The Surprising Way that a Gratitude Shift makes Habit Change So Easy

Is it possible to change habits with ease? Yes.

I know we’ve all been schooled in the fact that it takes lots of efforts and days and days and days to make a change. Sometimes staring down the 21 day or 30 day calendar to make a change seems like a monumental effort. I have discovered an awareness shift- a shift using gratitude that doesn’t take a lot of effort or even a lot of time. If you have been thinking that you need to start a gratitude journal, but haven’t taken the leap because the research doesn’t seem convincing enough (even though both Oprah recommends it and Elizabeth Gilbert does it in the form of a happiness jar), then maybe this will light a fire in you.

This insider method will help you shift your awareness to make habit change more effortless. If there is something you are working on to improve for your own personal development or self-growth, then read on. 

If you are you interested in spontaneous transformation of a bad habit, let me assure you, it is doable. Let me tell you how I have seen it happen firsthand (and is also backed up by research). But to understand what we’re working against with a bad habit, let’s take a journey back into this old folk tale.

The Fisherman and his Wife

There’s a story of a Fisherman and his Wife. They lived poor, simple lives in a shack near the ocean. One day the fisherman is out and catches a strange fish. The fisherman pulls it out of the water and its larger than most fish he is used to catching. It’s scales are iridescent and seem to glow. As he takes the hook out of the fish’s mouth, the fish speaks. The fisherman almost drops the fish in shock. The fish looks at him with pleading eyes.

Please. Let me go. I’m no ordinary flounder. I’m an enchanted prince,” the fish pleads. “Please let me go.”

Well, you can talk and that is extraordinary for a fish, so even if you weren’t a prince, I would let you go.” The fisherman lets the enchanted fish go and it swims away quickly. 

He doesn’t catch any other fish that day and returns home empty-handed. He tells his wife about his day.

You let him go without asking for anything? He’s an enchanted prince, you should have asked him for something. Go back and ask him for a cottage for us to live in. I’m tired of this tiny shack.” The fisherman shrugs and walks out the door.

He walks the path down to the ocean and calls out to the water.

Little Fish man, little fish man. My wife Isabill

She wants, she wants not what I will.”

The fish comes back and pops his head out of the water.

My wife says that I should have asked you for something. She doesn’t want to live in our filthy shack anymore. Can you give me a cottage to live in?”

Go home,” said the flounder, “She already has it.” The fisherman walks home and where the shack had stood was now a cottage

His wife was inside and she greets him, “See. Isn’t this so much better.” He looked around at the cute little cottage, the ducks in the yard, cobblestone pathway. There was a kitchen, a living room, bedroom, and dining room. He smiled it was nice. They ate dinner and went to bed. Things were fine for a week.

Then one morning his wife turns to him and says, “This cottage is too small. Go back and ask the flounder for a big stone palace.

He balked, “This cottage is lovely. I don’t know why we need a palace?”

I know. We need one. Just go ask.”

I don’t know if he can do that.”

He can do it. Go ask him.” The fisherman returned to the ocean. This time the waves were a little darker and rougher than before.

He called to the flounder, “Little Fish man, little fish man.” …. You can imagine what happens next. He asked for the palace and it is granted.

A week later his wife was tired of the large stone palace and has decided it wasn’t enough. She wants to be king. She asks her husband to go ask the fish. He goes and the ocean was churning and rough. He calls to the dark blue waves, “Little Fish man, little fish man. My wife Isabill,

She wants, she wants not what I will.” ”

The flounder appears. Sheepishly the man asks if the flounder would make his wife a king. The flounder said, “She already is king. Go home and see her.” The pattern repeated and soon his wife was not content to be king, but instead wanted to be Emperor. The fisherman paled at her request. “My dear, there is only one Emperor. Surely the fish cannot make you Emperor. Let’s just be happy with what we have.”

No,” she replied, “I must be Emperor. Go ask him. Go now.”

The fisherman returned to the water. The waves were black and looked thicker than water. The waves looked as if they were boiling from within. A strong wind blew that chilled him.

“Little Fish man, little fish man. My wife Isabill

She wants, she wants not what I will.”

The flounder appeared. “What does she want?” he asked. 

