Brandyn Blaze

Life Between The Scenes

Month: November 2017

The Importance Of Practicing Gratitude Year-Round

Every November my Facebook feed fills up with posts from people who are logging things they are grateful for. For 30 days, I am bombarded with posts that say things like, “Day 5: I’m grateful to have so many wonderful friends!” and while it seems like a wonderful exercise on the surface, I can’t help but feel that a lot of  these posts are forced and empty. Many of these posts seem like they were put out only to please others and follow the trend, rather than from a place of pure gratitude…especially when they stand in stark contrast to the things those same people usually post.

This isn’t to say that this is a bad exercise or that everyone is lying. Far from it. Spending 30 days practicing gratitude is a great way to start a healthier mental regimen. Read that again: it’s a great way to start. The trouble is, as soon as November ends, most of these people will stop the daily practice of finding the blessings in their lives. After all, it’s a lot easier to stick to a habit when you feel like you have an audience to hold you accountable. The thing is, feeling gratitude is a deeply personal thing, and one that should be experienced 365 days a year.

That sounds like a tall order, I know.  But it is totally doable, and it’s effects on your life are profound.

 

zig ziglar gratitude quote

 

Before I dive into all that, allow me to share a little bit about my experience with this practice.

Long before I decided to pursue Psychology as my major in college, I had a habit of reading any self-help book I could get my hands on. Both my mother and my grandmother had stacks of them, and regularly offered nuggets of wisdom they had gleaned from within their pages. When I’d find myself struggling, I’d be reminded of certain mental and spiritual tools and I’d promptly put them to use…for a while. Then I’d go back to my daily life.

By the time I hit college, I had repeated this cycle countless times. For the next four years, I continued reading up on self-improvement and “pop” psychology during my downtime. I remember being routinely amazed at how often the things talked about in class mirrored the things I had already been studying. I would be excited whenever I’d see hard research and theories that backed up the things I had known all along. This was almost too easy! By the time I graduated I would be the best therapist ever. I would help so many people!

And yet, I still found myself struggling in my personal life. I had all this knowledge and all these tools, and still had all the same doubts and fears. I still battled depression and anxiety. I still wasn’t cured.

Eventually, I decided to seek help. For years, I’d find myself in and out of therapy, doubling down on the self-help reading, and seeking advice from all over the internet. I’d make lists of techniques and create my own system to finally break free.

I’d then fail to put them into practice.

I didn’t always fail to start. Maybe I’d work at it for a few days, or a few weeks, and then, life would happen. Still, with each round I’d find myself a little better off than I had been. It became easier to pull out those tools when needed.

Although the line-up has shifted with each new self-care regimen, one practice has been a part of every list: Gratitude.

When we are grateful for what we have, we focus less on what we don’t have. When we focus less on what we don’t have, we feel less stressed. We feel happier. When we practice gratitude, we begin to approach life from an abundance mindset, which in turn sets us up for receiving more blessings. How is this possible? It’s simple: we tend to get what we’re looking for. If we’re looking for opportunities, we’ll find them simply because our mind opens up to possibilities we would have been blind to before.

 

ralph marston gratitude quote

 

So how, exactly, do we practice gratitude on grander scale?

I recommend getting yourself a notebook and jotting down three things you are grateful for each day. Or, if you are already in the habit of  keeping a journal, leave space to list these things every day. You can do this in the morning, which I find to be a great way to start the day, or you can write them down at night as you reflect on your day. If you chose to do this at night, I recommend reading over your list each morning as well to start your day off on the right foot.

Sounds simple right? Perhaps to simple.

The key here is to not just write these things out mindlessly. It’s to train your brain to notice all the wonderful things you already have in your life. It doesn’t matter if it’s something as silly as a song on the radio or a pair of jeans that makes your butt look amazing, if it brings a smile to your face, even for a moment, it’s worth noticing and appreciating.

