One of our most prominent tips for mindfulness and wellbeing is to practice being in the present moment. The present moment is the place of our full potential and creativity, and the only natural place to be mentally present.
However, sometimes we tend––or choose––to forget that it is our past self that brought us to this moment in the now. Our experiences, beliefs, choices, mistakes we learned from, the people we got to know along the way, and the challenges we overcame. That’s why gratitude for who and where we are today can also be expressed by remembering the person who got us here––our former self. And as your friend, your former self also deserves a gratitude letter.
The Benefits of Self-Gratitude
It’s now a well-established and science-backed fact: practicing gratitude makes us happier people. The benefits of gratitude include personal benefits, such as a sense of increased happiness and optimism, reduced materialism, and increased life satisfaction.
There are also emotional benefits that involve greater resilience and better emotional well-being overall. Practicing gratitude positively affects our social life by strengthening and deepening our relationships with other people, and repeated research results show that its benefits on mental and physical health are immense.
With this in mind, we can draw the conclusion that self-gratitude affects our lives in similar ways. Writing a gratitude letter to our former selves can help strengthen our relationship with ourselves, as well as shed a positive light on our self-perception.
Human beings are wired to have a negativity bias, and we tend to cling to it even when it comes to self-perception. Self-gratitude is a way to change this tendency and emphasize all the things we are grateful for that are the direct products of our life path and everything that has brought us to a particular point in time.
For most people, it’s easier to thank other people than to take a moment to focus and thank themselves. At first, it may even seem ridiculous, indulgent, or egocentric. But self-gratitude is so much more than that.
Self-gratitude is a reminder of how far we’ve come. It can help us realize all the challenges and obstacles we had to overcome to become who we are today. The process of thanking ourselves puts into perspective how much we’ve grown over a certain period and helps us highlight the most important qualities and milestones we’ve reached along the way.
Overall, it’s a method of self-love and self-recognition that gives us the opportunity to take a moment to reflect, appreciate, and accept everything we’ve been through on the journey to today. Writing a gratitude letter to our former self can also provide us with the inspiration to continue growing and moving forward, and not only set intentions and achievable goals, but also find our why and motivation to achieving them.
The process of writing the letter is simple––all you need is a piece of paper, a blank document to type in, or a blank note on your phone (whatever seems the most natural and inspiring way for you to write). As simple as this action is, the insights you gain from it can be quite profound and the beneficial effects can last for a long time.
How to Write a Gratitude Letter to Your Former Self?
There are several things to consider when writing a gratitude letter to your former self.
1. PICK YOUR TONE
Before you start writing, you need to decide about the tone you’re most comfortable with. Some people prefer addressing themselves by name in the second person (Dear Sandra/Dear John), while others decide to address their past self itself, as if it was a separate being (Dear (former) self). Or you can simply start with Hey, you.
You might also like talking about yourself in the third person (I am grateful to Sandra for…), yet it may create an artificial discontinuity between the former and current you, however, some people find this way of writing a gratitude letter to their former self the most comfortable.
Finally, you can write in the first person, and say “I am thanking myself for the amazing year that’s behind me… some of my greatest achievements were…”.
2. DECIDE ON THE MEDIUM
Some people find pen and paper to be irreplaceable writing––and mindfulness––tools and there are many reasons why they are right. The connection between the hand holding a pen writing on paper and the brain is much stronger than the hand typing on a keyboard and your mind.
On the other hand, digital devices have been with us for such a long time now, that we have become comfortable with sharing our thoughts with them through text messages, social media updates, and voice memos.
Before you start writing the letter, take a moment to think which writing medium suits you best, digital or written, as comfort and familiarity in your writing medium of choice can have an immense impact on your spontaneity, creativity, and effectiveness in writing.
3. TAKE YOUR TIME
A gratitude letter takes time to write. You can avoid using a timer, a stopwatch, or any other restriction on your time, as this should be a creative process when you enter the flow state.
First, you need to take the time to go back mentally, think about your self from a certain point in the past and then mentally travel to the present moment, reflecting on all the events and changes you’ve been through.
Then, you need to think about your biggest takeaways from each experience and put them into the perspective of your own self. Who have you become? How have you improved, grown, matured? What qualities have you gained?
Just remember: answering and reflecting on these questions takes time and dedication, it’s not an activity you can do while playing a Netflix series in the background.
4. BE SPECIFIC
This goes for all forms of expressing gratitude. Specific statements tend to be more powerful than general ones, because they’re more relatable to the specific person, and require a more in-depth thought process. General statements can be applied to almost anyone, which is why their impact is easily diluted.
For example, which of the statements sounds better to you:
- Dear former me, thank you for being such a strong person.
- Dear former me, thank you for exhibiting such strength and resilience in stressful situations. After the last breakup, it seemed like the world was coming to an end, but you managed to pull it together and overcome the pain through building healthy habits.
The first statement doesn’t necessarily carry much meaning, because a “strong person” can mean many things. However, the latter statement refers to a particular situation, behavior, and moment in time, and therefore has more meaning.
5. COVER SEVERAL TOPICS
When writing a gratitude letter to your former self, it’s important that you cover different topics. Covering only one aspect of your personal progress can lead to a narrow self-view. For example, if you only focus on what you have to be grateful for to yourself career-wise, you’ll neglect all the other aspects that make your personality unique and amazing today.
But there are so many aspects to focus on, and to help you out, we’ll list a few of them:
- Friendships you’ve chosen and made;
- Professional challenges you’ve overcome;
- Personal challenges you’ve overcome;
- Changes you’ve consciously made;
- Risks you’ve taken;
- New traits you’ve developed;
- Life-changing decisions you’ve made;
- Lessons you’ve learned;
- Experiences you’ve had;
- New habits you’ve instilled that have made your life better, etc.
As you do this exercise, it’s important that you’re gentle but honest with yourself. The point is not to falsely glorify your personality or boost your ego, but to appreciate yourself for the things you’ve done and learned over a certain period.
The gratitude letter to your former self should celebrate your growth, lessons learned, and the amazing and unique person you’ve become. The whole point is to gain a more positive outlook on life as well as to remind yourself about all the great things you’ve accomplished.
By taking time to practice self-gratitude today, you are investing in a better and more positive tomorrow.