I never thought I’d be writing an article about picking up dog poop, but here we are.
It used to be a cruel form of punishment that my Mom exacted on her unruly kids. My eight siblings and I loved riling each other up, but we hate-hate-HATED picking up shit. So we behaved. (Sometimes.)
I don’t have kids to punish, though. It’s just me and Shoogie—my little American bulldog-Pit bull mix—and I’ve got to pick up her shit whether I like it or not. So I learned to like it.
My child self couldn’t get past the iniquity of the activity. Gross poop + hot weather = bad times, so I thought. I didn’t know that misery was optional.
The poop is still gross, I’ll admit. And I’m not going to pretend it’s exhilarating, like riding a citrus-air-freshened roller coaster into a cool sunset. But I pick up that hot dookie with a smile anyway.
I’m focusing on moving my body naturally:
Keep my core tight,
Squeeze my glutes,
Fling that poo into the trash bag with grace.
I’ve made picking up shit a workout, if not an art. And while I’m digging up excrement, toiling, I feel how strong my body is; I feel grateful. I’m flexible. I can move fluidly and without pain. Why shouldn’t I be grateful?
That’s why I smile.
How to turn your least favorite activities into gratitude exercises
Now I don’t usually think about writing about picking up poop. But I couldn’t help thinking about this secret little gratitude activity when my coaching client Jules related a similar story to me last week.
Jules was dealing with the aftermath of a looong holiday weekend that included a 30th birthday party, memorial day weekend, and family visiting from several different states. (Plenty of red wine may or may have not been involved.) In either case, Jules felt a bad case of the blahs coming along, which made even her favorite activities seem unenjoyable—let alone gardening. Jules craves faster paced things.
But she had to do it anyway. The basil plants were dying, as were the strawberries, and the chives. So she donned her gloves, grabbed her spade, got on her knees, and went to work.
It was hot and the dirt was teeming with creatures that frequented her nightmares. “Anything but this,” she thought. But her next thought was different. Because her weekly goal was to keep track of her thoughts—to reject the ones that didn’t serve her, and to come up with useful ones instead.
Since gratitude is the most useful thought she could have, she chose gratitude. Like me picking up poop, she sensed how her body felt as she did the work. She felt flexible. She felt strong. Her workout routine is really working, and she relished the thought of it. Then she thought about how cool it is that she actually gets to have a garden, and eat fresh food right from her back yard. She liked that too. Then she thought about the food that she would soon share with her friends and neighbors near by. And suddenly the least appealing activity in the world was the best thing in that moment.
Jules chose gratitude.
She realized that if she could be happy during her least favorite activities, then she could always be happy no matter what. I could hear her smiling over the phone.
After that session I thought about all the activities that I used to hate: picking up shit (of course), washing dishes, even exercising. But those things don’t bother me anymore; and I actually get pleasure from them. Because, like Jules, I’ve made a habit of choosing gratitude no matter where I am. It’s so that I can be happy.
If you want to be happier, feel better about yourself, and make gratitude a habit, I suggest this three-step practice:
1-Identify your least favorite activities
Think of the things you have to do that make you groan silently to yourself:
Could be picking up doggie deuces, or preparing dinner, or taking out the trash, or maybe even more serious, like taking care of a debilitated relative. Pick out five.
2-Make a list of everything you could possibly feel grateful for during that activity.
For poo-duty, I have to use my sense of sight, touch, and balance. So I feel grateful for my eyes. Then my hands. Then my body. And it’s funny, because normally I wouldn’t think about those things even though they’re insanely important to my happiness. Thank God I have dog crap to remind me.
3-Let your mind go on gratitude tangents
Once you practice gratitude for the basics, let your mind wander. For instance, as I’m feeling so grateful for my body, I think about all the amazing things that I get do to with it: like go hiking and rock climbing, and swimming, and play beach volleyball, and throw my little nieces and nephews high in the air (squealing with delight).
Sometimes instead of thinking about the actual crap I’m picking up, I think about the sweet little doggie who brings me so much joy, and I think about our walks together through the high desert wilderness. And when I’m thinking about the mountain of dishes I have to do, I think about the fact that I get to eat three meals a day, and that I have an awesome job that lets me support myself, and that I have friends and family to share food with.
These are all joyful things. And through my formerly least favorite activities, I get to fully experience them with gratitude. You can too.