Keeping a gratitude journal can transform your life.
Do you think it's possible to shift a negative outlook on life to a positive one? Do you ever notice how negative people attract negativity and positive people naturally attract good into their lives?
I recently spent a morning reading through ten years of my journals in chronological order. What a trip! I watched myself grow up on those pages, saw my own path to positivity. What stood out was the first journal. In it I complained non-stop, and expressed great dissatisfaction and frustration with my life. There was no mention of gratitude.
Bad things will always happen, but before I started a gratitude practice, I failed to see the lessons in the bad things. I was always quick to place blame on someone or something else for my unhappiness. What I complained about in that first journal, the Universe sent back my way over and over again... the more I complained, the more life sucked.
Eventually I learned about gratitude and started writing pages with this header: "I am so happy and grateful because". Then I would list anything and everything I could think of. Spoiler alert: Magic ensued!
Since discovering the power of gratitude, I actively craft my ideal life with support from my journal practice, and I think you can too.
When you feel gratitude for the little things, life gets sweeter and sweeter.
Identify and write down what you're grateful for, it will lift your mood and remind you of what makes your life pretty darn good. Gratitude teaches you to be thankful for what you already have, which will in turn attract more of the good stuff.
When you feel you have little, gratitude reminds you that you have a quite a bit. When you number your reasons to be grateful, you realize you could continue adding to the list for every day for the rest of your life. I once added up my gratitude lists and counted over 600 reasons I was grateful. How could I not feel brighter after a adding up all of those entries?
Being grateful will help you help others.
When you treat yourself well and commit to a gratitude practice, you can be of more service to others. Maybe your new found sense of gratitude will encourage a co-worker to spread some kindness out into the world. You could hold doors open for strangers, or let someone in front of you during the morning commute. You might smile while staring out the bus window and completely change a passerby's day.
By centering in gratitude you stop being a victim of your life, and choose a lighter path instead.
The real trick is feeling grateful even when life is challenging.
If you start a gratitude journal, it can be easy to think of what you're grateful for when life is all unicorns and rainbows. (disclaimer: I still love rainbows and unicorns, just sayin)
What about when you're on your lunch break and spill a plate of salsa drenched nachos all over your freshly laundered jeans? Or when your phone is at 7% battery life and you realize you've left your charger at home. These little things add up. Negativity sweeps over you, and you can't help but think life is sh*t.
Once you finally go home and take your nacho pants off or plug your phone into an outlet, you may still be simmering and fed up with your crappy day. A quick scan of your pages and pages of gratitude lists can bring you back down to earth, you had a bad day... but it's not all bad. Once this shift in thinking takes place, it will even start to spread to the really tough stuff in your life.
I realized my complete mindset shift the first time I got legit sick in my adult life. I was in horrible pain all day and night for months, I couldn't eat (and I LOVE to eat and cook) and I had no energy. I was scared and full of fear, but I kept writing my gratitude lists. Because even in that brutal time of my life, my cat kept cuddling with me, my husband, family and close friends provided support, and the sun still shone through my window every morning. I never ran out of things to be grateful for.
Once I was on the mend, I actively sought out the lessons that sickness was meant to teach me, and I felt some gratitude for them too. Choose to learn from life's challenges instead of having a "why me" attitude, and you can be stronger and get through life's challenges more skillfully than ever.
So! Perhaps I've convinced you of the magical powers of a written daily gratitude practice. Want to know exactly how to start today? Follow my super simple 2-step process:
1. Choose a journal.
Dollar store notebook, fancy hard covered journal from the specialty book store, it's all good! Consider the size and whether or not you would enjoy a lined or blank page. Small journals travel well but can mean a tight squeeze if you have loose, large penmanship. Larger journals take longer to fill and may be heavy if you ever want to travel with them, but they give you more space to unleash your creativity.
Whatever you do, don't stress over choosing a journal- just buy one...
2. Then write in it.
Keep your journal somewhere you won't forget about it! I always keep mine out at the breakfast table and then it goes back on my pillow to greet me at night. If I'm feeling rushed, I will still try my darnedest to write even ONE thing I am grateful for each day. Before bed I'll read over old entries to feel grounded and proud of my path. Make it easy on yourself by always keeping a pen with your journal.
