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Archive for January, 2011

New Years Resolutions: Gratitude & Living in the Present

January 2nd, 2011

Yesterday marked the 365th day for an experiment that I started on January 1 of this year   –> a “creative” online experiment designed to focus me on “Living in the Present Moment.”

The Gratitude 365 Experiment

Historically, on January 1st, I devise a checklist of challenges to accomplish for the year ahead, then plan out the year in order to achieve the checklist.  But, like many of you, I’ve often found that the hardest goals to achieve are the ones that require a “state of mind” (happiness, gratitude, joy, love, giving, etc). At year end, I look back and think it was overall a “joyous” year, but I’m not sure how I felt day-to-day.

One of my top life values is “living in the present moment“. This is something I am challenged by each year — perennially I add it to the the New Years resolutions list, but fail to find a way to execute on it. One of the smartest things I’ve done in my life to focus on the present moment is to marry my wife, Patty.  As those around us know, she has a knack for being in the present moment, so she often reminds me when I’m drifting away from this elusive goal.  But what to do when Patty has other things to tend to :)  ?

For 2010, I decided to use the power of Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn, and Facebook to try an experiment:  Gratitude 365.   For each day of the year, I focused on the things around me:  people, activities, and every-day joys and twogged (tweeted and blogged) one thing each day THAT I AM GRATEFUL FOR ….along with an associated visual (photo, drawing, image, video, etc).

The result of my visual experiment is on Flickr here.  The daily chronicle of things I posted is here on my Twitter posts for the year.  I found that Facebook was the best medium for encouraging ongoing response from friends/family to my  my daily musings, so I “Twogged” to facebook, twitter and LinkedIn simultaneously.

Living in the Present

It seems to me that to live in the present moment is one of the hardest things to do.

“To be completely in the Present Moment, one must Forgive the Past…and Faith the Future.”

- Guru Singh, 2010

My friend, Guru Singh, presented this year at my UC Berkeley  class on “Innovation, Creativity & the Entrepreneur,” and answered a student’s question which was “How does one live in the Present Moment?”   He pointed out that happiness itself is tied to the percentage of time that we spend living in the present moment…and few people on this earth can claim that their % is high.

I’ve thought about that over and over since the 10/27 class…and so have many of my students.

  • If I’m thinking about a grudge I hold, or something I failed at, or a fear someone placed in my mind, then I”m living in the PAST and haven’t forgiven myself or others…and I’m not in the present moment
  • If I’m thinking about something I want/need, or something I’ve planned, or day-dreaming about somewhere I’d rather be, or “bored” (a sure sign I’m not in the present) or considering somewhere I need to do, then I’m also not in the present.
  • If I’m WORRIED about a future activity, relationship, interchange, or …then I am lacking faith in the future.

How does one begin to forgive the past and faith the future? Perhaps by acknowledging the little things that we have each day, remembering to notice and acknowledge the things we take for granted, that are right under our nose.  Or perhaps to remember that many things we have are gifts from God, and not at all something we earned. This includes the homes we live in, the people around us, the food we eat, the water we drink.  Ask someone who has spent significant time in a Third World nation  and you realized that much of what we have is far and above what the “rest of world” has.

How do I “Faith” the Future?

Faith in the future means being aware that there is a higher source looking out for you, and trusting that this source (call it YHWH, Allah, Jesus, Holy Spirit, God, or Divine Energy – whatever pleases you most) has a plan for you.  Reading the book America’s Prophet (by Bruce Feiler) this holiday weekend, I was reminded that the phrase we American’s have chosen on our dollar bill is “In God we Trust”.

If I have faith and trust in a higher source, then I am willing to take more risk AND go with the flow.

For me, “Faithing” the future, does not mean giving up planning.  Actually, according to StrengthsFinder tests, my top life strength is “Futuristic”, so it would be unfortunate if I were not to use my top strength.  It means creating your best plans and setting the wheels in motion to achieve those plans, but also having faith when those little daily challenges test us, to “stay the course.”  And it means having the flexibility

What daily Gratitude taught me

“Gratitude 365″ was a helpful experiment in learning about myself.

I found that:

  • being grateful for things in my life mostly places me in the present moment – gratitude about the past is a nice dream, and gratitude about the future is a wish - the only real measure of PRESENT MOMENT is a moment of gratitude for what God has given me.
  • noticing things I’m grateful for requires focus – it’s hard to do if I’m stuck in the past, or dreaming about the future.  It is possible to simple close my eyes and think of 5-10 things I’m grateful for, just by focusing on what it is that I have.  Nothing else is required
  • once I practice noticing things I’m grateful for, I find it easier and easier to do

Ultimately, I think I’ve confirmed for myself that the things in life I’m most grateful for in life are relationships - everything else is really a “story”, a brief moment of happiness, or a whim.  So, for this year, the focus will be on creation, resolution, restoration, and deepening of relationships.

“ You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever–because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.”

- Steve Jobs, Stanford Graduation speech, June 2005

Gratitude may be the source of all great virtues

I’m glad that I chose Gratitude for the focus of 2010. It creates a foundation for continuing my own understanding of how to live a life of gratitude and focus on the present moment.  As the Roman philosopher Cicero said (circa 40 BC):

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”