There is a good chance you have heard that it is important to have a gratitude practice...but why? When I work with clients, if I recommend a strategy for them to try, I am always sure that they understand why it is recommended and how it is designed to impact the wiring of their brain, their automatic thought patterns, and/or their nervous system. Before breaking down ways of having a gratitude practice, I want to be sure to share with you why having a gratitude practice is often a recommendation for individuals who are experiencing low mood, anxiety, stress, worry, and negative thinking patterns.
Because we cannot possibly pay attention to everything happening around us each day, our brains are conditioned to detect and “filter in” certain things in our surroundings, while filtering other things out that it does not consider as important to pay attention to. The default mode of the unconscious brain is to look for negative things, challenging things, dangerous things, things that could cause us discomfort, and things that could cause us problems. It does this as a means of protecting us, however, when our brains are only scanning for this type of information, it does not allow all of the positive, happy, good, exciting, and joyful things to filter into our unconscious minds.
This means that the more negative things your brain sees, the more negative thoughts you have, the more your brain thinks it needs to highlight negative things for you, and then you have more negative thoughts. It becomes a loop where your brain only highlights a fraction of what is happening in your world, and then your thinking patterns continue to tell it to do the same thing over and over.
It goes without saying that if this is what you are seeing and thinking the majority of time, that you will then experience negative feelings and emotions. This can further complicate things since negative feelings typically don’t result in the best, most helpful actions, which means the results you are seeing in your life are not what they could be if you were feeling more positive overall. This continues to reinforce your brain focusing on negative things and the loop continues.
When you understand what is happening, you are in a position to change it and gratitude is a tool that can really help. I have seen hundreds of clients make significant changes in their overall emotional health that they never thought was possible and gratitude is almost always, if not always, one of the tools they use to do so. Intentionally practicing gratitude forces your brain to start to recognize the small things that happen every day that will result in positive emotions, even if just briefly at first. When your brain has been wired to focus on only the negative things, and you don’t consciously look for the positive things, you will miss them or they will quickly get overshadowed by the negative or potentially negative things.
It will start to “filter in” the positive things on the unconscious level. This will ultimately change how you feel overall, and it will allow you to view your life in a more positive light. Don’t believe me? Consider this. You are going to buy a new car and when you get to the car lot you see lots of red cars, white cars, and black cars. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see a blue car. You absolutely love the unique color and, although you never considered buying a blue car, you know this is the one you need to have. It is so different and will stand out from all the red, white, and black cars that you always see. You make the purchase and plan to go pick up your beautiful, new blue car in a couple days once the insurance and registration are all set.
Then...you drive around for the next couple days and guess what happens? All you see are blue cars on the road! You not only see blue cars, you see some blue cars exactly like the “unique” car you thought you just bought. Why does this happen? It happens because your brain will find what you are focused on and what it thinks is important to you. In this case, you are so focused on your new, blue car (even on the unconscious level) that your brain is scanning for every other blue car out there and pointing it out to you, just as it will scan for and point negative things out to you if it thinks that is what is important to you.
It will do the same with positivity and gratitude. When you intentionally focus on good things (even if small), it will start to scan for them on its own and point them out to you more and more. This will reinforce more positive feelings which reinforce more positive thinking. The reality is that if you are thinking more positive thoughts, and experiencing more positive emotions, you will take different actions in your life that will produce different, and likely better results.
Having a gratitude practice and working to have more positive thoughts is not about pretending hard things are not happening in your life. Instead, it is about making sure that you are not missing out on the good things happening because your brain has been conditioned to focus only on the negative things happening. It also allows you to feel more in control of your thoughts and your feelings overall.
A gratitude practice does not take a lot of time or energy but consistency does matter. Try taking a few minutes at the end of each day and asking yourself, “What are 1 - 3 things that I can be grateful for today?”. Keep in mind that you want to think about things that have happened in the last twenty-four hours, or since you last did your gratitude practice. What you write down could be about a positive interaction with a friend or coworker, a sunny day, a nice time playing with your child, a delicious cup of coffee, someone stopping to let you go in traffic, or hearing an old song that brought back a special childhood memory. Another way you could implement a gratitude practice is to start each dinner with everyone sharing something they are grateful for. In doing this, not only are you finding things in your day to be grateful for, but you are also benefiting from what other people at the table share as well.
When you are intentional and take time every day to note 1-3 things you are grateful for (I recommend you write them down and keep an ongoing list if you are doing your gratitude practice alone), you will start to train your brain that this is something that is important to you and because of this, it will highlight more positive things happening throughout your day in the same way it highlighted the blue cars on the road in the example provided above. I highly recommend you try this for at least thirty days and note the impact it has. It will only take a few minutes per day, but it can have a significant impact on your thinking patterns and how you feel overall.
Live your best life!
Karen Vincent Solutions
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