I love reading old birthday cards.
I love them so much that during an embarrassing emergency, I managed to run out of the house with only my license, keys and birthday cards.
Because apparently cards beat shoes in my world.
If putting yourself in a positive state of mind is something that you find difficult, this practice will be a game changer.
Everyone has something to be grateful for. If you’re in a dark place grasping for the smallest bit to appreciate, let’s start here: you are alive.
Now build on that and become the Scooby Doo of gratitude, sniffing out things that make your insides feel all warm and gooey like a Cinnabon fresh out of the oven whenever you think of them.
Carve out the time for this on a daily basis, ideally first thing in the morning. It could be as little as 30 seconds while you’re sitting on the toilet if you’re seriously that pressed for time.
Start with the present. What can you be grateful for right now?
Example: A strong and powerful body. My ability to write and connect with people. Having amazing friends and loved ones in my life.
Now, moonwalk to the past. What are some things you’ve experienced that you’re glad you did?
Example: Dancing like a complete fool to Kanye with my best friend Jerry at his wedding. Going to celebrate the cigar bar with John, Laura and Rob. Getting extra swole with Brian Patrick Murphy. Watching Lindsay absolutely nail her performance.
Finally, do your best ninja flip into the future. What are some things that you’re looking forward to taking part in?
Example: Competing in an upcoming jiujitsu tournament. Being in the wedding of one of my best friends. Getting to go to a comedy show with my boys.
Make your gratitude practice as general or specific as you want. I’ve found that deeper that I dive into specifics, the more I’m filled with a sense of happiness, so I urge you to use this as a time to Jacques Cousteau the shit out of your life. Old pictures, letters, conversations – everything and anything is fair game.
If you need a physical reminder, the Five Minute Journal is something I’ve used with much success.
Ready to level up your game even more? Express gratitude toward someone else.
It could be a thank you for something they’ve done, an e-mail/letter/carrier pigeon letting them know how they’ve impacted you, or an even more powerful in-person heart to heart conversation.
When in doubt, start with a quick hit of gratitude.
You’re uplifted by giving and they’re uplifted by receiving. Everyone wins.
Fill Your Cup First
You know that adorable pre-flight speech about sweet slides, conveniently located life vests and oxygen masks that nobody listens to while they diddle with their phones? It’s actually amazing advice.
I sat next to an anxious first time flyer and her precious baby boy, who by the smile on his face clearly had no idea that he was about to be hurtling through the sky in a metal tube of magic. As I’m talking to help calm her nerves, we hit a crazy patch of turbulence, and immediately my mind goes into “WHAT IF WE RUN OUT OF AIR?!” thinking.
Well, I’d be pretty useless to help those two if I were passed out in my seat like a doofus because I didn’t put my oxygen mask on first before tending to them.
The same concept applies to your state of mind. It’s hard to feel positive if you’re always running on empty.
Taking care of yourself, contrary to popular belief, isn’t selfish. Doing so actually puts you in the best position to help and serve the ones you care for. It sets the stage for you to be the best version of yourself, the fully pimped-out Batman instead of the asthmatic kid with broken glasses, narcolepsy, rickets, leprosy and 15 toes coming out of his face.
Your life is your cup. To fill it so that it overflows and puts you in a state of abundance, where you can give freely from that excess, identify activities that add to you and do them daily – your well-being is too important to lose it in the shuffle mundane tasks.
A few of mine are spending time with friends, stand-up comedy, martial arts, listening to podcasts, trying to put a smile on people’s faces and spending quality time alone.
Your list will be different.
Much like washing between your butt-cheeks, doing these things on a regular basis is non-negotiable, unless you want your life to resemble a crusty, crumpled up Dixie cup.
Choose Your Company Carefully
When I worked the front desk at the gym, I dreaded his arrival.
He’d walk in with the most downtrodden, Charlie Brown posture known to man; the look on his face resembling that of The Grinch’s while watching children play with puppies and unicorns in a field of flowers and sunshine.
For months on end, I listened to his tales of woe. There was always some new drama, some new thing that wasn’t going his way, some new person whose sole purpose in life was to destroy him. Never in my life have I wanted nothing more than to turn into an Alex Mack-esque puddle and slide out of a conversation.
Oh yeah, my point: be careful of who you let into your life, even casually.
As we tend to adopt the vibe of the company that we keep, the people in our lives have the power to uplift, challenging and helping us grow into the best version of ourselves, or they can act like an energetic punch straight to the crotch. The more we fill our lives with the former and distance ourselves from the latter, the more enthusiastic, free and capable we feel.
If your life were a movie, would you want to fill it Scar, Frank Underwood, Joffrey, Cruella de Vil and Vigo the Carpathian type characters? No.