Like all good things on your path to a happier, more mindful and less stressed out you, don't put pressure on yourself to perform to a certain level or think it's not good enough. Spending one minute OR LESS a day writing a line about gratitude will deeply impact your life. If you find more time to write, super! If you don't, ain't no thang!
So, wanna practice? Leave a comment below and let me know something you're grateful for...
Why the spices? It occurred to me that there is a running theme in things that make my heart happy:
Small, confidence-building moments in life are everything. Picking a small, achievable task and completing it. Tonight I pulled out my spices, checked for anything unusable or expired , consolidated items and reduced the number of jars in my cupboard. Fifteen easy minutes later and I'm so proud and happy that my cupboard and bottles are decluttered and clean.
Check out these two bottles. If I hadn't completed this small task, I wouldn't have noticed that I had these both on the go. Big deal I hear you say! But think about being mindful of even the small details in life. Recycling one is going to feel so GOOD because I know it's about more than just tossing a bottle, it's about creating space in my life. You can create space in your physical environment which frees up your time and attention. When you create space, you spend less time searching for that $@%ing cinnamon when you're elbow deep in banana muffin batter. When you create space, your frustration is reduced and you don't waste six minutes looking for your car keys. When you create space, you invite in only what you love, only what you need and want around. So if you're thinking about letting go of some needless items or want to try your hand at decluttering, step away from the sentimental items you can't bear to part with. Seriously, drop your great grandma's antique doily collection! Go to your kitchen and attack your spice rack or your utensil drawer instead. I've spent the last decade of my life slowly simplifying and making room for only what I truly love and little exercises like this have always built my confidence. Instead of thinking about decluttering your whole home and feel overwhelmed and exasperated in the process, find a little spot that you can handle in 10-15 minutes and take pride in what you accomplish! When you take it in baby steps, you will accomplish so much more. Don't treat it as a giant looming project on your never-ending to-do list.
After you finish with your spice rack, try searching your kitchen for unneeded doubles (or triples) of utensils or small appliances. How many wooden spoons do you actually need to survive? Maybe one of them is all gunked up and not even worth keeping - so toss it. Same advice with ladles, coffee mugs, under used knives (we tend to have our favourites, don't we?) It's remarkably easy to have extras or just too much of everyday items that slow us down and get in the way. My friends and family joke that I am brutal when it comes to decluttering, but I know it helps. So start with easy choices. Toss, donate or sell your extras and notice the space that you create. Do you really need two toasters?! (my household had two toasters after we moved in together) No. You don't need two toasters. Let someone else have some toast. Give yourself some space instead!
It's safe to say that yoga has become widely accepted in our Western society in the past decades. Perhaps for those who might not otherwise partake in an ancient Eastern practice, taking a yoga class is like taking an exercise class. Yoga will keep you fit, and we all know that physical movement is good to keep the body healthy but we need to show our minds the same love that we have for our bodies. Developing a daily practice can seem daunting at first. I love to share my personal journey to help people understand that developing supportive practices does not happen overnight or only to people who have been immersed in deep self care their whole lives. I was raised not knowing a thing about any of this and I spent a good amount of my youth not taking good care of my body or my mind. Yet we all have to start somewhere. We can all look at others and think "easy for them" or "it's not even worth it, I'll never be that disciplined". Truth is, no matter where you are at this exact moment in your life, you deserve to develop a meditation practice that will support you throughout your days. I've put together some tips and insights I've learned along the way in my years of building a steady, supportive meditation practice. Enjoy!
It's not about clearing your mind or stopping all thoughts
There is a common myth that holds us back from meditating that in order to do it "right" you must clear your mind of all thoughts. Try something for me right now, close your eyes, take a slow deep breath, and clear your mind of all thoughts. Done? Cool. How did that work out for you? My guess is that the instant your eyes closed and put effort into clearing your mind, your mind reacted with roughly 100 thoughts, memories, ruminations and song lyrics all at once. The mind doesn't like to be told what to do and it will never be clear of all thoughts. The trick instead is to sit back and let the thoughts come and go without grabbing hold of them in any way. That's it. When we learn to allow the thoughts to just be, they lose their control over us. We can start to notice when we are being swept away in the river of thoughts and we can come back to the only thing we ever really have- the present moment.
