Clearly, gratitude is one of the keys to success. Marcus Tullius Cicero has said that:
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
Gratitude coupled with generosity is the hallmark of abundance. Psychologically, there are endless benefits to gratitude.
- Gratitude has been found to open the door to more and deeper relationships.
- Gratitude can enhance positive emotions while simultaneously reducing negative emotions.
- Actually, gratitude is considered FOUNDATIONAL to well-being and mental health throughout one’s life, according to the world’s leading scholar/researcher on the topic.
- Gratitude has been linked to improved physical health.
- According to Dr. Emmons and Dr. McCullough, who are the most respected scientists in the field, “Gratitude promotes optimal functioning at multiple levels of analysis — biological, experiential, personal, relational, familial, institutional, and even cultural.”
- Grateful individuals report less overall stress in life.
- Gratitude predicts greater optimism in adults.
- Writing about what you’re grateful for just before bed has been linked with better sleep.
- Gratitude has been linked to goal-achievement, meaning being grateful can help you achieve your goals more effectively.
- I’ll stop here…
This list could go on forever.
And I’ll also attest to all of the benefits listed above. They are all true of gratitude.
But where does it come from?
And how effective is “practicing gratitude” in isolation?
Perhaps you’ve tried writing down all the things you’re grateful for.
The question is, did you experience all of the benefits listed above when you did so?
If “gratitude” is SO POWERFUL, why don’t more people practice it?
Is writing down what you’re grateful for really gratitude?
Most likely not.
For most people, it’s actually often awkward to simply write down the things you’re grateful for. It can feel like you’re going through the motions. Like you’re checking-off some magic box or silver bullet.
Writing what you’re grateful for is NOT a silver bullet.
Very rarely does the activity of writing down what you’re grateful for create an EXPERIENCE OF GRATITUDE.
True gratitude is all-encompassing. It’s overwhelming and completely humbling. It leads to immediate action and increase in performance.
So how do you experience THIS TYPE OF GRATITUDE?
Two Optimal Uses Of Your Journal
Is writing down what you’re grateful for a good activity?
But not in isolation.
Writing what you’re grateful for should be prompted by something else.
It should be organic and spontaneous, not forced.
How do you create an organic experience of gratitude?
- You create a personal history which connects you to your roots, yourself, and if you so choose, your higher power
- You reframe your subconscious and reshape entire identity by using your journal as the vehicle to consciously create your future
Using your journal in these two specific ways will change your life. Not only that, but journaling in these two ways will radically enhance your gratitude. You’ll go far beyond gratitude, though, and enter a state of complete conviction and connection.
You’ll realize how guided you’ve been.
You’ll be more resilient amid challenges.
You’ll watch as events unfold that you wrote in your journal months, or even years, before.
You’ll be struck with awe as you see yourself generate your future.
Gratitude will be natural. It will be a part of you, not something you merely do. It will encompass your entire being. You’ll be left without words.
Then, you’ll see the whole world differently. You see others in a very different way. They’ll smile at you. They’ll go out of their way to help you.
You’ll provoke beauty and joy in others.
Here’s how the two journaling strategies work:
Becoming A Historian Of Your Life
Former Stanford Business professor, author, and religious leader, Henry Eyring, tells a story of coming home late one night from work several decades ago…
In his own words:
It was after dark.
My father-in-law, who lived near us, surprised me as I walked toward the front door of my house. He was carrying a load of pipes over his shoulder, walking very fast and dressed in his work clothes.
I knew that he had been building a system to pump water from a stream below us up to our property. He smiled, spoke softly, and then rushed past me into the darkness to go on with his work.
I took a few steps toward the house, thinking of what he was doing for us, and just as I got to the door, I heard in my mind — not in my own voice — these words: “I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.”
I went inside.
I didn’t go to bed.
Although I was tired, I took out some paper and began to write…
Grandpa didn’t have to do what he was doing for us. He could have had someone else do it or not have done it at all. But he was serving us, his family…
And so I wrote it down, so that my children could have the memory someday when they would need it…
I wrote down a few lines every day for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day.
More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew…
The years have gone by. My boys are grown men. And now and then one of them will surprise me by saying, “Dad, I was reading in my copy of the journal about when . . .”
Very few people have a detailed and written history.
If you wanted to learn more about your parents or grandparents, all you’d get are the stories that stick in their memory. If they’re alive to tell those stories.
If you want to learn more about someone who has passed away, you’d be hard-pressed to learn much unless there were journals, news, or if the person was well-known.
Becoming a personal historian doesn’t have to be a hard thing. And when you get into the habit, you’ll get hooked.
