Monday, August 24, 2009

How to Start Practicing Gratitude

In yesterday's post I approvingly quoted Brett Steenbarger's remark: " is a training camp."

Hopefully, some of you will forgive me the flagrant sports metaphor, but it helps us to understand the difference between classical talk therapy and life coaching.

Talk therapy sees life as a drama or a narrative. Coaching sees it as a game. In the one you are playing a role that is more or less predetermined; in the other you are playing a game where your actions influence the outcome.

As Steenbarger suggested, very tellingly, human freedom at its best exists when we see ourselves as players in a game. If we are actors on the great stage of life, we are following a script. We may deviate from the script and call it freedom, but that is not the freedom we have when we take an action that can change who wins and who loses.

By definition, life coaching helps people to see that life is a game and to learn how to play it better. But coaching is not the only practice that sees life this way.

Cognitive therapy, for one, has made use of the concept of training for a game. In place of therapy's neo-mystical search for Self, cognitive therapy recommended homework exercises.

Cognitive therapists instruct depressed patients to write down their a negative, self-deprecatory thought, and then to write down three instances that prove it and three that disprove it.

The purpose: to train the mind to overcome negative thinking and to make a habit of a more balanced thought.

Today I would draw your attention to Alan Lurie's recent post about the practice of gratitude. Taking a page from cognitive therapy and coaching exercises, Lurie recommends that we work to improve our morale by outreaching, as I would call it, or by getting into the habit of expressing gratitude. Link here.

This involves systematically saying Thank You for gifts and favors, but it also involves counting your blessings, on a daily basis, until the feeling of being connected with others becomes second nature.

A simple Thank You is the most elementary form of giving back. Thus, it is the place to start, not in terms of gaining insight but of instituting a new practice.

Once you see how much others are giving to you, then you should also find it easier to give to them, to break out of the kind of defensive posture we too often fall into when we have been traumatized.

Gratitude sees life as a game of reciprocal exchanges of gifts. The gift you give may be your good company, your wisdom, your warm feelings, or even a flower. But life requires such gifts to keep us connected and to keep us sane.

There is no drama in the reciprocal exchange of gifts. Drama begins with ingratitude, with the failure to participate in the exchange, and with the relentless search for the meaning of said failure.

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