How These Well-Intentioned Compliments can Contribute to Devastating Inner Struggle

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“You’re so strong!”

“You’re so smart!”

“You’re so nice!”

How many times have we uttered these phrases, with the intention of bestowing our greatest admiration upon the receiver in front of us, whether a child, a colleague, a family member or a friend?

The truth is, when you’re told that you’re a certain way over and over, your identity can become inextricably linked to a particular set of traits or qualities.

What’s so bad about that?

Don’t we all want to exude a sense of effortless positive traits and be known for it?

What could honestly be so negative about reinforcing those characteristics in our loved ones?

Aren’t we being a little overly sensitive and PC?

When someone’s identity is so wrapped up in celebrated traits like emotional strength, kindness, intelligence, or happiness, it can be devastating and surprizing for that person (and others) when, for some reason, he or she can’t keep it up any longer.

The “strong” person shows vulnerability and cries.

The “smart” person gets a mediocre mark on a test.

The “nice” person shows anger.

Fixed or Growth Mindset?

Preoccupied by the desire to prove himself/herself, she might spend a great deal of energy trying to uphold the ideal of who he/she thinks she/he should be. As Dr.Carole Dweck asserts in her book Mindset, “I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves— in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?”

Just Keep Swimming

Like a duck in water, he might find himself paddling furiously underwater to keep the illusion of strength, control, discipline, or intelligence alive, when inside he is feeling anything but in control. Sooner or later, his energy wears thinner and thinner with every paddle. It becomes too hard to show up the way he wants-too exhausting. Suddenly, the fragile nature of his ego is exposed. He finds himself acting in ways that deviate from the traits with which he most identifies, which can feel confusing. The stakes feel really high. Above all, the desire to cling to certainty can become overwhelming. Hello, identity crisis.

Veterans and PTSD

Take, for example, the war veteran who has been necessarily conditioned throughout most of his or her career to be emotionally strong, overcome fear, and show up selflessly for others. These skills and traits are what a serviceperson requires in order to survive some of the horrors and trails associated with war. That being said, the after-effects associated with adverse conflict-related trauma can be devastating. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “it is estimated that up to 10% of war zone veterans—including war service veterans and peacekeeping forces—will go on to experience post-traumatic stress disorder.”What’s more, the conditioning that a serviceperson has undergone throughout his/her training often precludes him/her from demonstrating the vulnerability required to seek medical attention and support. There’s often a stigma attached to PTSD. It feels impossible to admit that he/she is struggling because his/her identity as a strong, capable, helper is so deeply entrenched in who they are.

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High-achievers = Higher expectations

Quite often in classrooms and schools across the globe, it can be easy to get caught-up in the capitalist-industrial pressure to keep improving, keep exceeding expectations. It’s pretty common for teachers to be more surprized by average to mediocre results from our high-achievers than by failure by the lower-achieving students in our classes.

We expect our high-achievers to continue high-level products, to continually be improving, but we don’t always make space for them to show up in an average or mediocre way. Quite often, childhood prodigies or high-achievers will do anything they can to avoid failure because the expectations on their achievement is so high. Perfectionism can set in, which can cause really intelligent, capable kids to seek certainty and comfort over risk-taking and creativity. According to Dr. Adam Grant (Originals), “Child prodigies usually pursue conforming achievement, following the well-worn paths to Carnegie Hall, the science Olympics, and chess championships. They succeed by expertly following the rules rather than making their own.”

Now, I am by no means suggesting that we should all start lowering the bar for some of these high-performers but do want to bring attention to the fact that sometimes these kids will strike out. They’ll produce lower quality work, once in a while. They might have a couple of bad ideas, but it doesn’t make them any less intelligent. They shouldn’t be shamed or ridiculed or pressured to do better every single time. They should be encouraged to ask interesting questions, pursue creative exploits, and to express themselves fully so that they may become originals in their own right.

Separate Traits from the Person

When we can separate the person from traits or qualities (positive and negative), we can allow for the normalization of a wide range of emotions and traits within a person, as opposed to a fixed perspective of who they are. It can be helpful to think of the power of growth mindset, which Dweck has described as “the passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well…This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

It is possible to free ourselves from the expectations of who we’re supposed to be and allow ourselves to sit within the essence of who we are, without judgement and with great admiration for ourselves and the journey that got us to where we are today.

