The GRATITUDE Challenge

Springtime is always remnant of a fresh bud, ready to bloom. It is traditionally a time of Renewal and Reflection. We all start the year off with a clean slate and fill our lives with optimism, hope, dreams and aspiration. With Spring we are ready to bloom.

This is a time for letting go of resentments that clutter our heads and taking up much needed space. It’s a time to practice forgiveness of others and ourselves.

In my book Falling Up- A Memoir of Renewal, I share life events that took me down the rabbit hole of resentment, confusion, betrayal, upset, bewilderment, and disbelief to the other side of ecstasy and joy. Though not an easy emotional shift, all of us can learn how to look at the world through a lens of forgiveness. Think about how hard it is when we are faced with even minor shifts–like a husband or partner forgetting a birthday or a friend not inviting us to a party or our employer not paying on time. We hold on to grudges, refusing to soften our anger, even plotting revenge. Think how we feel when insurmountable wrongdoing occur to us as a result of the actions of someone we love or the folks down the street. And, like all things we must learn in life, finding forgiveness is a Process. It is not an all or none phenomenon, and one may never be able to forgive completely.

Recently, I spoke at a BRC Recovery Center in Austin’s Spring Round Up and was greeted by treatment providers from Texas and even California. I spoke about how one need’s to take care of themselves physically, emotionally and consistently with one’s values and/or spirituality. I also asked the group of 70 plus professionals if they started their days with a gratitude list. I was surprised to see that only 3 people raised their hands. In the spirit of inviting folks to change, I challenged the group to buddy up, wake each day and write down 5 things they are grateful for. I am pleased to report that over half those in attendance have since written me and buddied up. The Gratitude Challenge is off and running!

Before one can be Grateful one must also on the road to compassion, forgive.

Forgive yourself first.

Many of you are familiar with 12-step philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous. In the fourth step, one is asked to make amends to all persons we have harmed. In truth we must first learn to forgive them. By doing so, we honor them. Secondly, make amends to all people you have harmed whenever possible in ways that protect yourself and allow you to grow.

Forgiveness is not Forgetting.

When we look at life events that have been challenging, we never forget the pain or sorrow. You can still forgive while acknowledging the drama and victimization was bad. You must ask: what does holding on to resentment cost me? How many sleepless nights, how many hours does my head spin thinking about this or that? How many times do I walk another way to avoid seeing that person etc.? How many hours have I spent in counseling? In other words, how much of my life is spent on the tragedies of past errors. Forgiveness is for you and your well-being!

Forgiveness is about addressing your hurt and sorrow.

What do you need to take care of yourself? It is inner not outer. It is powerfully grieving the losses one has experienced and letting go – coming out the other side. Not freshly minted like a new shiny coin, rather, well worn, wiser and ready to take on today

Evidence-based reasons that support forgiving.

Megan Feldman Bettencourt and Robert Enright in The 8 Keys to Forgiveness demonstrate that studies have shown that forgiving others produces strong psychological benefits for those that forgive. “Decreases in depression, anxiety, unhealthy anger, rage and even PTSD are reduced through forgiving. In addition, brain studies show that forgiveness increases the ability to be empathetic.”

Practice forgiveness.

It’s like putting on new clothes or doing daily exercise. Do you think you have been angry long enough or do you still need to be angry? What goodness does righteous indignation give you? Do you gossip about others, put yourself on a pedestal of pain and worry?

Put yourself in the other person’s pain.

Easier said than done. Try a little empathy. Brain studies show that forgiveness increases the ability to be empathetic. And when one gives up anger, it reduces physical problems associated with stress.

Find meaning.

Discover what was the lesson to learn. In my memoir, Falling Up, I share the many experiences I have had with sudden death, the aftermath of people that were kind and folks that turned their cheeks. In all of those, I explored the gift that each of those experiences gave me. I learned that beneath the trepidation and disaster is the gift.

What’s the silver lining? Practice optimism from the inside out.

When you discover forgiveness, you clear the way for optimism. It turns out that optimism is more than just a positive state of mind. It’s also a competitive advantage in business, sports and politics. While the pessimists are complaining about the future, and the realists are talking about it, and the optimists are working hard to create it. The research shows that your attitude helps create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Optimists believe in a positive future and thus are willing to take actions to achieve.

Surround yourself with good folks.

There is nothing better than folks that have your back. In my work, I am fortunate enough to have a teammate who always has my back. I can always count on him to support the wounded families we work with. Likewise I have a team of folks who supported me while growing up and surviving the many tragedies I experienced. Likewise, while writing Falling Up, I had a team of family that believed in me and kept me going much like the children’s story, The Little Engine That Could. Their spirit and their optimism even in the bleakest of days are the Bright Spots that fill my soul

Develop a Forgiving Heart.

This must be a daily practice. Ultimately FORGIVENESS IS FOR YOU AND YOUR WELL BEING. So when you body wells up in anger and righteous indignation, try, as the old song suggests, a little tenderness towards yourself! I have found that doing a daily gratitude list helps me build this muscle as well as practicing kindness.

Grieve Your Losses.

One must grieve that which causes them pain or sorrow. It can be something self-inflicted, a betrayal by someone, a sudden loss or death. Through grieving we find Renewal.

Practice Gratitude Daily.

There’s nothing better and oft times harder than waking up each morning and writing down 5 things you are grateful for. Buy a journal, or like I do, use a legal notebook pad and keep your list. Share your 5 things with a friend, or when it’s quiet, go back and read what you are grateful for. Doing so helps you create rainbows even in the midst of thunderstorms.

Let me know the ways you practice Forgiveness! Get a Buddy and Hold Yourself Accountable with a Daily Gratitude List. Write me at and share what you are doing, and I will write another article on what you are all teaching one another. Know that you can Always, “FALL UP.”

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