The ‘Yes, and…’ approach to gratitude


You didn’t think we’d make it through Thanksgiving without a gratitude post, did you? Well think again. We know every once in a while when this topic pops up a good percentage of you zone out; when you’re feeling down it’s extremely annoying to have some lady blogger tell you to be grateful. But we also know that when things are really bad it’s often the small steps forward and shifts in thinking that slowly make the difference.

You know how when you decide someone is annoying; all of a sudden everything they do is simply horrendous? Well the same downward spiral sometimes occurs when you’re having a bad day, feeling down on your luck, or having a moment of self-doubt. Once you start driving down the road of negativity, emotions like anxiety, anger, guilt, shame and loneliness cram in the back seat and fog up all your windows.

It is this precisely miserable moment that we suggest you hit the brakes and start searching for the positive.  By doing so you stop the negative thinking (at least temporarily) and take stock of what is good and positive in your life and the resources and support available to you. Perhaps you won’t feel immediately better, but you may have succeeded in moving the gauge from ‘everything is awful’ to ‘I guess it could be worse’.

Whether you merely make mental notes or decide to start a daily gratitude journal, finding things to be grateful about is one of the simplest, easiest and most inexpensive coping sills you can try. What have you got to lose?  For newbies looking for a little more information you may want to start with this practical and unpretentious guide to gratitude.

Anyway if we can do it, you can do it. We know exactly what it’s like to be annoyed by talk of a silver lining because we’re actually pretty cynical people. We’re wretched really, which is why we love coming up with all sorts of plans and approaches that force us into finding gratitude.  This Thanksgiving season we felt especially challenged because we’ve been taking turns feeling negative and pessimistic. There was no way we were going to be able to keep up with the same old daily gratitudes but we still wanted to do a gratitude challenge for ourselves and our readers because, again, we know the value of actively trying to flip the script (I’ve always wanted to say that).

The “Yes, and…” approach to gratitude

This year we decided to take a page from the improv comedy world and apply a few of their rules to the practice of finding gratitude.  These are the 4 rules laid our by Tina Fey aka my hero. If you Google ‘Tina Fey’s rules of improv’ you’ll find they’re being applied all over the internet to all sorts of subject matter .  Full disclosure, I have no idea if anyone else has ever applied the rules of improv to gratitude.  If so, great minds, you know?  I will however point out that there’s a group called Healing Improv, led by Bart Sumner, who use improv to cope with grief and difficult emotion.

We like using this approach specifically for gratitude and here’s why:

1.  It allows you to acknowledge and accept the negative.

2.  It helps you see the negative as an opportunity for something positive or different and engages you in creating a solution.

3.  It asks you to create or identify a positive or different outcome, instead of asking you to merely find things that already exist to be grateful for.

The concepts are simple enough, but this actually takes a little practice to get used to.  This is especially true if your already feeling pessimistic or cynical because it requires you to open your mind to new possibilities.  Here are the rules:

1.  Say ‘Yes’.

Acknowledge what it is that’s bothering you.  Whether your experiencing a negative feeling or an actual stressor, it’s real to you and should be respected as such.

Yes, I am angry.  

Yes, that man just stole my hat.  

Yes, my kids listen to the television incredibly loud.  

Owning up to the things will likely be the easiest part of the exercise; it is for me at least.  But for those of you who tend towards ‘It’s fine‘ or ‘I’m fine‘ when you’re really not, look at it this way; if you don’t acknowledge what’s upsetting you, you can never take the next step to fix it, change it or turn it into something better.

2.  Say ‘Yes, and…

Not ‘Yes, BUT…’; always ‘Yes, AND…’.   Using the word ‘but’ either works to contradict the statement or it justifies the negative and encourages you to accept it and leave it be.  Using the word ‘and’ on the other hand encourages you to add something like a new possibility, a next step, or a new way of looking at the situation.

3.  Make statements.

Make statements.  Don’t ask questions; don’t waste your time looking for all the obstacles; and don’t sit around saying why it’s not important or doesn’t matter. Instead, look for solutions and answers and be open to all ideas and possibilities.  If you’re frustratingly indecisive like me, I find this part especially helpful.

Maybe it’s the possibility of a future outcome…

‘Yes, it’s getting cold AND that means it could snow’

Maybe it’s what you need to get away from the stressor…

‘Yes, I’ve listened to my kids bicker all morning AND this gives me an excuse to have alone time in a hot bath.’

‘Yes, I overcooked the chicken AND this means we get to have pancakes for dinner!’

Maybe it’s a totally made up scenario that makes you chuckle in the face of something negative….

‘Yes, that man was very rude to me AND now because of karma I imagine he’ll go step in a puddle and walk around with wet socks all day.’

4.  There are no mistakes

There are no mistakes, only opportunities.  Which I guess in this context basically means wherever you end up decide to own it, follow through with it, enjoy it and live it.


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