#23: Deeper than the average gratitude list

#23: Deeper than the average gratitude list

We’re often encouraged to think about gratitude this time of the year in the United States. Traditionally, we go around the table and say one think we’re thankful for. Or more privately, we’re urged to craft a gratitude list.

In the spirit of our weekly time together, I’m going to ask you to dig a little deeper than the usual gratitude prompt.

It’s easy to get out your journal and number one to ten, listing what you’re grateful for. Health, family, a roof over your head. But what if we asked ourselves some different questions?

What if we asked why we’re grateful for those things? What if we asked what we can do to express all this gratitude?

I bet we’d learn a lot more about ourselves, our relationships, our dreams.

So here are some prompts, digging a little bit deeper than the traditional suggestion of making a gratitude list.

Feel free to pick and choose among the following prompts. Or if you find yourself snowed in, too stuffed to move, or with a blissfully silent home while everyone’s out shopping the Black Friday sales, try them all.

  • How can I demonstrate my gratitude for ________ in a meaningful way today?
  • What in my life have I previously overlooked that deserves gratitude?
  • How can I maintain a grateful outlook on a daily basis and not just at designated times of the year?
  • Who is grateful for me? What have I done that others might be grateful for?
  • When you actively think about something you’re grateful for, how does your physical body respond? Why do you think that is?
  • How would a daily focus on gratitude impact the rest of your life? Your work? Your relationships?

Personally, I’m grateful for YOU. Thank you for sharing these few minutes with me.

#22: Big, scary stillness

#22: Big, scary stillness

How often do you sit still?

In our crazy modern lives, it’s easy to gogogo! dawn to midnight with nary a pause or moment of silence. We are perpetually connected, tuned-in, and inundated with input.

When we live like this, it’s easy for our little inner voice to get steamrolled and squelched. The little voice that says, “Hey wait a minute, I need ________.” Or, “This job (house, relationship, pair of shoes) is not working for me right now.” Or even just, “I need a nap.”

Silence can be scary. The first time I tried meditation, I thought the instructor was bonkers. You want me to sit still and breathe for 20 minutes?! Are you insane? Ninety seconds into that first session I was crawling out of my skin with discomfort.

Don’t worry – I’m not asking you to meditate. Though if you want to, it’s a great tool. I’m just asking you to sit still for five minutes. Set a timer if you like. Focus on your breathing.

Objectively notice what’s going on in your mind. Are you off and running, replaying the past or planning the future? Return to your breath each time you notice your colorful thoughts leaping headlong into some distraction or other.

After your five minutes, write about the experience in your journal. Do you feel irritated? Refreshed? Was the experience scary? Boring? What did your little inner voice say? Did it specify some needs? Anger? Exhaustion? Bliss?

If you prefer visual journaling, make a collage or art page of how the silence makes you feel.

Do you think a daily break like this of five minutes could contribute to your well-being? Give it a shot and see how it goes. In my experience, the more resistance I have to sitting still in silence like this, the more I need to do it.

#21: Can you see these shades of gray?

#21: Can you see these shades of gray?

I’m writing this from the couch because I can’t walk to my desk.

I can’t walk to my desk because I decided to go running after a long hiatus. Instead of a leisurely trot today and another one tomorrow, I threw myself into a three-mile run I should have worked up to. I figured if I was going to do it, DO IT. Bad idea. I’ll be out of commission for days.

Black and white thinking will derail you every time.

I see a lot of black and white thinking going on these days. With me, with the people in my life. All or nothing committments, “go big or go home” plans. While the energy in that kind of big beginning feels motivating, you quickly burn out.

Instead of slow and steady (unremarkable) progress, we end up with spectacular failures. Paralyzing perfectionism. Dramatic crash-and- burn endings. Going down in a blaze of glory.

The universe seeks balance. The body seeks balance. Our creative process seeks balance. Black and white thinking is the enemy of balance.

If black and white thinking is all-or-nothing extremism, gray is the middle path. I struggle with gray a great deal. It’s almost unbearable for me to undertake modest plans, gentle shifts. As though manic, sweeping change proves my dedication. It doesn’t.

