I have had gratitude on the brain. One obvious reason is my goal to create 100 Mindful Gratitude Paintings in 2018. However, my gratitude practice began in the form of a journal. I had tried many times to stick with journaling - and failed hard until I learned that successful habits always start small. Sometimes so small that they feel completely insignificant. Three years and eleven journals later I am still at it. Crazy! It may sound cliche, but introducing gratitude into my daily routine has transformed my thoughts and actions in an unbelievably positive way. If you have ever wanted to keep a journal but didn't know how or didn't believe that you could stick with it, let me share what I have learned along the way. Anyone can do it! I mean it.
My initial motivation to keep a gratitude journal was searching for a way out of a gigantic heap of anxiety. I was navigating the new and intimidating waters of graduate school. The pressure was intense - both actual and self-inflicted. Each night before going to sleep in a 400 sq. ft. heat box of an apartment my head was swimming with the tasks left undone, words unsaid (or regrettably said), focus lost, or whatever other self-sabotaging measure of the day you can think of. Awful, right? I had dug a thought trench so deep that there seemed to be no way out. Until... You guessed it. Enter: The Gratitude Journal. Dun dun duuun! Whether you are an anxious ball of stress like I was, find yourself always focusing on what is missing, are looking to walk with your thoughts in a more positive direction, or maybe you are perfectly happy and plenty grateful already - give this practice a try. See what happens. You have nothing to lose!
What should I write?
What should I write? What do I have to say? Ugh, the pressure! No, no, no! Don't you worry my friends. This is where the "starting small" comes in. I mean, reallllly small. Sixty seconds a day small! My journal began as a simple list. Sometimes I would literally write the same thing every. single. day. Just start with three good things. Three. If you have to write the same thing three times, go right ahead. What a beautiful thing that thing is! If you have to ask your friend, partner, family member, or cat what to put down because you can't come up with a darned thing - do it. If you are a morning person, reflect on the previous day. The act of putting your thoughts on paper and out into the world holds power. The gratitude journal is a simple habit with the potential for a HUGE impact:
Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny. - Unknown
The small, sixty-second list is enough to be transformative. However, if you are like me and find the act of writing (or typing!) to be meditative - here are some tips to add to the practice. My journal has evolved over time. I take about 20 minutes each morning now to write. I currently use the following structure:
1. Yesterday, I... Since journaling is part of my morning routine, I take a moment to write down everything I did the day before. From brushing my teeth, feeding the cats and eating breakfast to making a painting and taking a walk - I write it all down. I basically have a written log of every mundane thing I have done daily for the past three years. Sometimes I imagine my future children reading through them long after I'm gone in awe of my inexplicable desire to document or completely baffled by cursive and unable to read a single word. If that doesn't excite you - the real power lies in ridding myself of the anxiety that I didn't do enough. Our fast-paced world places a premium on productivity that can leave even the most studious and hard-working individual feeling like a slug. This component reminds me that each day is comprised of twenty-four precious hours in which I am privileged to live life. Whether I ticked off everything on my to-do list or simply read a book and ate too many cookies, every day is meaningful and full.
2. Three Good Things... Next, I take a moment to pick out three good things from the previous day. Most of the time this is something really simple like "Eating dinner with my Love and sharing our days with each other" (yeah, I know - I'm a sap). Sometimes exciting things happen that are out of the ordinary. Sometimes a day was really shitty and I have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to come up with something. ...but there is always something. This keeps my brain trained to focus on the positive and to be on the lookout for rainbows despite the rain.
3. Today, I am grateful for... I turn my attention completely towards gratitude with a long list of everything that I am grateful for. To be completely honest, this list has probably stayed mostly the same for three years. You may find it crazy to spend five minutes each day writing the exact same paragraph - I am grateful for my Love, our health, home, kitties, family, friends, etc... However, this keeps me from taking things for granted - from heat and fresh water to music, nature, jobs, and cars - there is so much to be grateful for every single day.
4. Today's mantra... I write either a single word or short phrase to keep in mind for the day. Shine light. Be you. Breathe. Self love. Compassion. Whatever the day feels like it needs. This ensures that I begin the day mindful and focused. I try to remember the mantra throughout the day and repeat it to myself as needed. More fresh brain tracks. Feels good! haha Sometimes I totally forget about it and other days it is invaluable. Either way, the initial moment of taking the time to think over what is needed for the day has an impact.
5. Affirmations... This last bit is where I take the time to practice positive thinking. Our own inner critics can be so harsh sometimes. A little self love goes a long way! I think my very first affirmation was My husband thinks I am a good cook. I couldn't even write something with an "I" because I was so self-critical. Years later my one of my affirmations is: My inner thoughts are powerful, compassionate, and wise. If that isn't progress I don't know what is! All because of a little journal.
What are you waiting for?
Well? Hop to it! Sprinkle a little gratitude into your life and feel the magic happen. I am so grateful for each and every one of you (and if you have read this far - WOW. You are amazing!). It means so much to me that I have the privilege and opportunity to share my art and thoughts with so many beautiful souls out there. What a gift! I wanted to make something for you and to share what has added so much meaning and depth into my own life. Here is a little gift and a friendly push! Below you will find a free downloadable PDF of printable gratitude cards that I designed to guide you through "One Grateful Week". Print them out, cut them up, and take sixty seconds each day to write down three things that you are grateful for. This could be the same things each time - keep it simple! Let the physical act of writing bring the words to life and shine a little sunshine on your day! Let me know how it goes (use #onegratefulweek on social media if you like)! I'm so grateful for you!