• Gratitude

    At some point in early April 2015, I learned about the concept of keeping a gratitude journal. Or at least that’s when my journal starts to include lists of “Today, I’m grateful” at the end of each day. I initially started with a one-off list, at the back of my book, which said “I am lucky because” but I reworded that to be “I am grateful that” and started doing a daily practice rather than adding to one big list.

    I can’t remember which article suggested it, but I’m glad it did. It was one of those things that you read at just the right time; it was part of my process for coming to terms with Mum’s death, and a need to find positives in life. Since then I’ve never written down less than three things, and I would say I’ve done this 99% of days. Some days they’re specific - somebody did something for me which made me feel something. Some days they’re more general - that I got to spend time on the beach for instance. Some days, if it’s been a particularly tough day, it may be that I’m grateful that most days are better than this. The same thing may appear week after week - I’m often thankful for choir practices and the sense of belonging I get. I don’t feel that I need to think of unique things every day - this shouldn’t be a burden, it should be a thing of peace and delight. Every now and again I’ll send a card, email, text, or tell somebody that I’m grateful to them which helps me to continue to build connections with the people I appreciate having in my life.

    Last week I read more on the subject of Gratitude. I bought this book by Robert Emmons as he was mentioned in the Self-Compassion book I read recently (on which more in another post). I didn’t get much of the why it works from the book, and in fact, I found the following statement to be a bit of a cop-out

    Gratitude is a complex state of interacting cognitive and emotional components, so it is likely that it involves multiple brain systems. It is no easy task to isolate these in the brain scanner

    but I did find some thoughts that I liked:

    Living gratefully begins with affirming the good and recognizing its sources. It is the understanding that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift, accompanied by an awareness that nothing can be taken for granted


    When we respond to our lives, our past as well as events in the present, from a point of view of gratitude and appreciation, the way we interpret our experiences beings to shift and soften as we begin to soften inside


    When faced with adversity, gratitude helps us to see the big picture and not feel overwhelmed by current setbacks. It can actually motivate us to tackle the challenges before us

    And I found a new practice to add to my routine. It is called “Count blessings not sheep” and says

    After you get into bed, but before drifting off to sleep, try to focus on pleasant thoughts – good things happening to your family or friends; the soothing sounds in your bedroom; how fortunate you are to be in good health; future plans, such as holidays or an upcoming trip; enjoyable things you did during the past few days; how relaxed you are feeling; good things that other people have done for you in the past few days.

    I love this. The idea of consciously drifting off to sleep thinking about the positives in life, rather than things to do, things I could have done better, or things that cause disquiet in my soul is a peaceful one. I’ve been trying it for the past few days, and it certainly hasn’t made my sleep patterns any worse.

    I have no real way of knowing if gratitude has made a difference in my life, or to my outlook on life. But I feel I have a pretty positive view of most things, so I guess it hasn’t harmed.

    If you have any thoughts about gratitude to share, I’d love to read them. Thanks for reading!

  • Alexa Day 1

    Our Amazon Echo Dot arrived on Thursday. We’ve set it up in the kitchen. I feel that over the next few months I’ll change how I use it, so I thought it would be useful to record my first impressions.

    It is quicker than I’d imagined. I asked it to play Radio 4 yesterday and in under 10 seconds, Woman’s Hour was playing. That is about the same time as it takes the DAB radio to start playing. So I was quite impressed.

    The speaker itself is loud enough to be heard over most of our kitchen equipment. Interestingly we didn’t seem to be able to use a language prompt of “Alexa turn the volume to maximum” but had to give it a number between 1 and 10. It pleased me that “Alexa, turn the volume to 11” worked though!

    I imagine I’ll get a lot of use out of the timer functionality as I currently have to unlock my phone, open the clock app, find the timer tab, choose the number and hit Start. I haven’t used a voice assistant before, so I know that this would be just as easy with Siri or similar. We have missed a timer while interacting with Alexa to get a podcast to play, so I’ve yet to determine how reliable this is.

    I am struggling with calling it “it”. I find it natural to want to refer to it as “her” but I’m, currently, uncomfotable with the gender politics of having my kitchen assistant a female. I know I read an article about this a while ago, so I’ll have to look it out again.

    I’m surprised by how sensitive the voice activation is. We were talking about Alexa last night while sitting in another room and heard it chirp into action. I’m not entirely comfortable with it listening in to every conversation at the moment.

    I’m enjoying learning what does and doesn’t have the desired effect, like with the volume example above. I’m finding it quite playful to try commands or questions out and see what happens.

    I looked at some of the Skills available this morning and found some of the language used to be clumsy and unnatural. I feel that this area needs careful thought when designing a Skill and am already reluctant to use those that feel clumsy.

    As with all such gadgets what will be interesting to see is what my usage is like in a month or year’s time. Will it stop being a novelty at some point and become just another thing that gets constant use, or will it become a dust collector?

  • My kindness matrix

    Having had a couple of months of deliberate downtime, it is now time for me to start thinking about the “So, what do I do next?” question.

    I ended 2017 reviewing my coaching notes and found a common theme there. It wasn’t hidden. I had just previously dismissed it as not being a “worthy” purpose. That theme is kindness. And my purpose is something like “Be kind, and help others to be kind”. There, staring me in the face, was the result of a visualisation exercise in March last year when the message I wanted to put on a billboard was


    Among the strengths that others attributed to me during a later exercise were caring, kindness, and empathy. Like I say, the clues were there, I’d been looking for something more solid I think, and possibly more within my comfort zone.

    I saw Hayley again last week for more coaching and was still struggling with kindness as a purpose. Partially because I kept having “But what do I do with this?” thoughts. She challenged me to ignore those, and proceed anyway. So I made myself a matrix.

    I love matrices. One of my favourite time management focusing techniques is to draw up an Urgent/Important matrix and put post-it notes all over it to get an idea of what I should be doing, and what I should be delegating, or ignoring.

    The more I thought about kindness, the more it seemed to work as a matrix.
    The rows are who is being kind (me, or others).
    The columns are who is the recipient of kindness (self, or others).

    My work in progress kindness matrix

    So the top left corner is all about self-kindness/self-compassion.
    The top right corner is about me being kind to others.
    The bottom left corner is about me helping others to be kind to themselves.
    The bottom right corner is about me helping others to be kind to others.

    For me, it all starts with the top-left corner and making sure that I know how to be kind to myself. That isn’t a selfish act; it’s a health act. If this were a part of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs, it would be there in hygiene factors. As air stewards usually remind us “Put your oxygen mask on before helping other people”. I already have some things I do to help myself - gratitudes, having a self-care toolbox, and spending time with positive people. But I suspect there is more to learn. So this week is a research week on the theme of self-compassion.

    Other research weeks I’ve currently got noted down are:

    • gratitudes and why they work
    • reflecting and methods for unpacking tricky emotions
    • empathy

    but I suspect they’ll change as I learn more.

    It may turn out that I can’t make a living out of my purpose, but with more definition and understanding I believe that I can use it as a framework to help me to make more fulfilling decisions about where I focus my energies. And that can only be a good thing.

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