It’s the week of Thanksgiving for those of us in the States, and the one day of the year that most folks stop to ponder the things they are thankful for in their lives. I encourage you to use this time of year to consider that, just like the joy of turkey sandwiches any time, gratitude is not a dish served only on Thanksgiving, but something to enjoy throughout the year.
In honor of my background, let’s share a little journalistic W’s and an H.
What is a Gratitude Practice
A gratitude practice is simply a regular recording of the things you are grateful for in your life. It should be simple. You should use tools that fit your lifestyle. You can keep it private or share it with a friend, partner, mentor or coach.
Where to Create Your Practice
You don’t need a heck of a lot of supplies to begin a gratitude practice. All you need is paper and a pen. You can use a spiral notebook, a stack of 3×5 cards, a beautiful journal, or a weblog. (This is why I provide a blog space for all my regular clients). I, of course, am a huge fan of writing things down. There is something magical that happens when we put pen to paper (or our fingers on the keyboard). Writing things down also gives you a record of goodness to refer to, a great tool to go to on the days that are tougher than others.
How to Create a Gratitude Practice
Each day, before you go to bed, reflect upon the good things in your life. Focus on your victories. Focus on your blessings. Then, write down three to five items for which you are grateful. It can be as small as your thankfulness for your morning coffee or waking. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to write about your victories of the day. The compliment you got from a stranger or your ability to withstand the onslaught of cookies in the office.
(By the way, the reason I recommend writing in the evenings is to give your subconscious positive fuel for your dreams and rest cycles. )
You are creating new habits, new mental pathways. In order to help you on your way of creating these new trails in your brain, you begin to focus on what’s good. As you begin to live life in the zone, every little thing matters.
The Why Behind The Practice
I know you’re asking yourself, “Did she say creating new trails in your brain?“ Yes. I did.
There’s actually scientific evidence to prove that our thoughts form neural pathways in our brains. I like to think of them like trails in a snowy wilderness: as people begin to walk through the wilderness, paths are formed.
In the wilderness of our brains, our thoughts go, as if by default, along the easiest path that is presented. In the snowy wilderness, the more we follow a path, the more defined the path becomes. In our brains, the more we go to our default ways of thinking, the more we reinforce – or define – the paths. Basically, we continue to reinforce the original habits or beliefs. Some scientists say our brains can actually become addicted to negative emotions, or to depression or doubt or anxiety.
When you go down that same pathway, you’re simply following the way you know. It’s a habit of thinking. You cease to see solutions or possibilities or even truth. Instead you see only through your habituated method of thought or reaction.
Now before you panic and think that you are forever lost in the negative paths of your brain, note this: you can create new neural pathways.
As you create new habits of thought, emotion, and reaction to situations, new pathways are formed. It’s like blazing a path through a different part of the wilderness in order to see the beautiful parts of a hidden forest. And, the more often you go to the beautiful parts of your brain, the deeper those paths will be and the old paths will simply become less noticeable.
So think of a Gratitude Practice as a fresh snowfall, giving you the opportunity to forge new paths in the wilderness.
After a few weeks of beginning your gratitude practice, your mind will begin to follow the new pathways as a habit, even on the days when you are tired and stressed.
As with all areas of life, I want to remind you to be gentle with yourself as you begin a Gratitude Practice. It takes time for new habits to form – even positive ones – even simple ones. If you fall out of routine, remind yourself that this is a Gratitude Practice – not a mastery. Just begin again!
When to Begin
As the saying goes, there’s no time like the present. In fact, I’d be honored if you were to share one or two things you are grateful for here in the comments.
Please know that I am ever thankful for your presence in my world.
(Images are 1950′s Era Advertisements for Reynold’s Wrap and Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce)