We keep calling it “burn out”, but-

Are you burnt out, or are you being abused? Is there a difference?

            You may find yourself in a position where you know you don’t feel right about your job. Are you anxious, and constantly worried about tasks that need to be completed? Maybe you find yourself working longer and longer hours and doing more for your job, but you still feel like it isn’t good enough and you feel guilty and shamed for taking time off, or just working normal hours.

            Is this burnout? Or is it something else?

People always think of romantic relationships when they think of being abused. But any type of relationship can be abusive if it involves coercive power and control. You might think it’s strange to call your job abusive, and it might feel safer to just chalk it up to burnout and move on.

But the thing is, burn out is characterized by an underlying feeling of exhaustion and helplessness in coping with the demands of your job. You become negative and cynical, detached, and you may have problems with mood, sleep, or physical health. You do the bare minimum, and you are not motivated or driven to accomplish work goals.

Abuse is characterized by an underlying fear of harsh consequences to unrealistic demands. Instead of becoming detached, you become hyperaware and anxious. Your motivation is to please your boss, and it may feel like you can’t ever really do that. So, you find yourself working more, doing more, and feeling less effective and successful as time goes on. You may look around and think, “Man, I used to be good at this job- what happened?”

So, what is “coercive power and control”? It’s when someone in a position of authority over you (power) uses manipulation, intimidation, flattery, compliments, and even threats (coercion) to get you to do things that you might not want to do, or that actively cause you harm (control) but that ultimately benefit the person in authority. In its most brutal and obvious form, we see this as intimate partner violence. But coercive power and control, like many things, exists on a spectrum and doesn’t have to include the threat of physical violence in order to be harmful.

“Why do you stay in that shit job?”

Well, it didn’t start out as a shit job, did it? Because if it did, you wouldn’t have stayed so long. Maybe it seemed like a great place to be at first, maybe they offered benefits and promises to entice you. Or maybe the job was really good, and new management came in and the culture changed. Whatever it is, by the time things have started to get bad, you are already bought in and invested in the job and company.

Places do this by calling the job your “family” and talking about loyalty. Maybe they hype you up or talk up the important work you are doing. This is called “love bombing” when a manipulative boyfriend does it.

And then, slowly tension builds. Little comments are made about your work- could you maybe do this differently next time? Oh, you can’t work overtime this week? I thought you were dedicated and liked it here. Or maybe there’s some play on your guilt- we really need you to take on these extra projects, clients, tasks because if you don’t, then no one will and these people will suffer. I thought you got into this job to help people and build your long-term career; I didn’t realize you were only in this for money and recognition for yourself.

I’ve even personally worked for agency’s who suggested that if I left their organization that would reflect very poorly on my professional reputation. And who tried to tell me that they were paying salary and benefits packages that were worth more than current industry standards despite clear evidence to the contrary.

And just when you are getting so fed up, and you feel like the only thing you could do right would be to just quit, here they come with some love bombing again. Personal note from the CEO themself? Staff meeting, anyone? We know you’ve been working so hard and doing way too much with not enough money or support. We need you doing this important work that only you can do, so here is some minor token of appreciation to boost your morale for the next 6 months.

Abuse is never transparent, and it never happens right away. It’s a process of slowly eroding your self-worth while reinforcing your dependence. Before you know it, you feel personally responsible for the outcomes of your clients’ lives. You become fearful, anxious, and even resentful. You constantly worry about work, about pleasing your boss, about helping your clients and you constantly worry about being fired, being blacklisted, being demoted.  Being burnt out.

But this is not burn out, my friend. If this sounds familiar to you, then its abuse. Your job is taking advantage of you. You don’t deserve it, you didn’t ask for it, but here we are, stuck. I know you can get out of it, and you can learn to have a healthy work life balance and good solid boundaries with your job. For now, just take a deep breath, give yourself some grace. Try to see your situation without judgement- just try to fully accept where you are at right now.

I want you to know that it is okay to leave a job that isn’t working well for you. It’s okay to call a spade a spade and move on. In fact, I believe that it is necessary for your well-being that you carefully choose what you do with your time, and I want to empower you to make changes to any area of your life where you aren’t satisfied. More on that soon.

Empathetic Detachment- what is it and how can it help?

If you find yourself personally carrying the emotional weight of many lives, this might be a helpful time to learn about empathetic detachment.

With empathetic detachment, we can care about what is going on, without taking personal responsibility for outcomes that are beyond our control.

