At times like this, it can be extra hard to connect with gratitude.
But it’s more important than ever that we cultivate our ability to turn our minds toward the beauty, the kindness, the good in the world. And this goes for yourself, too. When is the last time you took the time to appreciate the beauty, kindness, and goodness of YOU?
About a year ago, I started keeping a gratitude journal. Not just any gratitude journal. A journal in which I list, every evening before bed, all the ways I am grateful for myself. Things I did well. Challenges I had the courage to face. Moments when I got triggered, and then noticed that I caught myself just a little sooner than I normally would have.
I know, I know, it probably sounds corny. Maybe it is. But I am telling you, simple as it is, this practice has changed my life. And I know it can change yours too.
Here’s what I notice: as I go through my day, I am turning my mind, more often, to the good things that happen, rather than allowing my inner critic to run the show, pointing out how everything could be better. I am celebrating my successes instead of pouncing on every mistake with the narrowed eyes and red pen of my inner Catholic school teacher. I am moving though my day, noticing and thinking, “There’s one for the gratitude journal!” Instead of living in the world of the critic and naysayer, I am living in the world of the tenderhearted optimist, the one who believes in growth rather than permanently ingrained failings, in basic goodness rather than original sin. I am healing the negative ways I have viewed myself for years. Call me corny, but given the choice (and we do have a choice), I’d much rather live in this world.
So, what does this all have to do with singing? I’m so glad you asked. Discovering your authentic voice begins by cultivating a deep appreciation for yourself. The more you make friends with yourself, the more parts of you feel comfortable showing up and coming out to play. As you bring this attitude of self-love to your work with guided vocal improvisations, vocal strengthening exercises, and renderings of songs that you love, your authentic voice will open up like a flower.
Many (all?) of us have had the experience of revealing our authentic self, only to be shut down, ignored, or even shamed for it. The more we can give ourselves the appreciation that we have always needed and deserved, the more comfortable we can be in expressing all the depths of who we are. Places in the body where we have developed tension from holding ourselves back, especially in the throat, jaw, trunk, and pelvis, can begin to release and open. We don’t have to restrain ourselves any longer. We can allow ourselves to simply be, in all our gorgeousness and strangeness and power. And then all of these aspects find their way into the voice, enriching our sound, adding beauty, texture, and nuance, and allowing us to discover the voice that sounds, deeply and unequivocally, like “me.”
But don’t just take my word for it. A quick google search will lead you to countless articles describing how gratitude improves mental and physical health, strengthens relationships, enhances empathy, reduces aggression, improves self-esteem, and more!
So, are you ready to start a self-gratitude journal of your own? Here are some easy ways to get started:
1. Get a journal. Duh, but I thought I’d mention it. If you like beautiful covers and nubby pages that smell like ancient Egypt, go for it. If it’s easier to write in the back of the notebook you used for a course you took 10 years ago, that’s fine too. Some people like to work on a computer or phone. But just find a dedicated place you can write in each day.
2. Be consistent. Build your self-gratitude practice into your daily routine. It’s very sweet to do it at night, if you can manage it, so that you can reflect on your day and appreciate all the things that you may have otherwise overlooked in the hustle and bustle.
3. Write at least 5 things. You can always write more! Sometimes in my gratitude journal, the things I write lead to longer inquiries as I journal about the way I felt or what I learned from the experience. Allow yourself to follow these impulses. But make sure, in the end, you’ve written at least five things that you appreciate about yourself.
4. Dig deep. Some days, let’s face it, just suck. At the end of the day, we would rather just crawl under the covers wishing none of it had happened, going to bed early so that the fresh start of tomorrow arrives just a little bit sooner. On these days, I challenge you to dig deep and find something, anything, that you can appreciate about yourself. It could be tiny. “I ate a green vegetable today.” “I smiled at that old man in the grocery store.” “I stopped to smell a flower on my way to the lake instead of hurrying by.” “I feel so heartbroken because my heart is able to love so deeply.” There is always something to appreciate.
5. Celebrate qualities about yourself, not just behaviors. It’s great to acknowledge your accomplishments: “I organized my entire closet this afternoon.” But don’t forget to also appreciate the qualities you love about yourself. “I had the courage to set boundaries with my 8-year-old even when I just wanted to cave in.” “I found the discipline to practice my vocal warmups even though I totally didn’t feel like it.” “I was really brave when I told my friend how his actions hurt me.”
6. Take a moment to notice how you feel after you’ve written. Notice any sensations in your body, any emotions or thoughts that arise. Allow them to be there, and offer them your unconditional presence and acceptance.
Please let me know if you have questions or comments. I’d love to hear about your experience!