Whatever our individual troubles and challenges may be, it’s important to pause every now and then to appreciate all that we have, on every level. We need to literally “count our blessings,” give thanks for them, allow ourselves to enjoy them, and relish the experience of prosperity we already have.” — Shakti Gawain, author
I’m coming up on my tenth anniversary of having a gratitude practice. 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) habitually negative. For whatever reason (we all have ‘em), I developed the habit—early in life—of reacting and relating to life from a victimized, deprived and entitled set of responses. Negativity became my grooved neural pathway—my “thrown-to way of being”. And over time, sadly, negative interpretations of reality became my comfort zone.
Jackie, with what I would come to know as her remarkable intuitive brilliance, offered me this assignment in our very first session: Write a list of 15 things 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 gratitudes in an email and sent it to Jackie, who read each one, and commented on the ones that moved her, that touched her heart. She reflected back to me the jewels that landed up on my list among the mundane and the agonized. How beautiful and inspiring it was to have that goodness in me recognized, as I couldn’t really see it in myself!
I get how challenging developing the gratitude muscle can be. I also can tell you how big the payoff is. Not just based on my own experience—over the nine years since I’ve become a coach I’ve had clients embark upon this very practice and I’ve watched them visibly change, and listened to them tell me the beneficial, heart-opening, grounding effects this practice had on them.
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—out of my comfort zone. 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 my monkey mind reminds 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 that are anything but loving, like this: 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, get grown over, disappear, 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 (instead of complaining about whoever didn’t attend).
• I accept the invitations I receive and make sure to let the inviter know how happy I am to be included (instead of staying home scorning the invitation because, after all, why would I go to any gathering to which I had been invited? Thank you Groucho!).
• When our work is complete, I release clients with love and thanks knowing that I am exactly where I am supposed to be in my business (instead of sinking into a tailspin or worry and stress about what I did wrong and why they’re gone).
It all comes back to the central tenet of transformational technology— doesn’t it?—which is [trumpets please]: Change how you are thinking and you can begin to lovingly change how you are living. Or, put another way: How I think informs my experience.
When my thinking is loving and trusting and positive—grounded in gratitude—I have a much better experience of Whatever.Is.Happening. When my thinking is fear-based, victim-based, entitlement-based, deprivation-based, I have a crappy experience of Whatever.Is.Happening.
Are you getting this? I want this to land loudly and lovingly in your heart. 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 how I think, what I say and what I do about what life serves up to me every moment of every day.
Sue Kearney is Chief Inspiration Officer at Magnolias West, her coaching, branding and web design practice. She is a dancer, DJ, artist, and a maker of kombucha, sauerkraut and herbal medicines. Sue is a student of astrology, tarot, and a practitioner and facilitator of women’s spirituality.
This year, Sue opened up her gratitude practice to anyone who wanted to join, by creating the Magnolias West Gratitude Challenge. For free. Although the year is more than a quarter gone, you can join any old time you want, simply by sending me your first gratitude list in an email. Sue will be personally reading every one of them! Join the Magnolias West Gratitude Challenge 2012 community! Send your emails to Sue [at] MagnoliasWest [dot] com.
Sue coaches women in business who want to reconnect with and fully express their juicy audacity without losing what makes them successful.