Empathetic detachment allows us to have empathy while also maintaining boundaries, giving us a clearer view of what really is within our ability to control, and allowing us the space to take meaningful action instead of emotional action.

Think of empathetic detachment as the ability to see a situation or person and care about the outcomes without feeling the need to immediately get involved or alter the outcome. It’s like taking a step back, to see the whole story.

Think about it in terms of watching a movie with characters you really LOVE, and you are truly invested in. You truly care about their story and what happens to them. But you understand that you can’t actually change any part of their story-and you aren’t foolish enough to try- you aren’t a part of their story.

Seeing it in this way can remove the urgency to act and give us a minute to think about the correct meaningful action. And we are talking about real people, so another part of empathetic detachment is recognizing where, when, how, and if you can provide meaningful action.

And you already know how to do this! We engage in empathetic detachment when we hear of a horrible natural disaster, war, or violence in another place. We empathize with and ache for the human loss there and we decide where, when, how and if, to send support, but we understand that we can’t take personal responsibility for lives lost hundreds of miles away.

Meaningful action is better than emotional action in these situations. Emotional action might lead to impulsive things like starting organizations without checking to see if there is already an organization filling that specific need. Meaningful action would support organizations already operating to help with the problem. Practicing empathetic detachment helps us to engage in more meaningful action and less emotional action.

Like all good things, empathetic detachment can be a problem. For example, if it keeps us from acting when action is necessary. We can become comfortable “caring” about a cause and doing nothing to help it. If we become too detached, we lose the ability to empathize. Empathetic detachment is not disengaged, it is simply not ruled by panic or urgency. If you find yourself detached emotionally and not caring about things, that is something different, and I hope you talk to someone about that.

But right now, with things feeling so uncertain, I hope that you try to practice empathetic detachment and meaningful action. Maybe it will help you!

The Self-harm fulfilling prophesy

One of the interesting and damaging things about certain types of childhood trauma is the way our sense of self and boundaries are affected. If you were conditioned as a child to have no boundaries or very unhealthy ones, then as an adult you may find you struggle with giving too much information too quickly to people. Or, you may find that you attach with people very quickly and give them everything you have right away- even when they aren’t doing the same for you.

You may have found that when you gave people some of your deepest secrets- they didn’t respect the sacrifice you had made. Maybe they used your pain or your trauma against you. This could have even left you thinking that you are even more unworthy than before.

You aren’t alone in this. And you aren’t wrong for trying to find someone to share yourself with, to share your pain and secrets with.

But maybe we need to learn to be careful with ourselves.

Because I think that sometimes in our loneliness, we grasp on to the closest person, the one who shows even a fraction of care and concern. Because maybe we aren’t used to the feeling of having anyone have care about us. We often don’t read social cues very well and so we often feel awkward. Maybe we just have to believe that there is someone out there who will finally see us and hear us, and we will belong.

Here’s what happens. When we give too much of ourselves too fast, people run. Or they use the information against us, or they throw it in our face or humiliate us with it.  And we are left feeling worthless again.

I call this the self-harm fulfilling prophesy. I’m talking about emotional self-harm.

Think about the cycle. You feel unworthy, and you try to put yourself out there. You give people too much information and they use it against you. You feel betrayed, unworthy. After a while you repeat the cycle. Sometimes we play this out with new people and sometimes we play it out with the same people over and over again- like people in our family.

The thing is, before long, you start to believe it because you keep proving it to yourself. And- you may not know this, but- we can get used to feeling depressed. If you have a mood that gets reinforced over and over, well, it becomes your normal. You don’t like it, but you don’t know how to change it. Then if you do happen to have a moment when you feel good or happy, it feels awkward too and so you doubt yourself, and your feelings and you keep finding yourself in situations that keep you feeling like crap. You aren’t happy feeling this way, but you don’t know how to feel good and you don’t know how to have people around you that are supportive. Maybe you recognize the cycle, maybe you don’t. But you don’t know how to stop it and you feel like you deserve it anyhow.

I call this emotional self-harm because it’s what happens when the voices that made you feel unworthy in the first place have now become your own voice. When that message now clouds your thoughts and behaviors in ways that you can’t see anymore because it is just normal now. A lot of times people will be able to see the pattern but will lack the ability to see their own part in it. They feel victimized over and over again- and, they aren’t wrong, exactly.

This is just one thread in the complex fabric that is family trauma, and it is one of the areas that therapy can help to treat.

