How a Gratitude Journal Re-Wires Your Brain for Better Resilience

April 18, 2018

 

The Power of Gratitude

 

If you’ve been drawn to read this post, then you might already have the sense that something is a little off kilter in your life, and that maybe shifting your perspective will be something that helps you.  These innate senses that we all have, when we actually listen to them, rarely steer us wrong.

 

On the other hand, if you’ve found yourself here without knowing why, and perhaps you are even a little bit skeptical about the power of gratitude, then let me put your mind at rest right now.  I know that gratitude is a trendy buzzword right now – but things become trends for a reason.  People are experiencing big shifts, and that’s where the buzz came from. 

 

Maybe you are just trying to get through your life one day at a time, coping with challenges and stressors.  Or maybe you are looking to up your game and make a big move in the world, such as starting your own business for example. Gratitude is something that gives us all a big boost in resilience and positive energy.

 

We could all benefit from greater positivity.  But of course, this stuff doesn’t just fall out of the sky.  These things are really co-created between us, and the world around us. What do I mean by that?  Consider this…

 

Take the old classic question about the glass of water – is it half full or half empty?  Life, society and our upbringing have all primed us from early childhood to worry about the empty half.  The logic here is that we need to be prepared in life.  We need to consider what our next move will be if the water runs out.  This ‘scarcity mindset’ is the default of our society – it’s also slowly squashing our souls.

 

So let’s bring this back to the idea of us co-creating our experiences.  In this scenario, the scarcity and worry is partly due to the half empty glass, and partly due to our response to it.

 

To look at this same glass through the lens of gratitude doesn’t mean we never think about our next move when the water runs out – it simply means that worry is not our primary focus or knee-jerk response.  When we look with gratitude we see the resource in front of us and appreciate it.  We also feel less stressed as our initial thought is of abundance and positivity, not of worry.  Our internal responses, from our cortisol levels to our emotions, are healthier ones.

 

Being in a healthier place, we are able to look for our next source of water without panicking and making it harder on ourselves.  We are able to co-create a better outcome – an outcome where we are resourceful enough to find more water when we need it.  When you approach life in this way, you are more resilient and life just seems to flow better.  As I’m sure you can imagine, your improved outlook has a positive effect on those around you too and your relationships also improve.

Making gratitude a daily practice

 

 

If you’ve ever read any self-development books or blogs, then it’s highly likely that you have come across the theory that it takes at least 21-day to learn a new habit.

 

But there’s a little more to it.  It’s not enough to simply wait for 21-days to pass while you casually think about your new habit.  You need to be actively engaged with it for the learning to happen.

 

Here’s a little neuroscience to back that up.  At the neuronal level (your brain cells), repetition is the basis of learning. The more you repeat the same action over and over, the more it becomes reinforced in your brain.

 

Neuroscientist Donald Hebb had a saying that I really like; “Neurons that fire together, wire together”

 

What Hebb was teaching us was that the more we fire (or use) the parts of our brain responsible for the new habit, the more that habit becomes hard-wired in place. So if you can really immerse yourself in your new habit, repeating it regularly for as long as you can, the more chance it will become your new default setting.  

 

This is true of learning to swim – you have to jump in the pool and do it.  This is true of learning a language; full immersion in another country is the most robust way of learning.  And you guessed it; this is absolutely true for practicing gratitude too.  The more you actively look for things to appreciate, the stronger you become at this. Resilience, joy and positivity all follow in spades – life is in flow once more!

Why the gratitude journal works

 

You could call this a life hack.  Saying aloud or in your mind what you are grateful for is a start, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the power of writing these things down.  The physical act of writing is a fantastic way to engage your brain and really commit things to memory.

 

Do you remember studying for exams?  The facts that you wrote down on cue cards, or drilled in your notepad will probably still be memorable to you today.  This is why we journal!

 

Here’s your mission, if you choose to accept it

 

I’d like to challenge you to journal for 21 days.  The first step is to get yourself a really nice notepad and keep it just for this task – and remember to appreciate your nice new journal.  See, you’re more grateful already.

 

I recommend setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to do this every day, and set it early.  Making this one of the first things you do with your day will ensure it doesn’t slide down your to-do list, and it also puts you in a positive mindset for the rest of your day.

 

Write down 5 things each day that you are grateful for.  Try to make it 5 different things each time.  If you find this too hard, try starting with the really simple things in life.  For example, you might be grateful that you woke up in a comfy bed.  You might appreciate the fresh coffee you are drinking while you journal.  It doesn’t have to be anything big.  

 

For most people it only takes a few days of doing this to start feeling the benefits. As life happens and problems arise in your day, you will meet them from a better mindset now.  The old, stressed out you would have reacted– but the more resilient, positive you can respond.  THIS is the biggest benefit of all.

 

Every choice we make has a ripple effect.  So it stands to reason that every good choice we make sends out a good ripple effect.

 

Please leave me a comment below and tell me if you accepted my challenge.  I would love to hear how you get on with your journaling.

 

 

 

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