27 September 2023

Training your brain to seek gratitude

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Lisa Earle McLeod* says most of us have many things to be grateful for, but unless we concentrate on all the ways that make our lives better, we may be missing out.

I was having brunch with two friends recently when we were sharing what we had been up to over the last several months.

I mentioned that I had participated in a gratitude seminar. Each of them leaned in. After all, who doesn’t want to be more grateful?

If you know me, you also know that even a whiff of interest is all it takes for me to dive in.

So I suggested we go around the table and share what we were grateful for.

One of my friends, who is the Chief Technology Officer of a big firm, leaned in.

She said: “This is awkward for me, but I’m working on it. Gratitude is something I’m trying to help my team work on too.”

She shared what she was grateful for — her job, her body, her family, us friends, etc.

I went next, pushing myself to get even more specific.

I was grateful for the crisp air that morning, grateful for my perfectly cooked egg, and grateful to be applying my commitment to gratitude.

My other friend started her turn saying she was grateful for our friendship.

Then she paused, and confessed: “I would rather wait until I actually feel it to express it; searching for things to feel grateful for just seems inauthentic.”

Here’s the thing: When you start the practice, your brain will catch up.

We often waste our time waiting — waiting for gratitude, connection, and mental clarity to happen to us. As if just by existing, these lifelong pursuits will manifest.

Yet, without deep intentionality they often never do. Instead, when we form the practice, we train our brain to look for it.

If you tell someone what you’re grateful for every day, you’ll start to notice more and more things to add to the list. Your brain is looking for ways to win.

The same can be said for forging deep relationships — another thing we yearn for, but often wait to just appear.

When we jumpstart the practice, we increase the likelihood.

One of my other friends, a young(ish) father, started a practice of going to each of his children’s rooms when he got home from work to ask how their day was.

He has teenagers, so not surprisingly he was met with “fine” for the first several days — but he kept doing it.

Over the next few months, the connection started building. The conversations started lasting longer.

His kids knew he would be asking, so they made a point to remember positive, challenging, or eventful things they could talk to their dad about.

After a year, their relationship as a family had completely transformed.

It wouldn’t have happened if he had sat around waiting for the mood to strike him. Instead, he committed to a practice.

I was chatting with a colleague about the notion of mental intentionality. She equated it to cooking a great meal.

If you want to have an exceptional dinner, you don’t just stumble to your fridge, hope the right ingredients are there, throw something together, and assume it will be delicious.

You go to the store to get what you need. You set aside time to walk through all the steps.

You stay committed to the recipe or the idea, even when something burns or spills.

In times of stress, it’s tempting to treat our mental state like an output, a reflection of our circumstances, luck, or perceived worthiness.

Yet, when we shift our attention to the input (the only thing we can control) everything changes.

Gratitude, connection, and happiness don’t happen by default, they are created by design.

*Lisa Earle McLeod is the leadership expert best known for creating the popular business concept Noble Purpose. She is the author of Selling with Noble Purpose and Leading with Noble Purpose. She can be contacted at mcleodandmore.com.

This article first appeared at mcleodandmore.com.

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