If any of this sounds like you, I want to encourage you to find a therapist. You would benefit from a person who is on your side and who can help you to see the big picture. Therapy can help you to recognize these patterns within yourself and help you to find ways to stop perpetuating them.

But there are a few ways that you can begin to help yourself.

Learn to recognize and name how you feel.

A good first step is being able to recognize and name how you feel. This sounds simplistic, but it may feel scary and really hard. Many times, it is easier for us to recognize the feelings of others than it is for us to recognize how we are feeling. Being able to recognize our feelings can help us begin the process of honoring ourselves and honoring those feelings.

Consider how much you give to others and recognize how it makes you feel.

Another good step is to consider how much you give to others and to think about how those people make you feel when you do. Feeling anger or resentment toward a person is a good indication that you are giving too much.

And then I also want you to know that it is OKAY to feel the way that you are feeling, and it is OKAY to say no when you need to. You don’t need permission for this, but you have it- just by virtue of being a person.

Remember that it is really hard to make changes. Patterns of behavior become fixed, and we move within those patterns without really thinking about what we are doing most of the time. Other people may also not like the changes you are making and may try to stop you from making them. Remember that people’s reactions are about them, not you.  

Also, please always remember to give yourself grace, and remember that this is about practice, not perfection.

I am tired of burn out.

I am tired of burn out.

I am tired of talking about it and thinking about it. I am tired of hearing about it and trying to help my clients work through it while I am struggling with it at the same time. We already know we are living through historical times- I think everybody is tired of hearing that too. We need to learn to take care of ourselves during these times, and it has been hard to figure out. We have faced isolation and grief over the last 3 years that most of us have never seen before. This complicates things in ways we could never have predicted or imagined, and we are facing not just work burn out, but life burn out.

I know that you have heard this before but I want you to know there are things you can do, and I hope that you are already working on it. Maybe some of the things I have learned will be helpful to you. I like to say, take what’s helpful, leave what’s not.

One of the things that has helped me significantly is realizing that I don’t have to be afraid to talk about feelings of burn out. Feeling this way doesn’t mean I have to change my entire career- it doesn’t mean I have to stop doing work that I love. I am a therapist, and I hear this misconception a lot from colleagues and clients. When we can talk about the problem, we can find acceptance for the problem, and that is where we find the freedom to change. I know that sounds like the obvious therapist thing to say but here’s what I know; feelings of burnout and job satisfaction will come and go over the course of all careers- it is how we address it in those moments that can help keep us in the work we enjoy.

And especially if you are in a helping profession like me, I want you to know that we don’t have to pretend that we have it all together in our own lives in order to help others. Listen, I am not advocating for doing therapy when you are mentally unsafe. I am saying that it is okay to address your everyday (and even some big) life concerns while you are working. But we must be actively working on our own shit so we can be at our most effective when helping others and more importantly, to help ensure we are causing no harm to our clients. I see people who are afraid to acknowledge their own life struggles because that may mean they aren’t “fit” to help anymore. We all know how it works out when we don’t acknowledge a problem- right?

So do what we ask our clients, our friends, and our family to do: do your own work and go to therapy. These are two separate actions. Going to therapy isn’t enough- do the work the therapy prescribes. Take part in consultation with trusted coworkers and hold yourself accountable for your actions.  If you are a helper, I believe you have a higher responsibility to your mental health and I challenge you to bravely face this concern. I think it is a slippery slope when we begin to feel like we are the ones who help, but we are never the ones who need the help. Get help when you need it. I want to be a good therapist for a long time. That means being honest with myself about what is working and what is not, then making any needed changes and holding myself accountable.

We must also learn to reject the title of “burnt out” as some sort of badge of honor in helping professions. In every clinic and agency I have ever worked, the culture of overworking and overextending yourself for the clients is paramount. It’s as if people believe that burn out proves their dedication to their work, and anything less is proof of no commitment.

This is a culture that has been encouraged in many professions, and it is the companies who largely benefit from it- I know colleagues and clients do not. Some professions seem to be addressing this type of work pressure, and people are expecting better environments from their work which seems to be causing big changes to many industries. However I feel the helping professions lag behind, with many companies and supervisors being more concerned about productivity goals than actual outcomes for clients or clinician mental health. We often carry a lot of guilt for work that is never ending, driving us to work more than we should and blur the boundary between work and home. I am working hard to reject the idea that burn out is a normal and expected part of what I do.

