Cheri Timko of Synergy Coaching: “Keep a gratitude journal”

Keep a gratitude journal. Every day, write down three things that you are grateful for. Look beyond the big things that happen each day. Include the moments that brought you joy and the details that make your life easier. For instance, there are days when I am grateful that I have heat and clean water. […]

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Keep a gratitude journal. Every day, write down three things that you are grateful for. Look beyond the big things that happen each day. Include the moments that brought you joy and the details that make your life easier. For instance, there are days when I am grateful that I have heat and clean water. When we look at the details, we build that feeling of abundance. You will get the greatest benefits from writing your gratitude, not just thinking it.

As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.

What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?

One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Cheri Timko.

Cheri Timko has specialized in couples counseling at her psychotherapy private practice for almost twenty years. She recently started a coaching business to provide support and education to couples who want to have an extraordinary relationship. She has been happily married for over twenty years and is a homeschooling mother to three daughters.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?

I grew up as a child of the 70s in a traditional family. Compared to now, childhood was a carefree time. As kids, we were usually able to be blissfully unaware of what was happening in the world. My dad repaired copy machines and my mom stayed home to take care of us. In a household with four kids, it was a busy place to grow up. I was a focused student and active in many activities. My parents raised us to be well-rounded, hardworking, productive adults.

In high school, friends frequently brought their problems to me. I realized that I loved listening to them and helping them find solutions. A high school psychology course I took captured my fascination. I loved thinking about how people function in society and in relationships.

In college, I worked at a shelter for homeless and runaway teenagers. While I loved the work, I felt frustrated that the teens had few real opportunities to change their lives. Essentially, they were waiting for adulthood to begin. As my career progressed, I worked with families. I saw that I could help kids have better lives by helping the family function better.

When I started working in private practice, I did some training to work with couples and fell in love with the work. I realized that if I could help a couple function better, their lives and all of their kids’ lives improved. I didn’t even need the kids in the therapy room. So, I guess I work with couples to help the kids.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I never dreamed of having my own business. In fact, I would say that it kind of happened by accident. When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, I took a job working with a psychologist as a psych associate to finish up my supervision hours. Once I finished my hours, I needed a business license to continue working as a therapist. It wasn’t a deliberate choice to start a business, just the next step I needed to take to continue doing what I loved doing. Eventually, I moved to another state where I opened a second therapy practice. I was a business owner for over ten years before I started thinking of myself as an entrepreneur. However, I eventually embraced that identity. So often, we can’t see where the path will lead when we start down it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“The only people who get everything they want are those who want everything they get.” — Kristi Allen

I don’t know who originally said this, so I am quoting Kristi Allen, the person I first heard it from.

This quote rubbed me the wrong way the first time I heard it. It irritates my hardworking ethic. I believe I can get whatever I want if I focus my time and energy on it. Yet, there is something profound in understanding that true happiness comes from being grateful for the things that you already have. It can be interpreted as hopeless, but I use it as a grounding beacon to remind me that I am already blessed with so much. When I ignore that, I forget to stop and enjoy the present moment.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?

In “Daring Greatly” by Brene’ Brown, the author talks about foreboding joy. We experience foreboding joy when things are going well and we start to anticipate the next bad thing that will happen. Often, we imagine outrageous scenarios that will completely derail our lives. Making a gratitude list is often the fastest way to end foreboding joy. When we list the good things in our lives, it short circuits the fear because it grounds us in the present.

This powerful story has guided me in many situations. I also see it play out in the lives of my clients. I will feel content or joy, and the scary images start popping into my head. Thinking of the good things can quickly quiet those fears.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am in the middle of an exciting career pivot. I have been a psychotherapist for the last 20 years. I just opened a new business as a Couples Relationship Coach to adapt that expertise to courses and program. I am still defining what the programs will look like, but I am excited about being able to bring powerful tools to a broader audience.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am so grateful to the colleagues who I have worked closely with over the years. They have generously given of their time and energy to form a collaboration where we supported one another and our businesses. We met monthly for a long time to offer support and comraderie as psychotherapists. We have all gone on to become highly specialized professionals and are in the process of outgrowing our individual therapy practices. Without their support, my therapy practice never would have grown to its current success.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?

Gratitude involved noticing and showing appreciation for the things that make our lives better. It requires that we slow down and look at our lives. Even on the worst day, there are many details that uplift or enrich our lives. We need to verbally or internally express appreciation for those things. We can be grateful for both the big things and the details that make our lives better. When we regularly express gratitude, it can shift our experience in life. It doesn’t erase the challenges, but it helps us to see a fuller picture of our lives.

Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?

There are many reasons why people don’t express gratitude. Some of us were lucky enough to grow up in families who taught us to look for things to be grateful for. Some of us have genuinely had difficult lives with many challenges that eclipse the good stuff. Probably the biggest problem is how busy our lives are. When we fill up every moment, we don’t have a lot of time to reflect on the things that make our lives better. For most of us, we simply don’t value the power of gratitude so we don’t practice it.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?

  • There are studies that show that having a gratitude practice can reduce a person’s depression. In the study, the participants listed three things they were grateful for. They experienced a reduction in symptoms during the course of the study.
  • We like to be around people who are grateful. It makes it easier to help them. When we practice gratitude, it makes it easier for others to help us, too.
  • In life, it is tempting to fixate on the challenges and problems we face. When we practice gratitude, it is a quick reminder that the challenges do not describe our entire existence. We also have things that are going well. Practicing gratitude means that we intentionally bring those good things to mind, too.

Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?

Practicing gratitude can make a difference in a person’s mental wellness. It won’t take away depression if you have clinical depression. That generally requires the skills of a psychotherapist to help. However, most people benefit from practicing gratitude. Here are some benefits:

  1. Reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  2. Releases feel-good neurotransmitters.
  3. Focuses your thoughts on the abundance in your life rather than scarcity.
  4. Reduces stress.
  5. Increases enjoyment of positive experiences.
  6. Improves your relationships.
  7. Increases overall life satisfaction.
  8. Increases sense of self-confidence and self-esteem.
  9. Increases resiliency because we bounce back from situations faster.
  10. Increases feelings of generosity and compassion towards others.

Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Keep a gratitude journal. Every day, write down three things that you are grateful for. Look beyond the big things that happen each day. Include the moments that brought you joy and the details that make your life easier. For instance, there are days when I am grateful that I have heat and clean water. When we look at the details, we build that feeling of abundance. You will get the greatest benefits from writing your gratitude, not just thinking it.
  2. Say “thank you.” We think of “thank you” as helping the receiver, but the one offering thanks also benefits from the interaction. It makes us feel more connected to the other person, and it closes a loop on the other person’s generosity.
  3. Practice gratitude for the challenges. The challenges in our lives force us to grow. When you turn that around and find gratitude for the challenge, you start to reframe the meaning of that event in your mind. You start to value the experience rather than focusing on the hardship.
  4. Find a gratitude partner. Identify someone else who is trying to increase their gratitude. Share your gratitude with one another. It will hold each of you accountable to the practice, and it will give you inspiration from the things they notice. Additionally, you can make gratitude a part of your family life by regularly sharing with your spouse and/or kids. A great time to practice gratitude is at the dinner table.
  5. Think of gratitude as a practice. Gratitude is more powerful when you get into the habit of looking for things to be grateful for rather than using only when you feel bad. So, build gratitude into your way of thinking for the greatest benefits.

Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?

A practice that I often use is to mentally walk through my day noticing everything that I feel grateful for. With practice, you can quickly come up with 20+ things that you would have ignored as the backdrop of your life. Intentionally thinking of these things can change the tide of your thoughts and emotions.

Another tool is to flip the situation. Instead of focusing on the part that is troubling you, expand your view a little to include everything that is surrounding the issue. Then, identify all of the good things related to that problem. It helps shift your prospective to see the problem in a broader context.

Certainly, this is a heavy time for everyone. Remember, if you are feeling sad or overwhelmed most of the time, you would probably benefit from talking with a professional mental health provider. Now more than ever, you can access therapy more easily than at any time in the past. Don’t wait for it to work itself out if you have been feeling bad for a while.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?

I enjoy reading autobiographies to hear other people’s stories of overcoming the challenges in their lives. I also collect quotes, pictures, and stories that inspire me. I have collected these things into my own book of inspiration.

What we find inspiration in is very individualistic. There are many other ways of being inspired. Look for someone on social media who posts things that speak to your heart. Find a podcast with stories that make you feel uplifted. Explore art that encourages you. Some people feel inspired by other’s tragedies while others are uplifted by the story of how people overcome their situation. So, notice what makes you feel inspired and keep a collection of it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have an idea that I hope will catch fire. I have started a Facebook Group (Date Night Community) to encourage couples to spend time together every week to continue building their relationship. It is a place of encouragement and inspiration. I hope we will start a movement of people dedicated to growing with their current partner and strengthening their relationships.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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