In mid-August, sixty days prior to my 60th birthday I started a writing exercise I called “60 Days of Gratitude“. Ten years ago I wrote a thought piece entitled “Half Century Mark“. I wanted to do something similar to mark the next decade, and using a writing exercise focussed on gratitude seemed an appropriate approach.
Now that I’m done I decided to capture some of what I learned in the process.
1. Writing every day is actually easy
I was pleasantly surprised that with two exceptions I actually wrote every day for sixty days. (One day I was called away, so I wrote two entries the next, and I knew ahead of time I’d be otherwise engaged the last two days, so I wrote those final entries ahead of time.)
As I learned with my weight loss, the single most important way to make something happen is to simply decide to do it. Not say you’re going to do it, not think you’re going to do it, but to actually make a commitment and a personal, internal, decision to do it.
I codified my decision in a spreadsheet. Wanting to know on exactly what day I needed to start I simply created a spreadsheet with a down-counter to my birthday. It made for a tangible reminder of what I was doing, what my goal was, how far along I was, and a convenient place to record notes about topics to explore.
2. Getting started every day can be difficult
If writing is easy, getting started often isn’t. Sure, some days I’d have a wonderful idea that I couldn’t wait to get written. Those days were easy. Other days? Not so much.
It wasn’t about the writing, it was about the idea. What would I be grateful for this time?
As a friend of mine put it, “A writer who ‘can’t write’ simply has nothing to say. If you always have something to say, you’ll never have a ‘block.’”
Some days I didn’t have anything to say, or at least so it felt. Often it was really just difficulty in choosing what to say.
Honestly, that was part of the exercise: I have so much to be grateful for, the work wasn’t writing about it, the “work” was in recognizing it. The work was to open my eyes to the things around me that I so often take for granted.
3. Writing every day for publication is hard
When I started my more general daily writing exercise almost a year ago, I made the explicit decision to make it public. That adds a level of complexity.
Writing something you’ll never publish, for yourself only, certainly has its place. The problem is that it’s too easy to compromise. It’s too easy to lower your standards and write something less powerful, less compelling, less professional, and less polished than you’re capable of, simply because you know no one will ever read it.
I chose to use my public-facing personal blog for this exercise to hold myself to a higher standard. I know that while it won’t be many, some people will actually read this. That means I feel the need to do a better job. And that’s the point — this is an exercise to help me hone my skills at this craft.
Writing every day is easy, as I said. Writing for you every day is much, much harder. Anyone can throw words on a page. While I don’t want to dismiss that as an important technique for writers to practice, it’s not what I wanted. As a result, this is harder. It takes more work. It takes more time. It takes more commitment.
It takes a bigger decision.
4. It’s too easy to focus inward
With respect to gratitude, I surprised myself about halfway through by noticing that many of the items I was writing about boiled down to being grateful for things I’d done or accomplished.
While the gratitude was genuine, and I still believe warranted, it felt a little too self-congratulatory, a little too self-absorbed, a little too much like patting myself on the back.
I tried to re-focus on two things, as a result:
- Gratitude towards others, or external events.
- Gratitude “upstream”, to the people and events that ultimately allowed me to achieve some personal accomplishment, rather than being grateful for the accomplishment itself.
I wasn’t expecting that kind of insight, but I think it’s a very useful one. I daresay I’m grateful for it. Isaac Newton is quoted as saying “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” It’s good for me to pay more attention to whose shoulders I might be standing on.
5. Gratitude is about a lot of little things
The hardest part of the exercise turned out to also be surprising.
I have lots to be grateful for. Truly, lots and lots and lots. I knew that going in, I recognized it throughout, and I continue to be grateful for it all.
The problem? It’s difficult to justify many with a dedicated post. Some seem trivial, though that word does them a disservice, and at least minimizes their cumulative effect.
It’s not that I’m not grateful for them, it’s just that when time came to write something they didn’t “meet the bar”, so to speak. The didn’t reach whatever unstated criteria I had about what would be worth writing about.
The hardest part of this exercise was simply reviewing what I was grateful for and deciding what was significant enough to write about.
Writing, Introspection, and Gratitude
Ultimately these sixty ended up serving three distinct purposes:
- A daily exercise simply to hone my writing skills.
- A mechanism for my own introspection.
- An active reminder of just how much it is I have to be grateful for.
It was a good investment of my time.
If any of those three purposes appeal to you, it might be worth your time as well.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled, less thematic, programming.