The last week has seen a lot of talk about gratitude. Most people I know are pretty grateful for all they have. However, as a psychologist, it's not infrequent I hear from clients "I know I have a lot to be thankful for, but I'm so stressed out right now and I feel so far away from the success I really want."
So here is why gratitude is good for you:
When my clients "get out of their own way" and increase their ability to be grateful, they report immediate and noticeable increases in positive energy and in the feeling "life is good". These changes fuel a rapid turnaround in the flow of their revenue and career effectiveness.
Focusing on what you haven't yet accomplished and what you don't have diverts your attention from what you do have and what you have accomplished. It keeps you caught up 'in your head', (often with unconstructive or stress-inducing thoughts, such as 'why isn't it happening the way I want", "how long is it going to take until I have what I want" etc.) and experiencing stress sensations in your body (e.g., tension in shoulders, pit in stomach). On the other hand, being grateful is an attitude that 'comes from your heart', enabling a warm, uplifting, energizing feeling within your body.
Scientific research results encourage a practice of gratitude and strong feelings from your heart. Many scientific studies that report that the strength of a person's electromagnetic field is determined by what feeling state they are in, even if the feeling lasts only a few seconds in duration. Feelings of self doubt (shame, guilt, fear) calibrate at strength levels between 20-100 whereas a person in a state of acceptance, love, and gratitude calibrates between 350 and 500 (D. Hawkins, Power vs. Force, 2002). The implication, for those of you who subscribe to notions outlined in "The Secret", is that states of gratitude literally create thoughts with a 'higher vibrational frequency' which therefore attract people, interactions, opportunities that are at a similar level of frequency.
Further, the heart's electrical field is 60 times greater in amplitude than the electrical activity generated by the brain - it's the most powerful field produced by the human body. Sincere positive feeling states can improve your cognitive performance and mental clarity. And, the electromagnetic field created by your heart can synchronize the brain waves of people around you up to several feet away. Clearly its best weave an attitude of gratitude into your sales techniques! (see all details at heartmath.org)
Why it can be hard to be grateful:
If it is hard for you to feel grateful much of the time even though you know you "should" more often, here's why: (In the absence of unfortunate out-of-your-control experiences such as tragedies and non-preventable health conditions), many of the career related emotional and financial struggles you experience are at root self imposed. They stem from a core doubt you have about yourself, which pressures you to achieve external markers that will enable you to finally prove that you are 'enough' and disprove you are 'not enough'.
These pressures to succeed cause you to stress yourself out overworking yourself (usually inefficiently) to prove you 'have what it takes.' Self doubts also set you up to limit your success by procrastinating/avoiding putting yourself out there, which you do in order to ensure that you won't erode whatever respect you have gained from other people. In short, trying to prove yourself (to yourself and to others) keeps you focused on what you haven't yet accomplished and on "I have so much to do".
Constantly measuring yourself keeps you "in your head" and focuses attention on the gap between where you are now and where you want to be. This focus demoralizes you and maintains your doubts about whether success is possible. Your doubt prevents feeling deserving. When you don't appreciate yourself, you can't appreciate what you have.
Tips to become more grateful:
If you notice you are focused more 'on the gap' and are ready to practice more gratitude, here are some tips:
1. Either "Accept" or "Accomplish"
Don't allow yourself to keep falling short of who you want to be. Either adjust your expectations for your career and life so you can truly enjoy all you have now. Or, make a specific game plan for how you will build your core competencies and grow your career according to your hopes - in other words, finally apply yourself and Accomplish what will finally bring you self acceptance. Make a conscious decision to Accept or Accomplish for each dissatisfying aspect of your career and life. As you make progress on either of these initiatives, be grateful for the progress you make along the way so you keep yourself energized to keep going!
2. Find one, if not multiple "actions", "touchstones" or "rituals" that remind you to be grateful.
Find your own, but here are some ideas:
• reviewing the things you have to be grateful for at bedtime;
•remembering to think about certain people (e.g., your family, children) and be grateful for their presence, love, and health, etc. Notice what they do for you and what you love doing for them.
•recall a spiritual perspective or ritual you have been taught
•put your hands on your heart and give thanks to whatever notions you subscribe to about a Creator
• appreciate yourself for your accomplishments and the focus and attention you put into making professional and personal contributions each day.
3. All any of us need to do is immediately call to mind the obvious, that ¾ of the world who lives in conditions with no clean water or shelter or freedoms.
You are overlooking so many opportunities to be grateful each day, from appreciating that your faucet, your central heat, your cellphone, your transportation work reliably each day; you and most people you know are probably privileged with relatively good health; you can think and say what you want, and love who you love (though your government may not recognize your relationship rights); you live in a society with myriad opportunities for generating wealth, etc. I know this sounds hokey, but now whenever I'm caught in a bad traffic jam or have difficult career situations, I am 'grateful' that these are the nature of the problems I have compared to the problems I could be having.
4. Hang out with people who are grateful.
Remember that the electromagnetic signals of our hearts are far more powerful than those sent out from our brains. Hang out with people whose heartwaves have the ability to overpower your brainwaves!
5. Love what you do!