By Dr. Lori Monaco
As I sat there and looked around at all the amazing women in the room and listened to their incredible stories, an amazing feeling of humility filled my body and I was overwhelmed with intense gratitude for being part of such an amazing occasion. I was asked to be a panelist at a beautiful event, “Ajusta Tu Corona” which in Spanish means, “Adjust your Crown”. I have learned to fully enjoy when a moment is created in my life and this was one of many since I made the choice to transform my life and get beyond myself. I have seized every opportunity I have been given over the last two years to get out of my own way and walk the path to understand and gain knowledge of myself and this world in order to become a better version of myself. The path of transformation has been an amazing journey and I have only just begun my lifelong trek. While it was challenging sometimes in the beginning, it has become easier and easier as this trip has progressed and it all started with an attitude of gratitude.
When I teach people about breaking bad habits, changing negative behaviors and beliefs, and creating a strong intention of what it is they want, the hardest part is not so much starting, but keeping up the momentum. Negative thoughts often start pushing their way back into one’s mind, and when this happens, it can often make the individual sink right back down into those old habits, allowing for self-sabotage and thereby ending their transformational process. I struggled with this myself early on but one thing always grounded me and redirected my thoughts and that was practicing gratitude.
On the first day of my transformation I wrote down my intentions, or more simply put, I wrote my “want” list. My very next list was…” What was I grateful for?”. Simple right? Sort of I suppose…I mean…I was able to put the easy stuff on the first few lines…I’m grateful for my children, my family, my friends, but then I couldn’t think of anything else. I got a little frustrated…and mind you…that’s not the point of making a gratitude list I will say! I closed my eyes and began thinking about it, but that didn’t help. I opted to put the list down for a while and try later. When I realized that time was not going to help me put the list together, I opted to meditate…and meditate I did. When I was done, I was able to add a few more items to my list and then I sat there and read my list out loud, and when I did, this amazing feeling came over me. It was gratitude. Wow, that’s cool, right? Reading a list of what I was grateful for made me feel…grateful! But it’s one thing to read the words, it’s a different thing to feel the words. As I read the words, I was filled with such incredible emotion that I began to cry. I cried not from sadness but from joy for the gifts I had been given in my life. And the more grateful and joyful I felt, the more I added to the list. I felt a shift in not only my mind but my body and spirit. Feeling truly grateful shifted my energy, but it also changed my brain.
The idea that feeling grateful can change your brain activity is not some mystical out-there nonsense, in fact, there have been many studies done on how practicing gratitude can create massive changes to not only a person’s behavior, emotions, and psyche but to specific areas of the brain. But I don’t want to make this article about the research and add a bunch of quotes that some may or may not find boring (I will say that the research is truly fabulous though!), instead I want to just talk about how practicing gratitude makes a person feel. And the only way to understand this is to…well…practice gratitude (and some like to say cultivate gratitude, either way, is fine, whatever resonates with you).
When you create a gratitude list you allow yourself to acknowledge the beautiful things in your life and it also allows you to focus on how amazing people can be and how many incredible opportunities you have been blessed with. Writing it down puts it right in front of you, sort of in your face but in a positive way. It allows you to focus your feelings better as well because as you take the time to read your list, (out loud or to yourself), you can become aware of your feelings, thoughts, and emotions in real-time. You become present. And of course, this makes perfect sense considering that gratitude and being present is part of Mindfulness practices. The key here is to really focus on the feeling of gratitude. It’s not just about saying it or reading, it’s about feeling it. Take your time and go through each item, close your eyes if you must (of course after you read what it is you need to read!) and breath slowly. It’s no wonder that some of the studies have also shown that practicing gratitude calms and relaxes a person and makes them happier. Gratitude cultivates compassion and empathy, and the more those increase, the more grateful you become. Another beautiful and empowering circle, so abundant are they when you practice mindfulness! So the more you do this, the bigger the list gets, the greater the shift within you becomes. Being grateful also allows you to let go of things from your past that no longer serve you, in other words, it lets you let go of negative thoughts, negative emotions, and bad memories. When you let go of those, you then let go of negative habits, beliefs, and behaviors. Hey…how about that! That describes the path to transformation and getting beyond all the things that have held you back from becoming the best version of yourself! Amazing!
Being grateful can allow you to redirect your thoughts. Stress is a huge barrier when making big changes in your life. When the stress response kicks in, especially long-term stress and mental and emotional stress, you often go back to your old ways of thinking, back to your old mindset, because this is what your body and mind are used to. The subconscious mind has dealt with this before and will always attempt to return to doing things the way it’s done it in the past, whether it worked or not, whether it is healthy or not. When stressful situations arise, taking a moment to think about…and feel about…what it is you are grateful for can redirect your mind and actually shut down the stress response. So this means that you can think and feel gratitude any time of the day, any time you want! It’s often mentioned to start your day with what you are grateful for, and I can’t imagine a better way to start your day! I start my day that way! But know that you don’t need to limit yourself to just the start, you can think and feel grateful throughout your day. The more often you do it, the better you get at it and it then becomes committed to your subconscious. In other words, it becomes an automatic program. Now THAT is a great habit to have! 😉