I’ve been cultivating my gratitude practice for around 5 years now. It’s not one of those practices that makes an immediate difference in your life, it takes times to grow and rewire neurons in your brain, but it does and will happen with time. Donald Hebb, a neuropsychologist once said that “neurons that fire together, wire together” and he was 100% right.
Two major shifts occurred in my life as a result of practicing gratitude. The first was a shift from pessimism to optimism. I was never very good at seeing the glass half full, it was always verging on empty for me. Practicing gratitude made a shift in my thinking, it meant that instead of immediately going to the negative there was a pause, a moment to consider that there were other options. It didn’t happen overnight and there wasn’t a Moses parting the seas moment for me to see the change. It happened very quietly, but it did happen. The first time I recognized it was in a flower shop. It was busy and I thought I had jumped the line, so I turned to apologize to the man beside me and he said “oh don’t worry, I’m still thinking, there’s too much choice in here”. My reply, instantly was “I’m glad this is my hardest choice, which flowers to buy”. I didn’t think anything of it, I got in the car and drove off. Sitting at the traffic light it dawned on me, normally I would have agreed with the man however, instead my brain had searched for a positive.
The second thing that shifted was the ability to recognize the good in my life instead of a focus on what I didn’t have. Some times I think people get this confused with always being able to find a silver lining. In some situations there just aren’t silver linings, no matter how hard we search, this is part of life and learning to practice acceptance of that is for another completely different post. Being able to be grateful for what you have means that tiny voice that points out all thing things you don’t have becomes much quieter.
So how to practice Gratitude?
Set yourself up for success, this is what I always tell my clients, look for ways to be consistent and make your practice sustainable. For me, that means I leave my gratitude notebook beside my bed, visible to me every time I come into my bedroom. I do it at night, before bed. I attach a pen to my notebook so I can never have the excuse “I don’t have something to write with”. Find a time of the day that works for you. Our brains learn through association, with practice your brain will begin to associate that time of day with gratitude and will remind you all on its own.
Don’t get fancy, don’t buy a notebook from Indigo that asks you to write 5 things you’re grateful every day, cause that will be fun for a couple days and then you’ll get bored. Keep it simple. Write the words: “I’m grateful for….” and fill in the blanks, one thing, once a day. On hard days I’ve been grateful for my coffee and a moment of silence, for sunshine or for my body being healthy. Some days are easier than others but there’s always something, big or small.
Be patient and keep at it. It will work, this much I know is true.
If you don’t believe me – maybe you’ll believe those smarty pants at Harvard or Stanford.