Use Your Diary as a Reminder of Strengths and Opportunities Throughout the Year

Although I use my ‘phone and computer diaries for basic reminders, I still use a paper-based desk diary. Maybe it’s because there are more mechanical and cognitive processes involved in writing in a diary that I find it helps to make information more memorable. I still use good old-fashioned handwriting to help me to remember lectures and talks too.

So if you were ‘lucky’ enough to get a paper-based diary as a gift make use of it by making it your strengths and gratitude diary. Whenever you get an opportunity to use your skills and strengths, write it in your diary. When something positive happens, write it in your diary. When you get the chance for a random act of kindness, write it in your diary. Do this throughout the year so that at the end of the year you get to really take stock of the good things in your life.

It’s easy to remember the ‘bad stuff’ and culturally we often say that ‘bad news comes in threes’. This sets up the expectation to look for the negative. There is no standard multi-pack for good news, so using your diary can help to balance the negative filters. This also helps to increase optimism. Also, taking stock of your strengths and skills can help to boost self confidence and esteem. 

Use the diary technique in conjunction with my gratitude and anticipation experiment (with a free PDF). It’s a standard exercise I use in coaching and training to acknowledge the ‘good stuff’ and help retune our filters to positive opportunities.

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Making Mondays Better. Banishing the Blues.

How we feel about things has a lot to do with our mindset – our perceptions. We talk about the Monday Morning Blues as if it really exists. Nothing tangible happens on a Monday that doesn’t happen on a Tuesday. It’s just that Monday follows Sunday – our day off. Tuesday follows Monday, and because we have negative perceptions of Monday, Tuesday automatically feels better. Wednesdays are pretty dismal because they are the point of no return for the week. On Thursday the weekend is closer. On Friday we just have to hold on for a few hours and then it’s the weekend. It’s all mental tricks. For each day we have a particular perception that frames our experience of it.

So let’s start by giving your most recent Monday a rating out of ten. Where one equals ‘terrible’ and ten equals ‘brilliant’. If it’s a low score such as a three or a four, then ask why is it as high as that and not a two or a one.  This is a technique I use in my coaching practice. How did it get to a three of four? This way you will focus on the things that make your typical Monday bearable. Why is it not an absolute zero? At this point, I suggest that waking up above ground counts for, at least, a score of one. You can then ask yourself, what you can imagine yourself doing to take yourself one point up the scale, or even just a half a point. Now try doing it.

Begin Monday, or any day, by asking yourself what three things you are looking to that day, however small. Write them down. If you can’t think of anything then create something to look forward to that will become part of your Monday routine. At the end of each Monday, write down three things you were grateful for that day, however small.

Ask yourself what score would Monday need to be, realistically,  for it to be ‘good enough’. Does it have to be an eight, nine or ten? Would a five, six, or seven be good enough?

Finally, why not apply the same strategy to all days of the week? Try it everyday for a month. Yes of course, these are just mental tricks, but as mental tricks got you into this frame of mind in the first place, it’s only sounds reasonable that you should give them a chance to get you out of the Monday blues. . . and to help you balance those negative perceptual filters for life in general.

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Getting the Gratitude Attitude (Free PDF Diary Sheet)

Where as ‘bad news comes in threes’, or so it’s said, there doesn’t seem to be any comparable unit of measurement for good news. This perceptual bias of vigilance for the bad stuff at the expense of the good stuff means that our perception of the world may become distorted.

The daily hassles and uplifts theory of stress maintains that it is often the small stuff that strongly influences our stress levels. At the end of the day we mentally weigh up the hassles versus the uplifts. The result is a ‘good day’ or ‘one of those days’.

So given that we’re led to believe that ‘bad things come in threes’ maybe we need to look three times as hard to find the good stuff. That’s where The Gratitude Experiment helps. I use this technique in my training and coaching practice. It’s a simple exercise to help you to develope the gratitude attitude and focus more on the good stuff, and to balance out those hassles and uplifts.

To get started, download the free PDF diary sheet which is from my self-help and coaching book: ‘Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It’). Now run off a few copies. Start with a week’s worth or better still a month’s worth. Then, every evening list three things that you were grateful for during the day, no matter how small. It could be a compliment, a perfect cappuccino, a bit of scenery, anything. You could also list three people you were grateful to that day. The second part, each morning, is to list three things you are looking forward to that day. Resist the temptation to write the same things everyday; add something new. The overall idea is to retrain your perceptions to include more of the good stuff. At the end of the week or month, assess what changes there have been in your life. The idea is also featured  Richard Wiseman’s :59 Seconds, and is grounded in evidence-based research.*

Focusing on the blessings instead of the burdens can help to improve optimism and increase happiness, and it’s so simple to achieve.

I’ve posted on this topic before but knowing that it’s sometimes the smallest of obstacles that prevent us from making changes, I’ve included a PDF download to make it just a little easier to give ‘The Gratitude Experiment’ a go. So try it and out and pass it on to family and friends and feel free to post a comment of your results.

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Notes: * R.A.Simmons & M.E.McCullough (2003). ‘Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, pp 377-89.

Beating Stress: Balancing the Daily Hassles and Uplifts

We often say that ‘bad news comes in threes’ but do not seem to have a corresponding rule for good news.

The ‘hassles and uplifts’ theory of stress argues that it’s the little things in life that tend to grind us down, such a miserable shopkeepers, someone ‘cutting us up’ in traffic, queue jumpers, or grey skies.

By contrast, it’s the little things that tend to ‘make our day’ such as compliments, a smile from the shop keeper, good manners and common courtesy, a few rays of sunshine, someone giving up their seat on the bus or letting you in the queue or a particularly good cappuccino.

At the end of each day we do a mental balance sheet. If the petty hassles and niggles outweigh the little uplifts, we say we’ve had a bad day. If the uplifts outweigh the hassles, we say we’ve had a good day. The great thing about this is that we can take control and turn stressful days around by creating more uplifts for ourselves.

However, the process starts by retuning our perceptual filters to take stock of good stuff to balance the pessimistic prophecy that bad things come in threes. Here’s how:

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