Would you let someone run around your house projectile vomiting on every surface they could find before leaving, but not before promising to see you tomorrow so they could do it again? No.
This, however is a two-way street. To attract amazing people into your life, you also have to make sure that you’re the kind of person that they would want to spend their time with as well.
Embrace Your Emotions
Fear. Anger. Sadness. These are just a few of the wide range of emotions that we each have access to, every last one serving a purpose.
Emotions are like science, physics and other laws of the universe. They exist, and while you can refuse to believe their importance all you want, you can’t escape the very real consequences of doing so.
For the majority of 2015 I was in a state of depression. I deleted social media accounts. I stopped taking calls and texts. I let my e-mail build up and generally kept to myself. Part of the reason I stayed in it for so long was that I didn’t fully acknowledge the rough shape I was in.
I spent much of my life glossing over the “darker” emotions because I felt like they were bad and unnecessary, so when the time came to deal with them I was woefully unprepared.
I felt like shit, and I didn’t want to feel like shit, so the only logical solution was to skip past the shit and pretend like I felt amazing.
Wrong answer. Like trying to sprint on two freshly broken legs, it only made things worse.
There will be days, maybe even a long stretch of them, where everything isn’t fine, where you don’t want to put a smile on your face and you’re seconds away from uppercutting someone if they make one more well-intentioned but asinine comment about “everything happening for a reason” and “one door closing so another one can open.”
And that’s ok.
If you want to strengthen your optimistic outlook on life, these are the most important days.
Stay with the emotions. Don’t try to shortcut the process and skip them. Feel them fully, deeply and completely. Own them without censorship so they can run their course.
If you don’t, they’ll come back even stronger like a horror movie villain, popping up in your life in the strangest of ways: road rage, yelling at an old lady because she’s taking too long counting her change, cruelty to animals, destructive belief systems.
Embracing your emotions doesn’t mean dropping to your knees in the middle of the street, ripping your shirt open and crying to the sky as cars honk at you; there’s a time and place for everything.
It can be a quiet, inward process as well as an explosive outward one that requires help. Men, get in touch with the men in your life that you trust. Women, do the same with your women. If you’re really having trouble, don’t be afraid to find a therapist to help you work through them.
It can be a scary and vulnerable process, but also an empowering one. Once you work through and integrate the emotions, they lose their grip on you and you’re free to return to your happy baseline, only now you’ve added more tools to your tool belt.
Embracing your emotions doesn’t make you weak, a pussy or anything other than a complete human. The more you numb yourself from one emotion, the more you numb yourself from all emotions, including joy.
Now when you choose to adopt a positive mindset, it’s an active choice instead of it being the only option you actually have. That’s true strength and freedom – the ability to adjust your internal state to appropriately meet the demands of an external situation.
Get Into Your Body
It’s easy to have so many thoughts and worries bouncing around our heads that we actually forget we have a body.
You know, that awesome meat suit we experience everything awesome in this world through. That thing.
If you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed, move.
Go for an intense workout. Go for a softcore workout that would make the elderly point and laugh at you. Jump around like the Holy Spirit just invaded your bones. Take a leisurely walk. Meditate. Have sex. Do some jumping jacks. Sprint until you’re gasping for air. Dance to your favorite song. Stretch. Take 30 deep breaths.
It is through the body that we take action and through action which that we transform ourselves for the better.
It’s also a method that we can use to sharpen our intuition, developing the ability to hear and “trust our gut.”
I don’t know exactly why it works, but it does. Do it and I promise you will be in a better place than you were beforehand.
What If It Was a Gift?
In his book No More Mr. Nice Guy, Dr. Robert Glover challenges the reader to ask themselves a simple question whenever they find themselves spinning their wheels and stuck in stagnation: what if it was a gift?
I lost a relationship with the woman I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. What if it was a gift? It lead me to develop a rock-solid sense of self-esteem. It showed me the importance of integrity, self-love, ]setting healthy boundaries and illuminated personal short comings that I can improve on.
I slipped into a depression that I didn’t think I would make it out of. What if it was a gift? I found several groups of men – something that before I had no idea that I needed – who are committed to growth and playing the game of life at a higher level. I learned to ask for help and that I don’t have to do everything alone. I discovered Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I developed a greater sense of empathy for the struggles, known and unknown, that we all go through.
I injured my knee badly. What if it were a gift? I stopped ignoring my restrictions, hired a coach and started to take my health and movement quality more seriously, setting myself up for a great quality of life further down the road.
Painful events happen and will continue to happen until the day we die. That is out of our control.
What is in our control, however, is how we respond and the meaning we extract from these events. It’s just as easy to paint everything that happens to us in a negative light as it is to draw conclusions that guide us in the direction of positivity and inward growth, and this exercise is a fantastic way to develop out ability to choose the latter on a consistent basis.
Find a mental health counselor