Practicing gratitude is a simple way to change the functioning of your brain, your perspective and behaviour.
Scientists and spiritual leaders alike know that if you change our thoughts, you can change the way your brain processes information, which invariably leads to changing your behaviour. Take the science of Neuroplasticity for instance: “the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.”* When you focus your attention on new practices, thoughts and activities, your brain is re-wired.
A big part of this is being mindful about how you take in information and a gratitude list is a good place to start. “When you fully focus your attention on objects, events, new information or conversations, neuroplasticity is heightened. Focused attention, in contrast to “listening with one ear,” sucks information into the brain. Pay close attention to the details of your environment and nuances in conversation. When presented with new information, reflect on what you have learned and try to remember the important points or aspects of the new information. Each new tidbit of information creates new neural pathways in the brain. Reflecting on and remember[ing] the information strengthens the new neural pathway.”**
Note the intention of the practice of gratitude and how necessary this is to changing your brain. When you can get out of self and stop focusing on your “problems” you will experience a shift in your perception. A more tangible example is how you feel when you help someone without the expectation of anything in return. No matter how simple you might view the items on your list, you are no doubt on your way to changing your perception and the way you act. While writing a gratitude list is a a good start, I suggest the following practices to help solidify the impact of your gratitude list in your life:
a. Write a gratitude list every day. A consistent practice over time will change the way you perceive your life. Just like consistent physical exercise will help transform your body, you won’t see the results of gratitude without some dedicated work.
b. Spend some time contemplating what you’ve put on your list. Think about what your list means to you and how you might approach your day with your list in mind. Meditation will also help you focus your intention.
c. At the end of each day, reflect on your list and notice where you might have fallen short and where you’ve succeeded. It’s as important to acknowledge your triumphs as it is your struggles. For those times in your day where you could have behaved better, consider admitting your shortcoming to whomever was affected. That’s right, say sorry and do so promptly. This act of taking responsibility will not only go a long way to strengthening your personal relationships, but will keep you mindful of what you need to do the next time so you do not repeat that behaviour.
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