“The idea is that our minds actually work better when we are grateful — allowing us to be more creative, more optimistic, and more capable in our endeavors,” says clinical psychologist, Dr. Lillian Nejad.
To pause every now and again, to stop, take stock, be thankful for the positives in life, and set good intentions for going forward are powerful, yet simple skills, that some studies suggest may boost our overall wellbeing. This doesn't have to be momentous in the planning, simply reflecting, feeling gratitude and setting intentions can be done in the briefest of moments throughout the day, it's simply about having present moment awareness to check in and acknowledge those things. During the workplace mindfulness sessions I run, and in my personal practice, I always offer the invitation for attendees to reflect, feel gratitude and set intentions for the next part of the day. People find this helps to shift their mood and create space to take a different perspective about things.
In the study, Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life, results suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.
Gratitude. Ever wondered why we can remember negative events far better, v.s the positive ones, particularly the smaller moments of joy? It is because we are designed for survival and as such we need to remember the unhappy, negative times, the 'danger' moments so we do not experience them again. There is a whole other blog that could be written about how our survival mode creates aversive behaviours, but I'll leave that for another time. Practising gratitude helps us to savour and remember all the positives we encounter for longer, doing so regularly helps to build resilience so that when the hard times hit, you are better able to focus on the positives and navigate the storm a little easier.
Intentions. Sound a bit like resolutions? Possibly, but they really are quite different. Being resolute about what you are going to achieve is a very goal orientated, hardline approach, which offers little room for creativity and brings a sense of pressure with it. This is why most people feel deflated and a failure when they have broken their New Year resolutions before January is through. An intention is a desire, an aim, a more fluid direction for cultivating a sense of wellness, accomplishment and meaning to our lives.
Reflection. Resolutions very rarely work because we tend to make snap decisions without much thought or any time to reflect on, 'What am I trying to achieve?', 'Do I realistically have the time?', 'Is this the right path and the right time now?', 'Who could support me with this?' Taking the time to mindfully reflect on your positive reasons will help strengthen them and research suggests writing them down too will help you stay on course.
During this pandemic, many people have had a little time to reflect on how their life has changed and how they'd like it to be when life gets back to some sort of reality. To help you reflect perhaps a little more deeply, more constructively and boost your wellbeing through the practice of gratitude, read on for my top tips to help you do just that.
#1 What are you grateful for? Mindful Gratitude Practice
There are many ways to practice gratitude but one way I like to do it is to reflect on what I am grateful for just before I go to sleep at night. It might feel a little difficult to begin with so start off by thinking of 5 things to begin with and then work up to 10 or more once you get used to the practice. Keep it simple and be grateful for the small moments and as well as the bigger ones. Right in this moment, I am grateful that my husband is cooking the family dinner so I can finish this blog, that the kids have been good, there was leftover dinner from last night that made a quick lunch today, that my daughter loved and not hated getting her first pair of glasses and that whilst I am tired from working very hard, I am grateful that I am fit and well enough to do so.
#2 Keep a Gratitude Journal or a Gratitude Jar
Writing your reflections down is a great way to keep track of all the things you are grateful for and is a positive activity to look back through when you're feeling down. There are many beautiful journals on the market ready for your reflections or you might like to pop your gratitude thoughts into a gratitude jar, why not have one for work and one for home? Encourage everyone to write what they are grateful for onto pieces of paper and pop it them into the jar. At the end of the week, empty the jar and together marvel at just how many wonderful things there are in life to be grateful for!
#3 Have Grateful Conversations to Create a Ripple Effect of Positivity
Cultivate positivity by talking about the things you are grateful for and where possible, steer conversations to include language, tone and thoughts around gratefulness, appreciativeness, thankfulness and how it makes people feel. Often, this will induce a sense of uplift and joy, which will be infectious when interacting with others and so the positive ripple effect begins.
#4 Give Back
Giving back and doing good for others. When we do something for others with no gain for
ourselves, this often cultivates a deep sense of gratitude and wellbeing We are naturally hardwired to do good and when we do we are 'rewarded' by feel good chemicals in the brain Helping people who are less fortunate than ourselves opens our eyes to a more realistic, balanced, view, of our own situation as our brain 'rewards' us with feel good chemicals when we carry out altruistic acts. What small acts of kindness can you do in your day? Or what commitment can you give to a voluntary cause. Does your organisation have a Corporate Social Responsibility scheme you can take part in? For example.
#5 Take Time to Reflect
Intentions and resolutions are often broken because little time was given to the reasons behind them and their meaning. Set aside a little time when you will not be disturbed or rushed and create a comfortable space to sit and reflect in with a note pad and pen nearby to jot down your reflections.
Close your eyes and draw attention to your breath flowing in and out of your body until you feel calm and your mind chatter has quietened a little (don't expect it to stop altogether as we very rarely have a crystal clear mind!) then bring in whatever it is you would like to reflect on and think more deeply about the why, how and when. You might like to listen to this guided Breathing Space audio and continue to reflect at the end of the practice.
#6 Set Your Intentions
Now you are ready to set your intentions, you might want to write them down as a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology 2010 suggests that doing so might help you to stick to your goals. In the study, 91% of the 'intention' group who were asked to write their intentions down, achieved their goal. In comparison, only 38% of the 'control' group who did not have to write their intentions down, achieved theirs. Remember, we can set small intentions throughout the day which will set the tone and help you to stay on the track you'd like to be on.
In the morning, try sitting on the edge of the bed and focus on your breathing for a short while before setting intentions such as, remaining calm, being mindful, less judgemental, less critical, to take more breaks, not take things so personally etc or whatever is more relatable for you. You can then remind yourself of those intentions when you get pulled off centre in the day.
I wish you a joyful summer to be grateful for and space for reflection and meaningful intentions.