Thursday’s journey from Toronto to Austin started off on the wrong foot. After finally making it through a long custom’s line, I was selected for secondary security screening. As the agent went through my luggage he eventually stumbled across my little black book – a moleskin notebook I take with me on all my travels.

As he opened it and began thumbing through the pages, I could barely hold back from laughing, despite the gravity of the situation.

There were two reasons this brought a smile to my face. First, my writing is illegible. So much so that even I can’t tell what I’ve written down on those pages.

The second reasons I almost laughed was because the security agent was reading my gratitude journal.

So let me tell you about my little black book of gratitude, and why having one of these will give you a stress-free outlook on life.

My gratitude habit began in 2010 after attending listening to a speaker named Vishin Lakhiani at a marketing seminar. Vishin, the owner of an information marketing company specializing in meditation products, spoke about the methods he used to create one of the best places in the world to work.

Daily gratitude journaling was one.

By nature, I’m a skeptical, slightly curmudgeonly conservative, so the entire idea of expressing daily gratitude, let alone writing in a gratitude journal, was foreign to me.

But I’m no longer a hardheaded 25 year-old graduate student, and the gratitude journal seemed like a fine way to deal with the work and life stress that comes with being an adult. I decided it wouldn’t hurt to give this habit a shot.

Over the past year I’ve deviated slightly from the original method I learned from Vishin, and I’ve cobbled together my own system. In addition, thanks to my business coach Dan Sullivan, I recently added a new element to my gratitude journaling.

But before I get to the exact gratitude plan, I want to share the two best times that I’ve identified for completing your gratitude journal. The first is early in the morning. If you like to start your day with personal time, reflection, exercise, or meditation, then adding gratitude journaling is a good fit.

The second best time is at the end of the day, and it works well for those of us who like to wind down the workday with a reflection on what we’ve accomplished and by looking to the next day as we create our to-do lists.

Of course, there’s nothing to say you can’t do your gratitude journaling at any time during your day. It’s a simple exercise that will benefit you anytime.

I’ve recently moved my gratitude time to the afternoon, because I reserve first thing in the morning for creating newsletters, articles, and products.

But come around 5pm, when my chocolate lab Bally is stirred by his empty stomach, I close down my laptop for the day, feed the ol’ pup, update my to-do list, and then grab my Daily Documents for review.

I’ll devote another ETR message to my daily guiding documents, but for now what you need to know is that my little black book of gratitude is the first component.

I flip the notebook open to where I have split the page in two vertically. In the left hand column, I list the date followed by 5 rows:

G:
O:
Did:
Do:
App:

The pages of my notebook are filled with my chicken-scratch writing that has filled in the space beside each of these notations. Let me explain what each of these are.

G – Gratitude: Simply, what do I have gratitude for today? If you’re doing this in the morning, it would be, what happened yesterday that made you grateful?

O – Opportunity: What opportunities do I have in my life that I am looking forward to? These can be work-related or personal.

Did – What did I do today (or yesterday) that gave me a sense of accomplishment?

Do – What will I do tomorrow (or today) that is important?

Appreciate – Who in my life do I have appreciation for today? It could be a girlfriend, family member, old friend, business contact, mentor, role model, or yes, or even my dog.

As you can see, it’s not a tremendously difficult exercise. It takes almost as much time to split the page in two and write out the categories as it does to fill them in. But that’s just the half of it.

Up until last month, that was the extent of the gratitude exercise. All I had to do was fill in these five lines. But last month, while listening to a Dan Sullivan audio CD called, “The Gap”, I discovered a neat little addition to this exercise that makes it even more powerful.

Sullivan recommended making a list of 5 things that you achieved that day. These go in the right hand column across from the gratitude categories listed above.

Now I’ll admit, some days I find it tough to identify five achievements worthy of making that list, but the purpose is to remind yourself of the progress you have made and to introduce more celebration into your life.

After all, our world is overwhelmed with negativity. From the news to the attitudes of others, there are too few instances of positivity in our days.

But the gratitude exercise and achievement lists allow you little celebrations, and a reminder to feel good about the progress you’ve made.

In addition, I know you’ll find it highly insightful when you reflect on what you write down each day. It’s an excellent exercise for identifying what really matters to you in life.

For example, I’ve only rarely written down anything to do with money (such as “Big sales day” or “Excellent promotion”). Instead, I find myself writing down, “My easy life” several times per week. That’s my default gratitude selection.

Having grown up picking rocks in my dad’s fields every hot, humid summer and opening feedbags with my bare hands in skin-cracking January cold, I’m almost embarrassed by the lack of physical challenge in my life these days. Ironically, the only physical work I do is in my leisure time at the gym, and I PAY to do that. So I’m really grateful my life is easy, and it makes me smile and thankful each time I write that down.

Your default gratitude will likely be much different than mine. It could be gratitude for your children, for the health that you’ve regained after illness, for your faith, for the fact that your parents are still healthy, for a loving relationship with your spouse, or one of many other options.

But I think you’ll find, that just like me, items like money, fast cars, expensive vacations, jewelry, and fancy clothes will rarely – if ever – make your list.

Knowing what you want and identifying what really matters to you, these are the core characteristics of identifying what you need to do to really be happy in life.

Understanding and accepting who you are and what is important to you will guide you to make the right decisions in life and keep you out of a lot of trouble, all while giving you greater calm and clarity about life.

So hopefully you can see how powerful this simple exercise can be for your life.

While I cannot attest to reductions in blood pressure, or increased longevity from gratitude journaling, you’ll certainly find a sense of clarity and proper perspective about what matters in life.

Tomorrow, I’ll share with you another tool that has dramatically improved my perspective on dealing with stressful situations, and on Wednesday, I’ll give you a list of the top 10 books that have influenced my life – all with the purpose of giving you greater clarity on what matters to you and guidance on how to build the life of your dreams.

I hope the contents of my little black back stimulate your thinking, encourages you to examine your perspective on the challenges you are facing, and inspires you to have gratitude for all those things in your life – big and small – that make your life so wonderful.

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Craig Ballantyne

Craig Ballantyne is the author of The Perfect Day Formula: How to Own the Day and Control Your Life. Craig has been a contributor to Men’s Health magazine for over 17 years. Today he teaches his gift high-performing entrepreneurs how to squeeze more out of their days, increase their income, and make more quality time for their families in his Perfect Life Workshop and Work-Life Mastery programs. Craig used his own advice to overcome crippling anxiety attacks in 2006, and he’ll teach you his 5 Pillars of Success so you can increase your income, decrease your work time, and live the life of your dreams. Learn more about Craig at craigballantyne.com