4 Gratitude Practices that Reset Your PerspectiveNov 22, 2021
Every year at Thanksgiving before we break bread everyone takes a moment to express a moment of gratitude. It’s interesting that we only engage in this practice of gratitude once a year like I’m sure many families do around the country. So why is focusing on gratitude relegated to one day or season of the year?
The truth is gratitude isn't a common habit, particularly in our consumption society. In fact, most people see Thanksgiving as the precursor to Black Friday sales. Even when we do focus on what we have, we don't do it with appreciation and gratitude. We’re more prone to look at what we do have with either judgment, complaints, or longing for something more or better.
Cultivating gratitude can be challenging, particularly since our brains are wired to pay more attention to life's negatives than positives. For example, have you ever found yourself replaying an insult or seemingly unable to move past a mistake? This is because adverse events have a more significant impact on our brains than positive ones. Psychologists refer to this as negative bias, and it can have a powerful effect on your behavior, decisions, and even your relationships.
Research suggests that negative bias influences and motivates us to complete a task and was essential to the survival of early humans. For example, remembering which native plants and berries could kill you was more critical for survival than recalling which ones tasted good. Even though we have certainly come a long way, our primitive brains still fear making what's perceived as a "deadly" mistake more than anticipating a probable reward.
Despite our 'wiring,' we CAN cultivate a grateful outlook by practicing gratitude.
We can start by being appreciative of what we already have. If I were to ask you to make a list of 10 things you wanted, what would be on your list? Would it include things you already own? You're probably like, of course not, why would I want something I already have? But that's precisely the point. You should not only want what you already have but enjoy it, use it, and be grateful for it.
We don't want what we already have because we’re more focused on what’s next than being grateful for what we already have.
We tend to come from a place of scarcity, focusing on what we're missing or don't have instead of a place of abundance, excitement, and gratitude for what we already have. It's like watching kids on Christmas morning opening their presents. Their excitement for the gift they just opened lasts as long as it takes to open up the next one.
Yes, you can train your brain by developing a positivity circuit.
In an article for Forbes, Loretta Breuning, Ph.D., shared that "simply spending one minute for positives, three times per day for forty-five days can begin to rewire your brain to look for positives the same way it is for negatives."
The same is true when you're thinking about what you want in your career. If you don't look for the positives through a practice of gratitude by taking account of all you've accomplished and the talents you bring to the table, you can easily overlook the important and valuable achievements that can make you feel empowered, worthy, and capable.
To advance in your career, you have to first appreciate what you've done. It’s also important not to compartmentalize your personal and professional achievements. You're not brilliant at work and just ok at home or brilliant at home and ok at work. When you see yourself holistically, you'll begin to see that you are fabulous in all settings and situations.
Imagine how differently you might show up in meetings, in an interview, at a conference, or networking event if you were filled with the gratitude and abundance of all you do, of all you have to offer, of all you know you have, and can accomplish in the world. When you have a daily practice of gratitude and appreciation for who you are, what you have, and what you've accomplished, it's absolutely possible.
But when you live in scarcity, you focus on what you're missing, where you've failed or fallen short, what others have that you don't, what's not possible or available to you. And the energy of scarcity only breeds desperation, envy, low self-esteem, and more scarcity.
Without gratitude, life can be more challenging than it needs to be. However, the practice of abundance and gratitude resets your perspective and expands your vision…and luckily, it's a gift you can give yourself every day, not just on Thanksgiving.
Here are a few gratitude practices that I engage in and recommend to my clients that you can try and reinforce all year long.
- 100s List - Make a list of 100 accomplishments, achievements, successes, and things that have impressed you about yourself over the years. You can go back as far as you want and include whatever you want. Remember our brain tends to focus on the negative so you may have a hard time pulling this list together. But stick with it. You can add to the list daily until you reach 100. And if you can easily reach 100, write down 200. In the end, it will not only do wonders for your self-esteem, but you'll see just how powerful and epically amazing you are.
- Resist comparison - One way to do that is to take a break from social media, magazines, reality shows, and tv in general. My doctoral research explored how women develop their identities in the face of and is the antithesis of the surrounding societal messages bombarding us daily. It's even worse at midlife because the message usually is you've had your turn, now move out of the way and let the next generation take center stage. Moreover, the patriarchal, misogynistic ideas of beauty and image have done a number on our psyche. Studies have shown that when women look in the mirror each morning, they can instantly find about 22 things they hate about themselves. This comes from comparing ourselves to some mythical external standard of beauty that doesn't even exist. How do I know that? Because societal norms of beauty repeatedly change about every 20 years. Comparison breeds envy, and envy is an obstacle to gratitude. When you compare one thing to another, you naturally have to demean one of them. So resist comparison and be grateful for everything about you. Counteract it by looking in the mirror every morning and naming five things you love about yourself.
- Write daily - Nothing will allow you to know yourself more than reading back your own thoughts. Writing cultivates self-awareness which is a critical and predictive skill in career success. This deep level of self-awareness improves your decision-making process and abilities because you become more aware of what's going on in your brain. Writing daily also helps to calm your mind and clarifies your thinking. You don't have to go out and buy a special journal to write daily. I use a spiral notebook, and it works perfectly for me. The Artist's Way by Julie Cameron is a popular book that many people use to help kick off their daily writing. Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-hour Workweek, and Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray Love, have used this method. She suggests doing Morning Pages each day to renovate and revive the soul. Writing daily is such an expansive exercise. It's widened my capacity for gratitude for so many things in my life.
- Do something kind for someone else - That can include donating your time or money to a charity or organization whose mission and goals align with yours. You can write a review for a business you appreciate. Send a text or email to someone to let them know you're grateful or thankful for them. Donate the 100s of clothes you don't wear to a domestic violence shelter or an organization like Dress for Success. Or pay for the order of the person behind you in the drive-through at Starbucks. When you help, assist or uplift others, it puts your challenges and struggles in perspective and provides a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for all you have and all you are.
Dr. Carol Parker Walsh is the founder of the Career Rebel Academy for high-achieving women at midlife ready to overcome the self-doubts and limiting beliefs that keep them designing an epic career and life they love. She's an award-winning certified career and personal brand strategist, life and executive coach, A TEDx presenter, author, international keynote and member of Forbes Coaches Council and Newsweek's Expert Forum, and local career expert on AM Northwest Morning Show. Serving as a catalyst for transformational growth, confidence, and career/life alignment, Carol leverages her J.D. and Ph.D. and multiple certifications, along with her experience as an attorney, in executive leadership, and psychology and organizational systems to help 6-7 figure successful driven female professionals and entrepreneurs amplify their visibility and do the meaningful work they're meant to do in the world without sacrificing their years of success, hard work, and income.