Some practical replacements for common reinforcements:

            Instead of….                               Say….

You’re so strong!             ~                 You handled that with a lot of strength!

You’re so smart!        ~.                You solved that problem really well!

You’re so lucky!                  ~                  Way to be prepared for that opportunity!

You’re so pretty!                   ~                  That’s a lovely shirt. How do you feel in it?

You’re so organized!                 ~          You’ve thought of every detail. You must be feeling prepared.

https://cmha.bc.ca/documents/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-2/

Dr. Adam Grant (Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World)

Dr. Carole Dweck (Mindset)

 

Asking For Help: 7 Actionable Ways to Encourage Help-Seeking at Your Work and School

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Asking for Help: 7 Actionable Ways to Encourage Help-Seeking at Your Work and School

“Help is one of those four-letter-words that is curiously difficult to say when it’s in the form of a request. Most people tell me that it’s not easy for them to ask for help. Offering to be of help, on the other hand, comes much easier to people. Helpers, after all, are not the vulnerable ones.”                                                        -Caroline Myss

Just recently, I asked someone I know for help. The act of it left me feeling a bit exposed. In asking for support, the two of us had immediately entered an unofficial contract of positional hierarchy.

This person had the authority; I did not.

This individual had the power; I did not.

This person was above and I was below.

Both of us subconsciously agreed upon our relative positions of power based on the narratives in which we subscribed.

The feeling had an uncanny resemblance to some of my past experiences at school.

By asking for help, I had momentarily removed the armour I normally wear to protect my fragile heart from pain and hurt, invited myself to become vulnerable, and had placed my pride in my helper’s hands.

Truth be told, our interaction didn’t go so well.

Instead of acknowledging the delicate responsibility that comes with assuming the powerful role of ‘helper,’ this individual took advantage of his position and wielded it clumsily, upsetting our subtle balance and betraying my vulnerability.

Like an anemone attached to the walls of a shallow ocean tide pool, poked and prodded by the oblivious and excitable children’s fingers, I recoiled and closed-up tightly.

And, it took a while for me to open up again.

Nowhere is this dynamic more common and widespread than in the classroom and many workplace cultures.

Any number of us have felt betrayed in moments of authentic vulnerability by those we love, those who lead us, and those who have taught us. I’m sure you can think back to a time someone absentmindedly or willfully employed their power to make you feel small.

It turns out approximately 85% of the people Dr. Brené Brown interviewed for her research could recall a shaming occurrence at school that was so demoralising that it made lasting, damaging impact on their perceptions of themselves as learners. She explains: “Through about fifth grade, shame is literally the threat of being unlovable. It is trauma because they are dependent. Shame is a threat to survival.”

Take a moment and observe the damaging power of the following school-based interaction, as described by Dr. Brené Brown:

“Susie is sitting in her classroom as her teacher is passing out papers. The teacher says, ‘I have one paper left. Who didn’t get a paper?’ Silence from the class. And, with more emphasis the teacher says, ‘I SAID, I have one paper left. Who didn’t get a paper?’ Susie slowly raises her hand. The teacher comes over and says, ‘I’m not surprised. Class are you surprised? Here Susie, I’ll help you out.” And, then the teacher proceeds to write on her paper where the student’s name would go: STUPID.”

Perhaps this example may feel a little extreme, by today’s standards, but I think she provides a solid example. The way teachers (or any leaders, for that matter) interact with students can have a detrimental or positive impact. It all comes down to the dependency built into the student-teacher power dynamics. Students, after all, tend to find themselves at the base of the power hierarchy. Since teachers are usually in a position of authority, it’s imperative that we tread carefully knowing that our response to a vulnerable student can have the power to confirm a damaging narrative running through his/her head. Our reaction to a struggling student has the power to belittle, shame, and reinforce his/her unworthiness. The result can be catastrophic.

On the flip side, however, teachers possess the ability to create healing and inspiring impressions on our vulnerable students. We can provide encouragement, effectively enabling a student to reject the negative thought patterns that reinforce the illusion that they’re stupid or unworthy.

