with Janet Murphy
Law of attraction. Manifestation. These terms rose to popularity largely after the launch of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne first to film then a book in 2006 the self help and personal development arena embraced the concepts of manifesting the life you desire. A more spiritual version of “fake it till you make it”, while critics dismissed it as lacking scientific foundation.
Somewhere in the middle lies gratitude practice. Acknowledging that gratitude won’t buy you that status symbol car or take your family on a tropical vacation, it can help you find the beauty in what you do have and generally improve your feelings of life satisfaction and even how you feel about yourself. In fact, researcher Robert Emmons finds that gratitude brings better health, stronger connections, better sleep and more happiness. And we can all use more happiness.
My guest today is Janet Murphy. Janet is a graphic designer living in Prince Edward Island. Janet and I have been working together since 2006 and over the past two and a half years she has found joy and success in daily gratitude. She’s been so inspired by the changes she has seen in her own life that she has launched her own design of gratitude journal. You can find them at www.projectinggratitude.com. I began by asking her to share the story of what was happening in her life when she came to feel that she needed to begin a gratitude practice and how she got started.
Janet: I’ve always had sort of this notion that my internal dialogue controls my outer world, I guess. So when I was happy, happy things happened and if I believe something was going to occur, it kind of, I would find the ways to make that occur. And so I’m very, I’m a firm believer in self fulfilling prophecies and all of that kind of stuff. And I’ve had lots of little, you know, serendipity type moments in my life too, to play up that. But what happened for the practice, for the actual daily ritual was we moved across the country. So because of my husband’s job had to move in the spring of 2017 and we were moving from Ottawa, a city that I liked and enjoyed and lived in for 10 years. But we were moving closer to family and friends. So we were really excited.
This was a positive move and I just knew things were going to be great. And in the middle of the move, we actually took our kids on a month long trip to New Zealand, which was one of the best trips I’ve ever been to. And so everything was really positive and really great. And we landed in PEI in March of 2017 we had all kinds of friends and family, really excited too, that we were close to them and within driving distance and that summer was just a whirlwind of company and guests in our house and the whole deal and as an introvert. At the end of the summer I was completely drained and burnt out. And suddenly I realized that my perspective on everything was really negative and I was angry and I was sad and I just felt completely out of control. So something one day told me to change my perspective to just sit down and write out things I was happy about.
And go back to that place of, wait a second, you’re happy about this move and you wanted to be close and what was it you loved here? And so I started to do that. I started to just write down in the morning with my cup of coffee, five things that I was really grateful for and really think about them. And it felt so good that I did it the next day and it felt so good I did it the next day. And then I started researching why it felt so good and why it started to affect other parts of my life, including my family and the energy in the house. And then that’s how I sort of got into the whole power of gratitude.
April: You start journaling. And then I guess you notice that you’re happier, that your mood is shifting.
Janet: Yeah. So as I started to research gratitude and learn about it, the power of it I started to realize that you can – it’s hard to explain. You can exercise your brain the same way you exercise your body. So what the research showed was that we take in or we are exposed to tens of thousands of pieces of information every day and we have these filters in our brain that filter out all the useless stuff and only absorb the stuff that is important to us. So we just don’t notice things. And in the process of gratitude, in the process of writing down things that you’re happy about, things that you notice your brain actually switches a filter to notice those things more.
April: Oh that’s fascinating.
Janet: Yeah, it really is fascinating. It’s the notion where they say that when somebody’s pregnant or want to get pregnant, they notice pregnant people all the time. You know, you want to, you know, you suddenly decide you want to live in a certain area, you notice for sale signs happening in that area. Your brain actually triggers that because you’ve decided it’s important to you.
April: Oh yeah. That makes perfect sense when you think about it. But it seems like such a foreign concept, you know, before putting kind of two and two together. Because I remember exactly that. You know, wanting, you know, wanting to be pregnant and noticing pregnant bellies everywhere all of a sudden, or you start looking at a specific car, you see everybody drives that car now.
Janet: Exactly. You know, it’s just, it’s, it’s the way of our brain. So when people are constantly complaining about, you know, say traffic, it’s like they always notice the traffic because their brain is, you know, decided that that’s important to them. And it’s, it’s kind of amazing. Nothing else changes except for what you absorb and then what you absorb changes you.
