Gratitude – an antidote to the inner critic

I woke up early enough to catch the sunrise from my desk on Wednesday and captured it in the image above. While I am developing the content for my Flow Writer app I’m also editing my novel to smooth out bumpy passages and enhance characterization. Getting up early seems to enhance my productivity and the sight that beheld me as the sun rose over the Forth filled me with gratitude for that moment. Looking out to sea often evokes a sense of awe and a loss of preoccupation with ‘me’. It quietens the mind and soothes any agitated emotions or sense of urgency that can undermine creativity and productivity. That’s why I chose this apartment and why I put my desk in the window. For the rest of the day, I was unusually focused and productive, so much so that I began to reflect on the ability of gratitude to enhance creativity and concentration.

Coincidentally, today an Atlantic article dropped into my inbox on a recent study of the experience of gratitude during the pandemic. The study found that those who practised gratitude suffered less anxiety and low mood during these uncertain times. Practising gratitude entails taking time to notice and focus upon the positive aspects of life that we should be thankful for. Most often these are simple pleasures, like watching the sunrise, enjoying a good meal, playing with the kids, appreciating your home after you’ve cleaned it (something that frequently happens when I have a lot of editing to do- one of my classic avoidance strategies), enjoying the smell of freshy laundered sheets, or a relaxing bubble bath. Simplicity seems key to experiencing gratitude. Appreciation requires a focus on the present moment in all its richness.

Due to the chaos and unpredictability we have all experienced during the past eighteen months, practising gratitude may be more necessary than ever, but not in a smug ‘I’m alright, thanks’ kind of way. We don’t need to ignore the suffering in our lives or the world around us. Rather, we can practice gratitude consciously as a method for alleviating suffering out of self-compassion. Taking the time to appreciate the little things has proven mental health benefits. It doesn’t mean we ignore the complexities and difficulties of life, but rather for a few minutes each day, we choose to focus on appreciating our positive experiences. This shift in attention away from the negative towards the positive enhances creativity and innovation. In his book, Consolations, the poet and author David Whyte reminds us that:

“Being unappreciative might mean we are simply not paying attention” (p.53).

I experienced my sense of gratitude watching the sunrise like a cleansing of the numerous little wounds that my inner critic often begins to inflict upon me before I sit down at my desk, especially when editing my own work. Reviewing and editing need not be a ruthless process, it can be a playful crafting that relishes and appreciates the texture of words, their harmonics, tonality, and imagery. It also occurred to me that I should be grateful for the time to tend to my creative writing in this way, rather than working at a job I dislike just to survive as I have done before, possibly will do again, and many others do every day. However, it seems that gratitude also enhances productivity as the blog Creativity at Work states:

“Gratitude is the antidote to anxiety and fear, allowing feelings of grace, wellbeing, and optimism to flow. Scientific studies have proven there is a link between gratitude and creative problem solving. When we experience positive emotions, we enhance our ability to solve problems and come up with more ideas for action.”

As I got down to editing once the sun was up, my concentration and focus seemed sharper. I was noticing things I had missed in my previous round of editing. I was less distracted and dropping into a state of absorption and flow. So, from today I have decided to begin the day with a small five-minute gratitude practice at my desk. It may be noting three things I am thankful for that morning, or one of the practices recommended by HeartMath. Today, I took three ‘appreciation breaks’. I’ve felt more energised, connected and less frayed around the edges as a result.

“An effective way to improve mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being is to invoke and sustain sincere appreciation. The greater your capacity for sincere appreciation, the deeper the connection to your heart, where intuition and unlimited inspiration and possibilities reside.” HeartMath

If you’re struggling with your inner critic while writing or editing try switching your focus to appreciation and gratitude to dissolve anxiety and smooth the frayed edges of your mind. Practising gratitude enhances creativity and helps establish focused flow. It’s an act of self-compassion and you’re worth it!