Chapter 22: See the mountains — Working with gratitude & appreciation

In November 2011, I went through one of the most grueling physical challenges I’d ever faced — the Goruck Challenge, a 13-hour military-style physical challenge with nonstop pushups, running, carrying huge logs, carrying teammates on your back, doing bear crawls and crab crawls in the sand and cold ocean water … all with about 60 lbs. of bricks in my backpack.

I’d voluntarily signed up for it, with the idea that doing it was going to make me feel like a badass. Instead, it made me feel like I had entered hell with a backpack on. At two different points, I was so exhausted and miserable that I wanted to quit.

Every time I found my mind wanting to get away from the discomfort, I would focus on the ground in front of me. I would try to get back into the moment, rather than the comfortable place I wished I was in (that was playing in my Mind Movie). I would see the ground, the grass, the sand, the bugs in front of me. I tried to notice it all, to soak it in and appreciate every detail.

And then I’d look up at the sky — the brilliant, bright, multihued sky that was the symbol of the gloriousness of life for me. And I’d be overcome with gratitude.

Are we almost there yet?

A metaphor I’ve found useful is a family road trip where you’re driving and the kids are riding in the back seat. You’re driving by some beautiful mountain scenery, and the kids are impatiently saying, “Are we almost there yet?” They’re focused on the destination, and so they miss everything — the scenery, the conversation — along the way!

Our minds often work in the same way: we want to get to the finish line, or to that comfortable place, and that means we’re missing out on the miracle of the present moment. When you notice that your mind has become that impatient kid in the backseat, missing the mountains outside and focused on how long this darn trip is taking, pause instead. Be compassionate with that little child, and then redirect its view to the mountains. Appreciate the mountains.

This little mind trick has helped me in every kind of situation I can think of: in arguments with my wife, in times when I lost patience with my kids, in workouts when I felt too tired to stick with it, in times of doubt about my writing or business.

I turn from the resistance and the doubt and the frustration and the discomfort, and instead try to notice and appreciate everything about the moment, the person in front of me, myself. And find a way to be grateful.

Each time, the resistance melted away, and I was happy to be doing what I was doing:

  • An argument with my wife was only possible because I have a wonderful wife to disagree with.
  • Losing patience with my kids is only possible because I have incredible kids who love me.
  • Feeling tired in a workout is nothing compared to the fact that I’m physically able to do a workout, healthy enough, alive enough!
  • Doubt in my writing is a part of the beautiful process of creation, which I’m lucky enough to be able to do for a living.
  • Doubt in my business is a part of the joy of owning my own business, being my own boss.
  • Illness with a loved one is difficult, but I often find myself grateful that I have that loved one in my life, sick or not.
  • The death of my grandfather was terribly sad, of course, but I also found gratitude that I had him as such a profound influence in my life and for the great laughs he gave me.
  • Losing my job a few years back was terrifying and demoralizing, until I found gratitude for being able to reinvent myself and to create a new chapter in my life.

And so on. Every moment has something to appreciate and be grateful for. I learned that finding this gratitude is a surefire way to melt away the resistance that plagues us all.

Once you’re in that place of peace, you’re free to act without fear, without anger or procrastination or frustration. You can now approach a situation with clear eyes, come from a place of curiosity, act with mindfulness and compassion. Melting away the resistance with gratitude is always a good idea.

Mission: Appreciate the habit

Today, as you do your habit, turn from the resistance and the desire to be finished or in a place of comfort … and find things to notice, to appreciate and to be grateful for. See the beauty of the mountains and appreciate that beauty. Journal about your gratitude.

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