What’s Not Wrong?
Gratitude has become a popular buzzword. Lots of self-help gurus tout the power of a gratitude practice. Several years ago, during one of my more depressed periods — and I’ve had more than my share of those — I watched an Oprah show on gratitude.
“Choose to be grateful,” her guest said, “It’ll change your perspective on life.” She went on to describe her gratitude practice, how it erased all the anxiety, pain and doubt from her life and helped her through a difficult medical diagnosis. It was the revolutionary key to her happiness.
Inspired by the moment and hoping it would help me cope with my depression and overeating disorder, I ran out and bought the book and the accompanying Gratitude Journal that Oprah’s guest was selling. I kept it up for about a week and a half. Then it sat, along with the rest of self-help and diet books that were collecting dust on my shelf. It didn’t work, and of course I blamed myself for the failure.
In hindsight, thinking that writing down a few good things in my life every day would solve my problems was an overreach. It actually made me feel guilty. It highlighted the abundance in my life, which is what it’s intended to do. But that in turn intensified the feeling of being a screw-up and of wasting what I was given. Gratitude has been connected with a number of healthy effects for some people, but forcing it won’t help. So if you’ve tried it and it hasn’t worked, here’s an alternative.
Instead of a Gratitude Practice
At some point in my coaching I ask all my clients to do a “What’s not wrong?” practice. It’s easy and takes about two minutes daily.
Simply ask yourself twice each day, morning and evening, “What’s not wrong?”
Keep the answers short and simple, no need to write anything down.
The first time I did this practice I had a dental abscess and a sprained ankle — all I really wanted to do was complain about how miserable I was. But I asked the question and found the answers:
What’s not wrong? My car is running ok
What’s not wrong? I turn on the tap and potable water runs out
What’s not wrong? I have functioning computer
What’s not wrong? My husband is cooking dinner for me tonight
What’s not wrong? I have a dentist appointment on Monday
Asking yourself the question each time helps with the pacing and gives you a moment to think.
That’s it. Five things, twice a day. You can only come up with the same five things every time? That’s ok too.
When I first introduce this to clients, they immediately think I’m asking them to list what they’re grateful for. No gratitude — or feelings of any kind for that matter — just a short assessment of your life facts in the moment. When I was a student coach, one of my mentors wanted me to change the question to “What’s right?” Because of course, we need to focus on the positive. I don’t agree. When you ask yourself, “What’s not wrong?” You open up so many more possibilities. It doesn’t have to be right, it only has to be not wrong.
Creating Your “What’s not wrong?” habit
The most difficult thing about this practice is remembering to do it, so hook it onto something else you do regularly. For me, in the morning, it’s when I first sit down with my coffee, and in the evening, it’s when I’m brushing my teeth.
Still can’t remember? Put a post-it note with “What’s not wrong?” written on it somewhere where you’ll see it — your bathroom mirror, your steering wheel, your laptop. That will remind you to take a minute for the practice.
When you’re eating too much because you’re stressed, anxious, and/or depressed, this practice can be one tool in your toolbox for managing feelings with something other than food.
What’s not wrong today?