Starting Your Gratitude Journal

When I first wrote about gratitude journals, it was about my own experience, from grumpy doubter to believer. There’s considerable proof that saying “thank you,” and finding things to be grateful for reduces blood pressure, makes you feel better and actually can improve your mood.

Now that we are close to Thanksgiving, a time when people who are alone orCHR75reg2__06130_zoom overwhelmed may not feel so thankful, I thought it might be useful to spell out how to keep a gratitude journal. Of course, you can keep it any way that works, but working with a lot of coaching clients, I’ve found a few tips that really work well.

1. Keep it small and keep it with you. A small spiral-bound notebook is inexpensive and easy to carry with you. That makes it more likely you will have it with you when you need it. I like a 4-inch by 6-inch size.

2. Leave the first page blank. That way, you won’t feel so pressured to make it perfect. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to be there for you.

3. Write it down when it happens. In the beginning, when you feel more exhausted, angry or hurt than grateful, write down the slightest thing you feel grateful for. Write it down as soon as it happens. Noting your gratitude will help sharpen your senses to things that make you grateful, and make more events available to you.

4. Write every day. Look for anything that makes you feel better or grateful. Some days you may have to search really hard, and that’s OK. Comfortable shoes, someone holding a door open for you, a smile from a stranger can be a big event in a life gone awry. Look for them so you will experience them more often.

5. Look back over what you are grateful for. Many people find that they start out small, then realize there is more and more. If that happens, it’s, well, something to be grateful for.

6. Be the stranger to smile at someone. Wouldn’t it be nice to wind up in someone’s gratitude journal?

If you have good results, let me know. It can be a boost to others. We’re in some tough times right now, not through any fault of our own. It takes a little more effort to be cheerful and grateful, but it’s worth it.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who has learned to be grateful


Being Enough

If you have friends, you have been sent one of the TED Talks of Brené Brown, the story-teller researcher who works on slippery topics–vulnerability, shame, being enough.

Here’s what I learned when I explored Brown’s ideas of being enough.

enough_1When my coaching clients tell me they have no dreams, no goals, no ambitions they often present it as a fact that has always been true and will always remain true. When I peg that as the “I’m enough” baseline, they get nervous. Unhappy. Because they often feel they aren’t enough. What would it take to be enough?

enoug_2We often allow other people to determine who we are.  Among our friends, winning is getting the envious looks at the size 4 figure, the Prada bag, the BMW, the wealthy spouse. We define ourselves in the eyes of others. Nothing wrong with the Prada and the BMW, as long as you know they aren’t you, and that if you lost them, you would still have the essential you. (Reality check: if you lost the Prada, the spouse, the BMW, would your friends stay?)

enough_31It’s easy to lose sight of, then forget, our own values, our own dreams, our own goals. We replace what our heart yearns for with the prize we want right now.

enough_51The harder truth to cope with is that we are enough every day. Everyone fails, everyone does dumb things, everyone wishes they could take something back. The real success stories belong to the people who brush off their values and won’t allow rationalization to tarnish them. Who push themselves to grow every day. To be enough every day.

enough_6Your “enough” can grow. That’s the point. A real trick is to allow your friends to be Enough today and grow to be Enough tomorrow, too. Not your Enough, their Enough.  If last week’s Enough feels tight, you have outgrown it. Luckily, Enough can grow with self-awareness.

Quinn McDonald is a life and creativity coach who helps people deal with change and re-invention. In other words, who helps people grow into their personal “Enough.”

Throwing Shadows

Note: This post first ran two years ago. I don’t expect people to dig deep into my old blog posts, so from time to time, I re-write and re-post one I liked.  I’m also recuperating from my right eye lens implant and need some shut-eye. Literally.

* * * * *
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

—Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

An abstract of shadows on a cement wall.

An abstract of shadows on a cement wall.

Shadows are wonderful art. They are both the object and a color. They have more possibility than the object itself, because everyone gets to fill in their own idea of color and size. Yet they are completely dependent on the angle and the amount of light.

A shadow is not the object, but it identifies the object. The shadow is never far from the object, and can be more beautiful and meaningful than the object.


Sometimes shadows bring understanding. What we cannot grasp in three dimensions and color becomes clear in black and gray, stretched out before us.

Bonsai and its shadow

Bonsai and its shadow

Shadows give dimension, add depth and occasionally a completely different perspective of our own opinion.

However you see them, shadows belong in your life, your journal, your photographs and your art journal. They will never bore you.

-Quinn McDonald would like to cast a long shadow across the earth, but still requires growth to accomplish it.