If you’re committed to success, you make small sustainable changes. You’re in it for the long haul. You tend to your goals quietly, every day.

But slow and steady isn’t very sexy, is it?

There’s so many ways we can engage in black and white thinking: a sedentary lifestyle or obsessive exercise, workaholism or sloth, binge and purge, a shopping spree or a monk-like existence, deprivation or excess.

In the long run, none of them will ultimately get you where you want to go.

Get out your journal and try some of these journal prompts to explore how you might incorporate more gray in your life.

What is the role of black and white thinking in your life?

  • Is there something you’re not doing because you can’t “go big or go home” right now? Can you find a way to incorporate a little bit of that goal into your daily life?
  • Are you mired in perfectionism? Afraid you can’t go whole hog so you’re not doing it at all?
  • Do you make enormous changes all at once, stay dedicated for a week or two, and then burn out? Are you willing to consider another way?
  • Can you find the middle path, the shades of gray, en route to your dream?

While moderation lacks the adrenaline and pizzazz of high stakes, it’s undoubtedly the most likely way to reach your goals.

After all, the tortoise won in the end.

#20: Working too hard because you missed the obvious?

#20: Working too hard because you missed the obvious?

I bet you’re working too hard.

I know I have been.

I’ve got nothing against hard work. I was raised on Yankee
Ingenuity and elbow grease, so a solid work ethic is in my genes.

But we have so many jobs these days. Not just the ones that pay
the bills. I mean the endless, thankless jobs like packing lunches,
remembering birthdays, hosting the in-laws, giving the cat his daily pill.

We’re used to working hard in our go-go-go lives. So when an easy
solution presents itself, we miss it.

The answer can’t really be that easy, can it?

Yes. It can. And it is.

Our work ethic is rather admirable, don’t you think? (This is a
good time to pat yourself on the back. Go ahead – I’ll wait.)

We’re so mired in the struggle, so used to fighting for everything
we’ve got. When we take the path of least resistance, we
feel… guilty.

But solving a problem with the obvious solution is NOT being a
cop-out. It’s being smart.

Next time you find yourself attacking a problem that’s draining
you, get out your journal and ask yourself:

  • What am I missing here?
  • Is there an answer I’m overlooking because it seems too easy?
  • What would be the obvious solution?
  • The Bathmat From Hell

    Here’s a (kind of) funny example.

    I had this fuzzy green bathmat that didn’t absorb water. It
    collected kitty litter like nobody’s business. Combine rampant
    Fresh Step with standing water and you can imagine the mess
    blossoming in my loo.

    So my friend is over, listening to my diatribe on the care and
    feeding of the bathmat. About the additional bathmat I had to get
    just for showering. About the still-not-installed towel bar for
    drying bathmat #2.

    The frustration and extra work I endure.

    She bends over, picks up the offending bathmat, and throws it in
    the garbage. I watch her, dumbfounded.

    “Isn’t that the obvious solution?” she asks.

    Yes. Which is precisely why I missed it.

    Now your problems are likely larger than my bathmat. (Most of
    mine are, too.) But this story illustrates how easy it is to miss
    the obvious solution to tiny issues. Imagine how much of the big
    picture stuff gets past us.

    Journal about what obvious solution you might be missing.

    I promise not to tell anyone you took the easy way out. We
    wouldn’t want to tarnish your image. 😉

#38: Are you afraid of flat foxes?

#38: Are you afraid of flat foxes?

The other day I was driving to work when I passed the South Lake Union Park.

The tamed section of the park is fairly new, but the wilder parts of it have long been a favorite spot from which to enjoy the Lake Union fireworks. It’s also a favorite gathering spot for the enormous flocks of Canada geese that are verging on pest status around Seattle.

Where there are geese, there is poop. Lots of it. I probably don’t need to elaborate on the consistency of this poop, but in the interest of full disclosure, it’s nasty, runny, gooey, sticky stuff.

I am intimately acquainted with Canada goose poop as I used to volunteer for the Seattle Goose Project. The goal of the SGP is to help geese and humans dwell in relative truce in an urban maritime environment. Easier said than done.