When asked for topics at a meeting this week the odds are good that someone will suggest gratitude as a discussion topic. Just by virtue of being in recovery we have plenty to be grateful for, and now with Thanksgiving so near we have that extra reminder that gratitude makes everything we face so much easier. But how do we get Being grateful to stick?
The advice I have been told and that I tell others is to “practice gratitude.”
But did you ever stop to think about what that means. How –exactly—do we practice gratitude? I’ve been asking people how they actually practice gratitude, and I learned some great things.
First, and this seemed so obvious but gratitude is a habit. It’s a habit like exercising or smoking or not eating sugar or worrying. Habits are repeated patterns of behavior or thought and they can be for good or ill. And we can learn or unlearn habits. I never thought of gratitude in quite that way. I just thought that gratitude was something that came over me occasionally, but wasn’t in my control.
Not the case.
So how do you get a gratitude habit? It’s like the man in New York City who asks, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer: “Practice. Practice. Practice”.
Psychologists tell us that new habits require 21 days to form or to “take”. So we can do some kind of gratitude practice for 21 days to make the mind learn gratitude. Twenty-one days is a kind of magic number for new habit formation.
When I teach new writers I use this “21 day rule” to help people become regular writers. They do a mini writing practice for 21 days, or write in their journals for 21 days. It’s the same with exercise or walking—commit to 21 days. One of my favorite stories comes from a fitness trainer who asks his clients to simply dress in their sneakers and exercise clothes every morning for 21 days. “Once they are dressed”, he admits, “they mostly will do some kind of exercise; we have created the habit of suiting up to exercise.” I think that’s brilliant.
So to give yourself a lasting attitude of gratitude you have to create a ritual—a habit and actually do a practice —for at 21 days. Here are some things you could try:
The more simple, repetitive actions you can attach to specific things you are grateful for the stronger your habit of grateful thinking will become.