So what the hell is a gratitude journal?

The author's gratitude journals
I alluded to gratitude journaling in a few earlier articles.  You might have been wondering what a gratitude journal is exactly.  
If you were then is your lucky day then because in this article I am going to talk about my introduction to gratitude journaling, how I started out, how this daily ritual has evolved for me and how much of a powerful tool it is.

Writing this journal gives me control over how I turn up and meet each day, it centres me and instils calm in me.

Firstly, I must give credit to Nic Gregoriades again here, it was during his early JiuJitsu Brotherhood podcasts that I heard the term “gratitude journal” and that it helped.  This intrigued me and I began looking into it.

The basic idea is that each day you write down the things you are grateful for. Here are some examples of the things I find myself thankful for each day:

  • I am grateful for my lovely amazing wife, she is such a strong, beautiful woman.
  • I am grateful for my wonderful son Leo, seeing how much of a happy little dude he  brings me so much joy
  • I am grateful for my position in life, I am lucky to have what I have – my health, happiness, family and friends
  • I am thankful for my job, the freedom, understanding and security my employer gives me
  • I am grateful to for my Jits family @Coast BJJ
  • I am grateful to my friends Matt and Barry for the support they give us with our business
  • I am grateful to Nic Gregoriades for the knowledge he shares and the example he sets
This list is a spontaneous thing, it is not a template that I parrot write each day.  I hold onto the positive energy/ thought/ sentiment (call it what you will) of each statement and allow the feeling to wash over me.  

As I write I am mindful of my posture (am I slouching or sitting up straight?), the tension in my body (e.g. is my jaw clenched?), my breathing (am I breathing slowly, calmly from my belly?), my internal dialog (things that are bothering me are put aside for later on).  The most important thing here is the awareness of breath and breathing.  

I am down the rabbit hole of breathing as I write this, for years I used the Ujjayi fire breath from Asthanga yoga.  It wasn’t until relatively recently that several connections between breath, meditation, and calm fell into place for me (but that is an article for another day).  
At the moment I am lucky to be able to observe Glyn Powditch’s (SBG Bury, UK) experiments with Belisa Vranich’s breathing techniques (all this stems from Rickson Gracie’s breathing).  I would recommend checking out Belisa’s book Breathe, it has improved how I breathe and   

Coming back to the breath… I know (for me at least) there is a strong link between breathing and state of mind.  This is especially true when writing my gratitude journal.  

How my method has evolved

Over time I have expanded what I write in the journal. I always start with my spontaneous list of things I am grateful for that day. After I have done that, there are some set affirmations that I like to write to focus my mind for the day.

Now I know there is a lot of stigma attached to affirmations, people talk about asking the Universe for what they want and magically expect shit to just happen for them. To me that is just bullshit. Like I said, I use affirmations to galvanize my mind, to give my thoughts clarity and focus. I link them to my goals, this makes sure I am setting myself to max out my success for the day.

I first came across affirmations a few years ago, I was at a Kit Dale Jiu-jitsu seminar and he talked about them. Well actually I asked him to talk about them, I had heard him refer to them on a couple of podcasts and was intrigued by them. Kit probably thought I was a right head the ball, I still had a lot of intensity around me at that time. If I did, sorry about that Kit.

Kit said that each day he would get up and recite his affirmations list. The one that stuck with me was:

“Every day, in every way, it is getting better and better” 

Here are a few affirmations I use, bear in mind I have tailor made these to my own shit. They might not make sense to you.

“I breathe calmly and let go of my fear, judgement, negativity and frustration” 

“I know Clare and I will succeed in our goals, dreams, hopes and aspirations through love, courage, joy, clarity, focus, drive and habit” 

I write these statements in red pen and say them aloud as I do it. This has got me a few odd looks and smirks from time to time but I try not to dwell on what others think of me (try).
This then flows into goal statements for the day, stuff I am working on, again written in red (I use a different colour to focus my mind on my goals). For example:

“I will launch my blog” 
“I will join a yoga class” 
“I will finish the Freecodecamp HTML course” 
“I will write an article about gratitude” 

I will then switch pens and write whatever springs to mind. This is normally a few sentences on how I am feeling, perhaps a quote that I heard and liked.   

