Keeping a gratitude diary takes discipline but stick it out and you’ll learn a lot about who you are
Writing down five items you are grateful for every day is a mindless, frankly uninspiring task but to change an attitude, you must be prepared to suffer tedium. A simple gratitude diary worked nicely for me, so, I’ve quit. Sort of.
Some people can’t get past a few days of this tree-hugging stuff but I used old-school willpower and habit-building to get there. I challenge you to try this (there’s a quick-start guide at the end of this article and some ideas on how to persevere).
I like experimenting with self-help hacks and needed a reset on my mental state after quitting a full-time job and becoming a work-from-home dad. Let’s just say there was a lot of negativity that I needed to conquer. Lewis Howes, who hosts the wildly successful School of Greatness podcast claims to live in gratitude and it’s the secret sauce to his success. Worth a try, right?
I now realize there is so much more to this practice. I smile more while folding the laundry, experience going to the gym as a holiday and appreciate being in service to my family more than ever. I’m not a robot though and still have my ups and downs but that’s okay.
I’m not going to extol the virtues of a gratitude practice as there are plenty of studies and books on the subject. It does a whole bunch of amazing stuff to your brain and health but I’m a doer, so, on 1 June I simply started by writing down 5 things I was grateful for every evening before bedtime. Bullet points. One line, one thought. It only took 2 minutes. Here’s what happened:
Level 1: Discipline & Habit
I ticked it off my pre-bedtime to-do list. After four weeks of this, I somehow decided to play with it. With high insight, the play was crucial and it’s something I’ve re-learned since having kids. I had accepted my gratitude practice as an essential part of my evening routine and my entries went from one line per thought to half a page per day. Habit helped gratitude entries spill off the page.
Level 2: Emotional Involvement
At around 50-days I added daily events and challenges that I overcame and was now emotionally vested. Studies show that gratitude only really works if you choose to and get behind what you are doing. Reading back over those days, I can relive and feel what happened and can tap into the sense of accomplishment. That’s a powerful emotional well of positivity to draw from.
Level 3: Automatic Mind
I’m standing in front of an open fridge to find myself being grateful for the abundance of choice and food labels. Food labels are very important in my household as one of my kids has PKU. No force on the thought, just my mind on autopilot releasing positive electroshocks. Neurons that fire together are wired together, writes Emily Fletcher on HuffPost. I’ll take that.
Level 4: Negative to positive
There are entries when I turned a bad day into a good day by being grateful. It didn’t always work and sometimes felt disingenuous, but this awkwardness has given way to a skill of turning a bad situation into something to be grateful for. Most of all it has led to a form of self-awareness. I pause and the ask the question more often: “is [insert-supposedly-crappy-thing-here] really that bad?”
Level 5: Morning gratitude
At around day 70 I decided to frame my day with gratitude. In the evening a reflective gratitude diary ends the day positively, why not start the day like that? My mornings are so basic, in fact, I don’t write them down. I just think “I’m grateful to be alive,” you know, as I just woke up from being dead asleep. I smile. It puts me on a positive trajectory before anything even happens.
Level 6: No wife, no life
After 100 days I’ve told my mind certain things so many times that they’ve become deeper, and richer. The point is, relationships are the cornerstone of what I am most grateful for. Appreciating my wife and sharing this life with her probably also releases oxytocin which is the best chemical of all and this chart speaks volumes about what I’m most grateful for.
Level 7: Level Up
After nearly 150 days of writing “I’m grateful for….” I’ve turned my diary into a full journal. Journaling is beneficial in so many more ways and I’ve created a habit to write before bed already, so it was easy to expand the practice. But the best part of my gratitude diary was being able to unlock a specific day from my memory. I want that power. After reading my German grandfather’s original 1945 war diary, I’d like it for my kids or their maybe even their kids. It will freak them out, I’m sure.
100- Day Gratitude Diary Challenge: a Quick-Start Kit
*start small. 5 bullet points, don’t overthink it. It will feel weird at first. Keep an open mind.
*Challenge yourself to do it for 3 days. Once you get to 3, try 5. Once you get there try 10 and then add small steps. Chop it down into manageable chunks, celebrate a small victory at 20. Once you’re at 25, try a bigger jump. Or don’t. One day at a time.
*Setting a reminder each evening on my phone did not work for me, it might for you.
*place a diary and pen right next to your bed. Make the cover bright if you need to so you see it staring at you. Mine was black, it needed to match my phone.
*spend 2 min. max on the entry. Set a timer if you need to.
*okay, so you’ve misplaced your book or forgot it at home on a business trip? Write it down on your phone and then copy that out into your book the next evening.
*The content in your diary won’t look pretty. Guys, my handwriting sucks but I don’t care.
*If one night you’ve had a couple of drinks and you’re grateful for beer, hey, then that’s what it is. Happened to me twice (see my chart). Arguably I’m not grateful enough for beer.
*Do catch up on a missed day. So, I have a few entries that are double days. I write extra lines of gratitude in there on those occasions. In 100 days I missed 4 days. I can account for them all. If you miss more than 1 at a time, I promise, the momentum will be gone.
*Don’t beat yourself up for missing a day. Pick up and keep going.
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