If you’re anything like me, mornings can be mentally intractable. You wake up in a dark cloud and feel everything but positivity–as though you were an orphan in a Charles Dickens novel with nothing to look forward to but the obliterating comfort of your pillow, almost picturesque in your please-don’t-make-me-face-the-day despair. (Okay, maybe it’s not quite that bad.) And from those first waking moments, you probably think, “Welp, there goes the day!”
In my experience, that early-morning negativity can dog you all day, kill your self-confidence, and tamp down your productivity. So I decided to force myself to accomplish some kind of gratitude practice first thing in the morning. It wasn’t easy at first, but it’s helped me remind myself of everything I’m capable of and jump into each day with a vengeance.
THE WINDOW FOR GRATITUDE CLOSES BY LUNCHTIME
I started reading everything I could on self-improvement to get my proverbial shit together. And the one piece of advice I gleaned–from the likes of Tony Robbins and Zig Ziglar–was that you have to find gratitude no matter what. You have to battle for it, even. The idea is that when you stay focused on negative feelings and thoughts, your emotional state prevents you from believing in yourself and doing the work required to be happy and successful.
That was exactly my story. I had all the resources and talents to be successful at a young age, but I took that for granted as a result, which over time left me without enough confidence to accomplish anything meaningful. And the more I didn’t accomplish, the more ungrateful I became, and the less capable I felt–so I did even less. That’s how I found myself living on my mom’s beat-up old red leather sofa at age 24 while the rest of my peers were married and had mortgages, plus great-paying jobs.
So since all the self-help gurus I came across seemingly couldn’t stop talking about gratitude, I decided I’d give it a go.
SETTING UP MY MORNING GRATITUDE ROUTINE
I set the goal to not get out of bed until I found something to be grateful for–and I had to stay in bed until I found so many somethings that, far from being a dark cloud, I was beaming, and joyful for the opportunity to make the day great. I’m 100% serious.
When I fought for something to feel good about–loved ones, blessings, minor miracles, accomplishments, etc.–I created a positive emotional state that gave me the motivation to literally get out of bed in order to accomplish something. And the more I accomplished, the easier it was to instantly hack into gratitude when I first awoke.
I have a few standbys that fill me with “happiness doubled by wonder,” G. K. Chesterton’s apt description of gratitude:
The fact that I live in a mountain paradise where I can be rock climbing in three minutes.
But I get super excited about the small stuff, too–like having an office and phone to serve my clients. I’m regularly grateful about the clunky, $20 AlphaSmart word processor that I somehow built my writing career with. The key for me is to start by returning each morning to my biggest wins–career, relationships, health, and fitness–and then break down all the things that go into them, often in novel ways. That could be a certain food I ate for the first time, or a random librarian who suggested Clark to me at the exact moment I needed it (thanks, Keith!).
I’ve gotten in the habit of keeping track of all my grateful feelings throughout the day by jotting the experiences down in a “gratitude” tab in my phone (the digital equivalent of “gratitude journaling”). I’ll write about serendipitous occasions that led to landing an awesome client, or a connection with a new friend, or even just cool swag that’s making my life better (a new pair of bouldering shoes, for example). The ongoing gratitude log helps me call to mind plenty of things to appreciate–big and small–when I first wake up.
Of course, there are still times when I’ll fight for 20 minutes and still just can’t tap into that mind-set for whatever reason. In those cases, I’ve allowed myself to get out of bed on one condition: I have to go directly into exercise–walking, bicycling, running, etc. Sometimes a foul mood is the body’s cry for nourishing movement, which floods your brain with feel-good endorphins. That makes gratitude a whole lot easier. Just stay focused on finding something you’re grateful for while you move.
MAKING IT HABITUAL
Fast forward to today, four years later. I’ve been sick for a week and fell asleep last night practically whimpering. My morning condition was no improvement. In fact, I spent the first 10 minutes actually whimpering; I didn’t think there was another option.
But when I realized that I had to get up and set up a call with a coaching client today, I managed to wriggle free of that reflexive defeatism–finding gratitude has now become a knee-jerk habit. In this case, I was grateful for another chance to help this client make her life better. From there, it snowballed: my job, my friends, the amazing opportunities God has given me, my crazy awesome beard (hey, why not?)–these are all things worth feeling great about and, ultimately, getting out of bed for.
No, early-morning gratitude won’t cure your cold, and you shouldn’t force yourself to slog through work when you’re as sick as a dog. But refusing to leave bed before you’ve found a winning attitude can give a much-needed boost to your day when it’s just getting started. And the more habitual it becomes, the easier it’ll be.
It’s hard at first, no doubt, and it’s always going to be challenging. Most worthwhile things in life are. But you are the only one in control of your mind, and you always have the choice: gratitude or negativity. When you work hard to make the right choice first thing in the morning, you’ll naturally keep choosing gratitude–and re-upping your confidence–throughout the day.
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