How to practice gratitude

I have wanted to write about gratitude for quite a while now, but I think I have been putting it off. It is so easy (although scary) to write about your own life and what you have done, but when it comes to writing about ‘big ideas’, that horrible old imposter syndrome sets in, and I worry I won’t be able to write about it in a way that you will understand or that will make a difference to you. And this topic is so important that I really want you to give it a go and see how much happier your life can be.

On that note, have a read and if you think I’m talking nonsense then please don’t give up on the idea.  There is a lot of writing out there on gratitude, read a bit, read the books I’ve linked and just give gratitude a go for yourself – I promise you, with a little time and practice it will make all the difference in the world! 

What is gratitude

Gratitude has lots of different definitions, all of them focus on the idea of giving thanks for something.

For me, it is a feeling. I know that I am grateful when I get a warm glowing feeling in my stomach and the centre of my chest – my heart if you will. I know when I feel that, that there is something I feel grateful for.  

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What gratitude does

There was a big study carried out in 2003 which is always referenced when discussing gratitude. The study was called Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life, by two guys in America called Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough.

What they found was that practicing gratitude has overwhelming physical and psychological effects.

People who practice gratitude have

  • Better sleep
  • Less anxiety and depression
  • Stronger immune systems
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better ability to cope with stress, illness and adversity
  • More desire to exercise and take care of their health
  • Stronger relationships
  • More joy and pleasure

They are also

  • More optimistic
  • More resilient
  • Better able to cope with pain
  • less lonely and isolated
  • more forgiving
  • more helpful, generous and compassionate
  • happier (2,3)

They have written extensively since on the subject and I’ll put the links to their books at the bottom.

Why does gratitude work

So how is something as simple as gratitude a seeming panacea for so many ills?

Studies have shown that gratitude encourages us to focus on what is good in our lives. By doing so, it becomes very hard to focus on negative emotions. They almost cancel each other out. When something bad happens or when stress hits, if you are used to focusing on the positive, you will be less likely to be swallowed up by overwhelming life events. Gratitude forces us to see passed ourselves; it forces us to acknowledge that there is a world of goodness outside ourselves which allows us to feel a part of something bigger. Connection to something bigger has been shown time and time again to increase feelings of happiness and wellbeing, whereas isolation has been shown to increase feelings of depression. Feeling connected, gives you more feelings of self-worth.

When you feel grateful, you are truly in the moment, because you are feeling that moment.  Celebrating the present, prevents us from spending too much time focusing on the past or worrying about the future. If you are enjoying, and therefore grateful for, the present, you are not going to want to lose that feeling so you will focus more energy on being grateful for the present rather than taking it for granted. Seeing the things in your life to be grateful for in the present, will lessen your desire to escape from the present.  Focusing on the present also forces you to let go of control and just accept what is.

Finally, it has been shown that people who are grateful have better relationships, personally and with their community.  They don’t take relationships for granted, are willing to express gratitude for their partner and are more willing to ‘pay it forward’, bringing the blessings and enjoyment to other people. (2)

How does gratitude work

For me it makes total sense. When looking at gratitude, what the studies show fits with all the things I have learned over the years through spiritual teachings and philosophy.

Louise Hay, author of You can heal your life, says that the universe supports us in everything we think. She says that what we give out we get back. Therefore, if we nurture our feelings of gratitude and give thanks for the good in our lives, then the universe will support our feelings and give us more good in our lives to be grateful for.

Deepak Chopra, author of the Seven Laws of Spiritual Success, says that the universe operates a dynamic exchange. This exchange means that we get more of what we give out, positive or negative. So, if you focus on what you are grateful for you will have more to be grateful for. He also teaches that focusing on the present, rather than worrying about your past (which you cannot change) or trying to control your future (which you cannot do), allows the energy of the universe to continue its flow. As previously said, this flow will take with it what you are focusing on in the present, positive or negative.

Zen philosophy teaches us to cultivate gratitude for everything you have and everything you have been given by nature and by your ancestors. It teaches that the most happiness is found in gratitude for the smallest, most ordinary things. For more on this read Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life

Spiritual teacher and author of The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle, writes that there is nothing but the Now. You have everything you need right now, worrying about the past and future does nothing but block your ability to live in and enjoy the present. Not living in the moment increases feelings of dissatisfaction, frustration, depression and anxiety. Gratitude allows you to be more in the present, thereby countering these feelings. 