It is, therefore, imperative that anyone in a defined position of influence examine his/her interactions within the context of offering and asking for help. If you’re in a position of power, as a teacher or employer, isn’t it better to generously assume that your student/employee is truly trying his/her best instead of assuming the worst?

No, they’re likely not stupid.

No, they’re likely not deliberately screwing-up.

No, they’re likely not trying out to render your day more challenging.

Yes, it’s very possible that you may have explained the very same concept a number of times, many different ways.

Can it be frustrating? Sure.

But, through leading with compassionate patience, making the most generous assumptions as you interact with those around you, it’s possible to bring the very best out of your employees, students, and children. You can foster a safe environment that values growth mindset, second chances, and asking for help. In turn, people will be more productive, more creative, and more self-assured.

Whether you’re a boss, principal, parent, teacher, spouse, or CEO of a company, I encourage you to become aware of the power you wield, being mindful of the lasting influence you may have on those you lead.

Here are 7 actionable ways that you can create an environment of respectful trust, where asking for help is encouraged and honoured:

1. The Reciprocity Ring

Dr. Adam Grant, author of Givers and Takers and Originals, encourages companies and organizations to cultivate ‘Giver’ cultures by practicing the reciprocity ring:

A group of approximately 8 people and invite everyone to go around and make a request for what they need help with.  Then, challenge the group to act like Givers and fulfill each person’s request for help.

The Harvard Business Review has reported that many businesses have become more profitable and efficient as a result of this practice, either directly (problems being solved) or indirectly (removing the stigma of asking for help). Dr. Nathan Podsakoff analyzed 38 studies of organizational behavior tracked over more than 3500 business units across industries. There is a strong connection between “helping behaviors and desirable business outcomes” including: “high rates of giving predicted profitability, productivity and customer satisfaction, as well as lower turnover.”

The Reciprocity Ring encourages the group to adopt help-seeking-practices as part of its cultural norms.

2. Employ the 4 Pillars of Courage

Dr. Brené Brown suggests that we should teach courage through the development of the following 4 pillars: vulnerability, clarity of values (think a household/workplace/classroom manifesto), trust, and resiliency skills (the ability to get back up when we fall down). When we feel courageous, we are more likely to ask for the help we need because we’re not afraid of how we may be perceived as weak. Instead, we come to the realization that “vulnerability is the greatest measure of courage.”

3. Lead the Way

If the teacher, parent, CEO, principal starts by giving without the need for recompense, it’s likely that others will do the same. That kind of environment encourages a give and take attitude, where it becomes the norm to collaborate and ask for help. Generosity is not a scarce resource. More is more.

4. Inspire Clarity

Encourage your students, employees, and children to become clear and concise in their requests for help. The clearer the ask, the easier it is to deliver.

5. When there’s a problem, ask yourself who has the most power here?

According to Dr. Julia B. Colwell, “true relationship evolution happens when power dynamics are unearthed, explored, and changed.” When you get real about power inequalities, it becomes easier to solve problems and diffuse interactional conflicts.

6. Bolster your Leaders

Zingerman’s, (a company based out of Michigan) has developed a purposeful culture of helping. Every time a new managing partner is inducted, attendees of the induction event are asked, one by one, to express how he/she will contribute to the success of the new partner. This public dedication to the new leader enables him/her to more easily ask for help, leaning on the team behind them. This strategy could easily be adapted to the workplace, school, or community to encourage employee and student engagement.

How could children, students, teachers, employees contribute to making their leaders and organizations more successful?

7. Process over Product

Reinforce the importance of process over solutions and products. Everyone knows that the best learning occurs through the process of trial and error, and yet, it’s so common for us to measure student and employee success upon the finished products they create. The inquiry-based model of learning values and is founded in the understanding that teamwork, process, and learning through failure is integral to actualizing an idea, achieving a goal, and learning a new skill.

 

Sources:

 

 

My Misadventures as a Server: How Failure and Embarrassment Builds Trust

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My Misadventures as a Server: How Failure and Embarrassment Builds Trust

I’ve had my fair share of face-down failures. Abject embarrassment. Moments of complete humiliation that have had the power to reduce me to itty-bitty versions of myself. It’s safe to say that at one time or another, we all have.

