I’ve always been a grateful person. Sometimes I get a hit with a random gratitude attack so overwhelming and powerful, my eyes well up. I’ve had it happen over everything from brief interactions to deep conversations to great jobs surprising synchronicities to unexpected opportunities, and so much more.
However, I kept hearing that the true magic comes from creating a regular gratitude practice, so, several months ago, I started using my pre-bed dog walk as a time to mentally list all the things I’m grateful for.
I start with what’s going on in the present moment, so my dog Oliver’s usually first on my list. Then, if it’s not raining, I’m grateful for that. If it’s raining and my umbrella’s not inside out, I’m grateful for that. If it’s snowing, I’m grateful that I have a warm place to return to once my dog does his business, quickly followed by being grateful for all my winter outerwear that keeps me from freezing my butt off while Oliver takes his time sniffing and marking every 3 feet or so. I’m grateful for my health and the fact that I have the ability to walk Oliver regardless of the weather.
Then I move on to other important things, like my incredible family and friends, life coaching and my awesome community of coaches, my apartment and all its utilities, you (yes, YOU!), the fact that I can get my food from a huge store filled with pretty much anything I’d ever want rather than having to go hunting and gathering...Usually once I hit this point, so many things start popping into my head that the next thing will come up before the previous words have fully formed—and they continue coming even after I’m inside.
As I go through my gratitude practice, it’s almost like it takes over my body and mind. (In a good way, of course.) I feel peaceful. As cliché as it sounds, I really do feel like my heart fills with love. I’m able to let go of the day’s frustrations and go to bed more relaxed and without my mind obsessing over what I didn’t get done that day or what I want to get done tomorrow.
Back in fall of 2011, the New York Times published an article about the findings of scientific studies on gratitude. It turns out that as I list my dozens upon dozens of things I’m grateful for, I’m helping my health, my sleep, my general satisfaction with my life, and, apparently, my levels of aggression, which might explain why I haven’t felt a strong urge to visit the batting cages lately.
There are lots of different ways you can enhance your sense of gratitude. To get started, it might help to set up a regular time for your gratitude practice, like while you’re brushing your teeth or waiting for your coffee to be ready. Many people use a gratitude journal to write five things each day, and there are plenty of apps out there if you’d rather have it digitized. If you need more accountability to help you follow through, consider finding someone you can share the experience with—maybe your family can establish a gratitude sharing time or you can exchange texts with a friend.
It doesn’t have to be a big, time-consuming thing. However it works for you is perfect. And I’m willing to bet that, one day not long into your new routine, you’ll realize you’re grateful for your gratitude practice.
Now, you already know a lot of the things I’m grateful for; I’d love to know what popped into your head while you were reading this post, so please let me know in the comments. I’d be ever so grateful!
As soon as I was old enough to swing a bat without propelling myself to the ground, my Dad gave me my very own plastic bat. He taught me how to stand, to keep my eye on the ball, and to always follow through. We spent so much time together, him tossing that whiffle ball, me hitting it (or at least making a valiant effort to). Eventually, we switched to a metal bat and a tennis ball, and I soon got both coordinated and strong enough to hit it over the neighbor’s fence. Batting practice moved to the driveway, where my goal was to hit it into my across-the-street neighbors’ front yards and—after that time I had to apologize to a neighbor for a small dent—not into any cars parked on the street.
When I was old enough, I joined a community softball team. My parents, brother, and grandparents were my personal cheering section, which was wonderful. But sometimes other friends or family came, and then I wanted to show off. And you know what happened? I messed up. I focused on the fact that they were watching. I tried to kill the ball, which really meant I would swing too quickly and get a strike instead. By the time the game was over, I’d feel disappointed in myself and like I’d let both the spectators and my teammates down.
I quit softball once I got to high school, mainly because the stress of fielding a ball coming straight at me going way-too-many-miles-per-hour became too much. But my love for batting cages has never waned. During an especially frustrating time in my life, I went with the intention of de-stressing. I got some okay hits in here and there, but mostly, I just whiffed, which meant my supposed cathartic activity became a source of more frustration.
I finally I realized I was trying too hard, just like I’d been all those years before when I’d been determined to impress people. With every swing I was thinking, “Kill it!” and, because I let my brain take over, I swung too hard, too fast, and didn’t let my body do what it instinctively knew how to do. Hence, an embarrassing string of strikes.
At some point, I finally realized what was happening. I took a step back and let go of my intention of stress relief. I reminded myself to follow through, then cleared my head, stepped back into the batter’s box, and let my body take over. I started smashing the ball like nobody’s business, hitting line drives and what would’ve been homers if the net hadn’t been there. The feel when the ball hit that sweet spot, that satisfying “thwack!,” the power I felt as I watched the ball fly far and fast—that’s exactly what I needed.
The thing is, my thoughts have tended to take over in all areas of my life, not just when I’m in the batters’ box. That’s why I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple years learning the fine art of getting out of my head and trusting my instinct. If something’s not going right or just feels off, I take a step back to see what’s going on, then change my approach as needed. And when something does feel right, I try my damndest to go for it, even when fear or “yeah, but…” thoughts try to hold me back.
I have to tell you, it’s way less stressful when you can quiet the voices in your head and listen to your heart instead. There’s a peace and clarity about it that I don’t think I can accurately describe. I’m not saying it’s easy or that I’ve fully mastered it; it’s been a process with a learning curve that sometimes feels like a steep, winding mountain road covered with ice. Sometimes I’m better at it than others, but all I can do is keep trying, and it’s making a huge difference in my life.
The proof? Instead of getting caught up in worrying about what people might think, I published this blog post. And as I sit here not worrying whether anyone other than me will ever read this, you just did.
Katie Baron: life coach, freelance writer, animal and nature lover, musician, relentless optimist