As you dig into this practice, you will find yourself noticing more and more things to be grateful for every day. At first, you’ll probably file it away to add to your list later, but I want you to go a bit further than that. When you notice something wonderful unfolding in your life, no matter how small, slow down. Fully experience the moment. Mentally assert that you are grateful for this small miracle and hold on to it for later.

For example, maybe your spouse falls asleep on the couch with your child. They look so cute cuddled up together that you can’t help but smile and feel lucky to have such a beautiful family. Go ahead and stare at them with adoration for a while, burn that image into your brain, sit with those warm fuzzy feelings for as long as you need to. Say to yourself, “I am grateful for this moment and for my beautiful family.”  Then carry on.

The bonus here is that the more you create these memories and associations, the more material you have at your disposal when you need to cheer yourself up.

Inevitably, you’re going to have a bad day. Maybe it’s a series of minor irritations, maybe it’s a larger crisis, but it will happen. You’ll find yourself feeling bad about your life and focusing on what is going wrong, what you’re lacking. It is in these moments that you can take a deep breath, take out your list or reach into your memories, and remember what you have to be grateful for. You can show yourself that this rough spot is just an anomaly in an otherwise great life and that without it, you would have nothing to contrast the positives with.

The power of our minds is an incredible thing, if you can harness it. And a daily attitude of gratitude is one tool that can help you do just that…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Painting My Way To Confidence

If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you probably already know that I’ve frequently struggled with self-confidence. It’s something most of us deal with from time to time. In fact, it seems to crop up again the minute you think you’ve got it licked.

I like to think of the journey to self-confidence as a mountain you must climb over the course of a lifetime. Sometimes we make great progress in a short amount of time, then we must stop to rest. Sometimes the going is more slow. Sometimes we slide back and have to conquer the same stretch of terrain a second, third, or fourth time. It can be exhausting, but the closer you get to the top, the better you feel. The trick is, not to give up.

This, of course, is easier said than done. When you’re face to face with a mountain of challenges, it’s easy to avoid taking even the tiniest of steps. This is especially true if you fall into the habit of letting the voice of fear overtake the other voices in your head. Fear will assault you with a litany of what-ifs and potential disasters. It will discourage you from taking the next step. It will convince you that it’s better to head down to the base of the mountain and set up a nice, safe camp. After all, you’re not strong enough to tackle this climb. Maybe you can try again in the future, when you’re stronger. When you’re smarter. When you’re better.

 

fear quote, embrace your song, be you, small step towards happiness, playing in front of others, guitar

 

In the last few months, I’ve listened to that voice more often than I should. I settled into unhealthy routines. I put my books and my blog on the backburner. I let the housework pile up. In short, I let fear push me into a place where my anxiety and depression were in control.

Now, in my defense, pregnancy does some strange things to your brain. Not only do you have a barrage of pesky hormones throwing everything off, but you have a million and one practical concerns. You find yourself worrying about all the things you need to do before the baby comes. You worry about all the inevitable changes that will come with the addition of a new family member. You worry about your health and the health of the baby. There’s truly no limit to the things you worry about.

In the midst of all this, your body is going through crazy changes. Cue more worry. Does my partner still find me attractive? I don’t find me attractive. Am I going to be able to get my body back to “normal”? Not exactly the kind of thoughts that are conducive to feeling self-confident.

After a few weeks of dealing with this funk, I decided I needed to find a way out of it. I started a new self-care routine (that I will share in another post), I engaged in an open dialogue with my husband about the struggles I was facing, and I began looking into various exercises to overcome these obstacles.

A few pieces of advice that popped up again and again were:

  • Focus on what makes you awesome.
  • Do something out of the ordinary.
  • Celebrate your successes.
  • Stay focused on your goals.
  • Acknowledge your progress.
  • Learn to learn from your mistakes.
  • Cultivate mindfulness/remain wholly present.
  • Take a risk.
  • Engage in positive self-talk.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others.

Pretty good advice, right?

The problem is, reading advice is easy. Putting it into practice takes work.

So, what does painting have to do with all of this?