The science of gratitude

However, recently it is not just spiritual teachers and philosophers who are amazed by the profound positive effects of gratitude. The University of California, Los Angeles has stated that gratitude changes the ‘molecular structure of the brain’ and people who are grateful are ‘more peaceful, less reactive and less resistant’. The University of California, Berkeley analysed people’s brains using an MRI scanner while they were undertaking activities which induced gratitude – such as writing gratitude letters and giving money when they felt grateful. The scanner showed that gratitude activated areas of the brain related to social understanding, empathy, stress relief and pleasure. The Institute of HeartMath, also in California, examined heart rhythms and signals in people experiencing gratitude  and found that this positive emotional state induced a more ordered and stable heart rhythm which reflected the signals travelling from the heart to the brain, supporting higher cognitive function (4,5).

How does gratitude will help your sobriety

So much of the time we are drinking to escape the past or escape worry about the future. Often, we are stuck in a situation that we don’t want to be in and therefore use alcohol to escape. We use alcohol to escape from pain, depression and anxiety. We can feel overwhelmed by negative emotions. I often drank to escape, but I also drank to give myself a moments respite from the overwhelming responsibility I felt to control and be in control of everything. 

Feeling gratitude can help us to find the good in the now, enjoy the now, and therefore lose the need to escape. It can also help us to let go of the past, let go of worry about the future and let go of the need to control everything.

In early sobriety, we can sometimes feel lots of negative emotions, and looking for the good in our lives will allow us to direct some positive energy into our sober journey. Focusing only on the negative will often lead to a relapse as you convince yourself that there is no good in your life, so you need alcohol to manage.

Feeling gratitude for our new sobriety will help us to not take it for granted. From hearing many experiences, it is usually when we start taking our sobriety for granted, that we can more easily slip back into old drinking ways.

How to practice gratitude

Gratitude, like anything, is a practice to be cultivated. Like sobriety, exercise, yoga, music, art, meditation, it isn’t something that you will suddenly be able to do with no practice. You brain has old habitual pathways that it likes to follow (see Am I an alcoholic? for more on this). We can retrain these pathways or make new pathways, but it takes practice to convince our brain to follow the new route, rather than the older easier one.  If you have spent a lot of your life worrying, anxious and focusing on the negatives, it will take a little time to get used to focusing on gratitude. My point is, don’t give up if it doesn’t come naturally straight away.

Here are some ideas for how to practice gratitude.

Most often people talk about writing a gratitude journal. This can be carving out a small part of your day to think about and write down what you have felt grateful for, or it can be carrying a small notebook with you and writing down times that you feel grateful. Personally, I use my phone. I have a note section in my phone and when I feel grateful, I write down what’s happening at the time that I feel grateful.

Other people will take time at the start or the end of the day to do a short meditation and give thanks for the blessings in their lives. Some people do it through prayer.

Some people keep a gratitude jar. They write down things they are grateful for on a small piece of paper and add it to the jar.

Couples, or people in close relationships, can write gratitude letters to each other as a way of saying thank you and showing their appreciation for the other person. This has been shown to have a hugely positive effect on relationships. Or you can just take time to say to the person what you are grateful for.

The important thing is to feel the gratitude. It is easy to say I grateful for this or that, especially the things that you feel you ‘should’ be grateful for, but it won’t have those positive lasting effects if you don’t actually feel the gratitude. Next time you feel grateful try to be aware of how your body feels, so that you know what gratitude feels like for you. As I said, for me it is a warm glowing feeling in my stomach and the centre of my chest.

I’ll just give you an example of some of the things I have felt grateful for.

Walking across the field near my house to the bus stop at 5.45am on my way to work. The field is a big, open green expanse and surrounded by trees that rustle in the wind. The sun is rising and the streaks of pinky purple are lining the sky. I am grateful for the beautiful natural spaces so close to home.

The beauty of my children when they are asleep. Their breathing and the relaxed peace on their faces. I am so grateful for their lives and their health.

Getting out of my car after a night shift, the sun is rising and I can see all the different colours of sunrise reflected in the windows of the houses nestled in the trees on the hill opposite. I feel grateful to come back to a warm home, a sense of fulfilment at finishing a shift in a job I love and the knowledge that I can kiss my family and get into a cosy bed for a well-earned sleep.

