For the past 6 months or so I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal. It’s been useful. Basically, I get to the end of the day and think of three things I am grateful for and write them down. It could be from that day specifically. It could be anything ever. Looking through my journal there is a right variety: ‘chat with a patient’, ‘having all the boys round’, ‘buying veg on the market’. A bonus of this process is that you get to look back and remember good times, momentous or tiny. I like that. A gratitude journal is essentially a happy diary. And has multiple benefits.
When I was practicing full blown anxiety I was a genius at problem solving. Incredibly useless problem solving. I would be in a meeting at work and try to work out how evil a memory made me. Then in the next moment I would try to pinpoint what came before the Big Bang. I still haven’t got to the bottom of them two. I was training my brain to solve problems. Constantly. But what does a master problem solver need? Problems. Negativity. Gloom.
I am not the only one. I regularly witness people being more comfortable dwelling in negativity rather than the good stuff. Despite the great work done daily in healthcare, back office bonding is more often than not likely to focus on the stresses of the industry rather than the solutions to solve them. Or, speaking at social gatherings on current affairs, we are more likely to complain about politicians rather than talk enthusiastically about the contributions we can and do make daily to society.
So many of us have a tendency to focus on problems internally in our minds and then do the same externally with others. This is not anyone’s fault either. We have been born with these “faulty calculators” (as I have begun to call the brain). These calculators have been great at keeping us flourishing as a species for millennia. In terms of evading predators and surviving treacherous weather conditions they have rocked it!
They still have their uses too. Working out a tax return or planning a holiday are both endeavours that benefit from a bit of old fashioned brain power. But the faults are never far away. Our brains judge almost everything they see or think of. Each person is “great” or “ugly” or “old”. Thoughts are “bad” or “good” or “terrifying”. The purpose of a lot of these judgements is to reinforce to ourselves that we are okay. That we are not the worst. That we can control the scary world and what it does to us. But pretty soon we start to worry whether we are ugly or bad or old ourselves! We have another problem to work out. In our heads. And we can’t solve it.
It makes sense therefore to take a step in the other direction. Ponder what is going right…what are we pleased about? What do we appreciate? This may feel a little bit like turning around and facing a heavy wind at first. But that gale was whisking you away to Gloomsville and keeping you there. The other way is challenging to get to. But you can tell its brighter and has a sense of hope and energy to it.
Interestingly, researchers have found that the effects of gratitude can come about quickly (see awesome Youtube vid below). After a 21 day study real change was witnessed as brains scanned for the positives first before the negatives. Personally, at first I struggled to write anything down. It felt clunky and forced. After a short while you start to remember to look out for positive events during the daytime for the sake of the exercise. By the end of the three weeks your brain has begun automatically recognising positivity on its own! Once that foundation is laid your reality can begin to alter a little. A simple moment walking to work can be savoured. A struggle in your personal life can be an opportunity for growth. Research has also shown gratitude to improve sleep, self-esteem as well as your physical health. More here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude
Some simple pointers to succeed at this: Buy a notepad or a diary or find a piece of paper. Find a pen or a pencil. Set aside 5 minutes before bed or when you wake up daily. Really think about what you are grateful for, be sincere with that gratitude. Why are you grateful for it? How does it make you feel? Where do you feel that? (Don’t worry if you don’t feel anything, you don’t have to, just keep going). Give it a go for 21 days and see how you do. Nice one 🙂