With Thanksgiving around the corner you’re going to be hearing a lot of people telling you how important it is to be grateful. The problem is, if you’re feeling bad about your life, telling you to feel grateful is about as useful as when I tell my wife to “calm down” when she’s mad at me – as in to say, it’s not effective at all.
All the influencers and experts are right about gratitude – it is the anecdote to so many things: anger, narcissism, self-centeredness, and just general unhappiness being among them. But the fact that it is correct, doesn’t make it easy to switch from however you’re feeling to warm and filled gratitude for the things around you.
The pertinent question for people who are interested in embracing the theme of the season should be “how do I go from feeling bad to feeling grateful?” That’s a good question.
Understand how your mind works
One of my favorite things about coaching is helping people understand how their brain functions. One of my favorite concepts is how emotions and behaviors are engineered by you and your mind. Simply put it is this: thought-meaning-emotion-behavior. Thoughts and events happen and by themselves they are innocuous. Take an event like losing your job. There are countless meanings you could give this. If you look at this as the end of your professional life and decide it means you are a bad employee who has nothing to offer the world, you’re going to feel and behave much differently than someone who views this as an opportunity to spend some more time with your family or as a catalyst to pursue the career you REALLY wanted.
Learning the power of the meanings you give thoughts and events is the first step to a better mental state and a better life.
Find a beginning Ritual
My old teacher, Tony Robbins, loves to promote his practice of “priming.” Priming is simply a process of breathing and shifting your focus to various things (positive memories, positive intentions, strengthening yourself, etc.) Like most of what Tony does, this is essentially a repackaged prayer routine with the idea of “God” made more new-agey and vague, so it can reach more people. You can certainly use his routine. It is engaging and effective, afterall – especially if you’re not praying or doing anything at all to start your day other than rolling out of bed and getting ready for work or school.
My personal favorite morning “priming” routines are praying the rosary (a repetitive Catholic prayer that asks you to reflect in depth on certain moments of Jesus’ life) or the Liturgy of the Hours. Or, for the true Catholic Hipster, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Whatever flavor you prefer, a routine that engages your senses and focuses you on something that makes you feel grateful and appreciative of your life is a great start.
Feed your mind appropriately
Once you’ve got your day off on the right foot, be sure not to destroy it by turning on cable news or partisan talk radio or anything else that is designed to aggravate you. Maybe shift to a pleasant news experience like the Pour Over or forego news all together.
You have a phone in your pocket and access to all the information in the world, but the cream doesn’t rise to the top when it comes to information. The world rewards stuff that aggravates you. We are addicted to being pissed off. There are people who know this and make millions exploiting it. If you can’t control the flow of information coming through your phone, then consider getting rid of your phone all together or switching it out for a Light Phone or a Wisephone.
Celebrate your wins
Every day, you should reflect on what you did wrong. Your sins and missteps should be acknowledged, and you should apologize to the necessary parties every day. But just as importantly, you need to amplify the great things that happened in your life that day. Our brains naturally amplify negative experiences. We tell everyone about them. We write angry reviews on Yelp and stew on there with the rest of the angries. But we’re not quite as good at amplifying the positive. Every night, you should write down what was great about your day. If it’s not obvious, that’s even better. Make your mind hunt through your day for the beautiful moments. Maybe it’s just the kiss on your cheek out the door from the woman you wanted so badly to be your wife. Maybe it’s your kids running up to the door and throwing their tiny arms around you because they missed you so much. Or maybe it’s as simple as appreciating the fall color on your way into work. The familiar aroma of your morning coffee. The fact that you’re alive and woke up to another day of possibilities. You have to train your brain to find and focus on these moments and you need to write them down every night so your brain is always looking for them and appreciating them in the background.
If you’re stuck feeling anything but gratitude, start with these basic ideas and see if you can truly embrace the season.
Your life coach.
The Andrew Warner Podcast: