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New Years Resolutions: Gratitude & Living in the Present

January 2nd, 2011 by admin Leave a reply »

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.”


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6 comments

  1. Yonson says:

    To live in the present moment is very difficult. It means not only not thinking about any preconceptions but also not worrying about any consequences. To be worry free and do/enjoy things just because they are the right things to do and it feels right. I believe if we all were to live in the present moment, we would see the “rest” of the world that’s in front of our eyes everyday but we are too preoccupied with other matters to even notice. Anytime one can truly enjoy the moment, is a time to be grateful for.

  2. Frank Spindler says:

    Thank you Randy – you’ve given us all an inspiring set of reflections, remembrances, challenges, and most of all a wonderfully chosen attitude to focus on the present with a spirit of gratitude. Thank you for sharing of yourself and your gifts with so many people in so many ways. I for one am extremely grateful for your presence in our lives.

  3. Mike O'Dorney says:

    > the hardest goals to achieve are the ones that require a “state of mind” (happiness, gratitude,

    I think that to change my attitude, I need to change my behavior. That means I not only have to do things differently, but I have to do different things. Naturally, I find doing things differently can be initially “unhappy” – it takes longer, it requires different tools, it requires some change in the physical or relational environment and the first time is not as “pretty” as I’d like. And doing it over, in the mindset of “micro-thinking” feels like a waste of time, but in the mindset of “macro-thinking” is the core of forgiveness and grace.

    A second way of “neutralizing” a bad attitude is to do an end run and focus on the relationships. A mindless task can mean boredom but it can also mean relationships. I have a neighbor who often stops by when I work on my cars. It’s a great time when I take three hours to change an air filter! When I’m faced with an “attitude” challenge, sometimes i can turn 90 degrees and make it a relationship success.

    > He pointed out that happiness itself is tied to the percentage of time that we spend living in the present moment…

    I realize that StrengthsFinder and Myers Briggs are different, but some overlap exists.
    http://www.cppiconsuccess.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/myers-briggs-strengthfinders-guide.pdf

    Just as some of us are wired to different levels of solitude versus socialization (E versus I), some of us are wired to different levels of present versus future. The four largest MBTI groups (the SJ’s) are “immediate” types, while the seven smallest (Counselor, Mastermind, Architect, Healer, Inventor, Teacher and Corporate Planner) all have a high “future” component. I would theorize that each type has an optimum amount of “future sauce” thus, living in the present has a similar optimum percentage. Deviating from that percentage would produce unhappiness, but that percentage would vary between different types. Living in the present is good, just that an ENTJ is going to have a lower percentage than an ISTJ (but be equally happy).

    I would point out that Western Culture, particularly in the United States, facilitates a “flatness” of the MBTI distribution, such that the rare types are more frequent. While other cultures (such as British Colonial Paternalism) favor SJ types heavily, and suppress the smaller groups. That doesn’t mean “bad”, just that some concepts need a little fine tuning.

    > For me, “Faithing” the future, does not mean giving up planning. … It means creating your best plans and setting the wheels in motion to achieve those plans, … And it means having the flexibility

    > …then I am willing to take more risk AND go with the flow

    Planning, risk management and flexibility management all work together, like the three axes in mathematics. The objective is to get farther from zero, and any of the three will achieve that, but all three will achieve it better.

  4. Meri says:

    Great post, Randy. . I liked looking at your flickr images about gratitude throughout the year (though towards the end I couldn’t open the link), for they often reminded me of things I was also grateful for; in effect, they helped me “enjoy the present” with you. :) I identify with your reflections that relationships are the most important part of living in the moment. For me, it is the challenge of which relationships to invest in at what point–we are blessed to be part of a wonderful web of people. Gratitude is a gift that will always give back.

  5. admin says:

    Mike – enjoyed hearing about your thoughts on comparison of MBTI and SF – great observations and comparison! RH

  6. I wholeheartedly agree. Gratitude is likely the most under-rated tool for setting you up for success.
    I like the Steve Jobs quote about looking back to connect the dots vs looking forward.
    One of the sage ones in the world, Tim Seeton, who works with Danone globally, talks about the Merlin Paradigm. You need to stand in the future and look back to the past to begin to see a path to your dreams.
    Many facilitators do this in their work – having you write the headline for 5 years from now …then asking what would the decisions need to be to get you to that headline.

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