A few years ago, a friend of mine became a certified life coach. After many conversations and coaxing I took the plunge and had a few very interesting sessions with my friend. She helped me with a huge job transition by using some techniques normally seen in project management. I can tell you that this job interview was one of the most confident interviews that I have ever had in my life. I received a job offer and I continue working in the industry of program evaluation for afterschool programs and professional development and training today.
One exercise that my friend suggested to me was to write a journal of gratitude. The task was to write three things that you are grateful for everyday. The challenge was that it could not be the same entry as any day before. I made my journal entries at night so I could reflect and be creative with looking for the things that I was most grateful for. This exercise gave me a chance to focus on positive things every day. Some days are easier than others to have an attitude of gratitude. I learned to appreciate the small victories and miracles that happened in my daily life. I tried to turn negative situations into positive outcomes.
As I kept this journal it became easier to find the positive things that I could reflect on. I felt a shift in more positive actions coming my way. I was aware that I wanted to give positive interactions to others. In this world it seems what we give out we get back. If we flash a sincere smile and a hello you may get the same response. If we have a negative attitude usually things don’t go our way and it seems like a black cloud is always looming.
The psychology of the self-fulfilling prophecy may be at play in both positive and negative instances. This means that if you believe or expect to have a bad day then you will have a bad day. Why not turn the psychology around to expect the positive? The Pygmalion effect, a study done by psychologist Robert Rosenthal, documents the practice of boosting performance by having positive expectations of students and those students meeting those expectations. The opposite effect is the Golem effect where lower or negative expectations are expected and met.
As I was practicing positive interactions I came across a few friends and family members that seemed to hold onto negativity. Sometimes is it is important to remove toxicity or negativity away from your life so you are not robbed of positive energy. While it may not be feasible for us to remove people we love or those who are important to us, we can limit the time that we give them. Alternatively, we could bring more positivity to them. Although they may resist the change, it is worth a try. When someone holds onto the past, bad memories or to hurtful episodes, they continue to relive and keep the negativity alive. It may be very hard for them to turn to optimism, but change takes practice and time to become a habit.
My gratitude journal entries started with being grateful for the laughter I share on a daily basis with my husband and the unconditional love that I feel from all of my nieces and nephews. As my journal entries increased, I had to get creative. On bad days I found that I could turn the situation around and find gratitude. One day we had a power outage as we were leaving for work. I was so grateful that my husband knew how to release the electric garage door to the manual setting and I learned how to do it myself if it ever happened again. I found such peace in reflecting at the end of the day and I had many pages of entries to refer to if I needed a boost. I would never know how much I would rely on my gratitude journal and this exercise just one year later.
On March 31st of 2015 I was diagnosed with stage IV inoperable pancreatic cancer. At 43 years old, my life was changed forever. The first four weeks were a blur and I was rocked to my core. An overwhelming fear came over me at the thought and reality of terminal cancer. I had only two choices, fight with everything I had inside me, or curl up and die. I was grateful for having a track record of standing up for others and myself, for fighting for what was right for my department, my students, and my programs. Now it was time to fight for me. My gratitude journal was a reminder of all that I had to live for. It was an exercise I could use now to see the best in every day that I survived after diagnosis. My journal entry from my day of diagnosis says, “I have the faith, courage and strength in God and from God and I will beat this.” I just cried reading this from my journal. I proclaimed my strength and faith in God from that day and I am still here fighting the good fight and writing this blog three years after diagnosis. Thanks be to God. One of my favorite poems is, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
If I could find strength on the absolute worst day of my life thus far, I know you can find strength in any obstacle or situation you find yourself in. Your obstacle may not be cancer; it could be any adversity that changes the trajectory of your life. Whatever it may be, find what you are most grateful for and let your attitude of gratitude lead you on your journey.