Find what works best for you
There are many different methods of meditation out there, so feel free to try out different ones until something clicks. And for some, even after that click, you may want to continue trying out different methods and practices. I never stick with one lineage of meditation or yoga and I used to think that made me flighty or undisciplined. Turns out I am just a Gemini and I've decided to embrace it instead, and accept that I love trying new things. But back to you- here are a few different schools of meditation with free guided practices, maybe one of them will work for you. 10% Happier and Headspace are two cool, modern and simple apps with guided meditations. You may want to check out Metta Loving Kindness Meditation which is a Buddhist practice (I will save a whole post to write about this amazing practice in the future). There is also TM Transcendental Meditation which is a mantra based meditation I have yet to try - but this is what the Beatles were learning while they were in India.
You don't have to sit on the floor
You know all of those poses from yoga class? Turns out they had a very specific purpose behind them. The ancient yogis kept their bodies strong and limber so they could sit in a cross legged or lotus position to meditate for long periods of time. However, if you've taken my yoga classes or read up on my blog, you will know that I never ever want someone to not reap the benefits of yoga and meditations due to inflexibility. So, if sitting cross legged is too much for you, sit your butt down on a chair and get meditating. There! A big scary excuse solved! You're welcome.
5-10 minutes a day can have a huge impact
We tend to be all or nothing don't we? Because we can't find 45 minutes to sit and meditate in a day, we do nothing at all. The biggest gift I gave myself in my meditation journey was permission to do as much or as little as I could squeeze into my morning. Some days that meant setting a timer for 5 minutes. We all have 5 minutes if we choose. Five minutes could just as easily be spent scrolling Instagram or deciding what to watch on Netflix. Five minutes. Start there. Once you start feeling good and noticing the effects those five minutes are having, you may even try ten minutes. It could grow from there, or maybe it won't. And that's okay! Any time you spend on cultivating yourself through meditation will do wonders.
It's not about achieving anything
This can be a hard one to wrap the mind around. In our society, goals and achievement are what tend to drive us. When this way of thinking crosses over into our self care routines, we can set ourselves up for disappointment. I used to think that I had to practice yoga and meditate for at least an hour every morning or it wasn't good enough. After sitting through a meditation session in which my mind was racing, I would think I had failed. On the flip side, when my mind quieted during a session I would think that I had done it right. When we approach our practices as a goal to achieve it sends the message that we are searching for something outside of ourselves to get better. But yoga and meditation share the same beautiful truth - that they are practices that help us peel away the layers to get to the wise, knowing and peaceful version of ourselves that is always within.
If any of this has piqued your interest but using an app or following along with a class seems like too much, try this out. Simply find a quiet space, sit comfortably in a chair or cross legged on the floor, turn off your phone ringer and set a timer for 1-5 minutes. Then breathe. Allow the breath to come and go through your nose and keep your mouth closed and gently smile. Bring your attention to the tip of your nostrils and notice how the breath is cooler on each inhale and warmer on each exhale. Every time you notice your mind has been wandering (which it will), bring your attention back to your inhales and exhales. That's it! Keep this up until your timer goes off and take a second to notice your state. After even a few minutes you may feel calmer and refreshed.
Give it a try and leave a comment letting me know how it went!
Ah, what a trip! While India is a country full of bucket list travel/tourist destinations, time spent in the sparsely populated mountain villages north of Delhi had a huge impact on me. Our guide and wonderful friend Mukesh took us to places in and around the Chopta Valley that are not found on any tour bus itinerary, and I am so grateful for the experience. Everywhere we went we were greeted with smiles from kind souls. Eight days in the mountains without WI-fi was a mental reset that I welcomed, as well as a lesson in living mindfully. Meeting villagers and farmers who live happily without smart phones, TV and all of the things we depend on for entertainment and happiness was eye-opening. While some travelers might feel sorry for people who live without the these luxury items, I often found myself jealous. Everyone we met had what they needed for a happy life- safe shelter, clean drinking water and good food. Somewhere along the lines we as a society were sold the idea that we needed much more than this to be happy. But are we happy? Being stressed out and distracted seems more common than true contentment lately.
When I guide students through a yoga class I encourage a mindful practice, where the focus is on here and the now. What I found on this trip was that village life is a mindful life. Although we visited some homes with electricity and some without, most villagers still owned cell phones, real cell PHONES- not mini pocket sized computers. This meant they could keep in touch with anyone or call for help in an emergency, but phones were not their number one priority. What were the priorities? Hands on work (hard work!) that needed daily upkeep. Plowing wheat and barley fields and gathering the harvest, milking the family buffalo to make buttermilk and butter and cooking meals from scratch (sometimes on an open fire). Some children hiked long distances to get to school. Everything they did had purpose, and to me it was a beautiful life. It made me wonder if everything we have in our lives to make it easier actually detracts from our happiness levels.
