Gratitude is a mothereffing game changer.
This isn’t new information to you, if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time. Chances are you’ve heard me say this on multiple occasions–because I have long been a strong proponent of utilizing a consistent and authentic gratitude practice. I stress the importance of gratitude. Often. Personally, I have a daily gratitude practice in place, during which I journal 3 new things every single day that I’m grateful for. It can be anything from the amazing meal I had last night, to a gorgeous sunset, to being able to open up to a friend about something painful.
Why do I think it’s so important? Let me rephrase; how do I know it’s so important?
Simple, really. It’s all about perspective–the lens through which we view our world. Gratitude helps create this perspective. It shifts our focus from the negative (which we are already hard wired to scan our environment for) to the positive. In every situation, there are hundreds of ways in which we can view our landscape–and each and every one of these views is equally true. Not all of them are beneficial. A solid, consistent gratitude practice has been shown-scientifically shown– to improve mood, productivity, and quality of life. It teaches us to focus our energy on the things that will bring us closer to our highest selves, and it helps us to show up fully in our relationships, work, and interactions. Gratitude helps us seek out the most advantageous and productive view of our world–it distinguishes the most positive reality from all of the other equally true (but not equally beneficial) realities. When we commit to practicing gratitude, we commit to our highest commitments. Because when we can stop scanning the world for all the bullshit that annoys us, causes us pain, or makes us feel less-than, we can adjust our minds to see all of the incredible things we have at our finger tips.
So what happens when the worst happens?
What happens when our hearts break and our body aches and our world gets turned upside down and inside out? Do we turn to gratitude? Do we start scanning our environment for the most positive reality? Hell no, we don’t! When we’re faced with a great deal of pain, a shocking discovery, a life-changing, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching situation, gratitude isn’t usually our default reaction. Not only that, but during the darkest times, we basically want to tell gratitude to suck it. I get that. We all have a default when it comes to dealing with pain. Personally, my default reaction is a combination of shutting down, rejecting, and lashing out. Oh, you want to hurt me? Fine. I will shame you and blame you and tell you why you don’t deserve me. And once I’m done doing that, I’ll convince myself why I don’t need you in my life and I will cut you off without a hint of doubt or regret. I’m really, really good at this, considering that I’ve been doing it for most of my life.
At least, that’s what I did for years until I learned to hold space for acceptance, grace, and gratitude.
I still need a certain amount of that, don’t get me wrong. I still lash out from time to time. I still play the blame game. I’m human. I’m not perfect. I’m not so “evolved” that I am in complete and total control of my emotions. But I will tell you is this: Practicing gratitude, on the regular, is one of the things that has helped me change my default reaction. Gratitude has allowed me to get to a place where I now deal with pain and heartache with a fair amount of clarity and grace. Having that level of awareness, scanning my world for the positives, and actively looking for things that I am blessed to have–this has allowed me to spend less and less time in “shame/blame/lash out/shut down” mode when my life takes an unexpected turn.
Practicing gratitude daily is sort of like taking out an (absolutely free) insurance policy; when the shit hits the fan, you’ll have a foundation from which to steady yourself. I can’t control the things that happen to me, or everything that happens in my life–but I can control how I react to them, and having a gratitude practice has helped me react in a way that serves and heals me. It’s been a pretty legit insurance policy, especially in recent times. I’m about to get real with you, because I always find transparency to be one of my best coaching strategies: A few months ago, I found myself in a life-changing situation that caused me a great deal of emotional strife. Not just a blip on the emotional radar–a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, “I can’t believe this is happening to me” type of scenario. In those first few reactionary moments, I went Old School Neg: Shut down, cut off, blame, shame, lash out like a mofo. If you had told me in those moments to “be grateful” for the opportunity to learn and grow, or asked me to look for the “lesson,” I likely would have told you to go eff yourself. Enthusiastically. And then, after taking the time I needed to get through my old ways of dealing with pain (which is thankfully, less and less these days) I just…leaned in. All in. I breathed. I held space for gratitude. I woke up one morning with a distinct “I wish this was a bad dream” feeling, and I decided I hated the way that made me feel. I didn’t want to be a victim or keep spiraling into an unproductive and destructive thought process. I wanted to be in my power, to direct my energy towards healing and growing. Luckily, because I’ve been practicing gratitude for so long, I had the tools I needed to make the shift. I made a conscious decision to replace that thought. I created, in that very moment, a new mantra that would help me navigate this difficult time:
“I am grateful for the chance to expand.”
This heartbreaking situation, it could either be the worst thing that ever happened to me, or the best. I could keep shutting down, rejecting, and lashing out–or I could dig in and EXPAND. I could grow as a woman, as a mother, as a coach, as a warrior. I could let it destroy me or I could allow it the space to enlighten me. The first time I said the mantra in my head, I wanted to shove it back down. SHUT UP GRATITUDE, GO AWAY AND EFF YOURSELF. I rejected it immediately, because let’s be honest, no one who’s in pain wants to be told“you have so much to be grateful for.”
But I knew in my heart that my rejection came from a place of not wanting to face the truth. The truth was that Icould get through this. I could rise from the ashes. I was grateful for the chance to expand. I really was. That doesn’t mean that the pain goes away–it doesn’t invalidate the source of pain or make it any less real. I think that’s why a lot of times we’re hesitant to turn to gratitude when things get hard; we’re afraid it will invalidate our feelings or erase the pain someone else has caused us. But gratitude is not a numbing technique. Being grateful for the chance to expand doesn’t mean that I’m stifling my feelings or distracting myself from reality. In fact, being grateful is what allows me to face reality; gratitude is what gives me the clarity to see how I can use the wounds to my advantage. It allows me to let the light in. So I said the mantra again, this time out loud. And I kept saying it, over and over, until I fully believed it with every ounce of my being. Being grateful put me back in my power. It gave me the strength I needed to move forward in my life and make calm, calculated decisions. In these moments, I was grateful for the fact that I’d antecedently adopted a gratitude practice–meta gratitude, if you will. Without having done this work, without having committed daily to seeking out the most positive reality, I wouldn’t have had the clarity I needed to be grateful for the chance to expand. I took out an insurance policy on my reactions, and it paid it. Dark times will come upon us; no matter how much we try to protect our hearts, they will get broken. We can’t control our world and we can’t reject reality. But it’s worth exploring that perhaps when we want to tell gratitude to suck it, that’s when we need it the most.