I feel grateful for the rain splashing onto a dark road reflecting the streetlights when I’m sheltering in a bus stop. I feel grateful for the first bite of the warm mince pies at Christmas. I feel grateful for my warm coffee as I sit in the town market square waiting for my bus. I feel grateful for the glitter of frost on the road, grass and cars that makes everything look precious.  I feel grateful for any delicious food.

Last, and definitely not least, I feel grateful for the unconditional love I receive from my husband and my mother, even when I am at my grumpiest and most objectionable. My glowing feeling swells when my mother tells me she is proud of me and even a little bit when she is disapproving of my latest hairbrained scheme, because I know she is proud of those too (if also totally terrified by most of them!).

It is so easy to take your closest relationships for granted, but even when we are a little bit like ships that pass in the night, there are moments when the love I feel for and from my husband, ignites the glowing feelings and I grab onto them because they are the most special.

How to practice gratitude when things suck 

Whilst I stand by my comment that it is important to feel the gratitude, it can also be good to “fake it until you make it” at times.

As I said, gratitude is a practice. The more you practice it, the easier it is to be grateful. Initially, you may only find one thing to be grateful about, but make sure you feel grateful about that, and then keep looking for any other good things. The more you look, the more you will eventually find; and the more you understand how you feel gratitude, the easier it will become to feel.

Make sure you look for things to be grateful about in yourself. This is a great practice in self-love, learning to appreciate the good things about you. Sign up for my course below to find out more about the importance of loving yourself.

If you have been practicing gratitude and you start to hit a bleak spot again – like any new practice or habit, you are going to have ups and downs on your journey – then go back to your journal or phone or gratitude jar, and read what your felt grateful for. If you truly felt the gratitude at the time, the memories stirred will reignite the warm glowing feeling and make it easier for you to get back on track.

Everyone struggles to maintain good practices sometimes, but it does get easier with practice. Remember that just because you have slipped back into old habits, it does not mean that all the work that has gone in before is wasted. Use the bank of gratitude memories to help you on those darker days.

Reading list:

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References:

  1. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/pdfs/GratitudePDFs/6Emmons-BlessingsBurdens.pdf
  2. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good
  3. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/gratitude/definition
  4. https://www.collective-evolution.com/2019/02/14/scientists-show-how-gratitude-literally-alters-the-human-heart-molecular-structure-of-the-brain/
  5. https://dailyhealthpost.com/gratitude-rewires-brain-happier/

Change your thoughts to change your life

Deepak Chopra quotes

“Simply with a change of mind you can change your life.”

“Our future is created from choices we make every minute.”

Seriously, my thoughts have created my life?

Since my forays into the land of self-help began, at 24 years old, everything alluded to the fact that the power to change your life is within your thoughts. I cannot tell you how many times I have been completely inspired by this and how many times I have been so angry about it. My anger always came when I was in a low place and couldn’t seem to find a way out of my situation. I felt like this message was telling me that I had deliberately put myself in my bad situation and that everything that was going wrong was my fault.  

This is a very negative and destructive headspace to be in. What I need to make clear, so that you do not make the same mistakes I did, is that there is no blame or judgement. Our situation and our lives are a result of our thoughts, our actions and our behaviours but that does not mean that we are to blame.

Mostly our thoughts are unconscious. They are a product of what we were told as children and then they change according to how we are treated growing up and according to events in our lives. We are usually totally unaware of what our thoughts are telling us day in day out. How can we then be to blame for thoughts created as a child? How can we be to blame for something we are unaware of?

An example of this that always struck me is abusive relationships. A victim of domestic abuse is in no way to blame for being in an abusive relationship. However, their thoughts going into the relationship probably told them that they didn’t deserve any better and when they were in the relationship their thoughts may have said that they were unworthy and deserved the life they had. The more we head down the cycle of negative thoughts, the harder it is to see that it is our thoughts are perpetuating the situation and changing our thoughts may feel impossible. 

What I am trying to say with this is please do not just ignore any upcoming advice because the idea has evoked a powerful emotional reaction. I had these reactions so many times, but the fact is I came back to the idea again and again, because ultimately, it is true. Changing your thoughts is the only thing that will change your life.

