Many people start off their day with a "Today I am grateful for..." post on their Facebook page. Others may keep a private gratitude journal that no one else knows about. Still others just inwardly review their gratitude list before they even open their eyes in the morning. They are practicing this positive focus as their first thoughts of the day. But why are they doing it?
It's really about retraining your thinking
Many people who work with this practice are using it to overcome habitual negative thinking. A negative mental filter can screen out your day's positive events and leave just the negative ones. This means if your day brings a thousand positive comments and only one negative one, it's the negative one that will keep you up at night. The good gets ignored and the bad gets your complete attention.
You are, however, actually in charge of what you think about. It's important to realize that you aren't stopping a way of thinking. You are actually replacing a way of thinking. This distinction is not a small one. Stopping just creates a void where the negative thoughts can easily return. When you turn off negative thoughts, you must also turn on positive ones. This means you aren't leaving space in your thinking for the negative thoughts to find a home when they try to return.
Getting your mind to also see, focus on, and actively think about the good in a balanced way is the goal of this internal work. We know that barring other difficulties that when people focus on the positive, their happiness levels go up. People doing this work also report an increase in their patience levels. They are able to wait longer for those next things on their checklists because they are able to enjoy the present so much more.
This practice helps people see the good that is happening right now.
How do I do it?
1. Begin when you wake-up. Before you even open your eyes is the best time. Get in the habit of asking, "What am I grateful for?" right as you wake up. Don't give any time for a negative tape to kick in. Set the tone of your thinking first thing.
2. Be specific. Spending time reviewing, going over, and thinking through the why's is important. If you just quickly list things and move on, you aren't retraining your thinking. This is why it's important to be specific. This is a chance to give the positive things in your life more space inside your mind so they can grow.
For example, it's very easy to just say, "I am grateful for my wife," and then move on. Why though? Why are you grateful for her? Really take that time and think through specific examples. People say, "I am grateful for my health," a lot. Again, the question is why? Is it because you know what the opposite is like? Is it because you walk 5 miles and feel energized? Get to the why.
3. Feel the emotion. As you are more specific, you will often feel the emotion associated with the gratitude. Often this can be love for the person you are grateful for or a sense of pride in an accomplishment. Take the time to do this. You will return to this idea later in the year when we talk about being able to actively choose your emotions as opposed to having your emotions be primarily a response to what is happening.
4. Recruit a friend if you need it. If you know you are someone who needs more external help and motivation to create a new habit, find an accountability buddy. This can be a fun practice to do together and can help shift conversations more toward the positive as well.
By starting the day off with your first thoughts being about the positive things in your life, you are training your mind to think about and focus on the positive in addition to the negative. By making these your very first thoughts, you are also forcing your mind to move away from the other habitual way of thinking.
Start your gratitude practice this week. Begin this year by training your thinking to focus more on the positive and to feel the emotions around those experiences. Your happiness and patience levels will also thank you.
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