This is a continuation of a blog post about feeling idea-less and employing strategies to unstick myself.
3. GATHER LISTS FULL OF GRATITUDE.
Another practice, well-established as having far-reaching medicinal properties for the whole person, is the gratitude list, which I am trying to make more integral and habitual.
Feeling down, depressed, or despairing?
- Break out pen and paper (or fingers on keyboard) (or thumbs on phone keys).
- List out 5-10 things you’re thankful for right now. It doesn’t matter how small or grandiose they are.
Sometimes it feels like you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel—all you can grab hold of are the smallest, most insignificant things. (Example: “Well, I am thankful that I didn’t die of a heart attack in my sleep last night.” You get the picture.) Sometimes it’s a stretch to come up with even the third one…but they have a way of manifesting themselves once you get the ball rolling, once you demonstrate yourself to be willing to look for the good. Don’t believe me? Give it a whirl and prove me wrong.
How does this help with idea generation? Well, for one, it puts me in a better mindframe to be open to receiving ideas that may arise, or that may already be there right in front of me for the noticing. For two, many of those things I’m grateful for are potentially worth writing about…if I have the eyes to see.
I was recently struck by how my gratitude practice has changed me. A friend texted me one morning a couple of weeks ago and said, “How are you? Anything good?” I was in stress-and-survival mode that day, but…my habit born of this practice kicked in instantly–I started listing a litany of good things great and mundane, and hit her back with twelve things almost immediately.
She responded, “Wow!!! I’m speechless! Thank you!” Her question had had a beneficial effect on both of us. I had not been focusing the positive, by any means, but having to answer her meant I shifted my thinking. And my list helped her shift her focus from anxiety-causing things back to the good in her day.
This practice may not help me so much with what to write as it does make it possible for me to write. It makes me receptive ground for the seeds of ideas that present themselves unobtrusively every day.
There is research to support this idea. In his book Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, psychologist Robert A. Emmons notes,
“Our brains are wired to prevent the emotional confusion that would result from the simultaneous activation of opposite emotional states. The parts of the that are active when positive emotions are experienced are not the the parts of the brain that are active when the person feels depressed or anxious, and vice versa. Rather, each type of emotion is controlled by different hemispheres — the left prefrontal region is more active in happiness, whereas the right prefrontal region is more active during negative emotions.”
Clearly my brain is happy to help me when I’m willing to help it, and gratitude practice is simple enough medicine.