You’ll get hooked because there are two very tangible benefits of recording your history, both described in Eyring’s story:
- You’ll enhance your memory (and the memory of others) — because you’ll be able to look back on events YOU WOULD HAVE FORGOTTEN
- You’ll realize with hindsight just how guided you’ve been in your life
Both of these things, enhanced MEMORY and MEANING of past events will take you FAR BEYOND gratitude. In Eyring’s words, you’ll gain “testimony.” Or, put another way, you’ll experience a deep sense of connect with yourself, your family, and your higher power.
It turns out, having a sense of connection to your history is actually really important.
In the late 1990’s, Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush, two psychologists, wanted to explore why families were falling apart more frequently, and they wondered what “families could do to counteract the forces.”
Dr. Duke’s wife, Sara, who also happened to be a psychologist who worked with disabled kids noticed something peculiar. In her own words:
“The ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges.”
Why would this be?
This idea led Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush to explore familial remembering. They ultimately created a psychological measure, called the “Do You Know?” scale that asks 20 questions.
Example questions from the survey include:
Do you know where you grandparents grew up?
Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school?
Do you know where your parents met?
Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family?
Do you know the story of your birth?
After conducting research on many children and families, and comparing their results to a battery of psychological tests the children had taken, Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush came to a startling and interesting conclusion.
The children who knew more about their family’s history:
- exhibited far greater control over their lives
- they had far greater self-esteem
- and told themselves a much healthier story to themselves about their family and history
The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the single strongest predictor of a child’s emotional well-being and sense of happiness.
Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush’s research on familial remembering occurred just before the September 11th terrorist attacks. Consequently, Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush decided to re-assess the children from their research.
The results were compellingly clear.
To quote Dr. Duke:
“Once again, the ones who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.”
According to Dr. Duke, children have the most self-confidence when they have a strong “inter-generational self,” which is knowing you are a part of something bigger than yourself.
How can you apply this?
How can you become A HISTORIAN of your own life?
You could follow Eyring’s lead by taking a few moments EVERY NIGHT to record the things that occurred that day.
If you were to follow this approach, I wouldn’t spend more than 2–5 minutes doing it. One of the core problems when people attempt to starting journaling is burn-out.
According to author of Essentialism, Greg McKeown, writing in your journal every single day is what highly productive people do, particularly before they check their smartphone in the morning. Yet, McKeown recommends only writing one sentence per day. At the very most, he recommends writing no more than five minutes.
Writing daily about what you did is amazing.
But it can also be overwhelming.
Reflecting back on your week may be more reasonable.
If you gave yourself 5–15 minutes per week, just simply to think back and remember the significant things that happened that week, you could begin detailing a very powerful HISTORY.
To make it less stressful, I’d write the events in BULLET POINT format. For example:
- Painted the basement for three hours
- Watched [insert child’s name] soccer game
- Worked on my passion project [insert project] for a few hours and made huge progress
- Had an amazing gym session and really pushed myself
- Watched Tron with my kids and loved it
- Hit a deer while driving to the airport, got a 2 hour Uber, and had an amazing conversation
This is bare-bones.
But it’s way, way better than nothing.
If you wanted a little more detail, you could write 3–5 sentences for each experience/bullet point. This would paint a better picture, but not bog you down too much.
In the very least, you should record YOUR HISTORY on a monthly basis. It’s much easier if you can just combine your weekly histories.
Things to write about include:
- Events that happened (both mundane and exciting)
- Key progress you made on something meaningful to you
- Key insights you learned
- Challenges you overcame
Even just writing 3–5 bullet points per week is a brilliant start.
Then combining your four weeks into a month, with between 10–30 bullet points. You could also write a “cover letter” for you month. Where you write 1–3 paragraphs detailing the key events, progress, insights, and challenges of that month. You could follow that up with actual events and the dates, places, and people of those events.
Then, at the end of your YEAR, you could combine your monthly histories into a 1–3 page document. It doesn’t have to be intense. It doesn’t have to be SUPER LONG.
Just 1–3 pages detailing the key events, progress, insights, and challenges of that year.
1–3 pages detailing a single year.
Then, repeat that for five years, and then ten years.
Suddenly, after five years, you now have a 5–15 page document briefly detailing the key HISTORY of the past five years.
It’s not overwhelming.
But it’s also VERY POWERFUL.
Reading back over those five years, you’ll REMEMBER stuff you would have completely and forever forgotten. Thus, your memory will enhance. Even if you went through extreme challenges, you’ll be filled with appreciation for what you went through. You’ll have a greater sense of your current context.
This alone will take you beyond mere gratitude.