Awhile back, I had ordered a pack of seven canvases and a pack of vinyl sticker paper for my Silhouette (which is kind of like a Cricut). I had planned on using these items to create some wall-art to sell for some extra Christmas money, along with a few other crafts. However, once they arrived they sat on my desk for ages. I’d started second guessing the whole scheme. I had little to no painting experience, why did I think I could start now? Even if they turned out great, who would want to buy them? I should just stick to what I know and finish the next book…once my confidence returned, of course.

A few days after I’d made up my mind to push through my depression and related self-confidence issues, I found myself staring at the stack of art supplies on my cluttered desk. I remembered some of the advice I’d been reading. Painting a few pictures would certainly be something out of the ordinary for me, and it would be the first step towards the goal of selling some motivational artwork, which was also a risk. Taking it a step further, I would focus on nothing else during my painting time and work on mindfulness.

With a smile, I grabbed a canvas and brought out my paints. I decided that the first few were just practice. There was no reason to overly critique my work or compare it to others. Of course I wasn’t going to paint like them, I was going to paint like me and my unique vision is part of what makes me awesome. Not only that, but it was just a learning exercise. I could try out different techniques and practice learning from my mistakes.

That’s a lot of advice-taking crammed into one act!

Armed with this healing mindset, I got to work on my first piece. I fully immersed myself in the project, keeping in mind that it was just for me. Every step of the project was a new technique for me, and although parts of it were frustrating, I enjoyed the learning process. Plus, it kept my mind off all those doubts and worries that had been plaguing me. It quieted the voice of fear.

When I finally stepped back and took a look at the finished product, I was astounded.

 

painting, art therapy, self-confidence, confidence, heart painting, DIY wall art

Can’t go wrong with a Beatles quote!

 

For someone with very little painting experience, it turned out fantastic!

I took some time to engage in positive self-talk as I continued looking over my masterpiece. Whenever I found my thoughts slipping towards looking for imperfections, I shut it down and refocused my attention. I had seen this project through. I loved the color palette. I adored the quote and the word placement. I tried something new and it was fun! I was going to learn even more and be a great painter one day!

With this one act, I took another step up the mountain of self-confidence.

The next day, I painted the background for another picture. Then I did two more. And then another. Freeing myself from expectations, I then formulated ideas of what could go on top of them and wrote them down.

 

art therapy, abstract backgrounds, acrylic on canvas, DIY wall art, confidence, painting

 

I decided to tackle the red canvas next.

At first, I was scared that I’d ruin it. The idea I had was too ambitious for a beginner. Maybe I should just set it aside until I learned more. I could buy some new canvas and do some tutorials first.

I stared at it for awhile and reminded myself that this was just more practice. I could roll with the mistakes. I could do this. I might even surprise myself. All I needed to do was have fun and do my best.

With this one, I ran into more problems than I had anticipated, but I didn’t allow myself to give up. When I made a mistake, I found creative ways to cover it up and create it into a better picture. When the words wouldn’t come off the transfer paper, I enlisted my husband for help and support and together we solved the issue. In the end, I had something I was proud of.

 

art therapy, confidence, diy painting, lady with wine glass, lady back dress painting

I wish the photos did this one justice!

 

That pride led to more opportunities for positive self talk. I loved the way her hair came out. I loved the colors. I loved that I stuck it out and finished it even when it got tough. I loved that I found creative ways to fix errors. These skills would all transfer into other areas of life. I had added another way to have fun to my life. I had another thing on my list of qualities I admire in myself.

And with that, I moved a little further up the mountain.

Of course, as powerful as this experience has been, it works best in conjunction with other exercises. However, reflecting on the success of this practice when things get tough has thus far been effective in enabling me to carry out these other tasks. The road to self-confidence is long and arduous, and I’ve still got a long way to go, but today I celebrate how far I’ve come.

I look forward to sharing more of this journey with you, as well as the tips and tricks I find along the way. After all, we are all in this together.

Now, I want to hear from you. What are some tricks you have found to help build your self-confidence? Tell us all about it in the comments below!

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