A Hot-Water Fable

Food for thought, as it were. I borrowed it (with permission) from David Mankin, an oboist, dad and coffee expert with a great sense of humor. His blog is a wonderful mix of music, life and coffee.

The Carrot, the Egg and the Coffee Bean

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl.

Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see.”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg.

Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma The daughter then asked, “What does it mean, mother?”

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.

The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.

The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water , they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

-Quinn McDonald loves a good story. If it uses metaphor, it’s even better.

Creative Prompt: Lawn Care

Book Winner: Carla Sonheim generously donated a book to the winner of today’s drawing so I could keep the book–I was so pleased! But there were so many comments, I decided to give away my copy, too, so there are TWO winners!   Joy Moore and  Leah Boulet–Congratulations!

* * *

Today we’re doing something different. If you are exploring your creativity, it’s always interesting to play with metaphors. Metaphors use one term to describe another, unrelated term. (Comparing a company to a ship and the financial futures as sailing on stormy seas, for example.) The kind of metaphor I’m talking about is an extended metaphor. (How the coming and going of tides affect the ship.)

Here’s your set-up: Phoenix is on the Sonoran Desert floor. We don’t have a lot of water to waste, and many people have xeriscaped yards–no grass, just crushed rock and desert plants. This is hard on some people who move here from someplace green and miss their lawns. Lawns really can’t be sustained in summer, so September is the time to replant your lawn, water it early in the morning, and hope for the best.


Creative Work: Think of your free time, and how you spend it. Are you fighting your inner geography and planting a lawn? Are you going with the ambient climate and keeping it simple? Report Back: Are you tempted to make changes in your creative time? Are you keeping it simple? Come back and tell us. If you have a blog, link back to it in your comment. (One link only).

Journal Keepers: Dive into your journals and work through a metaphor the lawn story suggests. For example,  Do you want to do work that is intense and may not fit the popular climate, or do you want to go with the flow and keep your work suited to an easy schedule? Or, do you want to create an environment that’s exotic for you or do you want to explore your nature as it is? Post a link to your journal page. (One link only, please).

Don’t want to post your blog? No pressure. It’s always interesting to see other people’s interpretations.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and a journal keeper.

I Yam Who I Yam*


A few days ago, I went through one of those vignettes that make me smile for no reason at all–it might have been embarrassing at another time in my life, but I am comfortable with my imperfections–most of them, anyway. Like Popeye, I am who I am, and not everyone else is cool with that. Or at least not as cool as I am with that.
I called a library to arrange a book signing for my new book, Raw Art Journaling, that’s coming out in a few days, maybe a week.
We join the conversation in progress, as it slides inexorably downhill:
Me: . . . so I wondered if a book signing would be a good mix for your events this summer.
Librarian: Well, I don’t know, maybe if you did a children’s program. . .
Me: The book is really for adults who keep a journal.
Librarian: We are looking to do more performance art this summer, with guests from far away.
Me: Oh. I would have thought you’d be interested in your local writers, too.
Librarian: Look, it’s not like you are exactly J.A. Jance.

What a great praise for J.A. Jance, a writer of mysteries and suspense books who used to live in Tucson and now lives in Seattle. I’m a fan. So I wrote her and told her the story.
Her reply?
Years ago, the same thing happened to her–except she was told “You are no Norman Mailer.” And then, incredibly, she told me two lesser-known libraries that had been helpful to her before she had several books on the New York Times best seller list.

None of us are all everyone wants us to be. What makes us great is the willingness to be who we have become. With some work, that is better than who we used to be. Because, great or not great, we can’t be anyone else.

-Quinn McDonald is happy about her book, Raw Art Journaling that is being shipped as soon as the 4th of July holiday is over. She did not tell this story for sympathy, as she knows librarians have to do what makes money. She told the story to show the kindness of another writer. That counts.

How a Photographer Grew into Her Talent

“When you set a simple, clear goal for a year away, a lot of other goals get done along the way,” Bo Mackison says. Her goal seemed simple enough: post a photograph on her blog every day for a year.

Red Sumac and Birches, (c) Bo Mackison, taken in October, 2007

Red Sumac and Birches, (c) Bo Mackison, taken in October, 2007

And a year later, she can point to all those photographs on her blog–a task complete. But a lot happened along the way. The woman who didn’t know how to cut and paste in a Word document is now skimming through Aperture (photography software).

The same woman who picked up a camera again (this time a digital) when her last child left for college, is now working on a career as an assignment photographer.

Red Sumac, (c) Bo Mackison, taken October, 2008

Red Sumac, (c) Bo Mackison, October 2008

The first pictures Bo posted on Flickr and her blog were snapshots of the world around her. But she had a good eye (those courses on art taken long ago helped), and discovered a huge community of interested photographers on the Web.