April: So what did you notice came to you and what did you notice kind of fell away when you started looking at things differently?
Janet: Well, so the first thing that was really strange and sort of started me in the whole idea of gratitude, not for now, but gratitude for what I want as well, was that when I was here – so after that summer of craziness, I felt really unhealthy. We had company, I was just surviving. And for people who know me, having that many people in my space, like we had two weekends I think without company, it just was a lot to emotionally take. And so I remember being really like I have to do something, I have to get fit, I have to get healthy. And the dialogue that I was telling myself in my head, because I had had a, I had been running relatively regularly like 10 years ago in my thirties in my head, I was, ‘but you’re too old, you’re too old to do that now you’re an unfit, you’re gonna hurt yourself cause that’s what you did 10 years ago, so you have to do something easier’.
And so I was looking around for yoga classes or some sort of fitness group and I don’t enjoy yoga classes or fitness groups. So I was looking for it and really physically and emotionally rebelling from it. I was just, no, I don’t want it. And I kept writing down every day gratitude for finding some sort of healthy ritual, healthy routine. And I still was rebelling of what I was in my head, telling myself to do. And then I woke up one day and I said to people, it’s almost like I had somebody sitting next to me and I heard a voice kind of say, put on your sneakers and go, just go. And it was really weird because the dialogue in my head, the part that was, you know, analyzing everything was, that doesn’t make any sense because you’re 10 years older and you haven’t done this in, you know, that long. And, but I did, I just listened to it and I went and it’s been two years. So it’s, it taught me that emotion is a big part of success in what we want in our life. It’s not just, you know, how do we do it? It’s how we feel about it that makes us successful. And gratitude changes how you feel about things.
April: Wow. I, I’ve heard that message in various ways disseminated from different business books and different self help books. And you know what? I don’t know that I’ve ever actually fully believed it until you and I have started talking about this because we have talked about these serendipitous moments and how you have started kind of manifesting a new life for yourself. And yeah, it’s been a really fascinating learning experience for me too. I want to know more about your Projecting Gratitude project and the journals that you’ve created and why specifically they’re designed the way they are.
Janet: So as I was doing the research and I was, you know, absorbing all of the information I could find, and there’s a lot, there’s a lot out there. There’s a lot of like, it’s sort of disguised or wrapped in, you know, law of attraction. People have heard of law of attraction or they’ve heard of the secret or you know, that kind of stuff. Manifestation is one of those words that gets tossed around. And I find for me, I’m a lot like you, we have that we have that sort of artistic side of our brain, but then we have that really scientific part of our brain where I’m like, I don’t, I don’t want to, you know, just listen to something because it’s, it’s magic. It’s woo woo and all that. So I would read those books, but then I would find the science behind them.
You know, that’s when I started realizing about the way our brain filters information that I go, oh, there’s actually, this makes sense to me. And one of the things that they would say, and there have been studies to prove this, like I had talked to you the other day about, there was a study about Harvard grads who had written out their goals of what they wanted to have happen. And there was only 3% of this one graduating class that they were studying that did this process of writing down their goals. And that 3% in 10 years were making 10 times what all their classmates were – 97% of their graduating class – because they had physically written it out. They declared it in a way. And what happens is when you take the time to write something out, your brain does finds those filters and finds those, oh, maybe that person will help me. Oh, that’s what I’m looking for. I’m going to follow that path. And so that’s what I started to do. I started to write out, so I would write three to five things that I was really grateful for that I have in my life right now and I can feel emotionally feel grateful for. And then I would write out three to five things that I was grateful for, that I wanted to have in my life. But I would write them in the present tense because that was sort of the way that everything said because if you write them in the present tense, your subconscious doesn’t know the difference. It’s the same thing that they did a study on athletes during, I think it was Olympics in the 1980s and they made them run their events in their head and realize that running the events in their head caused all the same muscles to fire as if they ran the event in reality.
