We humans have a tendency to notice the negative things around us more than we notice the positive. “Noticing more” means seeing most of the negative, not registering most of the positive, and giving more emotional emphasis to the negative events around us than we do the positive. Wow! No wonder many of us feel like we lead a hard-luck life. We are looking for and dwelling on the bad stuff! However, we aren’t doomed to humanity’s natural tendency to gloom.
We can change how we view the world with one simple exercise: keep track of the positive — specifically, by keeping a gratitude journal. My Mom was one of the first people I knew to write in a gratitude journal. She kept one for decades. She lived with us for the last 10 years of her life, so her entries included things about our family.
Mom would refer to a conversation with my sister as “hearing sweet Stacey’s voice.” She snuggled in bed with my youngest son and read Moby Dick aloud to him before the rest of us were up and moving. She played action figures with my oldest son. I know these things because she wrote about them in her gratitude journal. It is sweet and moving to read the things that touched her heart each day.
Everything about gratitude is good for us. Physiologically it slows our hearts and calms us down. Thinking of things for which we are grateful when we are lying in bed can help us fall asleep and sleep better. Feelings of gratitude can improve our health. Focusing on gratitude can be enormously helpful to people who struggle with feelings of anxiety. If we are feeling profound gratitude, we can’t feel worry or fear. Feeling more gratitude can only improve our lives!
In addition to writing three-to-five things a day for which I am grateful, I’m also writing three-to-five successes I’ve had that day. It’s working out great for me because I like to document what I accomplish. I write out a Dear Diary response of about middle school age: “Dear Diary, Today I…” You get the idea. I allow myself to fill the need to record my day, and then I pause, leaving the “doing” place and dropping into the “feeling” place.
If you want to go all-out, Barbara Fredrickson is a positive psychology professor who suggests going over the micro-moments of positivity you’ve experienced each day before you go to bed. Her research suggests that we can create a positivity spiral by focusing on gratitude and the small uplifting moments that we spend with others during our day. A micro-moment of positivity can be as simple as a brief exchange with someone bagging your groceries. You don’t even have to know the other person!
I’m still a work-in-progress on defining and embracing my emotions, so it’s a good exercise for me. It gets me to really sink into a feeling of gratitude for small things, like the soothing smell of coffee that I didn’t remember when I was counting successes.
Here’s the big news: in order to write our successes and gratitudes, we have to notice them! We must start looking for things that go right and things that give us that warm fuzzy feeling in our hearts as we go through our day. Then we write them down, which helps cement them in our memory.
Instead of noticing and dwelling on the negative, we are noticing and dwelling on the positive — and the world is suddenly a better place! We create a new and positive world for ourselves merely by looking at it with fresh eyes.
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