In yesterday’s post I suggested gratitude as something to do before you get out of bed, to calm the stress many people feel upon waking.
Our brains focus on what we repeatedly look at. We have thousands of thoughts and pieces of sensory information bombard our brains every day. If we had to deal with them all, we would go mad! But our subconscious mind deal deal with them all, and processes them based on the “programs” we have given it. These programs are based on our past experiences, our likes and dislikes, our biases and prejudices; in short, we see the world based on our perception of the world.
I love all things purple, so I will always notice something that is purple. We can hear our names in a sea of noise. I can spot the word Beatles in a full page of text.
The Human Brain Algorithm
This is the brain filtering in action. It is called the Reticular Activating System, and it is a very useful function that enables us to function in normal life. Unfortunately, like the Facebook algorithm, it does mean that we get a restricted view of the world. We see the world as we expect to see it.
If you think that life is wonderful, that you are brilliant and beautiful and deserve only good things in life, then this is likely to happen for you.
If you believe that the world is a terrible place, and that things will always be awful for you, what kind of life do you think you will have?
It is so easy to look at the TV, the news, articles shared on Facebook and think we are living in dark times. I once was half convinced I was having a heart attack after constantly reading and dwelling on articles I was reading in the press and on social media gave me a really scary sensation in my chest and arm.
I was only ever seeing negativity, and I started to believe that nothing good could ever happen!
Retrain the Brain
Fortunately, we can retrain our brains to filter the information around us differently.
Thanks to a wonderful thing called brain plasticity, existing programs in the brain can be rewritten and we can develop new patterns.
We can train our brain to show us good things rather than bad by consciously focusing on good things more, just as we can retrain the Facebook algorithm by clicking, liking, following and sharing different content.
The easiest and most powerful way to change this focus is to develop a gratitude practice.
What can you think of right now that you are grateful for?
As I am writing this I am grateful for
- Blue skies
- Marcus being ready for school on time
- Josh taking the dog for a walk when I go to teach my yoga class
- Trains running to time
- Good music in my spotify playlist
- My bills paid today with gratitude for the services I receive in exchange for my money
- Mapmywalk allowing me to track my walking, allowing me to see how much I have walked, and inspiring me to walk more
- The vegetable stew that I have made and is ready for us to eat this evening, and to my Dad for providing me with the vegetables
- To my friends for loving me and supporting me
- To my family for doing the same for always
- To my kids for being wonderful (most of the time, haha!)
- For my morning yoga practice
These things are some small and some big things, but when I focus on them, it is pretty hard to feel sad, to feel stressed or to feel anxious.
The Power of Gratitude
Gratitude, contentment with life, blows away the clouds of stress and unhappiness, and helps us to develop, and keep, a positive outlook.
If we spend time regularly reflecting on the blessings, no matter how small, that we have in our life, it changes those patterns that the reticular activating system works with. Instead of noticing the negatives, we notice more positives in life.
An ‘attitude of gratitude’ is shown to increase resilience to stress, meaning that when stress hits us, we are better able to find the positives in a situation rather than immediately seeing the disaster. We can see lessons that can be learned, and use problems as opportunities to grow and learn.
Gratitude is shown to impact positively on personal relationships, physical and mental health, achievement and happiness at work, increase empathy and connection and strengthen social bonds.
Developing a Gratitude Practice
There are many ways that you can start to develop a gratitude practice
Keep a notebook by your bed, and at the end of every day note the things that you are grateful for. If the list is small at first, don’t worry, it will grow the more you practice.
Find a stone that feels good in your hand, or a crystal if you are into crystals, and keep it in your pocket. Whenever you put your hand in your pocket and touch it, find something to be grateful for.
Keep a jar somewhere prominent, and everytime something good happens, write it down and put it in the jar. Do this at the start of the year and open it up on New Year’s Eve for a wonderful end of year reflection, or start it today, and open it up whenever you need a boost!
Live ‘As If’
What would you like your life to be like? Write down your ideal day, then find as many ways as you can to live that life already. I dream of a life that looks very much like the one I live already, but with more money and holidays, and in a different location. Until then, I can enjoy nature, practice yoga, read, walk, be with my friends and family, enjoy my children, and enjoy writing and teaching in the beautiful green hills of the Rhondda!
I would love to know about your experiences of practicing gratitude! Share in the comments some of the things you are grateful for, or how gratitude has improved your life, or share your struggles with it, maybe I can help.
If you would like to deepen your gratitude practice, my short programme ‘Grow with Gratitude’ could be perfect for you. Including a webinar and a 10 day workbook, it prompted some big shifts in previous participants. Find out more about the Grow with Gratitude programme here.