She wants to be Emperor.”

Go home, she is Emperor now.” The fisherman went home and where the king’s castle had stood was now a palatial estate. The buildings of the estate were made in alabaster and had intricate carvings on all the surfaces. There were deep plush rugs, silk throws, and exquisite furniture in every room. He walked to a set of immense golden doors that two servants opened for him. At the end of a grand hall, filled with tall banners and medals, he saw his wife seated on a golden throne. He walked towards her and saw a solid gold crown on her head, filled with sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. On either side of her she were two rows of bodyguards.

Wife, it is good that you are Emperor.”

We shall see.” she said.

The next morning, they were lying in bed together, the fisherman was not yet awake. The first rays of the sun shone through the window onto their feather bed. The wife jolted up in bed. “Husband, she said, Wake up. Go back to the flounder. I know what I want. I want to become like God.”

The husband was still half asleep and confused, but her words jolted him awake.

WHAT?! No. That is not possible.”

I see the sun rising and I see the moon rise. I will not rest until I am the one who makes them rise. I will not have a moment of peace until I can cause them to rise myself.”

She glared at him. He shuddered and shook his head no, words failing him.

Go now. Go there immediately. Tell the flounder to make me like God.”

My dear, please. Be happy with being Emperor.” He got down on his knees. “The flounder cannot do that. He cannot make you like God.”

She got angry and flew around the room in a rage. She ripped her nightgown and pulled at her hair. She shouted at him. “I cannot stand this any longer. GO NOW! Go to him. Ask.”

She pushed him roughly towards the door. He shook his head, pulled on his clothes and rushed out the door of the estate. Outside the wind was blowing like a hurricane. The wind was racing through the air and making tree branches creak and crash to the ground.

He ran to the ocean as fast as his legs would run, yet the wind pushed at him and tore at his clothes as if begging him not to go. He continued on as the violent storm raged all along him.

At the ocean it was worse. The waves were blood red in some spots, black in others. The water arched up the sky, climbing as high as church towers and tall mountains and then crashed down. Lightning bolts came from the the clouds all above the water, crashing down left and right. The thunder boomed so loudly, he could hardly hear himself as he called out to the fish.

Little Fish man, little fish man. My wife Isabill

She wants, she wants not what I will.”

The fish’s head pops out of the water. His eyes look sad.

What does she want?”

She wants to be like God.”

Go home,” said the flounder, “she is sitting in the old shack again.” And that is where they lived for the rest of their days.

How does this Story Relate to You?

Some stories get repeated and shared down through the generations. This folk tale’s message isn’t a new one. I’m sure we’ve all had similar struggles repeated about greed or feeling a lack, albeit with not as many magic fishes as I would like. How many of us think, “I would have stopped with the palace.” Or “Once I was king, I wouldn’t ask for anything else.” But its easy to judge the story when we aren’t in it. How many of us feel discontent and dissatisfied with things in our lives that just one month or one year ago we were happy to have.

The struggle for contentment and gratitude with what we have was just as much a struggle for poor workers in the Middle Ages as they are for us today in the Information and Technology age. There is a push and pull of desire that is a part of human nature. And I fully acknowledge that all desire or need is not bad. Yet, how many of us wish for more without being grateful for our current status. We know that contentedness and gratefulness have to come from within. More stuff or better things, in and of itself will not guarantee happiness.

What I have been wondering though, is what if you were never taught any productive habits for happiness. What is you were never taught how to cultivate gratitude. And what does this have to do with eliminating bad habits? (Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten my initial point. So, what if you were never guided to cultivate gratitude? You might not be that happy in your life. I think that for many of us, this is what has happened. We may have heard stories such as this one, but for most people a story is still a theoretical, thought-based experience. How can we bring that insight into a personal experience that goes beyond just the mind? Is there anything we can do?

Yes, we can cultivate habits of happiness. We can cultivate and accumulate our attention towards gratitude every day. And not because it is the hottest new trend in personal development or brain research. Not because we need one more thing to do. No, because it is one of the faster, easiest ways to fast-track to better living. We are going to try a practice because just hearing that story only has a fleeting effect on you, but what happens when you practice gratitude for seven days in a row. What happens when we retrain our awareness into noticing the goodness already all around us? Good stuff. Even if we weren’t raised or trained with habits of happiness, we We can cultivate these habits until they become ingrained, and we naturally act from them.

