Water the flowers instead of the weeds: Embracing gratitude

– Is your imagination making you sick? Part Three

Have you heard of the hormone oxytocin? Like most hormones, it has many roles in the body.

Oxytocin is associated with feeling contented and calm by reducing anxiety and nervousness. Oxytocin can also affect wound healing and inflammation by decreasing some of the pro-inflammatory chemical messengers of the immune system.

It’s also associated with human bonding and trust as it’s the hormone that’s released during childbirth and breastfeeding to enhance the bond between a mother and her child. It’s been described as helping meaningful relationships form. And amazingly, it increases when we focus on gratitude.

Firing and wiring

Hebb’s Law states that “neurons that fire together wire together.” Emily Fletcher (Huffington Post) and Dr Caroline Leaf (Switch on your brain) both talk about this phenomenon. The more times a certain neural pathway is activated (neurons firing together), the less effort it takes to stimulate the pathway the next time (neurons wiring together).

This means that what we put our attention on grows. If we’re constantly looking at the negative and searching for problems, the neural pathways for negative thinking become stronger.

But practising gratitude can shift our attention to look for what is going right instead of looking for problems to solve, helping us water the flowers instead of watering the weeds.

In this four-part series, we give you some easy, practical tips on how to feel more focused and energised to maximise your productivity.

Think of giving a gift to a friend. One friend is ungrateful, in too much of a hurry to notice the gift and doesn’t seem to care. How do you feel? What are the chances you want to give them another gift?

The second friend smiles, says thank you and actually looks like the gift will help them in some way. How do you feel now about giving to this friend again?

Our unconscious mind is a lot like that treasured, helpful friend. Appreciate it and be amazed at how it will help you next time.

Reaping the rewards

In the clinic, when we’ve focused on gratitude for the clients we had, we’ve found that it’s led to a few more clients. And practising gratitude with our existing clients has helped some of them to become even more engaged – they like how we work and want to know about other tools we use that can assist them.

Psychology Today found that subjects who showed more gratitude overall had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus – the part of the brain that has a vital role in controlling many bodily functions including eating, drinking and sleeping. It also has a huge influence on your metabolism and stress levels, meaning it can help us lose weight, sleep better and feel better.

How to practise gratitude

  • Each morning or evening write down 3-5 things you’re grateful for in your life. It could be about yourself, the people in your life, or even small things around you such as the smell of freshly cut grass in summer or the smile from a stranger.
  • When your feet hit the ground getting out of bed, just say “thank you!”
  • Spend a few minutes meditating each day. Focus on breathing deeply and you’ll find that it might help you clear out your brain clutter – just like defragging your computer!
  • Repeat! Practice makes perfect and the more we do it, the easier it becomes.

And remember: when you choose to be grateful for what worked, for what you have and what you learned, the struggles ahead don’t seem as insurmountable and the challenges don’t scare you half to death.

What things are you grateful for in your life? Let us know in the comments below.

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