So it became this whole study of, of that our brain doesn’t know the difference between what we tell it and what is actually happening. It’s just dealing with our subconscious, our thought processes. And so when you write something out that hasn’t happened to you yet, but you want, your brain starts going, oh, okay, let’s figure out, we gotta make this happen now because obviously it’s happening. So I started to do that, but what was happening, so I got into this and I was doing this for about six months and things were happening. My job was changing. I was changing how I was working, who was working for, how much I was working, how much I was making. I was making all of these decisions and everything was really positive. And so I started to look for a gratitude journal.
I was writing in one of my daughter’s old scribblers and, and I was just looking for something. I was, this is a really, this is something I’m sticking with. I want something special for it. And what I found was too special, the journals, the gratitude journals or anything that was designed for gratitude, were very beautiful books that were found hard covered, gorgeous things. And there are people out there, Rachel Hollis is one. She’s got a beautiful gratitude journal and she does a lot of the same process where she gets you to write out things that you want and she even will show you her old journals where she wrote about being a successful author and all these things before it happened. But that didn’t suit me because some of the things that I write about are really personal, really super private, you know, and writing them down is sort of that place, that safe space for me to write it down and feel emotional about it.
Whether it be something about my health, it could be something about my physical appearance. Some of this stuff is super private but important to me and I don’t want it to be sitting on the shelf somewhere bound in a beautiful book. So what I really liked about the scribbler that I was using before was that at the end of it, I just burnt it in our fire. I just, it was gone and I went, ‘oh, it’s not what I’m writing, that it’s important. It’s the actual act of sitting down every day and writing it and kind of creating a, an exercise in a way, a daily ritual of creating the life I want’. And so because of that, I decided, well, they don’t exist. So maybe that’s something that people want a journal, um that is just a month’s worth of what I call reflecting gratitude and projecting gratitude.
So there’s space on each side for you to write three to five things of things that you have and things that you want. And then when your month is done, you can shred it or you can burn it and you just move on. And so you can be really open with yourself because again, where they say it’s the emotion that we have that causes us to really find success. People who are really emotional about what they want – passion. Some of that passion for people is really personal. Some of it could be things that they’ve never spoken out loud to somebody, so they should have a free space for it, knowing that it’s going to get destroyed at the end of it. And it’s just between them and them themselves.
April: It’s a really beautiful sentiment in a way, you know, to think about having something that you can sort of ceremoniously let go of at the end, but while you’re using it, it kind of acts as a mirror of yourself.
Janet: Yeah, and it’s interesting too because in the process I learned a lot of things about myself. I learned one of the funny things, cause you mentioned about cars, you know, seeing cars that you want and stuff and a lot of these books that talk about manifestation and The Secret and all that, bring up cars for some reason. They’re always, yeah, you want that car you want, you know, you got to go out and you got to test drive it. You got to visualize. In my process of writing every day I realized the car I have is really not important to me. I’m not passionate about it, I don’t care. And so there’s also this beautiful place where you get to where you realize that there’s a lot of things in your life you are grateful for and they’re not perfect and they’re not fancy and they’re not going to impress anybody. But that’s okay. The things that you want are different and everybody wants different things and it kind of gives you peace I guess to be okay with, you know, not achieving every goal that you think that you should want because they don’t matter to you or they’re not held up or they’re not going to feed your soul, I guess in a way.
April: Permission to let go of expectations outside of yourself.
Janet: Yeah, exactly. And so in that, in the last year and a half, two years that I’ve been doing this, I don’t want things like I used to. I don’t, I don’t want to fill up all the empty spaces because I sort of have created a direction for myself and know… I look for the things that I know are going to move me forward to a place I want to be. Like, you know, I, I know for me and, and my family as well, but for me, travel is something that feeds my soul more than, you know, a brand new car for somebody else that might be different, you know? And that’s okay because we all want different things and there’s sort of beauty in, in taking the time to write out that notion of who you are and solidify it, I guess in a way. It makes it makes life a lot less stressful.
April: Yeah. Is there a lot of self discovery in this do you think?