You’ll also be able to look back with hindsight, and connect dots you could not have connected in the moment.
To quote the late Steve Jobs:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
By connecting the dots in your personal history, you’ll gain insights and realizations about HOW you got to where you are.
You’ll be able to connect recent events with stuff that happened several years ago. You’ll realize that long-past events were far more significant than you thought they were in the moment.
It’s easy to miss most of the details while you’re going through life. There’s too much going on to consciously see it all.
But looking back from a long-term perspective, you’ll be blown away how it all came together. This is what Eyring was talking about when he said that
“More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew…”
For Eyring, looking back on his life was a spiritual experience, connecting him more fully to God, but also connecting him to himself and his own roots.
Think if you had a documented history of 10–50 years of your life.
Again, not overly long-winded.
1–3 pages covering the key events each year in the form of either bullet points or just written sentences and paragraphs.
- Ten years would = 10–30 pages of history (approximately 20–60 minutes of reading)
- Fifty years would = 50–150 pages of history (approximately 2–5 hours of reading)
If brief, you could review a fifty page history of fifty years!
You’d get SO MANY MORE DETAILS then is typical.
What’s typical is for a person to have no written history. The best you can get are a few stories, but very few real details of their day-to-day life.
When you read a written history, that was written in REAL TIME, you’ll see an amazing unfolding.
You’ll see a person talking about their daily behaviors, and see how year-after-year, things unfolded for them.
This is so much more powerful than writing a history LOOKING BACK.
When you write your history looking back, your current worldview and memory clouds how you perceive your past.
It’s far better to be able to read the history of a year, written THAT year. Because then you’ll hearing it from the PAST PERSON, which is an entirely different person than the PRESENT PERSON.
Becoming A Conscious Creator Of Your Future
So, the first way to go far beyond mere gratitude journaling is to become a HISTORIAN of your life.
That’s all about recording events and insights from the past.
But what about the future?
How can you use your journal as a mechanism for mental/spiritual creation?
To quote the late Stephen Covey:
“Mental creation always precedes physical creation.”
Covey also said:
“A private victory always precedes a public victory.”
James Allen, author of As A Man Thinketh, similarly stated:
“The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to be harmoniously related to his inner state… Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.”
There are two core principles being described in these quotations:
- The ability to turn your thoughts into tangible events, experiences, and physical things (imagine the blueprint before the physical construction of a house)
- Transforming yourself into a person who naturally attracts the things you desire
Both of these things can happen in your journal.
In fact, using your journal is actually the BEST tool for retraining your mind and reframing your identity. As author and speaker, Jim Rohn, has said:
“Success is something you attract by the person you become.”
Yes, you can change your identity. You change your identity by changing your thoughts, behaviors, and environments. Ultimately, you MUST change your identity if you want something different than you have now. Because your life is a reflection of you.
The only way to truly change your identity is to do it at the subconscious level, because your subconscious holds your deepest values, assumptions, and cycles. Moreover, your subconscious is responsible for most of your behavior.
According to Dr. Emmanuel Donchin, professor of Cognitive Psychophysiology at the University of South Florida:
“An enormous portion of cognitive activity [decisions, emotions, actions, behavior] is non-conscious, figuratively speaking, it could be 99 percent.”
What happens at the subconscious level, then, is what is translated in your actual world. As Dr. Joseph Murphy said:
“What is impressed in the subconscious is expressed.”
How exactly does this work?
At the most basic level, your life is a reflection of what you believe you deserve. And what you believe you deserve is directly related to your views about life in general.
Consider these insightful words from Dr. David Hawkins from his book, Letting Go:
“The unconscious will allow us to have only what we believe we deserve. The more we hang on to our negativity and small self-image that results, the less we think we deserve. And we unconsciously deny ourselves the abundance which flows so easily to others…
If we have a small view of ourselves, then what we deserve is poverty. And our unconscious will see to it that we have that actuality…
As we relinquish our smallness and re-validate our own inner-innocence, and as we let go of resisting our generosity, openness, trust, loveing-ness, and faith — then the unconscious will automatically start arranging life’s circumstances so that abundance beings to flow into our life.”
Your job, then, is to retrain your subconscious. At the core of your being, you need to believe and KNOW that you deserve more than you currently have. This is how you re-write your identity. Once that’s changed, your whole life changes automatically.
There are two primary ways to “retrain” or reshape your subconscious mind:
- Having regular peak experiences, which psychologist Abraham Maslow described, “as rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect upon the experimenter.” Peak experiences are those moments that 1) shock your system, 2) disrupt and weed-out ineffective cycles, 3) stir awe, wonderment, and gratitude, and 4) lead to immediate behavior change and attitude.
