Gratitude Journal: New Age Hype or Useful Tool?

The first time someone suggested I keep a gratitude journal, I suggested they set their hair on fire. I was a little cranky at the time. I didn’t want to be grateful, I wanted to seethe and be angry. Once I got finished with anger, I wasn’t sure why I should be grateful. And that’s the point.

Being grateful and writing it down helps slow down all that galloping emotion. In the mood I was in, my approach was a “revenge of the gratitude journal.” I wanted to prove that idiot who suggested the gratitude journal that they were wrong. Hah! So I wrote down, “I have nothing to be grateful for.” So there. I looked at it for awhile and felt a little dumb. Except for the thing I was angry about, which had taken over my life, I had a roof over my head, clean clothes to wear, a caring spouse, enough food to eat. I knew that other people didn’t have all of that. But hey, I was still angry.

So I wrote down, “My cup of coffee was not total crap this morning.” That seemed about right. The next day, I wrote down, “My annoying cube neighbor has the flu.” Then I added, “Traffic was OK. I got to the client on time.” I found that having a few small things to be grateful for seemed to reduce my anger. Only because all that anger was exhausting me.

Over time, I began to notice the quality of items I was grateful for changed, almost as if I could predict a bad mood, a new project coming my way, and when I was in problem-solving mode. I began to dare to notice that I was good at some things and write them in the gratitude journal. I could see the big picture and the details to get there. I was a good problem solver. Being grateful for what you are good at and noticing it makes you better at it.

A gratitude journal sharpens your skills. The first time I suggested it to one of my coaching clients, he tactfully suggested I set my hair on fire. (Well, no, he was quite polite. But I could feel the shock wave over the phone. This was no girly-man.) But he kept up the gratitude journal. I promise my clients anonimity, so I can’t quote his entries, but they started simple and got quite complex. It was working for him, too.

Here’s what he wrote to me this morning:
“You can tell your tough-guy clients that when I got laid off, the journal had mentally prepared me to view it as a blessing and an opportunity rather than a death sentence.
It allowed me to think clearly and focus on what I really wanted to do. Kind of like boot camp mentally prepares a “green” soldier for his first combat mission.”

Thanks so much for letting me know. You and I discovered the same thing about gratitude–it’s not a new age emotion, it’s a business tool. Particularly if you own your own business.

Note: Tips for keeping a gratitude journal.

—Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and a life coach who specializes in guiding people through transitions. She holds workshops on writing, corporate culture, and giving presentations. See her work at

Her other website, Raw-Art-Journals, is about her art life. Follow Quinn on Twitter.

10 Questions to Ask Your Coach

You’ve decided to work with a coach for the usual reasons: you aren’t getting enough done, you spend a lot of time worrying, you are repeating all the same patterns, you are unhappy with your life, you aren’t getting promoted, there is trouble on your team, you aren’t managing your life, your boss or your colleagues well, you don’t know what to do next.

You’ve found some names, now how to decide? Asking questions is good. What to ask? Here are some ideas to build on:

Q. “Do you coach on the phone, in person, or via email?”
A. In person gives you face to face contact, but it also means you need to drive, park, walk there and back. You may have to use time looking for a parking space or pay to park.

Phone coaching can fit into parts of your day that work best for you–early morning, lunch, evening when you have some time. If your coach does phone coaching, ask if they were trained that way. It takes a special skill.

Email coaching is tricky. You might feel emotional when you write, then be in a completely different mood when the answer comes back. When a coach asks a question, you may write back what the coach wants to hear, rather than what you feel. Email coaching is the least reliable. Email is great for coaching homework or reporting in, but not for the heart of coaching.

Q: “Where did you train?”
Some people have been coaching for a long time and never went to a course. But a recognized coaching course gives you some reassurance that there were principles learned, practiced and tested. Therapists often become coaches, although coaches are not therapists, unless they have studies and been licensed to be a therapist. In general, therapists look backward for the origin of problems, and coaches look forward to goals.

Q: “How long have you been coaching regularly?”
It’s good to know if someone has just started. That doesn’t mean they aren’t gifted, but experience is an excellent skill-builder. And coaching regularly is the key. A coach who has taken a three-year sabbatical may not be at the top of the skill.

Q: “How many times a month do we talk and for how long?”
This varies widely and you need to be comfortable with the commitment. Some coaching sessions run for half an hour, some for an hour. Some coaching sessions are 4 times a month, some three, some at random intervals. Choose a coach whose working sessions make sense to you. Ask why they chose their session length and frequency. The answer should have the voice of experience.

Q: “How much do you charge?”
A coach who hedges on the answer, or gives an unclear answer is one you should avoid. Prices should be clear, easy to understand and explain. I favor coaches who put their price on their website. No reason to hide it, fees are either affordable for your client, or not. The client determines the value. If my grocery store didn’t post their prices in the paper, or I had to search for airline prices, I wouldn’t use them.

Q: “How long will it take?”
No coach can tell you how long it will take to make a change in your life. It depends on how hard you work, and what you want to achieve. Change takes time. Once you have achieved a goal, you might very well want to move on to another goal with the same coach. Some people find that a good coach is a necessity and stay for years, other clients go for a quick fix and stay for a few months, a few clients just check in once a month or so after coaching ends.

Q: “Do you give homework?”:
Coaches frequently ask powerful questions at the end of a session. Other times, you may agree with the coach to complete a task, start a project, write down some notes. Coaching is most effective between sessions, when your mind returns to the session and builds on it. Having a focal point to build on is a big advantage.

Q: Do you give sample sessions?
Coaching is personal and experiential. It’s hard to describe it using only words, just like it is hard to explain an ice cream flavor. Once you taste it, you understand how the ice cream tastes to you. Many coaches give a sample session to let you see their style, approach and tone. Not every coach will work for you, and no coach should discourage you from trying more than one before making a decision.

Q: Will you get my book published/ find me a soul mate/ get my family off my back?
No. Sorry, you have to do the work. A coach supports you, shows you different perspectives, discusses consequences, shows you options, asks what you need to complete a task, helps you see the steps in a task, supports you, encourages you, demands the best from you, makes you accountable, and asks questions, helps you think about resources, maybe even shares resources. But no advice. A life- or creativity coach that gives hard advice and instructions consistently isn’t helping you. If you are not coming up with your own ideas, you won’t be dedicated to them. If you don’t choose your own path, you will blame the coach. Part of coaching is learning to take responsibility for your life.

Q: “May I call or email you?”
Most coaches believe that you are creative, resourceful and whole when you begin coaching. If you need a therapist, that’s a different kind of help. Many coaches offer email exchanges for homework or brief check-ins. How often you call without getting charged is up to the coach and you to set. Boundaries are important to keep the relationship in balance. If you and your coach become close friends, the coach may have a hard time keeping your goal in perspective. Most coaches don’t mind a quick phone call or email during office hours. Be careful about making demands on how fast you expect an answer, and the hours a coach is available. Coaches need their downtime, too.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and a life coach who helps with transitions in business, career, and family matters. She can be reached at