- Using my gratitude as a “what I got done today” list. This is probably the mistake I make most often when writing in m y gratitude journal. Instead of taking time to reflect on the day and its moments, I scribble down a list of tasks I accomplished or marked off my calendar or “to do” list. Examples: 1) worked out today 2) finished planning breakfast meeting for teachers 3) read some of book 4) got laundry caught up 5) called parents…I guess there is nothing technically wrong with this kind of list, but the best moments of our days sometimes have no connection at all with “getting stuff done.” With gratitude, don’t just think about what you did, think about what you noticed and felt and listened to—maybe when you think about it, you will remember discovering an amazing new podcast on your way home, or what an amazing night’s sleep you had, or how delicious the pasta was that your daughter made. In other words, consider all aspects of the day—not just accomplishments.
- Being too general. To show you what I mean, if you go back to my first example list, you can see how just adding some specifics to it (even though it’s still a list of completed tasks) creates more of a picture of the moment, the memory and the gratitude. The issue with item #1 “worked out today” is it’s completely generic. I might work out every day, and if I list that on my gratitude journal every day—the idea loses its meaning. I can add more meaning to my gratitude journal for being more specific. What if instead of writing “worked out today,” I wrote, “I got to walk outside and the weather was beautiful,” or “I tried Zumba today and it was fun!” Or “I got faster on my two-mile jog.”
- Not giving myself enough time to do it. Writing in my gratitude journal can be an important part of my day—it gives me time to reflect about my priorities and really notice what I appreciate, what I love, and what makes a day special for me. However, the days that I am about to crawl into bed and I suddenly realize that I forgot to write I my journal are the days I am likely to rattle off a list of stuff I did without putting much thought into it. The more thought, care and reflection I give myself for writing in the gratitude journal, the more effective the practice will be for me. When I give keeping a gratitude journal time and focus, it creates shifts in my thinking. You find what you are looking for and when you are focusing on things you are grateful for or what you love about your day, you find and experience more of those good things.
- Being a stickler about the number of things I’m grateful for. I started keeping a gratitude journal many, many years ago and the first instruction I was given was to write down five things I was thankful for every day. However, I think the idea is to focus on gratitude. Why be locked into a set number? One day, I might be extremely grateful for three moments or parts of my day and want to reflect on them. Other days, I might be overwhelmed with goodness and want to make a list of ten or fifteen beautiful details of my day that I am grateful for, I want to do that. I don’t have to be locked into a magic number. The idea is to reflect on and capture the appreciation—not get to a set number each day.
- Leaving out important information (sick day, vacation day, where I am, dinner with a friend (name them!) I write in my gratitude journal pretty much every single day. I rarely miss. Unless I have a broken wrist or I am in a coma, I am going to write. That means, that even if I have a sick day from work, I am still going to write in my gratitude journal. If we have a snow day and school is canceled, I am going to write in my gratitude journal about that day. It is incredibly helpful when you are rereading your gratitude journal if you took time to note whether the day happens to be a sick day or a snow day, for example. If you are traveling or taking a vacation day, note that before you get started. You may reread the journal entries some day and really appreciate the context those kinds of details give. Similarly, if you are grateful for something you did with other people, or spending time with a person or a group, write down their full name! You may think that you will never forget the co-worker that gets your sense of humor and that you loved to go to lunch with, but in twenty years, you might really appreciate having a full name in that entry rather than just “lunch with work friend.”
Tune into Part II for the rest of the list!