that I've designed specifically to organize and track them over time, and then I move on to capturing what I'm most grateful for. While I've been writing and reviewing my goals since I was 12, the gratitude part has only been added in the past couple of years. And, the truth is, I really started doing it to see if Brene was right.
Did developing a regular practice around gratitude make a difference in my life?
Not surprisingly, she was right: it's definitely made a (positive) difference. But as I flip back across the last year's worth of journals and calendars, I'm seeing some clear evidence that I didn't anticipate:
Gratitude has changed my goals. The deeper awareness I develop around gratitude, the more my goals have shifted from surface-level accomplishments to deeper, more significant objectives in my life. Being clear about what I am grateful for makes chasing goals that are essentially just an Emotional Bridge to Nowhere ludicrous -- but it becomes clear sooner, so I don't waste time chasing pointless phantoms.
Gratitude snowballs. When I started back in 2018, there were days that I couldn't think of anything. And by 2020 -- even in the midst of the Zombie Apocalypse -- I had to configure my latest planner with a larger space because I found I've been consistently needing more room to capture my notes. Even on days where I'm upset, finding things to be grateful for is much easier now than it used to be -- and focusing on that, re-focuses my energy for the day.
Gratitude heightens awareness. Mindfulness is a massive struggle for me. Living in my head is my default, and engaging with the world around me -- especially when I'm working from home, all by myself -- often takes a deliberate effort. (Even as an extrovert!) But by making a daily habit of capturing what I'm grateful for, I find myself noticing things more and more throughout my day. Things that I would have most likely missed in previous incarnations of my life.
Gratitude helps curb judgement. One of the most difficult realizations I had when I went through my coaching training was realizing that I was way more judgmental than I liked to think of myself as being. That realization occurred right at the time that I started journaling my gratitude, and it's been an invaluable tool in becoming more aware of my inclination to be judgmental, so I could make the choice to let go of judgement -- particularly for the person I am most critical of: myself.
Gratitude has changed my relationships. As a hyper-rational person, I often forget the messy emotional stuff when it comes to the people around me. The more explicit I've become with myself about being grateful for the people in my life, the more natural it's become for me to express that to them. And the better those relationships have become. (Some drastically.)
To be sure, there are other things I notice, too, but I think these are the ones that actually surprise me the most. I honestly didn't expect it to have as pervasive an impact as it has, and after the turbulence of 2020 so far, I am profoundly grateful (ha!) to be nearly two years into this process now, because I have no doubt that it's been a huge benefit.
What's the habit that you have been leaning on to get through our current struggles? Is there something you wish you'd started doing sooner?