Janet: Yeah, no, there definitely is a lot of self discovery and, and there’s a lot of fun. One of the things that is really interesting, it’s called, it’s a process and it’s similar. It’s part of the projecting gratitude side of the practice is scripting. And it’s sort of like they say, put yourself in a space, close your eyes and imagine your perfect day as if you were a script writer and you’re going to have actors play it out and write it down. And it’s kind of fun because you’re like, well, it’s not going to happen, but I’ll write it down anyway and you realize your perfect day, sometimes, I realize my perfect day is not that far off from what I have now.
So it doesn’t feel like, you don’t feel like you need to have so much. Oh, I’m not going to be happy until, you know, I have this much money in the bank and I’m not going to be happy until, you know, I’m retired or I’m out of this. You just kind of go, ‘oh no, there are little things, you know’. And sometimes it’s just choosing, choosing to be happy with what you have makes it a really good day. May not be perfect, but it’s pretty close.
April: Yeah. I know you and I have talked about that before, the scripting your perfect day and I’ve actually thought about it a fair bit and with the exception of me wanting it to be, you know, August all year round , being at the beach, you know, my perfect day exists within the realm of where I live now and the resources I have available to me. And that was a huge, huge I don’t know, just a huge revelation to me I guess.
Janet: Yeah. Yeah. It’s neat. And, and did it feel like when you realize that. Wasn’t there a little bit of a weight lifted off?
April: Yeah, yeah. Cause certainly, you know, I have lived in that world of trying to, you know, I, we don’t travel a lot. It’s something I would like to do. It hasn’t been part of our, of our lives for a while. And I have felt guilty about that to some extent that, you know, I really wanted to show my kids the world. And then I thought about it one day of what my perfect day looks like. And I was like, you know what? A day at the beach on the Northumberland Strait sounds like perfection to me actually. And I have that at my doorstep.
Janet: Well I’m hoping, I’m hoping in the new year to offer some guidance and a little bit more insight into my personal experience. Because there have been some, you know, interesting things where I have had moments where I’m about to go into situation where I’m really, really tense about it and I script out an area, you know an idea of that certain scenario. I know I’m walking into where I’m not like, how would it be if it worked out perfectly? So I know that the situation is going to be fine and I’ll write that out and then that’ll happen. And I know that it feels really weird on the other end and you’re, wait a second, I wrote that out and it happened exactly the way I wrote it out. And part of it’s the energy you’re bringing into it, right? If you’re going into something anxious, you’re going to bring anxiety. If you write it down beforehand where in a scenario where you feel, okay, I won’t be anxious if that happens. You’re already, you already sort of started the process of going in calm and keeping and other people feeding off of that energy to create, you know, the scenario that you want. And I think that’s the power of it is that we don’t realize until we take the time to really focus of how much our energy that we give out affects the energy that we receive. You know, people go through life and, and they’ll say, you know, well, ‘I’m cranky because this happened to me’. And it’s like you could have somebody in the, you know, say for instance, going back to traffic, you know, someone’s in traffic and they’re just feeding into that energy. And the person in the car next to them is still sitting in traffic, still in the same scenarios, still has the same drive home. But that person might be listening to the radio and bopping along and deciding not to absorb that energy. It’s what they give out that affects how they, how, how they are, how they absorb or what they absorb. And so I made the decision to make sure that what I give out in any given day is positive and calm and happy as much as I can. You know, I have my down days and everybody does. So every morning having this practice and writing it out has really changed things for me and allowed me the freedom to decide to have a good day pretty much every day. Yeah.
April: I also think of it in terms of scripting, which is, you know, a really common parenting technique with kids who are anxious about situations as well. I’ve done it with my kids, you know, going over. Yeah. So it’s, it’s kind of interesting that as adults, you know, we never stop needing that support I guess. But we can sort of self provide.
Janet: Yes, exactly. Actually Mel Robbins who’s an author…
April: I love Mel Robbins.