Mindfulness

I am assuming that most people reading this will not have escaped from the mindfulness craze that has taken over in the last few years. Although I had a huge amount of self-help knowledge and experience, I didn’t really get mindfulness until I took a mindfulness course to help me manage my post-natal depression after The Baby.  

Mindfulness is actually really simple. It is just becoming aware of what is happening. Aware of what is around you, aware of how your body feels, aware of your emotions and aware of your thoughts.

Meditation

Becoming aware of what is going on can be incredibly difficult in this high-octane world that we live in. There is very little space for quiet time, pondering, thinking or just being.  How are we supposed to know what we think if we can’t even find the time to think about our thoughts?

Starting a meditation practice gives us the space to do these things. Meditation does not have to be anything special. You do not need gongs, bells and incense. All you need is some quiet and a little space.

Watch this very short video, by a Buddhist monk, which My Love recommended as it showed him how simple meditation is.

How to train your monkey mind

I think it is brilliantly simple! Initially, by concentrating on your breath, you are just teaching your brain to be calm, giving it some space. Once you have practiced and feel more confident in your meditation, you can choose to give some thoughts more attention. This is the point where you can start to become aware of your subconscious thoughts. Crucially though, becoming aware of your thoughts doesn’t mean engaging with them. If you feel that your thoughts starting to spiral, come back to concentrating on your breath until your mind settles again.

There are so many meditation videos of all types and lengths on You Tube so just have a play and see what suits you. If you want a starting point, I find the Honest Guys really good.

When you become more comfortable with meditation, it can also be done while moving. Yoga and Tai Chi are the most common examples of this, but there is no reason why the movement shouldn’t be simpler, like walking in nature or swimming. Anything that gives you quiet and space.

For yoga videos, I found the 30 day Yoga with Adriene practices an amazing starting point.

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Thoughts

So, now that we are aware of our thoughts, what thoughts have arisen?

It is so common to find thoughts that say:

  • I am not good/clever/strong/brave enough
  • I am a failure or always failing
  • I can’t do this
  • I am not enough
  • I am alone, nobody cares about me
  • Nobody likes me
  • It’s impossible/hopeless  
  • It’s my fault

You will probably find that your negative thoughts far outweigh your positive ones. It is estimated that we have between 2-3,000 thoughts an hour. Now imagine someone telling you ‘you are no good’ 2-3,000 times an hour. Then imagine that they have been telling yourself this most of your life. You are going to believe that aren’t you? This amount of negative energy is inevitably going to have a profound effect on actions, behaviours and choices which will massively impact the path of your life.  

How to change your thoughts

Once we have become aware of these thoughts – what to do about them?

We literally have to change our thoughts. Contradict them, say ‘NO!’ to them, tell your thoughts they are wrong. Then actively tell yourself something good. Initially this may feel really weird, but as with everything, with practice it becomes more natural.

It might help to write down the thoughts that were most prominent when meditating, and then write a counter to these thoughts.

As I have talked about so often, we are changing a habit (see How to stop alcohol cravings). These thoughts are just a habit. Trying to change all your thoughts at once is quite unlikely, so just pick a few thoughts and concentrate on those ones until your counter argument feels more natural, then pick a new thought habit to change.

For example, if your thoughts say ‘I am not good enough’ you say no! And change your thought to ‘I am confident and capable, I am enough’ or ‘I am loving and caring, I am enough’ or simply, ‘I am amazing!’ You get the idea.

Some people find positive affirmations really good. A positive affirmation is just a positive statement about you and your life, such as ‘My life is full and happy’. Like a habit, saying these affirmations repeatedly, trains the brain to start thinking that affirmation. Thoughts, as we have seen, turn into actions and behaviours, these actions and behaviours change what you are doing to make these thoughts a reality. It’s a bit ‘fake it until you make it’, but it works!

Just a quick word of warning though. If your life is feeling pretty shit, and you are seriously down, saying ‘My life is full and happy’ is probably going to evoke feelings of anger, frustration, resentment, sadness and ultimately you will stop saying it  pretty quickly because it feels so far from the truth that it must be nonsense. So like all my advice, baby steps. Don’t say ‘My life is full and happy’ if it really really isn’t right now. Maybe pick one thing that you are grateful for. Once thing that made you smile, even slightly, or one person who loves you and say that ‘I am grateful for….’ Or ‘I have love in my life’ (I will write much more on gratitude soon). Slowly these small thoughts will improve your thoughts and mood and bring you to a place where you can move onto the bigger affirmations.

