Thank Yourself

So, here we are once again – that special time we have to purposely take out of our busy lives once per year to recognize and appreciate all that is dear to us: Thanksgiving.

Turkey1Like many, the importance of this holiday has grown on me as the years pass, since maturity has a way of changing your perspective on the reasons we do certain things as a society. As a child, it was always my house that hosted Thanksgiving, which always administered a mix of mostly good feelings of reconciliation with family members that you very seldom get to see, and of course the stereotypical metric shit-ton of awesome food.

As I grew older, and especially as my geographical circumstances changed (I have only lived within 200 miles of my birthplace for around 2 years since high school), I’ve naturally grown more fond of the rekindling of family that is Thanksgiving in the United States. I always wish more of my extended family could all be present, but that’s another story altogether (probably much like yours).

Either way, I thought this would be a wonderful time to write about this very topic, not to mention the timing of something that happened to me very recently. But, before I get into the meat and potatoes (pun intended) of this event, please allow me to back up about 6-8 weeks…

I don’t recall what exactly it was that pointed me to this task (I certainly don’t take credit for the idea), but I am constantly reading positive things, uplifting ideas and constructive rhetoric so it was probably something random I came across and thought to myself, “I think I’ll try that…just because.”

The task I assigned myself was to write down 5-10 things I am grateful for every night before I go to sleep. I made a couple of relaxed guidelines to ensure it didn’t feel like such a chore, which I think would defeat the purpose. Here were my ‘rules’:

  1. Write a minimum of 5 things to a maximum of 20 things.
  2. If I don’t feel like doing it, I can skip any 2 nights per week and won’t beat myself up.
  3. Duplicates are just fine, although not intentional.
  4. The gravity of items is irrelevant, I can show my gratitude for the smallest or biggest things I can possibly think of.
  5. Try to smile while writing – even if I have to force it.
  6. Most importantly – this is supposed to be positive, so I will NOT beat myself up no matter what (i.e. even if I forget 6 nights in a row, I’ll just write some on the next night – no big deal)

journal-1So, a couple of months ago I decided to give it a shot, and I really started to enjoy it. I have a journal that I write in occasionally, where I like to put things that I don’t want to forget (ideas, concepts, quotes, awesome stuff that happened in my life, milestones, etc). I decided to dedicate several pages toward the back of it, and took off with rigorous vigor.

Are you supposed to use rigorous and vigor right next to each other? Sounds dangerous – oh well, I live on the edge. Moving on…

A few different things happened during this experiment that surprised me a bit:

  • I thought I would never want to mess with it when I was in a bit of a bad mood, but began to find that I really enjoyed those times the most. As you might imagine, forcing myself to smile and think of things that are good and taking focus away from the negative was a welcome change of pace that I started anticipating. It’s an easy way to force your mindset into a “things could be worse, and I’m glad they’re not” sort of mentality.
  • Very often I would get ready to write five items, and on item 4 I would simultaneously think of two things, so there’s six. My OCD just can’t handle that, so I would get a huge grin on my face knowing that I get to come up with four more.
  • Several times I would actually forget about this experiment when I was getting ready for bed. As I entered my bedroom, turned on my ceiling fan and stepped up to my bed, I’d see my journal sitting right on my headboard and I bet if you were in the room at that moment, you’d see a grin flash across my face as I was reminded of the one last thing I need to do before I can rest.
  • When I started, I imagined it feeling more like a chore that I might appreciate later, so “let’s just give it a fair chance” but instead I would often find myself having fun and chuckling a bit as I wrote down very minuscule things that were silly and funny, but nonetheless, things that I was grateful for.

I’m reluctant to talk about the ‘end result’ because I’m going to continue to add to the list of 195 items on my list, but I will talk a little about this exercise so far. I would like to share a few of the items in my list with you that’s called, “What Are You Grateful For?” Perhaps it will motivate you to do the same…

A few of my silliest entries:

  • I’m not bald (yet)
  • pencils write upside down
  • my ribs are back where they should be
  • Seinfeld
  • the Jayhawks beat Duke by 11
  • My bed gives me a massage while I write this

A few of my most heartfelt entries:

  • I was given a second chance to wake up in life
  • someone out there is thinking about me
  • my brother is a pretty groovy dude
  • I don’t have cancer
  • My son’s health and sense of humor
  • my parents call me at least weekly

And a couple of my favorites for good measure:

  • I was fortunate to know my grandparents
  • I dream (sometimes)
  • this journal
  • my brain’s capacity to learn, imagine, read, and articulate
  • i can turn on a light almost anytime I want
  • my “carpe diem” tattoo

Now that you know a tiny bit more of the inner-workings of my deranged mind, don’t get any ideas about extortion! The surprisingly pleasant truth is that more than half of the things on my list came as somewhat of a surprise to me. When you sit (or lay) down and ask yourself in a completely calm state, “What am I grateful for?” you just might be surprised at what comes out of your pencil.

page-1Now here’s the bonus portion of the experiment that I never saw coming. I thought the purpose of this exercise was to get you into a positive mindset, and get you to a more peaceful place before bedtime, as well as just to make you more cognizant of all the amazing things in this world that you have that you may take for granted. But, I was only partially right. If you’ll allow me to share a recent story to explain…

[As of this writing] About 5 weeks ago, I made a switch from cycling to strength training, and just continue cycling in-between days here and there to keep my cardio up. The strength training has been going quite well. I’m not a pro, but I have been pleased with how it’s going so far.  About two weeks ago, I sustained the stupidest injury ever known to man when I crawled on the floor to fix something on my Blu-Ray player and while getting up, somehow twisted my back into muscle spasms that took a week and a skilled chiropractor to fix (don’t ask – it was frustrating). On the night before I was all set to resume my workouts, I pinched a nerve in my neck, which is currently in progress complete with MRI scheduled, ER visit, high-powered Rhinoceros strength pain meds and Valium. Trust me, living the dream is more fun than reading about it.

I tell you that long, drawn-out story to illustrate how defeated I’ve been feeling lately. I have had a rough couple weeks. Your physical well-being has a strong influence over your demeanor and motivation as many are aware. I am still susceptible to negative thoughts and influences if they’re piled on high enough. I was in pain. I could even claim I was in despair if we weren’t going through the drama rationing right now. Two nights ago, I picked up my book to write about something I could find that I was grateful for (I hadn’t written in about 4 days), but this time I decided to do something different that I had never done before.

I read what I had written.

I am here to promise you one thing, my friend: NOTHING picks you up and gets your ass back on your feet faster than true, positive encouragement from the person who loves you more than anyone in this whole world: you.

So, that’s how I want you to Thank Yourself. Start a journal. It doesn’t have to be fancy; it can be scrap paper and crayon if you want. Cut yourself some slack for not being perfect with it. You don’t have to write like it’s a diary, just numbered lines and snippets of things you’re grateful for. Keep it going. Keep it private, or let someone close read it if you want. The rules are your rules, and your rules only. What Are You Grateful For??

Then…when you feel like things are at their worst…you’ve taken one too many jabs and uppercuts…and you feel like you’re down for the count…………………..

Read it.

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