Another thing that really helps me when I feel burn out, honestly, is an attitude adjustment. I realize that when I feel burned out, it is often because I feel overwhelmed with things that seem beyond my control. I work with clients who have enduring abuse and trauma, who try to function in systems that seem determined to undermine them, and more than sometimes, it feels very heavy. It can be difficult to balance the complexities of my privilege, my own history of trauma, and the needs of my clients within these existing social and economic systems that I largely cannot change. If you couple that with current events and the vitriol of the political stage- it is just a lot. Too much.

An attitude adjustment is my conscious way of working through this. I remind myself to identify what I can and cannot control. I remind myself to focus my attention on those areas that I can control, and I look for signs that I am doing well, and I try to celebrate small victories and find moments to do little things that I used to like, even if its just for a few minutes, to remind myself that we are constantly relearning how to live.

But I am not one of those therapists that advocates for false positivity. I really hate that shit- its surface level and fake and I don’t have time for it. But I do think we need to romanticize our lives a bit. There is beauty and adventure in the mundane and everyday if you remember to see it. And believe it or not, you can appreciate the beauty of the morning while still being cranky as hell that you had to be up.

Because human persons have a range of emotions for a reason. Our feelings are rarely black and white and we can have more than one at a time. I believe that our feelings are a part of the information we collect about our environment and our experience. And because of that, I try to think about what the feeling is trying to tell me. So I believe that within the feeling of burnout is some very important information about how we need to work or live to be at our best. If we slow down and listen to that voice, we can make adjustments in our life that will help us to get through whatever we are dealing with right now.

I think that it is worth noting that whatever we feed, grows. There is a difference between understanding and honoring our feelings and living in them. We can become “stuck” in a mood, subconsciously feeding it while desperately wanting out. Our thoughts and behaviors can settle into unhelpful patterns and we can become resentful and feel hopeless. Moving out of these patterns means recognizing them and consciously working to change them. This is hard to do and requires that we both give ourselves grace and hold ourselves accountable for doing the work.

 I also would like to add, and loudly for the people in the back, that mindfulness will not fix this. At least not as the cure all coping skill it is made out to be by some people. Please see my thoughts about false positivity. And a vacation or time away can be a great place to start if you can manage it, but your burn out will still be waiting for you when you come back into the office- ask me how I know.

I know that in many fields including the helping ones, burn out was bad before the pandemic and has become an increasing concern over the last three years. I think we need to listen to that message that many of us are receiving collectively and really take a look at how we define work and how we can stay healthy for the long term as we do it. Because I believe the other part of managing burn out is about setting real boundaries with our work and life and making objective choices to change our environment or reduce our load or begin to work in areas or projects that we enjoy more. A big part of what helps me is the knowledge that I am in charge of how I spend my time, whether working or not. If my environment isn’t working well for me, then I am not going to be as good as I can be for myself or my clients.

Some days I feel like I have it all figured out and other days I am reminded that I don’t know anything at all really. I know we are all doing the best we can, and we just have to keep riding these waves as best we can.

Is depression always bad?

When we think of the many different human emotions, we often separate these feelings into categories of “good” and “bad” feelings. There are many reasons for this- maybe we were taught that certain expressions of feelings weren’t okay and so we categorize that feeling as bad. Or maybe someone else’s expression of an emotion frightened us, or perhaps even our own expression has frightened us and so we avoid those feelings that are uncomfortable, labeling them as “bad”.

But sometimes I think, is depression really “bad”?

Humans have a wide range of emotions. And those emotions are information that help us to determine what is happening to us and around us in our environment. Emotions help us determine how to respond. So, are any of our feelings truly bad or is that really just a matter of our interpretation?

This is not a moment where I am saying that depression is “all in your head” or “have you just tried to not be depressed?” Depression is very much a mood and can be a disordered mood at that. This state requires emotional work and sometimes outside help in the form of talk therapy and sometimes medication.

Rather, what I am getting at is this- if emotions are information that help us to determine what is happening in our life, then, what is the purpose of depression? I think that depression is also just another way that we make sense of our environment and what is happening to us right now. And if we consider that there may be some purpose or something to be learned, then perhaps this perspective can help us as we work on the areas of our life that is affected.

Depression usually makes us slow down and think. We become more introspective. We isolate, which I believe can be helpful and is not always a bad sign. We turn our thoughts inward. There are lots of unhelpful behaviors too, but we can say that about any kind of feeling or mood.

