One of the greatest gifts of being human is the ability to choose what to focus on. If you are perfectly calm and still on the inside, you can handle anything. For those of us without Zen training, the best way you can begin your day is through gratitude.
Gratitude, derived from the Latin word gratia (meaning grace, graciousness or gratefulness) eludes easy explanation by academics. Definitions such as “the willingness to recognize the unearned increments of value in one’s experience” look great on term papers but don’t get the point across.
Quite simply, gratitude is the experience of counting one’s blessings.
Even after cutting through the smoke of Law of Attraction-style belief systems, gratitude has shown to be quite transformative in humans ranging from housewives to nursing students.
A 2003 study by Emmons and McCullough found that keeping a daily gratitude journal leads to better sleep, reductions of physical pain, a greater sense of well-being, and a better ability to handle change.
No matter where you are and what your situation is, your focus can be shifted to something positive.
2. What would make today great?
Have you ever had the experience of buying a new car and seeing the same model everywhere you go?
There is a small part of your brain at the back called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) that turns on and off your perception of ideas and thoughts and determines the lenses through which you look at the world. When you take an action like buy a new car, you have taken a major step in redefining your possessions and your RAS changes to accommodate your new acquisition. Everywhere you go, your RAS will gently remind you of this change by pointing out others who have the same car as you.
When you write ‘What would make today great?’ you are taking a step to influence your RAS to point out and engage in activities that would make your day better. You are building new pathways in your brain that allow you to ‘see’ what you can do to improve your well-being every day.
You are creating a new program in your mind that naturally learns to improve your happiness. Doing this consistently gives you consistently better days. It is that simple.
One study found that people who simply thought about watching their favorite movie actually increased their endorphin levels (the chemical your brain produces to make you feel happiness and well-being) by 27 percent. The most enjoyable part of an activity is often the anticipation.
3. Daily affirmation. I am…
From Arnold Schwarzenegger to Jim Carrey to Oprah, many people benefit from using affirmations.
A Daily Affirmation is a simple statement that defines you as you want to be. Every time you write the daily affirmation, you prime your brain to start building this belief in your mind. With consistency, you will begin to create that change from within.
Cut to a study conducted by Ali Crum from Yale University and Ellen Langer where they performed an experiment to study the effect of brain priming on the state of seven different hotels. Half of the participants were informed about how much exercise they were getting every day through their work - how many calories they burned, how similar vacuuming is to a workout, etc. The other half were given no such information.
Several weeks later, it was found that the first group who had been primed to think of their work as exercise had actually lost weight. Incredibly, these individuals had not done any more work or exercised any more than the control group (their colleagues who had not been informed about how their work was similar to a workout).
Hence the operative question – how can you prime your brain to cash in on this?
Affirmations put you in the driver’s seat of your mind and flood it with positive information. These are statements that you repeat again and again until they become a self-fulfilling prophecy, such as “I am confident and comfortable in my own skin.” Of course you have to do the work too, but affirmations give you that extra mental push.
NIGHT ROUTINE QUESTIONS
4. 3 Amazing things that happened today…
Possibly the best moment in the day is allowing yourself to take inventory of all the positive moments – big and small. The Amazing three is your personal collection of the expected and unexpected bounty of wonderful things that you experienced in a day.
The important thing to understand here is that ‘amazing’ does not necessarily mean buying your dream house or finding your life partner.
It can also mean that the stoplight turned green at just the right time or the barista flashed you a wonderful smile. If you truly look for it, you will find amazing moments in your day. Sometimes an amazing moment can be avoiding a problem or conflict. That too is a success. The “things could have been a whole lot worse” scenario.
When you write The Amazing Three, you count your blessing in the day – in reverse. This has the effect of allowing you to ‘prime’ your brain in reverse and can change not just your relationships with your loved ones, it can change your relationship with yourself.
5. How could I have made today even better?
In movies ranging from Back to the Future to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the yearning to go back in time and change something is universal.
Let’s milk this concept. Think of this as an imagination exercise where you get the chance to go back in time and change one thing you did during the day.
It could be saying (or not saying) something to someone.
It could be waking up earlier.
It could be trusting your gut with a decision.
This question is your personal reminder that you have the power to change your perception of the past and influence the future. In a very real way, you shape your future in just the same way pro-level athletes and NASA astronauts do. The technology is available to you. It is the magic between your ears.
In time, this exercise can begin to shift how you look at problems and help you automatically take the actions you want to take. #growthmindset
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