Take, for instance, that one summer, between teaching jobs, when I decided to try my hand at serving. When I first applied, I had casually chosen a local pub that concerned itself less with service, efficiency, and quality than a ‘good-enough’ attitude, low standards and fun times. In other words, it was a sure thing that I’d get hired despite my inexperience.

I loved connecting with patrons and the families who came through our doors. That aspect was, for the most part, meaningful and rewarding. Every day was a new opportunity to glimpse through a tiny keyhole into someone else’s existence, good, bad, and complicated. It was thrilling!

Intriguing as it was, I was truly the worst server. A good friend had reassured me during the application process that as a teacher, being so used to multi-tasking, I’d do great. Well…

I’d make a connection with a four-top, then get so busy thinking about their lives and motivations that I’d routinely forget the cream for their coffee orders and the lime for their ciders. I would ring in the appies with the entrees so everything would roll out all at once, crowding the tiny tables after a painfully long wait due to the exceedingly slow pace of the kitchen. I’d get flustered when we were short-staffed and had too many tables. I had (and continue to have) the worst short-term memory when it comes to seemingly trivial stuff.  My most commonly uttered phrases include: “Where’s my purse?” and “Where are my keys?” As you might imagine, it was a long summer.

One night during the dinner rush, a raucous group of baseball lovers settled into the back booth and ordered hot-wings with bleu cheese dressing.

Let me preface this by clearly stating that I don’t really ‘do’ wings.  I’ve never ordered them. Even when my husband hasordered them, I’ve never really paid attention (too busy focusing on other things, remember?).  So, this was a real, face-down Amelia Bedelia moment.

After getting their drinks (and actually nailing it), I keyed in their order and went to the kitchen to confirm that they got the order right on their end.

“Don’t forget the bleu cheese dressing!” I announced confidently through the kitchen window. “They want it on their wings.”

“Like, wings tossed in bleu cheese?” One of the cooks shouted with a look of utter bewilderment.

“Yep!” I yelled assuredly above the clanging of pots and hissing of steam from the dishwasher.

“Oooooo-kay…” The cook nodded slowly with a skeptical side-glance.

Minutes later, my table’s order was up.

There, sitting under the warming lights, was the most unappealing pile of wings. The bright-red hot-sauce competed with the creamy, lumpy bleu cheese sauce resulting in a chunky, greasy white and red lumpy mess. Shrugging, (I mean, people want what they want…who am I to judge?), I brought the order to the booth and presented it to them, gingerly.

The guys looked distastefully at the plate of wings, then back at me with incredulous distain. Rolling his eyes with annoyance, one of them spoke up, his voice dripping with scorn: “We meant bleu cheese. On. The. Side. Obviously.’

Obviously.

Crap. Crap. Crap.

In that moment, I wanted to disappear. I wanted to cry. I felt stupid. I wanted to reach across the table and smack the entitled look right off of their faces. I felt a desperate need to relieve myself from the negative self-talk that echoed their expressions.

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

They sneered as I grasped the plate of wings and turned to leave. Beaming the shiniest ‘service’ smile I could muster, I made my way back to the kitchen struggling to keep my head above the suffocating waves of humiliation.

Upon reaching the slippery white tile floor of the kitchen, my heel managed to hit a greasy spot. My foot scooted out from under me, sending me flying (think: cartoon character slipping on a banana peel). I fell flat on my back, but not before the goopy, creamy wings soared off the plate in slow-motion, sprinkler-style across the kitchen and all over my lap.

There I sat, drenched in hot-sauce, clumpy, creamy dressing, and failure. It took all I had not to rip my apron off and quit from the embarrassment.

But I didn’t. With a dejected sigh, I collected myself, wiped up the mess as best as I could, chose a new apron, and asked for a rush order on hot-wings, making sure to prepare the side-sauce myself.

I headed out once again to the booth, head held high, knowing in my heart that this would pass. This would not be my story forever.