Learning to love and forgive yourself

Most important to your thought changing is kindness. You have to train yourself to be super doper kind to yourself.

No judgement, no blame.

One of the things I hear most often from people trying to change their lives, such as quitting drinking, (and believe me, I was no different), is ‘I have failed again’. Failure is a judgement, and you are also blaming yourself. Neither of these thoughts will help you. Things are as they are. If you have had a drink when you didn’t want to, then there is nothing that beating yourself up about it is going to do about that now; you can’t take it back or change it. The only thing beating yourself up might do is prevent you from starting again, and it is only by starting again and accumulating of baby steps that we finally reach our goal.

As I often say, it’s easier to say this than to practice it, especially if you have had a self-critical thought pattern for a long time. But as with everything, it takes awareness of your thoughts and consistent practice at changing them.

I have created a free course, sign up is below, which will send you a daily email with actions to take to change your thoughts and improve your sense of self-worth.

How changing your thoughts will change your relationship with alcohol  

By changing out thoughts, we become aware of what is going on in us. This awareness allows us to work out our triggers, the reasons that we drink and what we really want from life.

Changing your thoughts allows you to change our behaviours and introduce those new habits which can replace your alcohol habit (see How to stop alcohol cravings for more on this.)

It also allows us to start finding out who we really are. In not being critical we can start to actually like ourselves. Once you learn to love yourself, anything is possible. Most importantly, if you love yourself you will take time to nurture yourself and become the person you want to be.

Lessons I learnt from my thoughts

I learnt by doing this that my inner voice was hugely critical. I had no belief in myself, I was afraid of people and I needed to prove my life’s validity constantly. Every time I made a good or brave decision, my thoughts led me to sabotage it (see How I used alcohol to escape). I most definitely, looking back, created the life I have. Although I fought with this idea for so long – because I was full of anger, judgement and blame – it kept coming back until I realised I had to let go of dwelling on my past and trying to control my future, and simply be aware of my thoughts in the now. Being aware of the now will heal the past and change your future. Let go and trust. (See How to build a life you do not want to escape from for more on this).

Book recommendations for changing your thoughts

These books have been amazing for helping me to change my thoughts – so have a read if that sounds good.

For healing

For trusting

For changing

For happiness

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Awareness gives you the ability to consciously choose your thoughts and subsequently your actions and behaviours, and as a result your life.

How to build a life you do not want to escape from

I know that this is a mad thing to say, but in a way I have always felt a little bit lucky to have been through everything I have been through. Don’t get me wrong, it was completely awful at the time, yet when I came out the other end, I realised how much I had learnt and how that knowledge could help me to be a little closer to the person I wanted to be. It has helped me to build the life I do not want to escape from.

When I was trying to quit drinking I would say to my husband that not drinking was the last big battle I needed to fight. I had overcome depression, stopped smoking, survived a breakdown, been through divorce and started to heal my life. I was so frustrated that after everything I had overcome I still couldn’t beat alcohol.

My previous posts have covered a lot of ground on why this was the case:

My last post, How I used alcohol to escape, looked at what I was trying to escape from.

The fact is that most of us, at some point, feel the need to escape from something. A mid-life crisis is a well-known example of this. People get on, living the life they ‘should’ live, having the babies, the jobs, the houses, earning the money, working all hours for children and then to save for retirement. It can be so easy to slip into this cycle, never really questioning whether it is what you want and whether you are happy. Then as children grow up and middle age comes, people become aware of their age and mortality, aware of the dreams they may not have fulfilled, the limitations that have been on their lives. If you’ve never questioned it before, I imagine it can come as a huge shock – leading to all the desperate attempts to regain youth and opportunity.

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I think my problem was that I was aware of all of this far too early!! My family used to like debating, and a common topic of debate was death, the apocalypse, politics, religion and wars. I was far too young to understand that all of this stuff is what has occurred throughout history, I interpreted it as meaning it was all happening tomorrow. So I always felt a pressure to do everything NOW.

