I woke up this morning, conscious of all the little pressures, anxieties, and stresses of the day:
- One of my close friends went out last night. I opted to stay in. He had an epic night. I missed out.
- I had a sales call scheduled for 10:30pm last night that I completely forgot — for the second time. I’m going to have to email Jesse to apologize. Again.
- A year ago, I negotiated a compensation plan with one of our star team members that we can’t justify anymore.
As I went through my morning routine, these pressures weighed subtly on my mind.
Nothing particularly bad or horrible, just normal, everyday stresses. Little things.
They add up though, and left unchecked, they send me into my day just a little bit on edge.
A shorter fuse, a furrowed brow, hardened, focused eyes.
I have shit to do today. Don’t get in my way.
Think of yourself in a concert hall listening to the strains of the sweetest music when you suddenly remember that you forgot to lock your car. You are anxious about the car, you cannot walk out of the hall and you cannot enjoy the music.
There you have a perfect image of life as it is lived by most human beings.
– Anthony De Mello “The Way to Love”
On this morning in question, I’ve made my way to a cafe where I occasionally start my days.
It’s a new addition in my morning routine. I used to steamroll into work as quickly as possible, and immediately start getting shit done.
But somehow, two or three weeks ago, I ended up here early one morning, and fell in love with the quiet, patient start.
In the relaxed setting of the cafe, I find time to reflect. To do nothing. To “cultivate empty space,” as Josh Waitzkin is fond of saying.
I sit down to reflect on what I’m grateful for today.
The practice is simple: I write down something I’m grateful for, then I close my eyes, smile, and take 5 slow, deep breathes.
I feel the gratitude — willing it into my body, into every fiber of my being.
Repeat 3 times.
No matter how stressed I am, no matter how bad the situation, I can always find something to be grateful for.
A family member, a friend, a teacher. The clothes on my back. The bottle of clean water on the table.
If I have trouble thinking of something, I think about how things could be worse, and spend some time contemplating that alternate reality.
Then I come back to the present, and am grateful for what isn’t.
In Stoic philosophy, this is referred to as “negative visualization,” and it’s an effective gratitude practice.
On this morning, I reflect on these three things, smile with them, breathe with them, and let the sense of gratitude fill my body.
The challenges still lay ahead of me (they always will). The work still needs to be done.
But I’ve changed.
I’m at ease: relaxed, confident, optimistic.
I’ll make smarter decisions. I’ll be more creative. I’ll be a stronger leader. I’m ready to take on the day.
I’ve tuned back into the orchestra of life, and it sounds amazing.
Also published on Medium.