By some standards I didn’t live up to my own expectations for Gratitude Month very well. I set out to write one gratitude letter every day for the month of August. The intent was to shift my attention away from my heartbreak and towards the things in my life I appreciate. I was attempting to establish a new personal habit of gratitude. My record for the month was spotty – I ended up posting only 20 letters instead of 31. This gave me only a 65% success rate against my goal. Not terrible, but not terrific. In retrospect, the month was still pretty useful as a learning experience and here are the 8 lessons I learned from Gratitude Month.
1. It’s hard to make yourself do something new EVERY SINGLE DAY. Establishing a new habit – any new habit – is not easy to do. This requires a significant commitment, so you better know why you want to establish a new habit and it sure better be important to you. If it’s not important to you it will be way too easy to forget about the goal and spend your time on other things like email or Facebook or Twitter instead.
2. When you are feeling cranky or grumpy, it’s hard to think about something that makes you smile. Seriously, there were days when the absolute LAST thing I wanted to do was write a gratitude letter. Some days you just wake up in a bad mood when pouting sounds like more fun than writing about gratitude. Some days you really just want to wallow in your own miserable mood. Which is EXACTLY WHY new habits are important. The thing we resist is very often the exact thing we need.
3. You won’t always feel creative and original. Sometimes the writing or the art or the work just comes out sounding trite or cliched or bland. We can’t be creative all the time, every day or every week. Which is why it’s important to stick with a regular routine. Creativity, like many other things in life, is a game of statistics. We will NOT always be original and brilliant. But the more often we show up, the more often we publish, the more often we do the work, the better our odds are of being creative and original and inspiring SOME of the time. You have to show up to get in the game.
4. It’s hard to shift your mindset. Sometimes when your mind is in a rut, it gets comfortable in that rut. Even when you don’t want to be in that rut, that rut is still a familiar place to be. So you have to be clear and intentional about your desire to get out of the rut. You have to be willing to leave the familiar rut in order to do something different in your life. And you need to make a long term commitment to change, because it requires a new habit to change the old one.
5. You need to commit to do the things you know are good for you. Exercise, healthy eating, meditation, all of these are good for you. And yet, all of us still have a hard time following up to do the things that are good for us. There are so many temptations out there teasing us every single day. Which means you have to commit, seriously commit, to what you know is good for you. You have to really really want the new good habit. Without a strong desire you will not follow through on your goals. This is why peer pressure helps, because we all tend to behave better when other people are watching us.
6. You have to commit specific blocks of time every day for the things that matter to you. I could not believe how much time it actually took me every day to write my daily posts. All I had to do was write, edit, format, and publish. But this probably took me an average of an hour each day. When I made the commitment to do Gratitude Month, I really hadn’t thought about the specific time commitment required and I vastly underestimated the time it would take every day. So when you make any new commitment in your life, get your calendar out right then and there and figure out when exactly you will find the time to follow through. Everything that matter requires your time and your attention.
7. Slipping up is NOT enough reason to quit. I was doing great with Gratitude Month up until Day 15, when I fell off the wagon and missed my first day. And once I missed that first day it got easier to miss another day. And another day. It would have been really easy then to just give up and quit. But I didn’t. I got back on the wagon and I finished the month. Stumbling is not a fall. Persistence matters. In all things.
8. Being surprised by life can be one of the greatest gifts of all. I never imagined that my declaration about Gratitude Month would resonate with other people. But it did and I was thrilled to see other people launch their own gratitude habits. And I was even more pleased to receive letters of gratitude directed towards me. That possibility hadn’t even occurred to me, but what a wonderful unexpected surprise. Perhaps the best outcome of gratitude month was to see my declaration spread among other people, to witness the sharing of inspiration. Thank you to everyone who participated in any way.
I know I don’t have it in me to do another Gratitude Month anytime soon – I need a mental break from publishing every day. However, even with a measly 65% success rate, the goal still had a positive impact on me in the most important way – it helped me shift my mindset towards the things in life I truly appreciate. I HAVE been thinking less about my heartbreak and more about the people and things in my life that bring me happiness. I have been thinking more about my future than my past, and I have been thinking about how to make more room in my life for new habits and new goals. In other words, Gratitude Month was definitely a personal success.
I’m also thinking about how to incorporate more gratitude into my blog on a regular basis and perhaps I’ll do something like start a weekly gratitude post or something similar. I don’t know what exactly I can commit to and that’s ok. There’s a lot of things up in the air right now and I’m trying to be ok with ambiguity in my life. In other words, I don’t need to have all the answers figured out right now. I have a lot of questions bouncing around in my head these days and sometimes that drives me crazy. Other days I appreciate the possibilities that exist.
Here’s the truth of the matter: 40% of our happiness is a direct result of our intentional daily activities. 10% of our happiness is situational and the other 50% is genetic. That’s true around the world. So as I continue along my own healing process I want to be as smart as possible about that 40% of my happiness I can directly influence. Gratitude Month was a good step in the right direction but I still need to take many more steps. Thanks to everyone reading this for being a part of my journey.