I now have a massive issue with quotes like ‘live life as if there is no tomorrow’, ‘live life to the full’ and ‘carpe diem’.

Because while they might inspire people who are cruising through life, I was never cruising. I was striving, fighting, trying to fit everything into every day, trying to achieve everything as quickly as I could. As I discussed previously, these grand plans were often unrealistic within the time frame I wanted, leading to frustration and disappointment. I then drank to deal with those feelings, to dream that I could achieve everything I wanted to quickly, to hide from the fact that I might die tomorrow not having achieved or seized the day! The more I became embedded in life, work and children the more I felt that I couldn’t achieve what I wanted to with each day, so the harder I fought, the more frustrated I became and the more I wanted to drink to escape.

If you have a propensity towards cruising, the take those quotes on board, but if you are like me, step away from them quickly!

Ultimately, I was terrified of dying not having lived. All those dreams as a young person: the charity jobs, the travelling, the adventures, the excitement and glamour seemed further and further away, so I fought harder.  

My favourite Dalai Lama quote, when he was asked what surprised him most about humanity, was this: “Man! Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

This quote applies to cruisers and fighters alike. We get so bogged down in doing what we ‘should’ do that we forget ourselves. No one is a machine. We expect so much from ourselves; working, being a good parent, being fit and healthy, managing a household and being good friends. I have talked about how difficult this it can be, especially in our current society, where people try to juggle it all with less family and less community for support.

What we forget in all of this is that we have the right to look after ourselves. We deserve to live a life that we want to live.

However, neither cruising nor fighting is going to get you that life.

Firstly, many of us do not believe that we have the right to look after ourselves or put to our needs as a priority. We struggle with feelings of inadequacy, and a lack of self-worth and validity. This is such a huge and important topic that I am going to talk about it in my next post, where I will talk you through changing your thoughts to improve your sense of self-worth. As we looked at in my last post, this lack of self-worth will often lead us to sabotage the steps we do take, so we need to stop this cycle in order to move towards the life we want.

For now, back to why you need to stop fighting your way through life.

I found that by fighting to achieve the life I wanted, I ended up micromanaging every tiny aspect of my life. There was no ‘going with the flow’ or ‘see where life takes you’. Every second of my time was planned in the fear that life wouldn’t progress if I didn’t make it.

I remember my sister telling me about the states of consciousness which are To me, By Me, Through me and As me. Later, I will write about them in depth because they are amazing and very relevant to your journey. But basically it is as follow:

  • To me – life happens to you
  • By Me – I make life happen
  • Through me – you let go on control and work with life
  • As me – A deeper state of consciousness and understanding of the universe – peace, freedom, enlightenment 

I was most definitely in the BY ME category. I was going to make sure life happened and that I was in control and didn’t miss anything.

An example was that I used to plan the after school time precisely. There’s a lot to do in that time so I thought if I planned food time, homework time, family time, bath time, bed time, story time, get stuff ready for next day time and My Love and I time, then I would have the evenings I wanted to have. But it doesn’t work like that and so I would get frustrated when the plan wasn’t followed, anxious because I felt out of control, snappy at the boys and My Love and then resentful because after all my hard work planning, I still didn’t have the lovely family evening I wanted.

As this shows, micromanaging your life doesn’t actually work. Although I got A LOT done, I was never really happy doing it. I felt satisfied when I had ticked something off my to-do list, but had I actually enjoyed the process and was my to-do list any shorter than it previously had been? Most of the time, no. Anything I actually wanted to do was usually shoved to the side because, as any parent knows, your to do list rarely has anything but ‘jobs’ on it.

When I used to get the odd bit of spare time, once The Bot and The Bear were at school, before The Baby arrived, I would fill that gap with studying or yoga classes or planning the future. Anything I did with that time had to be part of a future plan otherwise I would be wasting the precious free time I had. I couldn’t do a yoga class for the joy of yoga, I had to do it as part of a plan to become a yoga teacher. I still don’t know if this was to validate my time, because I felt I had to justify my right to time to myself, or whether it was frantically grabbing at any opportunity for the future in case it disappeared.

Micromanaging my life left me frustrated, dissatisfied, entrenched in my rut and no further towards the life I wanted to live. 

