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How gratitude literally lets you rewire your brain

-4 minute read-

Does it feel like bad things always happen to you? Like there is always something bad out there just waiting to happen to you? Your spouse is going to cheat on you, or the business deal is going to go south and you are just waiting for it to happen…..

Don’t worry, I’m exactly the same.

It’s actually completely natural to always be looking out for the bad in life. It’s part of your self protective nature. As hunter gatherers we were always scanning the horizon for approaching danger and getting ready to react to this danger. Therefore we are predisposed to look for negative experiences in stead of positive experiences.

You are always looking for the tiger (that isn’t there) trying to attack you and missing the beautiful sunset.

Don’t believe me?

Try this quick self experiment:

Imagine that you just won $500, $500 that you weren’t expecting at all that you just won completely out of the blue. Give yourself a second and really imagine how that would feel. What would you say, what would you do?

Now the other side. Imagine that, instead of winning that $500, you lost $500, $500 gone that you don’t have anymore. How does that make you feel?

It’s much worse to imagine that you lost $500 vs. imagining that you won $500. Research does actually indicate that the intensity of your response to each of these situations will differ significantly. With the distress of losing $500 far outweighing the pleasure of gaining $500.

Your mind reacts to bad things more quickly, persistently and strongly than the equivalent good things.

So there’s nothing we can do about it?

If we are all just naturally negative, then there is nothing we can do about it: “That’s just the way I am”.

Wrong.

Your brain is much more powerful than you think and you can actually change your neural pathways if you just practice.

This ability to rewire your own brain is called neuroplasticity and it’s something you do each and every day.

Just think about the first time you did a task, like driving home from work. You probably had to focus on which turns to take and what landmarks to look out for to get home. After you have been doing this for a month, you sometimes stop in front of your house and can’t even remember how you got there.  You can let your mind wander to other things while you make those left and right turns and pass the landmarks. This is because the repetition has imprinted the route on the circuitry of your brain.

Why does this matter to you?

Neuroplasticity means that, just like driving your car home,  you can rewire your brain to ignore your natural negativity bias. It’s been really well researched, you can read more about it on Stanford University’s website.

Neuroplasticity is the ability to tell your brain to not only zoom in on the negative parts every day, but also see the full picture. The more you do it, the easier it becomes, and after a while you will be doing it without even thinking about it.

How do you do this?

Gratitude.

Gratitude is one of the easiest habits to start and it has some of the most surprising benefits. It can: improve your physical health, enhance empathy, increase your mental health and even make you sleep better.  

All gratitude is, is looking for something in your life ,that is already there, that you aren’t even noticing.

Personally I’ve found the best way to use gratitude to rewire my brain, is to start each day out on a positive note.  

Just take 5 minutes and think of 3 things that you are grateful for. You’ll be surprised at how hard it is sometimes. These can be small things like a cup of coffee to massive things like your family or a new job. The important thing is that you do this every single day and that you don’t use the same things over and over each day. Give your brain a bit of a workout and come up with something new each time.

Make it a habit

This is the most important part of this entire article.

What happens a lot is that you read an article like this and you think “Ah, that’s a great idea I should really do this.” and then you go on with your day and you completely forget about it.

So what I want you to do right now is to open your cellphone, go to the calendar app and put in an event about 10 minutes after you usually wake up (at least get your first cup of coffee). Call it “Gratitude”. Make it a repeat event so it repeats every day of the week (it can be a bit later on the weekends).
Gratitude reminder

 

Then tomorrow morning when you get that event notification, STOP. Think about three things you are grateful for, it can literally be anything. But remember you are not allowed to use the same things over and over.

This works even better when you write down what you are grateful for. You can use anything, even just the notes app on your phone. The reason this is so useful is that when you feel down or when you REALLY can’t think of anything you are grateful for (we all have those days). You can go back and look at all the things you have been grateful for in the past and I guarantee you it will make you feel better.

To close

Think about this as getting the full picture. You aren’t going to stop looking for danger all of a sudden and become vulnerable. But you will get the full picture and actually see all the good things in your life as well.

So go out there, keep training and you will be amazed at all the things that you haven’t been noticing in your own life…..

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