You want to feel more gratitude in life? What about motivation? What about calmness?
Then try this: have an experience where you feel gratitude. Just have one. Here are some examples: to stimulate a feeling of gratitude in response:
- notice you are alive and breathing. Listen to your breath. See what's in front of you. Be grateful for being alive.
- Notice when you can move. Be grateful you can move.
- Notice when somebody smiles at you. Be grateful somebody smiled at you.
The list goes on. The event or experience need not be big and grandiose like winning a million dollars to get on the train of positivity. We don't need million dollar moments to be grateful. If this proves difficult for you to do, that's okay, have patience with yourself and be grateful that you are trying. It's not supposed to be easy like, well, like when we feel anxious or angry. That's not you? Well, for many of us, including myself, those two feelings have had lots of practice from all the time we invested in feeling them.
Back to gratitude. Once you have that experience, it's important to keep practice feeling gratitude and investing in it by taking advantage of more opportunities to have future experiences of gratitude. I am just using gratitude here as an example. You can substitute any virtue, trait or skill here, and the exercise will still work. For example, instead of gratitude, let's say you want to develop some motivation. Now you do the same and have experiences of motivation. For extra trait building, read my other articles dealing with the 20 seconds activity to solidify a state into a trait.
I have spoken a lot about what is necessary to actually become a person of greater motivation and gratitude. For these experiences to transform your thinking and feelings, you have do something more than just have them. You have to understand that your brain is highly capable of learning new things from your experiences. If you keep having certain experiences, we can say you get into the habit of being grateful or motivated. Once your brain becomes habituated to performing certain behaviors like noticing things around you to be grateful for, you can expect to feel more grateful without trying. How wonderful to feel grateful without trying, to feel motivated without trying. As if we were born to feel this way!
It's important to know how this works though. Habits form because our brain really changes in response to repeated behaviors and experiences. We may not see it or physically feel a new neuro pathways opening up and embedding inside our head. Nevertheless, it does happen. Our brains are constantly rewiring and changing to reflect experiences. Knowing that the more we perform a certain type of action or repeat it, the more our brain will make this second nature and automatic has great implications for changing how we think and feel everyday. There is hope after all.
Let's look at this from a negative brain or red brain perspective. The same principles apply. If we have lots of the same negative experience over and over then our brain will be very good at doing that behavior. We become conditioned and soon it's happening without effort. The thoughts and feelings which arise in response will also be reinforced.
We all have something bad which we are exceptionally good at doing. Take going to bed too late. I used (and still do sometimes) go to bed late and pay big physical and mental tolls the next day. I'm irritable, tired and unmotivated. This is something I used to do frequently. But because this wasn't working and it was negatively affecting my life, including my health and outlook, it had to stop. But it wasn't easy. There was a degree of satisfaction I got too- the thrill of staying up late gave me this spark of creativity.
But the consequences outweighed the benefits. I knew though that stopping cold turkey would create a set of its own problems. So, I decided to gradually go about having experiences of going to bed earlier. Night after night, I went to bed early. It wasn't easy at first, but by repeatedly being in bed and turning off the lights at an earlier time (doing an action) I began to notice that my body was feeling sleepier and more prepared to going to bed early. After much more practice, going to bed a a good time started to feel less like work and more like a reward. This also changed my thoughts and feelings from being one of resistance to one of motivation. My brain had rewired itself making me much more motivated to go to bed early because it got used to the practice.
The action of going to bed earlier is only one of many I could have done to create a new healthy habit in place of an old detrimental one I was accustomed to doing like second nature.
That's what you want to do too. This is how we become skilled at an activity. We practice it. So the next time you feel disappointed with yourself and feel it's time to change, realize this, that you can do it. You can do it the same way you taught your brain to be so great at worrying, having doubts, feeling angry all the time. Those patterns of behavior didn't get there by accident. That's what you had been feeding your brain all these years.
Let yourself be confident, calm and content. Give yourself these experiences the same intensity and focus you gave in those times of stress, worry and frustration and see what new flowers of resiliency, motivation and confidence grow up in your mind's garden.