The kids need to be dropped off, there are 10 things on the calendar today and only eight hours to do them in, traffic has me anxious about making my first appointment, and I’m not sure how I’m going to find time to eat today.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Many of us have so much on our plates. There’s plenty to do and so much that needs to be done. The stress over these things doesn’t change unless we change.
What do I mean by that?
We have a choice. We can focus on all the things that are going wrong and the limited amount of time we have to get everything done. Or, we can take a moment and recognize every day at least three things we’re grateful for.
This doesn’t mean that the to do list goes away or the stress is completely gone. What this does mean, however, is that when you focus on the things you are grateful for, your brain starts to look for the things that are good.
Our brains have neural pathways that are formed when we are familiar with doing something or thinking something again and again. By nature, we think about the things that help us stay safe and survive – this is the basic nature of the brain’s design. However, in order for us to create new neural pathways, we need to put something new in place. This is where gratitude comes in.
I remember sitting, as a teenager, listening to Oprah talk about her gratitude journal. I would smile and think, “that’s so great Oprah.” I liked the idea but I didn’t choose to do anything with it.
Years later, I heard about a gratitude jar. I did this off and on for a year and started to notice a subtle shift. Yet, it wasn’t interesting enough for me to keep a consistent practice and carry it forth into a second year.
Then, I read a book by Hal Elrod called The Miracle Morning. In this book, Hal talks about the most common morning practices by the most successful people in the world. One of the practices is journaling. I decided to use my journaling to recognize what I’m grateful for.
Over time, this practice re-designs your brain. This means, in times of stress, when things are the hardest, I have a practice I can pull on demand. So, even though this is part of my regular morning routine, I also can use this when I notice my thoughts are dwelling in a negative space.
My advice when starting a gratitude practice is to keep it as simple as possible. The more complex you make it, the less likely you are to do it. And, on that same note, you want it to be effective.
For my practice, I write at least three things I’m grateful for every day and I prefer to hand write this in a notebook.
Some days, when I am running behind, I write it in a note in my phone or dictate it into a note on my phone.
Other people have been known to do this practice in other ways – in pictures for example. That works too. The point is to capture what you are grateful for. You also want to aim to have different things that you are grateful for every time you do this practice. That will help your brain look for more good things.
What is the end game?
The end game is for you to have a tool so that when you are in a negative space and want to get out of it, you have a practice and a tool that you can use consistently and on demand to push yourself through those negative thoughts into a more for fulfilling space.