As we head into the US holiday of Thanksgiving, I want to share a practice that has made a real difference for me–for me as a trader, and also for me as a human being. It’s a simple thing, but it has to be done right–the practice of conscious gratitude.
Every word in that phrase is important: “practice of conscious gratitude.” It is not enough to sometimes think of things that we’re happy about, to think things could be a lot worse, or to say a little prayer of thanks when we have some narrow escape from a problem. No, I think this only works–only has the power to transform us–if we commit to doing this every day, as part of a conscious practice. It does not have to be an elaborate thing, and it doesn’t have to take even five minutes, but it does need to become a part of your daily practice, as much as brushing your teeth or checking your email.
Here’s how I do it: go buy a small notebook, and I’d spend some money to make it a nice one. I’m a big fan of the Moleskine notebooks, but what matters is that you take the time, effort, and make a small expense to say to yourself “this is special. This is important.” You can do this on scrap paper or a post-it note, of course, and that’s probably better than nothing at all. But if you make a little extra effort, I think you’ll find the practice is much more rewarding. So, go get that notebook (and maybe get a nice pen while you’re at it!)
Next, take a few minutes every day, and craft some small practice or ritual that is meaningful for you. For me, I sit at my desk, close the computer, and take out the notebook. I take a few deep breaths and invite myself to be fully present in the moment. I make an effort to silence all distractions and thoughts of what I must do next, and take a few minutes just to be and just to experience. To some of you, that sounds very esoteric and obtuse, but it doesn’t have to be–there’s value in just focusing your mind and being fully present, if even for a single instant each day.
After a few breaths, probably not a full minute’s time, I then think of three things for which I am grateful. They can me mundane or profound, and can cover any aspect of your life. Do not overthink this and do not become frustrated–three things should come easily. (I wrote once that I was thankful for warm socks. This morning I might have mentioned a particularly juicy orange. You get the idea.) You can repeat things from day to day, but try to think of new things each day. Just don’t worry that you’ve already written something you will write today. Then, open the notebook to a blank page, write today’s date, and write three sentences each beginning with “I am grateful for…” Take a few more breaths, and allow yourself, no matter what is going on in your world and in your life, to truly feel grateful for these three things, even if just for a moment.
Then, close your book and go about your day. Your mind might turn to the book and your ritual throughout the day, or you might forget it until the next day. That’s fine–what matters is that you do this and you do it regularly. Limit yourself to three things each day. Of course, you may live your whole day in a state of conscious gratitude some days, and that would be great–but don’t write 15 things in your notebook some day! Pick three, and then do three more tomorrow. The next day, do three more. Do the practice, and allow it to become part of what and who you are.
This is one of those simple practices that really does have the potential to make use better than we are–this simple little daily practice can change you. Perhaps it’s simply seeing that you can take control and can create a good, constructive habit for yourself. Perhaps there is something more to it. So, I invite you to try this for one month and see what it does for you. Every day for a month, carve out a few minutes, focus your mind, and give conscious gratitude to the universe. The results might surprise you.