“I’d post a photo and someone would tell me how to make it better. Everyone was kind, no one made fun of my amateur work,” Bo says. “One person looked at all my photos on Flickr and helped me solve a sizing problem. Just because she wanted to be helpful.”

Bo bought books for inspiration, books to answer questions and learn techniques. She went out every day–which is saying a lot in Wisconsin’s winters–and took photographs, worked on them and posted them. Every day for a year.

Along the way, a former newspaper editor asked her to photograph and write for a blog about Wisconsin. The blog is now in the early stages of syndication. After a vacation Bo took through the Southwest, including Phoenix, a tour guide saw a photo taken at the Desert Botanical Garden and asked to publish it.

Queen Anne's Lace in Frost, (c) Bo Mackison, October 2008

Queen Anne's Lace in Frost, (c) Bo Mackison, October 2008

“Sometimes there is payment, sometimes you get paid in links,” Bo says, “But every time you take another step into learning, you find out more, and you grow.”

Bo hopes that her photographs and writing will lead to regular assignments.

“Photography is an experience. You don’t just walk into a box and learn what’s around you. The learning never ends. That’s what’s makes it so exciting. Who knows where I’ll be a year from now?”

I can’t wait to find ou

Enjoy Bo’s “Wisconsin Alphabet” series. Or, just go right to Seeded Earth’s blog for today:

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who helps people face change and transition in their lives.

Fighting to Change

Even when you want to change, it isn’t easy. What makes change hard? Two major factors: yourself and others. The rest is easy. When you decide to change, you have your past to wrestle with. You choose the path to change and suddenly your inner voice pipes up. “What’s so wrong with who you are now?” “Love yourself the way you are, change is a sign of self-hatred.” “Can you really keep up this behavior?”

images4.jpegIf you want to change a habit, you’ll have to substitute the new behavior for about two month. That’s as long as it will take you to establish the new habit in place of the old. No doubt about it, they will be the longest two months of your life. You will invent a thousand reasons to go back to the old behavior–it’s your birthday, you just started a diet, you are stressed, now is not a good time. But like having a baby, there is never a perfect time, you have to gear up, crank up your determination and get busy.

Just when you do, your friends will start chipping away at your resolve. They will give you excuses to fail. They will tell you they like you the way you are. They will whine that you don’t need to change. Why are your friends so focused on sabotage? Because if you change, they will have to change. They will have to get to know the new you, they will have to change the way they treat you . And your friends don’t want to change. It’s too much work. It is a lot less work to complain until you quit changing.

Your friends can be persistent and threatening. Most people don’t like confrontation, and they do like their friends, so they cave in and go back to being “normal.” And there goes the path to success.

If you are determined to change, tell your friends you plan ahead of time and enlist their help. Ask them to support you before the chorus of complaints begins. Often asking for support not only makes friends understand that this is important to you, it helps you be clear about what you want. And talking about the change helps you be clear about what you want for your future.

That doesn’t mean your friends will always support you, but it gives you a better start. And a good start is the best way to start toward a good finish.


–Quinn McDonald is a life coach and certified creativity coach. See her work at (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Change is inevitable. . .

. . .growth is optional. And nothing brings on change more than a move. I’ve given some thought to change in the last week that I’ve arrived on what might as well be another planet.

We spend our lives understanding that change is part of each day, and struggling to keep things exactly the same. We fall into a routine, we focus on the future, when things will be just as we arrange them. And we wander through our lives, ignoring the very thing that will help us become different: change.

I fell into the trap, too. I did not look forward to buying a car. A tight budget and no knowledge of cars made me feel inadequate. But a ticking clock on the rental gave me an incentive to learn about cars and choose one. It turns out that I made several big decisions that I absolutely would have refused to accept a week ago. What brought on the change? I forced myself (and it was hard)  to take a different perspective on my old views. To see how the different perspective allowed a larger shift in ideas and values. And then I stepped into the unknown with what I had learned.

images2.jpegI came out the other side with a new (to me) car, and a lot of respect for the process of change. For the idea that growth and exploration can be stopped dead in its tracks by perfectionism, and that a little lightening up trumps dead serious every time.

The new car made me feel real gratitude, forced me to depend on strangers (something I’m not good at) and moving through a problem with resolve. I’m a good decision maker, but I kept remembering I know nothing about cars. OK, once I admitted that, I could move ahead.

Perhaps a good way to tackle change is to admit you won’t know how it will turn out and can’t control most of the outcome anyway. Then plunge ahead, doing your best in the time available.

In Letters To A Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke has a wonderful insight,

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. See her work at (c) Quinn McDonald, 2007, All rights reserved.