Maybe sometimes depression is an opportunity to process an experience, to learn a valuable lesson. Think about it- if we are depressed because of a breakup, maybe the message is pretty simple and obvious. Maybe we clearly did something that caused the breakup. Maybe we finally had to break up with a partner because we are truly incompatible. Perhaps we need some time to think about what has happened, and to realign ourselves with what we want in a partner.

I think that maybe we attempt to move away from these feelings too quickly sometimes and rob ourselves of the very real lessons we can learn. It makes sense- who wants to feel depressed and sad? Who wants to really sit and think about the ways we have been harmed or the ways that we have caused harm? Our culture also sends us messages that positive thinking will cure anything, and perceived negative vibes can be isolating. Well-meaning family and friends may reinforce these messages by telling us it’s time to move forward, stop being sad.

But what if by not facing our depression, by not feeling it, by not learning the meaning and finding the growth- what if we are feeding it?

I think we must learn to honor our feelings, to examine them and feel them, in order to resolve them. And honoring them may mean no longer naming a feeling as “good” or “bad” but simply seeing them for what they are. If we can exchange the word bad for uncomfortable maybe, we can create a little bit of space that helps us to move that depression in a healthy way, so that it will run it’s course as intended.

Not all heroes wear capes.

Springtime symbolizes rebirth and renewal. It also symbolizes the act of getting to work with the act of living. In the spring, the world wakes up and gets to work. Plants bloom, babies are born. We begin to climb out of our seasonal depression and into the sunlight where we find hope. Hope that life will go on after the hard season of winter, that the slate is wiped clean and we are all young and fresh once more.

I think of recovery in this way; a renewal and a time to do inner work. A time to find hope after the hard season of substance use disorder. But our clients are also reborn into a different world than other people. I don’t mean that they are interdimensional- no, but their experiences and recovery have shaped their perceptions so that they can choose to see the world in a different way.

People develop superpowers while struggling with addiction. They come to us highly skilled in creativity, debate, and yes, manipulation and deceit. I am often amazed at the abilities of our clients to both do good and wreak havoc. And when they get into good treatment and have the mindset and desire for recovery? That is when they learn my favorite superpower- empathy.

You see, there can be no empathy without love. And love that is healthy and robust begins with the self. Treatment and therapy help clients begin to heal in body and spirit. And as a part of that, they learn to love themselves and they learn to have empathy for themselves. Once that happens, they become interdimensional.

                Just kidding. But when you’ve walked through hell and been lucky enough to make it out on the other side, you have the ability to see things in a different light. You can see people in a different light. I had a client who graduated from drug court recently after lots of setbacks and struggles. It took him years to complete the program. He’s a superhero now, and I told him so. He can look at a person struggling with substance use, or a person living on the street, or just anyone who has made terrible choices and had to accept hard consequences and see them as a human person. He now has the ability to choose to extend his humanity to a person who may be lacking it right now. Sure, we all have this ability- but now this client knows just how much it can mean to a person to simply be seen as a person. He understands now that recovery isn’t linear, and people don’t always follow the same path in the same time.

                When clients get into recovery they learn what it’s like to climb back to the world from a deep pit. The road is not easy, and not all make it. There are moments of progress and regression, and sobriety and relapse. It takes bravery and grit, and sometimes some luck too. Our clients know what its like to be doing your very honest best and still come up short. And keep trying. Our clients know what it’s like to feel hopeless and down and to have no clear path forward. They know what it’s like to have no one believe in you, no one see your value or your worth.

                Our clients can see humanity where others will not. They can see and understand the pull and shame of addiction and relapse. They know that people fall- that they themselves may again fall- but they know that people can get back up and try again and that eventually, they might just make it.

And that is their superpower.

Gratitude practice- Why I want you to stop doing it

A gratitude practice is a daily habit of identifying and naming several things you are grateful for each day. Most people use a gratitude practice as a part of therapy or self-help to work on developing a more positive outlook.  Gratitude practices work well with cognitive behavioral and positive psychology approaches to therapy.

When a gratitude practice is well thought out, and individualized for each person, it can be an effective vehicle for personal growth and outlook change. When it’s thrown together without thought, I believe a “gratitude practice” can become a vehicle for resentment, continued low self-worth, and even in some ways, self-harm.

As a therapist, I have often used gratitude practices with my clients, sometimes as a journaling exercise and sometimes as a check in for group or individual therapy. I started to notice that there was a theme, especially with my clients who struggled with feelings of low self-worth. Everything they were grateful for was something outside of themselves- and often was something they had no control over.