Lastly, I briefly meditate on some longterm affirmations. I was given this technique by a therapist and it has really helped me, not just with changing my mindset but also with knowledge retention and learning. Each affirmation is written in a specific colour, I stare at the page for about a minute or two. Here’s a couple:
"I breathe calmly and let go of my fear"
"Every day, in every way, it is getting better and better"
"I am the best husband, father, son, brother, friend I can be" 

Then I close my eyes and breathe calmly. I focus on each colour, I don’t try and recall the statement, just the colour. I find associating each colour with an image helps, for example, for red, I visualize a bright red English telephone box. Or for light blue, I think blue, like the sky on a sunny day.

The idea behind this is that your subconscious mind knows what is on the paper. You don’t need to try and recall the information, by meditating on the colour you are working the statement into your mind. 

A final note on this technique that my therapist told me, the subconscious mind only recognizes positive statements and complete words. 

For example, if you wanted to lose weight, "I will not eat cake" or "I won't eat cake" are incorrect affirmations because they include a negative and/ or an abbreviation.  Your subconscious hears "I will eat cake"!  On the other hand "I eat a healthy balanced diet" or "I eat healthily" can be interpreted by your subconscious.  

This was a bit of a challenge for me as my writing style is full of negative statements and abbreviations!

How to use this method yourself

  1. Buy a small pocket notebook
  2. Set a time each day that you will write your gratitude in it
  3. Spontaneously list what you are grateful or thankful for

Optional extras

  1. Write and say aloud a couple of affirmations 
  2. Write what you will achieve that day 
  3. Spontaneously write what you are feeling 
  4. Meditate on your coloured affirmations 
Conclusion and Reflections

This whole process takes me half an hour these days. I was sceptical about it at first, I thought that there are too many people jumping on this mindfulness bandwagon. That said, I like to think I keep an open mind and will experiment with anything that helps me evolve.  

Now there is a lot of bullshit and happy clappy nonsense around this topic. I found it quite frustrating trawling through some of it. One good article that I did find was from the “Greater Good Magazine” which gives an objective and honest view of gratitude journals.

I have been very honest with what I do in this article, I think it is important to share these sort of tools. Not everyone is willing to talk about their struggles, I am to an extent there is a lot I leave unsaid (for now at least).

In terms of concrete results, I can only give you my perspective here. What I can say is that the days I do not write in my journal are the days that I find the old negative habits creeping back in. Those days are faster, I feel stressed, frustrated. Admittedly, some of the calming benefits I get from this ritual probably come from having awareness of breath.

Another takeaway I have noticed is the structure it provides me with. Noting down what I will achieve focuses my mind. It gives me a sense of control and freedom over eight hours of a day that I am at the behest of my employer. That calm stays with me throughout the day and I find myself turning up to situations better. Whereas in the past my negative behaviours (frustration, judgement, anger, criticism, etc) would have been at the forefront of my reactions.

The spontaneity of writing what I am grateful for and what I am feeling does have positive spin off effects. For example, I will often call my wife and tell her how much I love her after doing this, I will ask her about her day and what my son is up to.
As for affirmations, as I said before, I don’t subscribe to asking the universe for stuff and it magically appearing. What I do subscribe to is having clarity of purpose and drive to achieve that purpose. This is how you achieve your dreams. It is how I got myself to New Zealand, it is how I made myself a fairly successful career, it is how I am escaping the rat race.

My final thought is that the method I call gratitude journaling works for me. I will keep doing it because I can see the results it is giving me. 

As always I hope this was useful for you. Peace and love Andy


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