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Wellness
January 4, 2022

Gratitude: You’re Doing It Wrong!

Post By:
Julie McMahon
Executive Performance Coach
Julie McMahon Coaching
Guest Contributor:

Everyone talks about gratitude. It’s a word that gets thrown around quite a bit nowadays, especially during the holiday season, aka “the season of gratitude.” What’s that about? Does that mean I only need to be thankful a few months out of the year? 

The songs, the holiday cards, the mass marketing: all of it tells us to be thankful. Maybe it’s just supposed to be a reminder???

And then there’s the airy-fairy gratitude you'll hear flying around: people talking about their daily gratitude practice, or they will say things like “stop being so negative and just be grateful.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of those people half the time AND I also know that this can be super annoying when you’re having a moment. Like when you just found out your child has to be picked up from school because she’s sick, meanwhile you're about to walk into the most important meeting of your career and your back up won’t answer the phone. Yeah, I’m super grateful in those moments (sarcasm). How about you?

But, the truth is in those moments. I don’t want to be negative or anxious. I want to feel calm, cool and collected. I want to deal with it in stride and make things happen instead of freaking out and getting emotional. And this, I believe, is where gratitude fits in.

Gratitude isn’t a season, and it’s not just for those living an immersed, Zen lifestyle. It’s a lens through which we see the world. Like getting new glasses, the gratitude lens is an upgrade for your life. And, we must refocus and condition ourselves to it to make it work for us.

There have been countless studies and books written about the benefits of gratitude on our mental, emotional and physical health (click here to check out some interesting studies on the subject). But to sum them up, gratitude DOES, in fact, make us happier. We literally can’t be grateful and angry at the same time. Gratitude changes our outlook, our emotions and, over time, our life itself changes, for the better.

So, if it’s so common and so good for us, shouldn’t we all just be walking around in a gratitude bliss bubble, loving one another and feeling fully-satisfied with our lives? One would think. But, that’s just not the reality. The reality for most of us is that it’s not easy to be in a state of gratitude all the time, or even most of the time. Instead, we drop in and out of feeling gratitude. We have moments of feeling so much gratitude and are high on life, and then BAM! Something bad happens and we fall headfirst off the gratitude wagon only to find ourselves full of self-pity and victim-hood. 

Why? 

We do this because it's primal and it’s what we’re conditioned to do in society. We aren’t taught to be grateful, to understand the impact of it. You see, essentially there is a gratitude spectrum. On the low end of the spectrum we say “Thank you,” when we receive something, like when someone hands us our coffee at a café. That’s typically more about being polite than being grateful for the coffee. Then there’s the middle point of the spectrum. It goes something like this….

You are super exhausted because you were up all night with the baby and the only thing on your mind is coffee. The man at the café counter hands you a freshly brewed cup of dark roast coffee with just the right amount of almond milk and two pumps of sugar-free vanilla and in that moment, the only thing that matters is that coffee and it feels soooo good to take the first sip. You are present to the sip and grateful for the impact it has on your day. That is actually being grateful for the coffee, for the person who made it and for the fancy fixings. But, then the moment ends and we move on to wherever our emotions take us, usually vacillating between complaining and being happy. 

At the high end of the spectrum is living a life in what I like to call in gratitude. This is where we see everything that happens to us, around us, and for us with gratitude. It's where we see all the good and the bad as an opportunity. It's looking at everything in life, like the perfect cup of coffee, even if it only had one pump of sugar-free vanilla when you asked for two. It’s being present in the moment and realizing that the moment is perfect just as it is and then holding this space as you go through the day. 

When we live in gratitude, we get more of what we want and therefore become even more grateful. Dr. Joe Dispenza says, “Gratitude is the ultimate state of receivership.” This means that when we are experiencing the elevated emotion of gratitude in our body, we attract to us the things that we want. We become like a magnet, and honestly it's quite magical.

Living in gratitude seems like a no-brainer to me. But, like I said, it's not always that easy! I wish I could say that I live in gratitude all the time, but that would be a lie because struggle is real. I do however strive for it. I think we can all agree that when we are in a state of gratitude we feel better and life is smoother. And, I think we can also all agree that we want to receive and get more of what we want. With that said, for me, the goal is to stay in gratitude more often than not, and let me tell you it takes practice! But, once you get there, even 50% of the time, life is better. It truly is, and it’s so worth it.

How do we, as high-achievers and busy moms, figure out how to be grateful in our fast-paced and overstimulated lives?

Here are the top six no nonsense things to do in your daily life that will kick-start the feelings of gratitude so that you can get what you want and feel good:

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Reality Check

The first thing you need to do is give yourself a reality check. In case you didn't know, your physical body on this planet has a time limit. In short, you are going to die and you need to start remembering this. As cheesy as it sounds, when we live like we're dying, we have a much better perspective on life, which brings us to a state of gratitude. 

In the book, “Life in Half a Second” by Mathew Michalewicz, he breaks down how many days we have left to live. It's a simple, yet startling calculation. Here's an example, assuming you are someone who is currently 45 with a life expectancy of 80. 

80 - 45 = 35, and 35 X 365 = 12,775 DAYS.

That’s it. Doesn’t seem like much time, does it? That’s because it's not! 

When we remember that our time on this planet is limited we make different choices. One of those choices is the way in which we perceive and view life. It's the same reason when we have a near death experience or something that really impacts our health we start to appreciate things that we once took for granted. If you make it a point to remember, on a daily basis, when you wake up, that you are lucky to have another day to play on this planet, it will set your whole day into motion with a sense of gratitude.

