Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Long-Term Recovery: The Gratitude List

I used to have horrible mornings, and they would lead to incredibly horrible days. I would set my alarm clock for when I needed to wake up, but it was my daily pattern to hit snooze several times before getting out of bed. When I would finally get out of bed, I would be running late. That would lead to me throwing on clothes, leaving work with neither a prepared lunch nor breakfast. If I was lucky, I would grab a pop tart while I was headed out the door. If I didn’t have one of those, I would stop at McDonalds or just go without eating breakfast.

Generally, I had to go without because I didn’t have time to stop at a drive through and still be to work on time. I would speed through traffic, furious at the people in front of me going the speed limit because they had left themselves enough time to get to work early. How dare they not consider me and when I had to be to work! What were they thinking, following the speed limit? That thing is more of a suggestion, really! Then I would get to work hungry, mad about the inconsiderate drivers and stressed because I was almost late.

How many of you does this describe?

If you can relate to any of the above, I have a great idea for you. It is something that worked for me, and I believe it will work for you as well. It may seem too easy at first, but you will still find it hard to apply. It will involve developing a new pattern, which can be difficult. At least it was for me, at first. Now, I swear by it. Today, I can’t imagine starting my day any other way.

First step is to set your alarm clock for 30 minutes before you need to wake up. That is actually the easiest part. The hard part is getting up when your alarm clock goes off, without hitting snooze AT ALL! As soon as your alarm goes off, roll out of bed and head to the kitchen. Do not snooze, do not go back to bed go directly to the kitchen.

Once in the kitchen, I start coffee. On very rare occasions I will brew a cup of tea. I have a Keurig, so this is really easy. I have known some people who had a clock on their coffee makers who would set the coffee to begin brewing at the same time they set their alarm for in the bedroom. You don’t want it to be ready already, because you still have something to do.

Next I write out my gratitude list while the coffee brews. Then I relax and enjoy my coffee while I give thanks to my Higher Power for the things I am grateful for. I feel this is something that is sorely missing, especially in the  United States. Most people, when they pray, don’t do it to give thanks. The “Our Father Prayer” today would sound something like this, “Our Father, who art in heaven, give me give me give me give me. Amen.”

I choose to give thanks to God for all I have, and the things on my gratitude list give me several things to focus on for the morning. After spending 10-15 minutes doodling, meditating and praying I then get ready for work. By the time I get ready for work I am still ahead of schedule and have plenty of time to get to work. I don’t have to speed, I don’t have to get mad at the person in front of me “only” going the speed limit and when I get to work I am in a great mood and that leads to me having a great day way more often than I used to when I didn’t do a daily gratitude list.

 Enter the gratitude list. Some of you may be wondering what a gratitude list is, or may already be doing one and are just reading this to reaffirm what you are doing. I warn you, my gratitude list is a little different. It has morphed as I have done it through the years and become more than just words on a piece of paper that I threw into a box.

Generally, a gratitude list is simply a piece of paper you write on. You write anywhere from 3-10 things you are grateful for, trying to list different things every time you do it so that your list is not exactly the same, day in and day out. Many people do a gratitude list on a daily basis, generally in the morning to start their day off positive while others do it at the end of their day to help them compartmentalize and unwind. Most have a simple gratitude list that goes like this:

1.      Today I am grateful for my wife.
2.      Today I am grateful for clean drinking water.
3.      Today I am grateful for my car.

That would be great, if you were making a grocery list of things to pick up from the store. The gratitude list is extremely important, not just to start my day off on the right foot but at times to reread if I am feeling a little drained, moderately depressed or completely hopeless at some time over the course of the day. You need to embellish when making your gratitude list, a little or a lot. Own it and make it yours.

Your gratitude list should have genuine feelings so it can elicit a positive response either in the morning when you originally write it out or when you come back and look at it later. If you don’t add details and emotions, then the gratitude list is just one more obligatory thing to do you will check off your daily list. Don’t get me wrong, doing it that way is good. That said, I don’t want you to do good things and live a good life, I want you to do things great and live an amazing life. Supercharge your gratitude list! So how do I get more emotion into mine?

I have several techniques I like to use:

1.      Add details. Don’t just say you are grateful for something, list why you are grateful for it. Instead of saying “I am grateful for _________,” say why are grateful for that person. What do you love about that person? What do you love to do with that person? How does that person make your life better?   
2.      Scrapbook it. Add photographs, use words cut from a magazine, write in different colored inks, doodle.  Grateful for a movie or a band, glue a ticket stub on the page.
3.      Draw pictures. If you are grateful for something, draw a picture of it then write reasons you are grateful for it around the picture.

Bottom line; make your gratitude list yours! Use it to start your day off better and also as a constant reminder when life kicks your butt that you still have many things to be thankful and grateful for. I have used my gratitude list to drag me out of several funks before they got a chance to reach a full blown depressive episode.

I have a picture of one of my past pages, before I got a journal I  put them in, for you to look at. It is pretty obvious you don’t need to be an artist to do this. You don’t have to be a wordsmith. You need only be optimistic and honest about the things you are grateful to have in your life and wake up 30 minutes early to record them.  

This is something so simple yet so necessary that I don’t believe you can have an incredibly strong recovery without it. This is just one more of the reasons I can say that I will NEVER use again. Relapse does not scare me anymore. What scares me is not living life to its potential. If you are like me and constantly look for ways to improve the life you have, add a daily gratitude list. You need only record 3 things a day for 30 days and I guarantee you will have a better outlook on life than you had before you started doing it.