In the past, reliving public displays of imperfection would have caused me to cringe. Pushing those memories far from my mind felt better than marinating in the torturous discomfort of my inadequacy. Seeking to be perfect once protected me from exposing my vulnerability, the very thing that we all seek in order to feel connected to others.

I’ve recently learned that the more willingly one leans into our own human imperfection, the less we invite shame and humiliation to manifest themselves in our lives and the more connected we feel to those around us.

You see, shame only survives within the protective shadows. The more we live out loud, in the light, the more unshackled we become. We can grow to be more tolerant of our own shortcomings. This tolerance, allows us to survive failure. Instead of wilting and shriveling, we grow strong and tall in the face of adversity.

But our courage to experience life as it is also has the remarkable power to influence those around us. It comes down, once again, to vulnerability.

It turns out, scientists at a number of universities have proven that sharing our embarrassing and vulnerable moments can serve to solidify our relationships through the agency of trust.

“Embarrassment is one emotional signature of a person to whom you can entrust valuable resources. It’s part of the social glue that fosters trust and cooperation in everyday life,” said UC Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer, a coauthor of the study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Moderate levels of embarrassment are signs of virtue,” said Matthew Feinberg, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley. “Our data suggests embarrassment is a good thing, not something you should fight.”

It’s a great equalizer that reminds us of our humanity. There’s something about offering oneself up that allows others to feel more comfortable.

When people work and learn in an environment that celebrates uniqueness, failure, and imperfection, they are more willing to be creative, take risks, be generous, and reveal their most authentic selves.

Why is this important? Well, when you are in a position of influence, such as a teacher, a manager or the owner of a company, and you want to get the best out of those around you …because it’s your job to motivate, inspire or cajole them into creating something, being brave enough to share their idea, or to collaborate generously with one another, you have to start with trust.

When students or employees can see themselves in you, they tend to trust you. Through that shared experience, they can trust you.

So, maybe next time you need your students or employees to get creative or do their best work, start with an embarrassing story.

 

Sources:
https://hbr.org/2017/10/research-for-better-brainstorming-tell-an-embarrassing-story
” Matthew Feinberg, Robb Willer, Dacher Keltner. Flustered and faithful: Embarrassment as a signal of prosociality.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011; DOI: 10.1037/a0025403

 

 

 

How Paddle-boarding, Elk, and a Girls’ Weekend Getaway Brought me Closer to Gratitude

“If you’re going to make a change, you’re going to have to operate from a new belief that says life happens not to me but for me. If we trade our expectations for appreciation, the world changes instantly.” -Tony Robbins

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One Friday evening in March of last year, I set off for Port Renfrew to meet a small group of girlfriends for a much-needed, restorative weekend away. My husband had graciously agreed to hold down the fort for two nights. It would be my first weekend away from my baby boy, a bittersweet prospect. I had made the deliberate choice to drive the 2 ½ hour journey on my own, embracing the opportunity of delicious solitude with almost nervous anticipation. The typical wet west coast climate had been replaced by a bone-dry couple of weeks, but as dusk fell, I could smell the imminence of rain in the cool air. Before departing, I had secured our paddleboard onto the roof of the vehicle, programmed my GPS (to Handsome Dan’s Cottages in Port Renfrew) and selected an episode from my favourite podcast to accompany my drive (a two-part Tim Ferriss interview with Tony Robbins). I had just finished watching I am not your Guru on Netflix earlier that week and was interested to learn more about Robbin’s values and principles.

Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 10.40.26 PMAs the suburbs, streetlights, and sidewalks gave way to lush west coast foliage, lumbering cedar trees, and blacktop that stretched endlessly before me, I felt the weight of my shoulders lessen and exhaled deeply. About 2 hours into the trip, as I was listening to the fascinating interview, Robbins invited the audience to do a short, guided gratitude exercise (which is linked here and here). He discussed the scientific benefits of gratitude on our bodies and the way that our heart (EKG) and brain (EEG) literally align when you experience a state of gratitude. I’m guessing he explained this perhaps to convince the skeptics that this is not just some feel-good exercise, but that it has lasting physiological benefits. I was intrigued.