And if you can carry this thought throughout your day when you are having a freak out moment, you will break the pattern, and over time you will create a new pattern of gratitude. Ask yourself in those moments, if I were to die tomorrow, would it matter to me? Ask yourself, why is this worth getting upset over? And then stop it!! You will feel happier and more grateful for the things that you have. You will let things go that don’t matter and you will love more. 

A Simple way to remember this is by putting a note next to your bed that you can read when you wake up in the morning as a reminder. Have it say something like …“Today I get to be alive. Make it count.” Or, even better, put reminders in your phone throughout the day. 

Get a Handle on Your Thoughts 

This is a big one. We've got to check our thoughts and choose our words. Everything we think we create. You will be surprised how often your brain goes to the negative and to a place of lack throughout the day if it's not checked. 

We also create stories in our minds that haven’t even happened. I don’t know how many times I've found myself daydreaming when I'm driving or doing the dishes, and I think about a problem and create a whole negative and dramatic story around it. Which is completely manufactured from past wounds or traumas. When we do that we are creating our reality.

But, if we recognize that we are doing it, and we stop, we have an opportunity to create what we truly desire, which makes us feel good. When we feel good, we feel grateful. 

Here's an example: for instance, if you recently lost your job you may have a thought like, "I'm never going to find as good of a paying job as that one." That's a story and it's not necessarily true. So, we would correct that thought with, "I have so many opportunities for a good paying job and now I get to find one that I really like, too." So, now you are no longer in the mindset of lack and you can appreciate the job hunt while having gratitude for the opportunity. Do you see the shift? This is what you need to do with all of your thoughts, so that you catch the patterns and shift to gratitude for the opportunities.

Stop Complaining

All too often instead of dealing with a solution to a problem we just like to complain about the problem. When we run into these problems we call our friends to “vent,” but nothing really gets resolved. The only thing that we've done is we've wasted our time putting energy into the problem, which only reinforces it. We may feel temporarily better, but in the long-run it's not serving us at all or the people who we're complaining to. This goes the same for gossiping and talking bad about other people. This is a complete waste of time and what it does is perpetuate the problem and the behavior. 

The solution to this is to stop doing it. If you want a solution, call someone and discuss the issues with that mindset, and with the intention of finding a solution. I know that this may be a big challenge because you not only know this is a pattern, to complain, but it's also a way that you may have formed a bond with certain friends and family. Nevertheless, it's crucial to stop complaining and start acting if you want to feel gratitude. 

I wrote on my mirror in my bathroom, “Focus on the solution, not the problem.” I live by that because the positive forward momentum keeps me moving into a space of gratitude. As I solve problems and see things as opportunities, I feel good and grateful for the problem instead of ruminating in it. 

Take Time 

Another way to be in a state of gratitude is to take time to be completely present in the moment. When we are present we can appreciate and take the time to feel, breathe and enjoy. We give ourselves the time when we are present to look at a situation, to feel into it and to be there, and when we do this we have the 

opportunity to be grateful. And the only way to be truly present is to get the worry out of our minds. The best way that I know how to do this is to clean up your past and have a plan for your future, so that when you're experiencing the day-to-day moments you're not worrying about what you did wrong yesterday, or what you have to do next week, or even in the next hour.

When I work with clients, we spend quite a bit of time looking at all the things that they need to do and/or make right from their pasts, and then come up with a comprehensive plan for their futures. It leaves them with so much room in their brain and life to enjoy and play. In this space we are able to find and feel gratitude. 

Re-Center Yourself

I have found that clearing my head by moving my body is instrumental in feeling gratitude. When we are emotionally, mentally and physically bound up it is very challenging to be fluid and see things from a positive perspective. And, when we can't see things from a positive perspective it's very challenging to find gratitude in it. For me, re-centering myself looks like exercise. I like strong physical activity like boxing or riding my road bike, but you have to do what's best for you. Anything that releases dopamine and ups your serotonin levels will put you in the right frame of mind to see life in gratitude. It can also look like meditation, yoga or time outdoors. 

Acknowledge Your Wins 

How often do you acknowledge and celebrate your wins? If you're like most people, then probably not very often. If you're a goal-driven person, then most likely what happens is you achieve your goal, check the box and move on to the next goal. This is really common in high-achievers, particularly because they are usually in their masculine energy and have a hard time receiving acknowledgements for their goals from others, let alone themselves. They put themselves under so much pressure that there is no time to stop, and literally get uncomfortable taking compliments on their successes. 

But here's the deal, if we stop and appreciate ourselves and acknowledge our accomplishments, we are more likely to do it for other people as well. And, when we appreciate and acknowledge our accomplishments, we are also in a space of gratitude. 

For instance, if you decided to run a marathon and successfully do so, you will most likely celebrate afterwards with your family and/or friends. In doing so, you are acknowledging your success and finding gratitude for the celebration, as well as for all of the things that helped you get there. In this case, you would acknowledge and be grateful for your body, the team that supported you, your mindset and your willpower. 

But, can you imagine if you ran a marathon, crossed the finish line, went home and then made dinner for your family and never even mentioned it? 

We do that all the time with small successes. Even the small wins are important to acknowledge. What I like to do is celebrate my wins just as much as I work on fixing things that didn't go so well. It's easy to focus on the things that need to be fixed because they are in your face. And it's easy to not acknowledge the wins because you just expect this of yourself. 

Take some time, at least every quarter in your business, and daily in your personal life, to look back at your accomplishments and appreciate all that you've done and have gratitude for the opportunity. The more you do this the more you will train your brain to think this way, and the focus itself will alter your perspective and allow gratitude into your life.

Give these tips a try and see where you end up. It won’t be perfect, but it’s a start and over time you will get better and it will become second nature. Pay attention and be intentional about these gratitude practices and one day you might find yourself thinking that “the season of gratitude” is all year long.