The current global mental health crisis continues to be top of mind for employees and organizations. Thanks in part to Monday’s International Mental Health Day.
While there are many contributing factors and potential solutions, one of the simplest solutions and easiest places for people and companies to start is a perspective shift.
Despite the wealth of tools and resources available, far too many people (particularly corporate leaders and executives) continue to be focussed on problems instead of solutions. There is a tendency for people to see their environment through a lens of negativity and risk instead of acknowledging challenges, then choosing to see positivity, potential, and opportunity around them.
From a mental health standpoint, how we show up in our environment each day has a massive impact on our ability to be healthy, happy, and high performing. Choosing a positive, proactive perspective allows us to have the energy, insight, and wellbeing to bring our best self and unique solutions to the world.
According to David Rock (2006) in his book Quiet Leadership, our focus determines which neural pathways get “preserved”, and which get “pruned”. This creation of new neural pathways related to the desired behaviours and the subsequent pruning of old neural connections is what he calls “Neural Darwinism”.
A focus on solutions while helping people come up with their own insights is powerful because it creates brand new “mental maps” and literally teaches people to “think differently”.
As leaders (and great humans), our time is best spent providing the people around us with opportunities to do this “different thinking”, recognizing and providing positive reinforcement when they do it, and regularly reminding them about the areas they’ve identified as important (this last part requires an authentic connection, open communication and genuinely getting to know people…something few leaders are trained to do).
This is where the simple act of gratitude is so powerful.
From a neuroscience perspective, gratitude is one of the easiest ways to practice “rewiring” our brain in a positive, proactive way.
According to Dr. Kristin Francis “Expressing gratitude can positively change your brain. It boosts dopamine and serotonin, the neurotransmitters in the brain that improve your mood immediately, giving you those positive feelings of pleasure, happiness, and well-being.”
Through the rapidly growing body of research in neuroplasticity we now know that what we focus on consistently gets reinforced and retained. Gratitude is our opportunity to reinforce positive neural pathways each day while training our brain’s ability to recognize positivity and possibility around us.
One aspect of gratitude that often gets overlooked is the WHY. Adding the reason why you are grateful for something is rocket fuel for positive emotions and new neural pathways and mental maps. So, next time you say or write down something you are grateful for, be sure to mention specifically why you are grateful.
It’s with this in mind that I’ve personally been practicing my gratitude skills.
More specifically, I’m honing my ability to identify, express, and show gratitude for the small and large aspects of my daily life and the environment that surrounds me.
Like any skill, this takes consistent practice to become a habit.
Today’s post is part of that practice. Instead of writing down a couple things that I’m grateful for today, I’m stretching myself to provide 10 specific gratitude reflections
I hope it helps you shift your mindset towards greater gratitude while appreciating the joy, opportunity, and power you have in seeing the world around you from a new perspective.
Today, I am grateful for:
Dedicating 1 minute each hour to move my body…because I notice how much more energy and focus it creates when I do
The quality and focussed time I choose to spend eating breakfast with my family each day…because it brings me joy and improves my relationship with them
Choosing healthy food that tastes great…because it nourishes my body and I feel amazing
The time I invest in meeting with my friends each week…because it deepens my relationships with these important people in my life
The fresh crisp fall pre-dawn air this morning as I went for my daily walk…because it energizes me and kickstarts my day on a positive note
Taking every opportunity to enjoy the mountain playground in my backyard…because every time I get out in nature it improves my health, the scenery is beautiful, plus it inspires and energizes me
The pride I feel when making progress towards a worthy and challenging goal (even small ones like this gratitude list)…because it reminds me of how I’m living into my values and creating positive change
Quiet time each morning to sit, breathe, and think…because it clears my mind, focusses my thoughts, and provides a deep sense of calm
Baking homemade pumpkin pies with my kids…because they are awesome and we have so much fun!
Snuggling on the couch to watch a movie with my wife and kids on family night each week…because I love the closeness, post movie conversation about the show, and the popcorn!
Coming up with these items and being so specific was more difficult than expected. While there are so many amazing things within and around us each day of our life, we are not trained to identify and express these things in such a way.
Gratitude is a skill that must be practiced to be developed. Strategically practicing it on a daily basis will allow us to tap into its power to create happiness, and open us up to potential opportunities to transform our life.
My challenge to you is to take a few minutes today to write down at least five things you are grateful for in life, and why you are grateful. If you are comfortable sharing them with me, I would love to know.
Have an amazing and grateful day, wherever you are.
McCraty, R., & Childre, D. (2004). The Grateful Heart: The Psychophysiology of Appreciation. In R. A. Emmons & M. E. McCullough (Eds.), The psychology of gratitude (pp. 230–255). Oxford University Press.
Rock, D. (2007). Quiet leadership: Six steps to transforming performance at work. HarperCollins.