Janet: She’s so great, but she talks about parenting yourself a lot. She said like, we kind of forget that at the end of the day, you know, we do still have to parent ourselves and force ourselves sometimes to do things we don’t want to do. And just, she’s, she’s really interesting. She has very interesting insight into changing the way your brain looks at things. She cured me, or almost cured me of my fear of flying in a way. Because of that whole notion. She’s one of those people who looks for the science behind things, but she said again with emotion, emotion affects our brain and what we think of. But the physical reaction to fear, the physical reaction to fear is the exact same as physical reaction to excitement. It’s the exact same physiological responses our heart rates go up or, but what happens is when we’re afraid, we keep thinking and we keep going down the road of being afraid when we’re excited we just let it go. So she has a process because she doesn’t love to fly. And she said what she would do is think about what she was excited about, about flying, who she was going to see if she was going home, seeing her family. And so every time if there was turbulence and she had that anxiety, she would just tell her brain, I’m really excited to get home. And it would just stop. Like the reaction would just stop because she wasn’t feeding into the worry that would go down, down, down. So I have the same thing. I like to travel, hate to fly. Don’t love turbulence. And I did that. I did that on a trip that my husband and I took to Iceland and on the flight over, it was one of the best flights I ever had because every single time my stomach went, I went, ‘oh my gosh, I’m so excited to get to Iceland’. And I just kind of was okay and let it go. And I realized that’s the power of our brain. We are not controlled by our thoughts. We can actually control our thoughts, to control how we feel. And having that power over yourself, over your anxiety and your day to day existence is just, it’s a gift. I guess it is progress, not perfection.
April: Progress. Yes. Progress. Not perfection. I actually wrote that down yesterday on my notes when you and I were talking cause I thought that’s, I need to have that tattooed on my forehead.
Janet: I know! Well it’s funny cause we’re so grateful but we forget because we are so success driven and we are often looking at the ladder and wanting to get to the next rung that we don’t take the moment to look back and say, ‘oh my goodness, look how far I’ve come’. Or, ‘look what I have, you know, look at the view around me’. Like yeah, that’ll, that’ll come and you can focus on it. Or sometimes if, you know, when we take a moment to look around, we realize we’re climbing up the wrong ladder. It’s not one that’s important to us.
April: Yeah, absolutely. So if I want to start this tomorrow, I sit down and I write out three to five things that I am grateful that I have today.
Three to five things that I’m, that I want, but I write them in present tense.
And picture them. So when you’re writing what you have today, I want you to like, you’ve go to create an emotion cause it’s the emotion that triggers our subconscious. So you, you sit and you really think about, you know, a lot of the times I’ll write about just being in PEI. Tthat’s something that I always wanted. To be here and didn’t know how that was going to happen. And it, you know, happened. But I’m very grateful. This place is a postcard. It’s beautiful. So I can, I can start there and really feel that. And so then when you’re in the three to five things that you want to have and you’re grateful for them in the present tense. Imagine them imagine and having it and you know, and be okay with how it comes to you. That’s another thing. Things don’t always come to you the way that you expect them to. There’s not a control thing here. There’s a lot of letting go. Part of the reason of burning journals that people will think like, ‘oh, you know, I want to have any relationship’, but they assume that they’re going to, you know, meet the person in this way or traditionally or whatever and it’s you let it go and you don’t know what’s going to happen. You know, you gotta be okay with how it appears.
On the cusp of a new year and a new decade. It’s a great time to reflect, on the year past and set intentions and goals for the year ahead. Since recording this conversation two days ago, I actually began my own gratitude practice and was grateful for things like feeling cozy and warm in bed and how perfect my latte was this morning. It’s progress, not perfection. I did a bit of fact checking with regard to the Harvard business study that Janet mentioned earlier in the conversation because my logical brain thought perhaps so statistics were just a little too good to be true. This particular study has been determined to be an urban myth at worst and the results of an incomplete study at best. However, not all is lost. Studies performed since have determined that writing down goals does increase your chances of achieving them even more so is finding a supportive friend or colleague to whom you are accountable for progress reports on actionable goals, whether it’s personal or business. A huge thank you to Janet for joining me today. Find Janet’s gratitude journals at http://www.projectinggratitude.com. All of the resources and links to the studies Janet mentioned and show notes are available at podcast.anointment.ca. Please subscribe to Ripple Effect wherever you enjoy your media. You can find ripple effect at Google, play, Stitcher, Deezer, Spotify, and iTunes. I’m your host, April MacKinnon. Join us again for future episodes. It’s been such a pleasure being with you today.
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