I should mention, by this point in the journey, I was starting to feel a little edgy. It was dark, the road was unfamiliar, and the GPS, which hadn’t spoken to me in over an hour, seemed to be struggling with the lack of consistent service signals. A little voice inside kept wondering if I’d ever make it to my friends and the cozy cabin we’d rented.

Pushing the negative thoughts to the periphery of my mind, I allowed myself to be guided through the exercise. First, we were instructed to identify a stressful situation or conflict in our lives (umm…getting lost in the middle of nowhere with no service, immediately sprung to mind). Then, he encouraged us to think of one, two, then three separate moments or memories for which we are grateful. For each one, Robbins directed the listeners to recall the sensory experience in order to fully immerse ourselves in the memory. Research has shown that when we relive a beautiful experience, it truly transforms our mental state to a more positive, optimistic one.

Finally, he asked us to think of a coincidence in our lives, something that has happened for us which has resulted in a new job, a new connection, or a profound realization.

In that exact moment, two enormous shapes materialized on the road in front of me. Time slowed down, as my foot slammed on the brake pedal and I narrowly avoided hitting what turned out to be two majestic elk, making their way across the road. My heart pounding, the vehicle slightly askew, I took a moment to process what had just happened and lowered my window to gaze at the creatures who had paused to inspect me with their huge, gentle eyes.

Robbin’s voice cut into the silence, as if to punctuate the moment: “Was it a coincidence, or were you guided? What if you believed that life was happening for you, not to you?” A chill raced along the length of my spine.  Not a moment later, my GPS kicked in, confirming that I was merely minutes away from my destination. I don’t know if it was the sleep exhaustion, the adrenaline rush of such a close call, or the fateful coincidental timing of the whole experience, but as I sat there in my car, keenly aware of my smallness in this giant universe, I felt a tear roll down my cheek.

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About 15 minutes later, I finally entered the cabin, greeted by my friends’ smiling faces, fellow moms seeking to recharge, as well. And recharge, we did! During the course of the weekend, we had unexpected dance parties, we took sopping beach hikes in the torrential rain, we spent hours talking, we cried, we took photos, we ate, and we laughed until our bellies hurt.

Sunday came, and I had one more thing to do. After packing and cleaning up, my friends set off for home. I crammed my body into the wetsuit, loaded the truck, and headed out in search for the perfect spot to go paddle-boarding…by myself. One of my friends had pulled me aside that morning, asking if I wanted company. Kindly, I had declined. For many reasons, heading out solo to go paddle-boarding was something I never would have considered doing when my daughter was an infant. I would have found reasons to avoid going (the discomfort of wriggling into an uncomfortable wetsuit, feeling guilty for taking time to myself, feeling incapable of pulling the heavy board off of the truck). In my life, I have tended to opt for certainty over adventure. But, here I was, as a mom of two, seeking the unknown adventure that stood before me. Going it alone was part of the idyllic uncertainty.

Initially, I had pulled into a spot near the ocean-side of the bay, but pounding surf, powerful wind gusts, and side-ways rain made me swiftly reconsider my choice. After a few minutes of searching, I finally settled on a calm lagoon location on the opposite side of the bay, with no evidence of current or waves. I parked the truck, acutely aware of my seclusion. With no one around for miles and no service signal whatsoever, I was truly on my own. It was thrilling!

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I retrieved the step-ladder from the trunk and hauled the bulky board off of the roof awkwardly, making sure not to damage it. I felt a little jolt of pride, quickly retrieved the paddle, set it beside the board, and returned the step-ladder. Carefully, I tucked my purse and phone under the back seat and locked the door.

As I stood at the edge of a bank overlooking the lagoon, my eyes were drawn to the fluid movements of a heron, the colour of steel blue, in the distance, observing as he skimmed the water before rising into the sky and disappearing against its white backdrop. The silence was almost deafening juxtaposed against the comfortable commotion to which I had grown accustomed at home. A thin, wispy fog hung just above and veiled the glassy expanse of water, from which darkened logs and deteriorated bulkheads rose like alligators. Droplets of falling rain broke the water’s surface, creating ever-expanding hypnotic concentric circles.

