There are a few keystone habits in the world of self-improvement.
A decade ago, when I first started reading books on the topic, the big ones were (and for the most part still are): exercise, meditation, organization, mindfulness, reading, a good morning routine, and gratitude.
Since then, gratitude has always been something I’ve practiced, though informally.
Cut to me running on the beach. The sun is shining, the water is glassy, and I have a smile on my face. I stop my jog for a moment to embrace the day and contemplate all that I have to be thankful for. End scene.
That was the extent of my gratitude practice. But those moments were infrequent at best.
On an average day, I simply had too much going on to be thankful. I knew gratitude was a great habit to adopt, but I didn’t have a strong enough reason to make it a daily practice. And so it remained part of my life, but from a distance. You may have experienced something similar.
Making it official
Last December I read the book, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy. In it, Murphy explains that our subconscious is responsible for much more than we give it credit for. That – and stay with me here – it has the ability to bring your desires into reality.
Is that true? Is that fact or pseudo-science? I have no idea. All I know is that I liked what the book had to say. It resonated.
When I finished reading it, I set a goal: Spend at least five minutes thinking of things I’m grateful for each day. Here’s why I chose to set that goal (verbatim from my notes):
“Based on my understanding of the book, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy, thinking of what you’re thankful for helps to neutralize any negativity that you’re experiencing. In turn, this opens you up (consciously and subconsciously) for more positive things to occur in your life; much like a captain raising morale amongst the crew.
In this particular case, my hope is that the increase in morale will assist in the influencing of my subconscious.”
The practice in action
From that moment on, I practiced gratitude each day. It was easy. Five minutes is nothing. The only difficult parts were remembering to do it and making time for it. The former was simple enough; I accounted for it in my daily planning. The latter took some trial and error.
I ended up pairing it with my exercise regime.
When I run, I normally walk for the first five minutes. So, I paired that warm-up with my gratitude practice. It fit perfectly and has become so ingrained into my routine that it feels weird when I don’t warm up with gratitude.
During the practice, I give myself permission to be as specific or broad as I want. I could be grateful for anything so long as I truly feel grateful. I could be grateful for the internet as a concept as well as for each individual who helps connect me to it. From the internet provider to the person working in the factory building computers.
I could be grateful for the food in my pantry, the roof over my head, and the money in the bank. So long as I feel thankful for it, that’s all that matters.
A minor change
Somewhere along the way, I made a switch. Instead of doing my gratitude practice each day, I elected to do it five days a week.
I found that I wasn’t giving it my all on the weekends. I was going through the motions, trying to check an item off my to-do list instead of truly embodying gratitude. So I made that change and continued on. Even then, I still might miss a day or two. If I’m out of town or there’s a special occasion, I may take some time off from it.
That’s something I do with all of my goals, not just my gratitude practice. I call them guilt-free outs.
Regardless, even when I officially take the day off from the practice, it’s often in formality only. With the habit formed, I tend to find things to be grateful for all around me as I move through the day.
The results, 256 days later
I started this goal last December. Since then, I’ve completed my gratitude practice 256 times. Often I end the practice right at five minutes, but there are many times I go over. In those cases, I’m feeling too thankful to stop.
At first, five minutes felt like an eternity. I would run out of things within the first 30 seconds.
With time though, it became a lot easier. I began to see the immense landscape of things to be grateful for and I truly felt grateful for them. Today, I could fill literal pages with the amount of gratitude I have for the world around me.
That said, the biggest benefit I’ve gained from the practice is a change in perspective. It’s hard to be pessimistic when there is so much to be thankful for. It’s hard to stay down when the littlest of things brings so much appreciation. If anything, the practice has helped me see how wonderful life is. The ups and downs of it.
And, for whatever reason, by being thankful, more and more things to be thankful for continue to appear in my life.
Should you adopt the practice?
Thanksgiving has become the holiday of gratitude. But instead of spending one day in appreciation, why not try making it a daily occurrence?
Start as small as you’d like. Some is better than none.
You could do it each morning while waiting for your coffee to brew. Or you could do it on the walk from your front door to the car. Or you could do it while stretching before a run. Whenever you choose to do it, be consistent. Make a regular practice of it. Then watch as you find more and more to be grateful for. Witness as the world becomes a more amazing place for you to operate in.
PS: In case you’re curious, 256 days later and I still do my five-minute gratitude practice five days a week. I have no plans of stopping.