We skirted the edge of a hilly vineyard in Paso Robles, California, where juicy grapes were just short of harvest. The sun had just risen, the chill and mist of the early morning was just wearing off, and the group of us were perfectly silent, despite the Instagram-perfect scene before us and our desire to articulate it out loud.
Instead, we silently practiced the inner work of gratitude.
Gratitude is something I've begun to view as an entrepreneur's superpower, especially for those of us looking to balance the roller coaster of the startup life with the parallel highs and lows of parenting. Even better, since it's so easily done and within reach at any moment, gratitude is practically a superpower on demand.
As an entrepreneur, practicing mindfulness and especially gratitude strengthens the fibers of resiliency that are so necessary to a startup life. As a yoga and meditation teacher, I've learned mindfulness and gratitude are areas of study philosophically and scientifically. Combining those approaches creates a unique perspective on the most realistic, effective and helpful strategies.
Here's a brief summary of what entrepreneurs most need to know about the practice of gratitude.
Start with the basics.
Start by listing the most essential things you're grateful for. As in, I'm grateful I woke up today. I'm grateful I slept on a bed, with a blanket and even a pillow. I'm grateful I have a selection of clothes to choose from, food on my table at breakfast, and enough money in my pocket for a cup of coffee.
These are basic things but they are not small things. They are the essential building blocks for a practice of gratitude, and it's important to be very familiar with them. Particularly for the down days when the climb seems insurmountable, we can find things to be grateful for. That's true even if what we're grateful for is the air we breathe and a roof over our head.
Write them down or say them out loud.
A few years ago I experimented with writing a gratitude list every single day for 365 days. My kids were little, the school carpool lane was part of my everyday life, and that's when the gratitude list most often happened. I did it electronically on a private blog, which meant I could scroll back through the days for reminders as often as needed.
Those 365 days of gratitude shifted some things.
It turns out that listing the things we're grateful for, especially out loud or in writing, starts to shift our mindset because it activates our parasympathetic nervous system. That's the part of our biology that offsets stress, including anxiety and anger.
There's science behind the effects of gratitude, like evidence of reduced cortisol and increased activity in different areas of the brain. Like many other skills from learning a second language to interval training at the gym, we also know that short but consistent practice is more beneficial than longer but more sporadic periods of engagement.
All of which is helpful to know but here's the bottom line: gratitude offsets stress and anxiety, and it makes us feel safe. That's what I call a superpower.