Gratitude: Giving Equal Airtime to the Good
I’m hard on myself. I never think I do enough. I think I don’t work hard enough. I think I’m not where I should be at this point in my life. I think I should weigh a certain number and criticize myself when I’m above it. I should eat better. I should exercise more. I should drink more water and less wine. My brain replays every little mistake I make over and over again.
It’s exhausting. I’m sure there’s a lot of shitty thoughts that run through your brain too every single day. Unfortunately, the brain is on auto-pilot when it comes to producing one shitty thought after another because most of us have trained it to do so over the years, especially women who are constantly trying to please everyone but themselves.
For me, practicing gratitude is about consciously giving equal airtime to the positive things in my life just to counter all those shitastic thoughts running wild in my brain. It’s no easy task. It probably takes 10 positive thoughts of gratitude to make up for every self-critical thought I produce. And believe me, it’s much harder for my brain to come up with the grateful thoughts.
I was in a yoga class the other day and the instructor asked us during meditation to think of two things we were thankful for that day and my stupid brain just drew a blank. So I started with being grateful that I had made it to yoga class that evening because I obviously had some mindset work to do.
Last week — after beating myself up over the number on the scale — I went for a massage because I was sore from hiking and challenging yoga classes. I decided to use that time for self-care but also intentionally used that time to be grateful for everything my body does for me everyday. I thought about how amazing it was that my body allowed me to climb mountains, do hard yoga poses, walk my dogs and all the other small movements we take for granted.
Gratitude is more than thinking about what we’re thankful for — it’s about cultivating that gratitude so when our minds are in the proverbial toilet, we can more quickly conjure up the good and give it equal airtime in our brains.
It helps to keep a gratitude journal — there’s just something about writing it down that makes it easier for your brain to remember. Even if it doesn’t, you can always open up that journal on a bad day to remind yourself how good your life is despite all the challenges.
I wish I could tell you that my gratitude practice has helped banish the negativity in my head, but it hasn’t. However, it has allowed me to spend less time dwelling on the negativity. It’s still there, but I don’t identify with it anymore. It’s a thought, it’s not true, and I can choose to think something different whenever I want.
And before someone accuses me of “toxic positivity,” let me provide this disclaimer: We can’t — and shouldn’t — force ourselves to put a positive spin on every event in our lives. Many experiences in life are devastating and deserve to be acknowledged and grieved. We can’t just ignore the negative feelings by substituting a positive one. It doesn’t work that way. We need to leave space for the full spectrum of emotions in our lives.
My friend recently spoke about the power of using the word “and” when trying to find the balance of gratitude and being grounded in reality.
I am grateful for the roof over my head AND I want to be able to buy a house someday.
I am grateful for everyone in my life that loves me AND I’m devastated about my divorce or breakup.
I am grateful for all the years I had with my grandmother AND I will continue to grieve over her death.
I am grateful for the opportunity and ability to travel AND I acknowledge my fear of flying is a real struggle for me.
You get the point — and trying this exercise yourself could be a great first step to being comfortable with creating your own gratitude practice.