An attitude of gratitude

Posted by Christie Johnson on

“What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you were grateful for today?”

For many of us with an interest in health, fitness or spirituality, the appearance of “quotable quotes” in our Facebook news feed is a daily occurrence. Most of them will elicit a nod or a smile, maybe we’ll even press the Like button, but before long we have scrolled on and forgotten the sentiment as we take the latest quiz. But when I came across the quote above it really stuck in my mind. Throughout the subsequent days and weeks I kept returning to the question.

At first I found myself superstitiously dashing off prayers of thanks for my family, friends, health, job etc - just to cover myself in the event that the quote came true. And while this was, in itself, quite an uplifting exercise, to a large extent it felt superficial and fake. I began to realise just how deeply rooted was my habit of taking the good things in my life for granted.

Of course, intellectually I knew that by world standards I was incredibly fortunate. We’ve all seen statistics such as these floating around the net:

But truth be told we don’t compare ourselves to the rest of the world, do we? They are out of sight, and out of mind. We compare ourselves to our neighbours and friends. And because everyone presents the best possible face to the world, the comparison often seems unfavourable.

Human beings are adaptable. We can get used to pretty much anything, which is a great strength when things are tough. But we also adapt to comfort, and once we are used to it we begin to take it for granted. We begin to focus on what we lack, instead of what we have. We become discontented.

Take a moment to do a thought experiment. Imagine you woke up this morning with only the things you were grateful for yesterday. What does your life look like? Be honest. What is missing?

And, because this is a health and fitness blog, think about how you felt about your body yesterday. Were you unhappy because it was not as strong as you would like, or as attractive, or as skilful? Now imagine you woke up without the ability to do all the things that yesterday seemed so inadequate.

For many years I tried to hate my body into shape. I was at war with my thighs. I abused and punished my body in the hope of achieving my desired look. Mostly it didn’t work. And even when it did I was never content – because I was sure that if I allowed myself to be happy with my body shape I would get complacent and regain the weight I had fought so hard to lose.

Crossfit has helped. Now instead of hating my “solid” body shape I am starting to be able to celebrate it for what it allows me to achieve in my chosen sport. But I still get frustrated at its shortcomings. Crossfit is all about progress – measurable improvement. But as one gets better, those improvements become smaller and harder to see. PRs become few and far between. New skills that I thought I’d mastered suddenly disappear. It’s easy to get frustrated, and lose perspective.

If any of this sounds familiar, if the thought experiment above left you with little of substance, then I invite you to join me in my quest towards greater thankfulness. Simply by stopping to reflect on the subject we have started the journey. The next step is to face our difficulties, reframe them in a positive manner, and find a way to move forward in hope rather than recrimination. It is important to be honest, and specific. From a training perspective, for me it might look something like this:

“I hate that my max front squat is so pitiable that it is almost equal to my max push press. But I am grateful that I have the strength and mobility to perform a squat, and resolve to follow a strength program to address this weakness”.

“I hate that my running performance plummets if I have to run more than about 200m. But I am grateful to be able to run at all, especially with a history of knee issues, and I resolve to embrace conditioning training in the knowledge that it will improve my running.”

“I hate that some days I can link 5 muscle-ups, and other days I’m struggling to do doubles, or even singles. But I am grateful for the coaching that allowed me to develop this skill in the first place, and I resolve to practice them at least twice a week.”  

As you can see, being thankful for what I can do doesn’t mean I won’t continue to strive to improve. Contentment does not equal complacency. But I am going to try to approach my training from a place of gratitude. This will have the following impacts:

I will be thankful for my body, and for what it is capable of. And I will show my gratitude by respecting my body, treating it well, listening to what it tells me, and giving it adequate rest and good quality fuel.

I will be thankful for the time and energy to train. And I will show my gratitude by resisting the temptation to complain about how sore I am or how the WOD doesn’t suit me, and by throwing my heart into every session and making the most of each minute.

I will be thankful for my coaches, who have helped me get where I am today. And I will show my gratitude by doing my very best to follow their instructions and achieve everything they ask of me.

I will be thankful for my fellow Crossfitters, and for the support and motivation they give me. And I will show my gratitude by doing my best to support and motivate them in return.

A wise man once said “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.” In life, and in Crossfit, there will always be times when we are abased, when things don’t go our way or we are confronted by our weaknesses. But if, like St Paul, we can find the secret of contentment, then these things lose the power to derail us. If we have an attitude of gratitude we will no longer be disheartened when things get tough. Instead we will have the resilience to focus on the positive, and continue moving forward towards our goals. And when the times come when we abound, we will be able to enjoy those moments with true appreciation.

So once again I invite you to join me on this journey. Together we can encourage each other along the path of gratitude, which leads to contentment. On the way I am sure we will not only find greater peace and happiness, but also greater power to reach our goals. Who is with me!?

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