Rewire Your Brain With Gratitude
We all know it’s important to be grateful. But did you know that practicing gratitude on a regular basis can help “rewire” your brain to think more positively? Unfortunately, our brains are not designed to create happiness. Instead, they are extremely skilled at scanning for and finding danger. While this helped our late ancestors survive in the days of caves and saber-tooth tigers, it certainly hinders us in our modern-day quest for well-being and inner peace. Because our brains are hardwired to constantly search for problems, it is very easy to become overwhelmed with worries – most often about things we cannot control. This leads to added stress and cycles of negativity that are hard to break. The good news is that it is possible to retrain our brains by building a positivity circuit. To do this, simply spend one minute, three times per day, looking for positives. Practice this for 45 days and it will help train your brain to look for positives in the way it is already looking for negatives. A great way to help you accomplish this is to practice gratitude. Gratitude not only helps us improve our mood and mental health, but research has also shown that gratitude benefits our physical health as well. Studies show that gratitude can:
Lower blood pressure
Reduce symptoms of depression
Increase your frequency of exercise
Improve your overall physical health
There is no wrong way to practice gratitude. The important thing is finding a regular practice you enjoy and allowing the feeling of gratitude to fill you up completely. Try some of the following ideas to start feeling better today:
Set reminders on your phone – while you’re getting used to the new practice of a minute of positivity three times a day, set three reminders for yourself throughout the day at times when you can take a minute to make a mental list, voice recording or write something down. This will help you establish the new habit, especially if you keep the times relatively consistent, i.e., upon waking in the morning, after eating lunch, before you go to bed at night.
Keep a gratitude journal – write down three things every day for which you are grateful. These can literally be anything, from something big and important to little things like “I’m grateful the sun came out today.” Another take on this is to use the voice recording app on your phone and talk about things that you are grateful for. It is also fun to go back and read or listen to these later.
Write a gratitude letter or email – think of someone in your life with whom your relationship has been meaningful, who has added value to your life, or who has helped you in some way. Write them a letter or email to thank them and tell them how much it means to you. This is also a nice way to stay connected while practicing social distancing.
Take a gratitude walk – ideally in nature or in a park. Observe and enjoy your natural surroundings as you enjoy the fresh air, being outdoors and stretching your legs.
Do a “no complaining” challenge – whether it’s for a day, week or month, challenge yourself to not engage in any complaining behavior. If you find yourself complaining, stop yourself mid-sentence and look on the bright side to find something positive to say or simply change the subject. It can be helpful to let your friends and family know what you’re doing and invite them to participate with you.
Monitor your self-talk - try to reframe how you speak about yourself, i.e., when you look in the mirror and notice “flaws,” change your internal dialogue and practice acknowledging things that you like about yourself instead. When something goes wrong in your life, remind yourself of all the things that have gone or are going right. Remember and remind yourself of your successes and how things are working out for you.