Watching the villagers made me reflect on the pace of life at home. Technology has developed at a whirlwind pace in my lifetime. It has added an insane amount of value and I LOVE being able to look up a recipe, fact or person within seconds. However, if left unchecked, we can easily live our lives in a mode of constant distraction, missing the simple beautiful moments that take place everyday. We check our phones within minutes of waking, we bring them into the bathroom to keep ourselves entertained (admit it, you've done it). We take ourselves out of the present moment in order to capture it for our social media feeds. I'm not saying anything here that hasn't been said before - nor do I suggest that we throw away our access to Internet/technology. What we need to do is be intentional with our use of it so that it doesn't consume us. How? See below for some ideas inspired by my recent culture trip.
Ten years ago, I had never meditated. I had recently moved to Ottawa and was in search of some new, healthy habits. I dreamed of practicing yoga more, learning how to meditate, becoming a vegetarian and many other things that compared to my youth, were way outside of my way of living. I remember the first free meditation workshop I attended, the sheer thrill of even following through and showing up for it on my own. During the workshop I mingled with a lovely woman, she was so calm and spoke so thoughtfully. After trying out a few simple guided meditations in the class, I mentioned to her that I really loved being in nature and that I would have these brief moments of just feeling really good and so calm, and that being in a busy city I couldn't seem to replicate that feeling. She replied that the feeling I was describing was always available and within us, and that my journey would be to find that feeling I had in nature no matter where I physically was. Mind = Blown.
After that course, I dabbled with sitting meditation, counting my breath 1-2-3 and coming back to the count anytime I noticed my mind wandered. I read books on meditation and at a certain point was learning more about it than practicing it. It just was not sticking as a daily habit. It became one of those items on my life list that remained just out of reach for many years. In 2013 during a three week stay in a small ashram in the Indian Himalayas, we would wake and begin each morning with 20 minutes of mantra meditation, and end each day with the same. I traveled so far for that experience, and it turned out to feel like a mild form of torture. In those three weeks, I sat through exactly one meditation session without fidgeting, opening my eyes, becoming irritable, restless and insanely jealous of the other students who looked so blissful. I knew it was going to be challenging, but come on! I was not a happy woman facing myself in those moments. I did not return home with a daily meditation practice. I had traveled to India for traditional yoga philosophy, but a mantra given by a guru in the mountains just wasn't for me, it didn't bring me back to that peaceful place I always seemed to find while in nature.
About a year after my ashram stay, I was given a book called 10% Happier by a ABC news anchor Dan Harris. If you haven't heard, he's the guy who had a panic attack on national television and now practices non-secular Buddhist meditation on the regular. He is out to prove that even "fidgety skeptics" and a-holes can be better versions of themselves through developing a sitting practice. He likens meditation to exercise for your brain, just as we should work out our muscles, our brains also need to be trained. It was sometime after reading that book that I realized even if I sat for 5 or 10 minutes a day (even 1 minute!), I could do it. I always thought that to meditate, I needed to sit and clear my mind of all my thoughts. Whoa! Not even close. Turns out it can be as simple as sitting and noticing the thoughts as they come and go, floating in and out with no effect on me. With my practice, my daily reactions have become more skillful. I am developing that split second pause between how I've always reacted and how I choose to best react in that moment. I still have my moments (goodness don't we all?) but I truly love my practice and all the good it has brought me.
I suppose I share this story in the hopes that even one person may read it and decide to try meditation for the first time or return to a practice they have strayed from. It's important to remember that it doesn't have to be, look or feel perfect. If your schedule is thrown off or something comes up, you can still make time (seriously, even one timed minute of silence and listening to the breath can do wonders) Just accept and acknowledge that your practice might look a little bit different depending on the day, week and year, and that's okay. There are also so many different varieties of meditation and it may take a few tries for what works best for you. The greatest lesson out of all of this is that mediation, like yoga, is not a goal to strive and achieve for, but rather a practice to support coming back to the truth of oneself, to the goodness that always has been and always will be tucked down deep inside each and every one of us.