- Consistently affirming to yourself what you seek via your thoughts, writing your desires down in detail, and aligned behavior.
In an episode of Tim Ferriss’ podcast, where he interviews Scott Adams, Adams details how he used this process to become a famous cartoonist. Scott Adams, by the way, is the man behind the Dilbert comic strips.
In the interview, Adams details several tangible examples of how he used “affirmations” to achieve any goal he wanted.
From getting the exact score on the GMAT that he expected, to becoming a #1 bestselling author before ever writing a book, to getting his voice back after a freak disease took his voice.
According to Adams, the EXACT method doesn’t matter. But the principles behind the method do.
Specifically, to become a famous cartoonist, Adams wrote on a daily basis the following statement:
I, Scott Adams, will be a syndicated cartoonist.
He actually wrote that statement down 15 times per day.
What this did for Adams was keep him focused, and increased his COMMITMENT to that focus.
Another example is Jim Carrey, who back in the late 1980’s as an aspiring comedian, would drive atop a large hill and look over Hollywood. During those nights, he would visualize and affirm his success.
Notably, Carrey wrote himself a check for $10,000,000, and in the subject line wrote, “For acting services rendered.”
He dated that check 3–5 years into the future, and put it in his pocket.
According to Carrey in an interview with Oprah, he got paid exactly $10,000,000 for his role in Dumb and Dumber just before the date he had written on the person check to himself.
One final example comes from the book, The Compound Effect, wherein Darren Hardy details how he met his wife.
Specifically, Hardy laboriously wrote 40 pages of exacting detail about characteristics and attributes of the woman he wanted to be married to. He wrote about. her skin tone, hair color, personality strengths, etc.
After having written down those 40 pages, it dawned on Hardy that such a woman would have little interest in a person like him. As a result, he then wrote 40 more pages detailing the person HE WOULD NEED TO BECOME in order to ATTRACT the woman of his dreams.
After having written his goals/vision in detail, Hardy went to work becoming that person. That was in his control.
I share these examples because I’ve experienced similar effects in my life. As just one of many examples, tomorrow I’ll be speaking at the Genius Network Annual Event, where many of my heroes will be speaking.
I had no clue how I would pull this off, but 2 months ago the idea was planted in my mind, and I wrote down that IT WOULD HAPPEN. As they say, when the why is strong enough, you’ll figure out how.
I could have never guessed what I’d need to do to create THE EVENT I wanted. But it happened, and continues to happen. Hence, success begets success.
I’m fully confident in the power of writing down your goals on a daily basis, AND AT SPECIFIC TIMES during the day.
Your subconscious is most malleable while your brain is in a THETA state, which is shortly before or after sleep. In my opinion, first thing in the morning is the best time to write your goals.
Research shows the brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex, is most active and readily creative immediately following sleep. Your subconscious mind has been loosely mind-wandering while you slept, making contextual and temporal connections.
How can you apply this?
Every morning, before looking at your smartphone, go to a quiet place and write in your journal.
Write down your goals and dreams.
Write them down in an affirmative way — meaning, you write them down AS THOUGH THEY WILL OCCUR.
You can even write them in present tense.
Then, like Darren Hardy, write down what needs to HAPPEN in order for you to achieve your dreams.
Write down your plans and strategies.
Write down people you need to meet who will help you along your way.
Write down the knowledge, skills, and abilities you’ll need to develop to make it happen.
Doing this first thing in the morning is best because 1) your brain is most creative, and 2) your subconscious mind is most receptive to new information and change.
If you do this daily, and act on the intuitive impressions you get, you’ll have REGULAR PEAK EXPERIENCES.
You’ll have moments that confirm you’re on the right path.
These experiences will fill you with awe and humility AND GRATITUDE. You’ll be blown away.
Just like being a personal HISTORIAN, and being humbled LOOKING BACK, you’ll go way beyond gratitude watching as you CONSCIOUSLY shaped your own future.
During your morning journal writing sessions, it’s of course great to write down things your grateful for. It’s powerful to acknowledge all the great things in your life. This can help elevate your thinking as your writing down your goals and the strategies to achieve those goals.
Simply writing down the things you are grateful for is unlikely to create enormous change in your life.
It may feel good for a moment.
But there’s a reason people don’t regularly do it.
If you want to experience all the benefits of gratitude, you’ll need to more fully embody it. You embody gratitude by not viewing it as an action you perform in isolation of the rest of your life.
Instead, you can enhance and even go beyond gratitude by:
- Becoming a HISTORIAN of your life
- Becoming a CONSCIOUS CREATOR of your future