“I am grateful for another sunny day!”

“I am grateful for my mom, and all of her support.”

“I’m grateful for my program/ job/ person/ dog.”

These are all awesome things to be grateful for, and we should not dismiss these sentiments. But we must be careful that statements such as this don’t become a part of discounting our own positives, or a tool for emotional self-harm.

“I’m grateful for another sunny day!” Because I can’t think of anything good in my life, but I’m expected to do this gratitude thing.

“I’m grateful for my mom.” Because I’m not capable of doing this on my own.

“I’m grateful my brother is a mechanic and will fix my car.” Because I’ll never make enough to get a better one.

Some people almost shame themselves for feeling any anger or resentment because that means they aren’t grateful and therefore aren’t progressing. Or they will shame themselves for not being grateful enough for the support and relationships they have with others. These people often struggle to find anything of value in themselves, and so the gratitude practice can become almost a way to compare themselves to others, and to subconsciously put themselves down. The gratitude practice can also become a way to “hide” in treatment by saying things which are expected without doing the internal emotional work.

 These concerns can be compounded by beliefs that “positive thinking” will somehow cure your depression or other life problem. These beliefs are often echoed by people around us when they encourage us to “put the (x) thing in the past” by thinking positively and avoiding the negative. We often feel the “fakeness” of this kind of helpful advice without being able to recognize the ways that we ourselves perpetuate this same fakeness in our own therapy.

The truth is that learning to think positively can impact our mental health in helpful ways and learning to be grateful and to see the awesome things this world has to offer can be an amazing gift. But it can also be taken to extremes when we actively seek to avoid anything we perceive as “negative’ as a means to avoid any potential setbacks. When positivity is used to shame people for circumstances beyond their control, or as a vehicle to victim blame. We have a range of emotions for a reason. Our feelings tell us things about our relationships and our environment and give us clues about how to behave and think in different circumstances. All of our feelings are valid and have purpose for our development and continued growth. Some positivity practices would have us believe that any stress or struggle in our life is a sign that we aren’t doing something right, and that through the power of positive thinking all of our problems can be solved.

Just as some people can get stuck in a web of toxic positivity, others can get mired in negative thinking. When we become accustomed to certain thinking patterns and to feeling certain ways, they can become a part of our identity- and that can be really hard to change. The key is not to swing the pendulum too far into the positivity racket, but rather to make simple, measured changes in their daily habits and in the ways that they think about and talk to themselves.

So I ask my clients to stop doing gratitude practices. Or rather, to change how they are practicing gratitude. In therapy, we work on creating an environment where clients can learn to be grateful for themselves and for their progress. I insist that clients choose personal traits or behaviors to list for gratitude.

“I’m grateful for the way I stood up for myself at work yesterday.”

“I’m grateful to myself for setting that boundary.”

“I’m grateful for the way I’ve been taking care of myself- yesterday was hard but I made it.”

“I’m grateful I stuck to my commitment to complete the program- I can achieve my goals and I just taught myself that.”

If clients struggle to identify good things about themselves to be grateful for, we come up with some together, and even write them down on notecards or post it notes to refer to later when their mind draws a blank. It is a practice after all, and change takes time and repetition. A gratitude practice that focuses on the productive, positive, and life affirming individual thoughts and behaviors of clients will help them to learn to trust and care for themselves and their own opinions as much as they value that of others. 

This concept can be difficult for clients who are not used to thinking about and acknowledging their own merits. Some people may feel that this amounts to a type of bragging. And the argument can be made that it is okay, actually, to be grateful for your mom, or your program/ job/ person/dog. So, whenever I ask a client to engage in a gratitude practice, I ask clients to remember the 2 to 1 rule. It works like this- for every one thing that I am grateful for outside of myself, I must think of two things that I am grateful for that pertain to me or that I have control over.

“I am grateful for my mom, and all of her support.”

“I am grateful for myself, for making the choice to enroll, ‘cause it was scary.”

“I’m grateful for setting that boundary, I feel better now that I did.”

The trick is to choose things that are a part of your character, not your appearance or things that can change suddenly, like income or status. This practice will help you to identify and further develop those parts of your character as well. A good gratitude practice is targeted to desired outcome. If you are practicing gratitude to learn to be happier in your life, then try target it towards those areas of your character that you want to explore and develop. Even a short amount of time on a regular basis can make a real difference in your outlook.