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How to feel instantly better during this crisis (or anytime)

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It's so easy to think about what we DON'T have right now.

I catch myself thinking about things I miss like:

  • My normal routine
  • Seeing my family
  • Going out with friends
  • Going out to restaurants, bars and coffee shops
  • Walking outside without worry
  • Being able to get groceries normally
  • Lifting heavy weights
  • My 1x month haircut
  • Hands that aren't cracking from dryness

I'm sure you have your list, too.

But this is the problem:

When we focus on what we don't have, compared to what we expect to have (what we consider "normal"), we feel negative emotions like fear, stress, anxiety, sadness and anger.

During this pandemic or not, I've found that when I feel negative emotions, 100% of the time it's because something that happened didn't line up with my expectations of "what normal should be."

These negative emotions affect our mood, our productivity, how we treat others and even our physical health.

The antidote?

"Trade your expectations for appreciation, and your whole world changes in an instant." Tony Robbins

This quote changed my life.

When I focus on appreciating what I do have, I instantly feel grateful and happy.

Because as I learned from Tony, you can't feel fear and gratitude at the same time.

And if you're alive, breathing, and able to read this post, you have so much to be thankful for.


The 5 Degrees of Gratitude

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Writing in my gratitude app first thing in the morning is one of the most impactful habits I've developed since becoming an entrepreneur.

At first, it was hard not to be repetitive: I'm thankful for my work, my family and my friends, big accomplishments and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

But from practicing this habit for the last several years, I realized there are so many levels to gratitude that we take for granted.

From this discovery, I've developed what I call The 5 Degrees of Gratitude.

They scale in order of their difficulty to practice.


1. Big Gratitude

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This is the easiest degree of gratitude to practice.

For me, it includes the big things like I'm an entrepreneur, my fiancée, my family and friends, memorable vacations, big accomplishments and my health (i.e.- I don't have a serious illness).

This is where I used to get stuck.


2. Small Gratitude

Sunset from my balcony

Small Gratitude goes a degree deeper into things we sometimes take for granted.

Instead of "my family", this level allows me to appreciate a specific phone call I got to have with my parents.

There's no guarantee how many more of those I'll get.

Other examples:

  • A beautiful sunset
  • Getting a surprise text from a friend
  • A walk through the city
  • Watching a great new show with my fiancée
  • A great home-cooked meal
  • A delicious cup of coffee
  • Nostalgic smells (fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies)
  • Finishing a project
  • Getting a positive email from a customer
  • A childhood memory


3. Micro Gratitude

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Micro Gratitude gets into things that many people never remember to appreciate.

Until I started this gratitude practice, I'd take for granted facts like:

  • I'm healthy enough to take care of myself and walk, let alone exercise
  • My heart pumps blood and my lungs breathe air, both without me even thinking about it
  • I have a roof over my head
  • I have access to food and water
  • I have clothes and shoes
  • I have a phone and a computer
  • I have an education
  • I have people to turn to if I need help

When we get busy or feel negative emotions, it's easy to forget how much we consider normal that isn't normal for everyone else.


4. Adverse Gratitude

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I picked this one up from author Ryan Holiday.

The first three Degrees focus on positive facts, experiences and sensations.

Adverse Gratitude is about feeling appreciation for things that, on the surface, seem negative.

"I try to find ways to express gratitude not for the things that are easy to be grateful for, but for what is hard. Gratitude for that nagging pain in my leg, gratitude for that troublesome client, gratitude for that delayed flight, gratitude for that damage from the storm." Ryan Holiday

I've experienced amazing benefits from practicing this form of gratitude.

For example, a few years ago a client asked us to do a project that turned out to be absolutely miserable. Communication was poor which more than doubled the necessary work, we did not get paid nearly enough, and I didn't enjoy what I was doing.

Using Adverse Gratitude, I forced myself to think about what I appreciated about this experience.

I realized a few things:

  • I still got paid to be an entrepreneur
  • After that, we stopped taking on those projects
  • That project made me appreciate all the other work we love that we get paid to do

This pandemic is another great example.

It's so easy to think about what we don't have right now. And if you've lost a loved one or a close friend to the virus, this becomes even harder.

But what about the positive benefits?

  • I've spent double the amount of time with my fiancée than normal 
  • I've talked to my family and friends more than I normally do
  • Without traveling for meetings and programs, I've been able to redo our website and develop new courses


5. Present Gratitude

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This is the hardest Degree to practice because it requires you to be 100% in the moment.

You can't be thinking about anything in the past, or anything in the future.

It's being in a conversation and really listening- not worrying about what you're going to say next.

Or being able to fully appreciate one of the first 4 Degrees of Gratitude while they're happening.

This has taken me a lot of effort, including learning how to meditate. And I can still get a lot better.

For me, practicing this Degree of Gratitude is being able to appreciate anything while it's happening:

  • Phone calls with my grandmas
  • Texting with a friend
  • A family dinner
  • The present moment on a vacation, not what's coming up later that day or week
  • The anticipation of a trip or big event
  • Presenting in a student workshop


How to start practicing

A regular practice will be the most impactful, but the best way to start is to start small.

Right now, just once, go through the 5 Degrees of Gratitude and express one thing you can be grateful for in each Degree.

  1. Big: What/who is something/someone special and awesome that you're extremely grateful for?
  2. Small: What's something that happened today that, when you look back at the end of your life/think about less fortunate people not experiencing, is actually pretty special?
  3. Micro: What's something you take for granted every day that not everyone has?
  4. Adverse: What's something/who's someone that made you feel negative emotions? What about that fact/experience/person can you feel grateful for, and what positive benefits resulted from that?
  5. Present: When was the last time you were able to feel grateful in the moment? How can you practice this kind of appreciation more often?

"Trade your expectations for appreciation, and your whole world changes in an instant." Tony Robbins


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