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I turned back to the truck and placed my keys above the tire in the wheel well of the car; I didn’t want to run the risk of soaking my fob and rendering it useless. Almost immediately, I removed them. Too obvious! I certainly didn’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere without a vehicle, either.

Then, in a moment of infinite wisdom, I rested them just inside the front fender. I know… I KNOW!! In slow motion, I watched motionless as the keys tipped from their stationary resting place and slipped down under the engine compartment. Hoping that they had miraculously fallen to the ground, I dashed under the truck only to discover that they were tucked between the engine and its protective metal casing…completely out of sight and reach.

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Under normal circumstances, I would have completely panicked. I would have cried. I would have started the downward spiral of hopeless thinking: no keys, no phone, NO SOLUTION! Then, my mind would have given way to all of the worst-case scenarios possible. That being said, I’d be lying if I didn’t have momentary visions of desperate hitch-hiking, serial killers, and being chased by bears.

But, the truth is, I had come to this very place to prove my independence, strength, and to challenge my fears. I had asked and the universe had delivered. Perhaps, this could be a lesson, for which I might be grateful one day. I remembered Robbins asserting,

“You can’t be fearful and grateful simultaneously. Gratitude is the antidote to fear.”

The instant I stopped resisting my current reality, the fear and panic dissipated. Time passed sluggishly, as I calmly lay down under the truck, tried every possible method to blindly reach the keys. I completely filthied my wetsuit, hands, and hair in the process. Finally, after twenty minutes of fruitless searching, I decided to change my approach.

I peered inside the engine compartment, through a tiny slit near the wheel well. A glint of gleaming metal caught my eye. The KEYS! Carefully, I squeezed my hand past the sharp metal encasement to reach them. After several suspenseful, painful, and frustrating minutes, I managed to finally grasp the keys between two fingers and retrieve them.Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 11.25.38 PM

My heart pounding, pure elation and gratitude emanated from my soul. Covered from head to toe in mud and engine oil and my hand scratched-up and slightly bloodied from the sharp metal edges, I couldn’t help the enormous smile that spread over my face and my exclamations of joy that soon followed. I quickly recovered my phone from the truck and took a quick picture, proof of my incredible experience. Then, tucking the keys into one of the wetsuit pockets, I headed out onto the water, my heart genuinely full of gratitude and appreciation.

Want to bring gratitude part of your daily practice? Here are 7 ways you can bring gratitude into your life, in meaningful, authentic ways:

  1. Actively cultivate moments of gratitude : Use your 5 senses to take a mental picture or video of the moment. Put your phone down. Be present. It’ll make the memory unforgettable and forever locked in your mind, something you can bring forth whenever you want.
  2. Limit your gratitude practice to listing three things: PhD researcher Adam Grant explains in his book, Option B,  that a regular gratitude practice, involving listing three things for which you are grateful daily, can help you nurture your resilience after loss or during adversity. But, when you try to list more than three, it can become overwhelming and counteract any benefits.
  3. Be specific and authentic: Don’t just say the same 3 things you think you should be saying…that doesn’t enter the realm of authenticity, your brain will check out, and you won’t be connecting. Instead, keep it fresh and exciting by looking for opportunities –One person, one memory, something right in front of you-keeps you grounded no matter how bad or overwhelming your life might feel.
  4. Give yourself a timeline: If you’re a skeptic, you don’t feel like you have time, or you plain just don’t want to…make a declaration to try it for 7 days and see if your outlook changes.
  5. Do twist on Gratitude: If you’ve done gratitude work before and you want to do something different, think about reflecting on your contributions that day. Dr. Adam Grant asserts that gratitude is passive, but contribution is about action. What three things have you done today to contribute to your home, work, school, or community to make it better?
  6. Zoom in: Marie Forleo talks about focusing on one person or moment for which you are grateful. She encourages her listeners to zero- in with a macro lens on 3-5 qualities you appreciate about them or how that situation improved your life.
  7. Write your gratitude down! When we write things down, our brain processes it more completely on a subconscious level. When it comes to goals, for example, we are 42% more likely to achieve them when we’ve written them down. I think we’re kept accountable, and it also serves as proof that good stuff really is happening in our lives.

Comment below to share your gratitude practice!