As easy as it is to have hope and goals at the beginning of a new year, it’s also just as easy to get caught up in the frustration of self-limiting thoughts like “I can’t do this” or “I’m never going to reach my goal”. December 2018 was an extremely challenging month for me personally and January came with all the typical “New Year, New You” expectations. I’m still recovering from the loss of my partner’s mom to cancer in December and I am still in the process of transitioning from teaching full time to creating my next career path.
As someone who has recently experienced a heavy loss and is in a significant state of change and uncertainty, I knew I needed some kind of intentional focus for the new year and didn’t quite find it until I began my new mentorship program at Yoga Yoga earlier this month. We met the first weekend of January for a 10-hour intensive weekend practice, 5 hours on Saturday and 5 hours on Sunday. One recommendation our teacher made was for us to keep a daily gratitude journal. Just a quick practice of writing 3-5 things you’re grateful for each day as well as writing 3-5 things you’ve done well each day. The second list is a way to increase gratitude and kindness to yourself, recognizing that your day wasn’t a complete failure as you may consider it for one reason or another.
After 4 weeks of keeping a gratitude journal, I have noticed a more consistent feeling of overall happiness and peace. That loss from December is more manageable and the anxiety from the uncertainty has dissipated. Today, I want to share 4 benefits I’ve experienced and why you should consider beginning a gratitude journal of your own:
- When I wake up, I’m creating the habit of reaching for my pen instead of my phone. This means I’m connecting more to my own thoughts instead of being inundated by social media or the news or a range of other distractions. I’m more focused on what’s truly important to me. I don’t even write an explanation of what I’m grateful for—I just keep it short and sweet. Reading back over my journal, there were some days it was as simple as being thankful for a warm blanket and others I realized how lucky I am to have clean drinking water at any given moment.
- I end my days on a positive note no matter how the day went. Again, sometimes my list can be really straightforward like I completed my podcasting job assignments, or it may be a little more intimate like I was able to communicate my perspective without getting overly emotional. This past month happened to be difficult for quite a few of my friends and some of their stories were hard to process. In the past, I would have let this heaviness sit and fester and make me think of my own similar, difficult experiences without allowing myself to return to what is good. I’ve learned that friends may get hurt, jobs might be at risk, people might even die, but that does not mean you can’t find 3-5 things you were able to successfully accomplish in a 24-hour period and find some joy even if it is brief.
- I find myself thinking more about what I’m grateful for since I’ve actually written it down, and it makes it easier to return to gratitude when I do get frustrated or upset. Just because I’m practicing daily gratitude doesn’t mean everything is perfect. The picture above mentions “Practicing mindfulness at Walgreens”. Long story short, I had to make two separate trips and three separate phone calls to find out my new insurance entered my birthdate wrong, and the error delayed my ability to get my prescriptions. I could have gotten angry at the pharmacists and the insurance agent, but I paused and remembered how thankful I am to have insurance in the first place. Making the choice to focus on the
good in my life—no matter how small or big—has definitely helped the good days outweigh the bad.
- It’s increased my patience and decreased frustration. I mean, how many times have you had a long day and then came home to realize you still had to walk the dog, do the dishes, take out the trash, and figure out something for dinner—and then taken your frustration out on your partner (or kids?)? I’ve definitely done this before but the past few weeks I’ve noticed how much easier it was for me to return to gratitude, and particularly focus on how much my partner continues to support me and bring joy to my life daily. It doesn’t mean I don’t have expectations or boundaries, but it does mean I’m able to focus more on the bigger picture of what really matters. I try to avoid the mindset of “It’s HIS turn to do this…” because in a true partnership the work gets done together. Acknowledging what he does for me makes it so much easier to find patience when I would normally get frustrated, and his acknowledgment of what I do helps, too!
I’m fully aware journaling isn’t for everyone, but I do think if you try a gratitude practice even for just a few days, you will notice its impact, too. As much as I believe in the power of paper and pen, you can easily keep a gratitude list as a note on your phone or even text it to yourself. Maybe keep a notepad at work to make it more accessible and begin and end your workday with this practice. And I’m definitely aware how many people will say “But I don’t have time to do that!! Uuuugghhh!”
What would happen if you shifted your priorities just a little? That TV show you “have” to watch or that 10 minutes you easily spend mindlessly scrolling online can be used to draw more awareness to the good that is in your life. And believe me, if you look, it’s there.