No wonder I thought I wanted that temporary release of alcohol and the fuzzing of reality just to allow myself to lose control for a moment.

Things started to change after I read Deepak Chopra’s book The Seven Laws of Spiritual Success. It’s a tiny book and can be read in an hour, but the power of his words hit me like a tsunami! I will write a post later going into more depth about this book because it is SO POWERFUL! A lot of what he says resonates with other amazing books like The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and You can Heal your life, by Louise Hay.

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He says that our present is a result of our conscious or unconscious thoughts. Everything in our lives now is happening because we wanted it to happen. Now DON’T FREAK OUT! Bear with me, and Deepak! I was so pissed off with this thought but I had heard it before. The idea that I had created my own unhappiness when I had fought and planned so hard not to get the happy life I wanted was frankly insulting. Yet he is completely right. I had not trusted in life, I was convinced I was going to be hit by a bus tomorrow, convinced there was no greater power and that I had to create the life I wanted. My thought pattern had created the life I was now living.

However, wonderfully, we can change those patterns and change the course of our lives. We can change our thoughts to create the life we want (much more on this next post). We have to consciously change negative thought cycles. My thoughts were telling me that I had no value and that I needed to justify my life. Just being me and enjoying life was not enough. Whereas, Deepak Chopra says that by doing this I was ‘stopping the flow of energy’.

So the theory goes that the energy of the universe is all around. We have to let go of control and let the universe step in to do the work (this is the THROUGH ME part of the states of consciousness).

While consciously changing our thoughts, we have to create quiet time for our minds to set our intentions for the future. These are the ‘what I want my life to look like’ thoughts. Our minds need to be still as, to paraphrase was he says, if we drop a pebble in a quiet pond you can see the effect of the ripples, but if you drop it in a stormy ocean, the universe won’t notice a thing! Once we have set our intention, we have to let go of trying to control how we get there (the planning part) and trust in the universe to control how we get there.

This frees up your time and mind to focus on the baby steps you need to take to activate change in your life. These baby steps, as I have talked about before, are the foundations to getting the life you want. Big dramatic goals lead to failure and frustration, so entrust those goals to the universe and work on you in the now.

Having just watched the new Men in Black film, I heard a quote that I used to know well but had forgotten, by Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu –

‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’ 

Try to search inside yourself for what you are unhappy with or afraid of, or what negative thoughts are holding you back. Pick one thing at a time to change. Focus on taking steps towards changing that thing. The more you practice changing your thoughts, your habits and your behaviours, the easier it becomes to tackle more than one thing at once. 

My formula goes:

Small & Realistic steps = Sustainable = Big changes = Dream fulfilment  

I know it’s a silly analogy, but I was watching The Baby trying to get undressed the other day and it struck me how true my formula is for everything in life. He desperately wanted his bath, he loves water and the sooner he is in it the happier he is. His goal was that bath. But he was so desperate to get into the bath that he was trying to pull everything off at once. He was getting into a tangle, falling over and crying with frustration. Eventually I said ‘Stop!!’ Take one thing off at a time. He looked at me, took each item of clothing off individually and quickly got into the bath. ONE SMALL THING AT A TIME!! Brilliant!!  

One of the most amazing parts of my formula is that by taking these steps, you also learn to love your present. Loving your present does not, as I thought it did, mean denying your dreams. It just means entrusting those dreams to the universe and working on your present. Being happy in the present is like exponential growth. The happier you are in the present and the more you trust in the universe, the more amazing your life will become – probably different and better than the one you expected!  

You are building a life you DO NOT WANT TO ESCAPE FROM!         

Please do not think that this all airy fairy rosy nonsense that is far from reality. I am not saying this happens without a little effort (this is why you can’t be a cruiser either!) and I am not saying that you will not have days when you think it is all rubbish and you want to jack it all in – my sister has requested a ‘furious sober yoga mummy’ posts which will be forthcoming! I have had stretches of time where I’m feeling OK so my naughty brain slips back into habit mode and starts planning – queue worry, frustration and dissatisfaction. Then I eventually realise what’s happening, and bring myself back round to letting go of control again. 

Whether this is before you stop drinking or finding the life you want after you stop drinking, just remember that like anything, it’s being conscious and aware of what is happening in your mind that allows you to make the small changes you need to build the life you do not want to escape from.