Let’s admit it up front, no matter how thankful for things we may be at any particular time, the practice of “gratitude” can seem just a little touchy-feely. (Among other “gratitude” practices, you can, apparently, write down things that went well during your day, and express how you felt about them, or you can think about how you met the people you love and then imagine how life might be different without them.) I want to talk about a different kind of gratitude — a gratitude of self-reliance.
A few years ago, when the economy seemed on course for one of those “adjustments” (i.e., spectacular crashes), I was wondering what skills I could rely on in an emergency. (And since the type of work that we do is changing pretty rapidly — not least of all because of advancing Artificial Intelligence — then I think this might be a pretty good exercise for everyone.)
After a couple of minutes of reflection, I was struck by the fact that I had far more skills and positive qualities than I had imagined. And I am sure that, if you reflect on your history, character, qualities, and skills, etc., you will find the same thing.
Perhaps you’re a designer who knows Photoshop really well, but you don’t think you know a lot else, or have many good qualities. Sure, you have an understanding of drawing, design, proportion, color, and so on. (But, consider that using Photoshop (or any other program) requires: the ability to learn and use software; the ability to use a computer and to install updates, the ability to read and understand signs.)
If you’re a guitarist, you understand timing, rhythm, pitch, tone, etc. These also apply to public speaking and interviewing. If you’re a successful salesperson, you’ve probably developed talking with people to the point where it’s now something like an art, and you know that that requires developing your memory (for facts about your work and about your client’s life, likes, and dislikes), being able to engage in small talk, and having “follow through.”
And all of the above require the ability to problem solve, to plan ahead, to visualize, manage your time, focus, communicate with others, among many other things. We can break down even these. Communication means, for example, knowing how to hold a conversation, being likable, wanting to understand what the person you are speaking with really wants (even if they have a hard time describing it), being clear in what you say and clear about what you hear, posture, body language, and even how to dress appropriately.
Other qualities you might discover include patience, perseverance, determination, inquisitiveness, inner strength and an ability to overcome obstacles, thoughtfulness, likeableness, sociable, good body posture and body language, good personal appearance, and so on.
When should we meditate on our qualities and skills and practice being grateful for them? Personally, I have found it useful to think about my qualities and skills when I face a challenging situation, but it’s sometimes good to reflect on them just to make sure that you are making the most of who you are and that you are doing what you want in life.
But I’ve found that you can also do this as a kind of walking meditation. We often find that when we go for a walk, we’re lost in a daydream. The landscape disappears as we are ensnared by our own machinations and giving in to the stresses and problems of the day. Instead, when you’re walking, just look at the situation. Then think about other challenging situations that you overcame and what you did.
Next, think about those things that came out of it that you’re grateful for. You may be grateful for having the guts to speak your mind at a difficult moment or to have kept calm when everyone else was losing their head. You may be thankful that a relationship was saved, or that you ended one that was negatively affecting you, or that you averted disaster in some other area of life.
Now think of all the things that you have done right so far in regard to the situation (if it’s a relationship put the new challenge in perspective of all of time that you spend building something important to you both), and the qualities and skills you can use in this new situation. Don’t analyze them, or second guess yourself, just say to yourself I’m grateful for… and then name what it is. You might be grateful for having the ability to communicate in the situation, for having been through something like this before and having a good idea how to handle it, for having options and alternatives, for having other positive things going on, or, probably, for many other things.
This practice isn’t about planning what to do. It’s really about remembering who you are and remembering the many resources you can draw upon (internally and externally). Being grateful is a way of really acknowledging them. (If you’re grateful for something then you really own it.)
If you were going into battle, you’d probably be grateful for your comrades beside you, for your equipment, and for your training. That’s not a plan. It’s a reminder that you are more powerful than uncertainty and fear makes you think you are. Once you remember what you’ve got, you can proceed with greater confidence. And that might just give you the edge. If it does, you can add it to your list of things to be grateful for.