What Happens when you Explore Gratitude for 7 Days?

This is something that I can tell you about and you can nod your head about, but until you start practicing it and experience it for yourself, you don’t truly know the impact. Gratitude is not something you can just understand theoretically. I want you to give yourself the opportunity to experience it for yourself and watch how it transforms your world.

Here is one way it transformed my world. A few years ago I was going through a period where my husband was annoying me a lot. Some of your married folks are thinking, ‘Just one period? That’s like our entire marriage,’ but stay with me here. So I noticed that I was annoyed by him and feeling friction, because I was changing and growing a lot personally, but what that also did was cause me to notice in him the things that I found incredibly immature, annoying, and unsavory. Instead of blaming him for being immature- which I totally would have done in the past before putting a lot of effort into my own self-growth, I realized that the issue was not him- he was the same person that generally he had been all along. I was the one changing. And I needed to find a way to accept who he was, or risk being a perpetual nag and I didn’t want to play that role. 

So, I got out a small journal that I had but hadn’t started writing in yet. I changed the cover title on the journal to fit the purpose. I challenged myself everyday to write 3-6 genuine, new aspects about him that I noticed and appreciated. I didn’t tell him that I was doing this. 

Some of the sentences were very basic, “I love that he brings so much laughter into my life.” Others referred to specific traits or instances. “I love that he can prepare fish and put together a good meal, including zucchini with butter!” I didn’t force myself to do more than 3 sentences a day, although some days I had close to 10 sentences I wrote.

I started the process and didn’t notice much. Somewhere around day 6 or 7, I noticed my view of him had transformed. I looked in the kitchen cabinet at his typical way of stacking up cereal bowls- which resembles jenga on a good day. Typically this would annoy me to no end; I would shout out to him angrily from the kitchen that he had stacked the bowls so that they could fall and break. However that day, my first thought was one of openness and appreciation. “Huh,” I thought to myself, “what a creative way to stack those bowls.” The moment I thought that and felt the emotion of openness, I paused. I recognized that this was not my normal reaction to this instance. This was an entirely new reaction that I hadn’t had to force and try to make happen. I simply reacted differently, organically from my heart. 

To me, this is one of the beauties of self-development. By practicing gratitude and appreciation towards my husband, I suddenly didn’t need to remind myself not to criticize him. I didn’t have to struggle to change my habit of criticizing him over little things that really didn’t matter in the grand scheme of our relationship. Sure, I would love it he took better care of our things so that they were less likely to break, but I acknowledged even before starting my gratitude practice, that the issue was not with him, but with my approach towards it.

What if you use gratitude to shift your attitude towards something that is a habit that you would like to change? What if you used the power of gratitude working on your mind to shift your awareness, so that changing your approach to other people or situations shifts seamlessly and easily. To start a gratitude practice is much much easier than training yourself not to say critical things to others (I have tried both approaches and gratitude happens faster and with less effort). You can take simply 3 minutes a day to think or as I strongly suggest to write, about what you are grateful for in your life. You can keep it general to your life, or aimed at a specific situation, as I did.

The beautiful thing about writing your gratitude down is you have a record to reflect back on. I still have my Ed Makes a Difference Journal. If things are tough with us, I will occasionally refer to it. Sometimes I refer to it, simply when I going through the drawer I store it in. My heart swells with love when I read of instances of sweetness from him that I had entirely forgotten. I also will add a few new sentences a few times a year, just to keep the journal growing. 

Keeping a gratitude journal or anyplace where you write down what you appreciate, makes you take an actual physical act to focus on gratitude. If you are really against finding the time to sit and write, then I suggest finding another activity that you do every day that you can pair your gratitude with.

For example, what if you spent the whole time that you are brushing your teeth focusing on what you are grateful for in your life?

Or could you spend the first 30 seconds you sit at every stoplight looking around and realizing all of the things that you are grateful for in your world? 

I’d love to hear how the effects of your gratitude experience go. Please comment below your experience and any epiphanies.

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