Gratitude and awareness, the one-two punch to train your mind and change your brain
I think we all like to think of ourselves as grateful (or at least, we certainly don’t want to be labeled as ungrateful). If I asked you “quick, name ten things you are grateful for”, you probably could do this without thinking and your list may include your health, your family, the health of your family, having a roof over your head, your dog, etc. Even if one of these things fails, the others usually still make it to the routine “gratitude list”.
But what if I told you that you couldn’t use your top ten? What if the rules changed and you had to list 10 things that you did or will experience today? Not just big, major things but smaller things.
Here is my list for today.
Coffee (obviously): especially that first sip when it is super hot and right out of the pot. If it is flavored I feel like it gets an extra spot on the list but I will stick with my self-imposed rules.
My computer being charged : This means I can write this on my comfy chair and not at my desk.
Gel pens: Come on, who doesn’t love a good gel pen? Especially a brand new pentel energel blue pen 0.7mm (nope, no affiliate link).
Being a morning person: It’s so great to be up before everyone else, sitting in the quiet, with my coffee, and my gel pen.
I have off of work today: No description needed.
Bird feeders: At the risk of sounding like an old lady, I love watching all the birds come to the window. Right now there is a bright red cardinal and 2 house wrens (yup, I now know what a house wren looks like thanks to my friend google). And side note, I look forward to being an old lady, may I be so lucky.
Coaching: I have a call with my coach today. 20 minute power session. I always go in feeling underprepared and come out feeling motivated and in control.
Chinese food left-overs: We almost never get Chinese food but my daughter picked that as her birthday dinner last night so hooray for lunchtime leftovers!
Zoom: While I may be getting sick of connecting via technology during this pandemic, imagine the alternative?
Following through with writing my blog: I love accomplishing things AND connecting with people.
So that's the list. Admittedly the first 3 came super easy and then I had to think for a minute (I was tempted to still try and put the health of my family on the list).
Great, right? So how does this help you? It combines the 2 components of the one-two punch that trains your brain to change your mind. Our brains default to the negative, it’s how we are wired (but we will save all that for another post, another day). Yet gratitude is a concept that we all understand. It doesn't take any explanation to ask what you are grateful for.
So why add the caveat to only list the small, more mundane things?
BECAUSE IT MAKES YOUR BRAIN LOOK FOR THEM!
It’s easy at the end of a tough day to feel like your day was horrible, or overwhelming, or that you had no time for yourself. Let’s face it, at least 50% of life is not rainbows and daisies. But we don’t have to feel terrible/bad/sad… fill in whatever feeling is appropriate to your day. We can use our brains to change our minds and this simple gratitude trick is a super easy (and free) way to do it.
Try it. Just once. Pause for a minute and make a mental list (you do have time- you were just reading this post).
What’s amazing is how bringing awareness to these little pockets of goodness during the day can CHANGE YOUR FEELINGS. You might not feel euphoric about your stressful day but you may feel a little more evened out. Do you want a real “knockout punch”? Try this every night for 1 week. Put a piece of paper by your bed or somewhere that it will be obvious and write down 10 things every night, no repeats. This is the training part. Your brain will start to realize during the day that it is going to be asked to do this every night and it will start looking for the information ahead of time to streamline the process and ease the strain of it at night. That’s what brains do. Of course if you want to buy a fancy notebook and a gel pen to do this, I totally support this. Fancy notebooks might make it onto tomorrow’s list.
So what does it actually mean? It means that when you are having a tough day and you pick up that gel pen, your brain will identify it as something good. It will remember the previous things and look for new things (since it knows the no repeats rule). And it will start to do this throughout the day, on its own, without prompting.
If you’re having a really bad day, take one minute and make a list in your phone. You can do it while waiting on hold or heating up your coffee. It doesn’t take long. Working in the hospital and no time for a break, even to pee? Keep a running list on your assignment sheet in the margins. It’s a quick way to reset your mind to the good things and away from the stressful things outside of your control.
Flex your gratitude muscle and sharpen your awareness. You will be unbeatable.
And that feels great.