We have all heard about the power of gratitude. But sometimes, gratitude can be so hard. This time of year is the season when many people focus on their appreciation for the good things in their life. Gratitude has tremendous power, and when practiced regularly, one increases their focus, enjoys more meaningful relationships and increases satisfaction in their life.
So if gratitude is so helpful, why don’t more people engage in it? Being grateful can be challenging in this digital age. In this post I will explain what gets in the way of using gratitude as a daily strategy and how to shift your thinking – in seconds.
Barriers to Gratitude
In the typical office, interruptions happen every three minutes according to recent research. In that same study researchers demonstrated that a 15 second distraction can cost you twenty minutes in concentration. And it results in increased frustration and irritability.
To experience gratitude you need to focus; when your mind is flitting back and forth attempting to “remember” what was next, it can be near impossible to appreciate the good all around you.
The stress reaction is a primitive survival instinct. It gets triggered in real or imagined scenarios. This reaction short circuits your thinking brain and puts you in a reactive mode. You can’t think deeply or broadly when this reaction is triggered. The tendency is to want to fight, flee or freeze, all opposed to being fully present, in the moment, experiencing gratitude.
This can be a side effect of the barriers just mentioned. Negativity is a defense against the impact of stress as one focuses on problems in order to ‘just survive.’ When unchecked, it becomes a habit.
Our nervous system is hardwired to conserve energy when you routinely respond in the same way, this becomes your standard response. This is essentially neuroplasticity, neurons that wire together, operating consistently, fire together, out of habit. This is also true when you work to shift your mindset to one that is positive and optimistic.
We are divinely created with tremendous ability to think differently once we learn to apply what I call the software upgrade. The primitive nature of the survival instinct, aka, the stress reaction, is the same one our ancient ancestors used in their uncivilized world. If you think about our nervous system as a software program, it has not been upgraded in over 100,000 years!
Read on for a technique that instantly reboots your nervous system and brings your body, thoughts, and mindset into balance.
Count of 4 Breathing
Just like it sounds, you are going to breathe deliberately on a count of four. Breathing is your first line of defense against the physical effect of the stress response. When you get stressed, your shoulders become hunched and your breathing becomes more shallow. This gets you ready to fight, flee, or freeze which is not helpful when you want to experience gratitude or make the most of the moment. Here is how this goes.
Step 1: Breathe in on a count of 4.
Step 2: Hold your breath on a count of 4.
Step 3: Exhale on a count of 4.
Step 4: Wait 4 seconds before your next breath.
Repeat 3 times. You can use this for any length of time, one minute and longer, and eventually with practice will find it easier to access a focused mindset with one to two rounds of breathing.
By slowing everything down, you can bring your awareness to your body and the places where your muscles are tight. This awareness helps to loosen the tension. As you deliberately breathe, focusing on the count, your mind stops reacting and slows down. Now, you are in a position to bring up gratitude.
Count of Four breathing can be used anytime and the following are specific times that will dramatically reboot your mindset:
- Right before bed. If you struggle with racing thoughts and cannot slow your mind, use this to unhook from that reaction.
- Before any meeting or phone call. Do you want to be clear and focused for your next meeting? Use this practice.
- Before you start your gratitude journaling practice. Use this for 2-4 rounds then begin breathing normally, bringing up feelings of gratitude. It becomes easier to sustain your gratitude thoughts when you have reset your stress reaction.
I invite you to join us in the Work Smart Club Network, where we share this technique among many others to help you perform at your very best. Click the link below to learn more about this community we are building and the tremendous resources accessible to you, as a member.