By Jim Davis

Stress. Uncertainty. A continuous cycle of deadlines. We’re all so busy that mental and physical wellness often fall to the wayside. We know better, but can’t find time to prioritize our health.

If that sounds like you, then remember this mantra: make bandwidth to create bandwidth.

The busy college professor, high-powered CEO, and parent of four can all find a few minutes in their day. It’s true. It might take discipline and reprioritization, but everyone can create a few minutes of space. That’s all the time you need to begin an intentional gratitude practice.

And if you don’t feel like you have five minutes to spare, then you are EXACTLY the right person for this article. Your mental wellness is at stake.

Backed by Science

The deliberate practice of gratitude begins with simple noticing. Take note of the things you are grateful for. If you are willing to slow down and look around, that list could go on for ages.

Slowing down to notice can allow for the process of reframing to being. Reframing can be a powerful psychological tool, as it is often the entry point for enhancing one’s self-talk or beginning cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – all circling one central idea: we get to name our experience, and the act of naming influences how we experience it.

For example, on a cold winter day, one might lament the fact that they cannot freely roam their neighborhood in shorts – or you could be grateful that you can bundle up in a warm home. Cold winter mornings are a great time to sip a warm cup of coffee, be grateful for that. Be grateful for the fact that you can afford a winter coat. Be grateful for the perfect excuse to stay in and read that book you’ve been meaning to get to. Be grateful for the turning of seasons, the fresh air, the snowman in the parkway… there are countless opportunities to be grateful, if you can slow down and look closely.

“It might seem cheesy, and it’s not always easy, but it is definitely worth it. #Gratitude has a ripple effect.”

Slowing down to practice gratitude can change the way you experience stress, changing the body on a hormonal level. Making space for gratitude has the power to free up additional space. It puts gas back in the tank. Even when your bandwidth feels low, wedging a gratitude practice into a tough day can create bandwidth downstream. The investment will pay for itself.

In the wrong mental state, you might find yourself in a degraded cycle of self-talk, ruminating over the concerns of the day. How many minutes (or hours) have you wasted being angry about something which, in retrospect, wasn’t that big of a deal? For me the answer is too many. Spending a few minutes to slow down, notice, and be grateful (or as one client puts it, “get my mind right”) has freed up mental space in countless ways.

Gratitude not only buffers stress, but influences the way you relate to others and the decisions you make over the course of a day. Dr. David DeSteno of Northeastern University (Boston) works to identify character traits which have meaningful impacts on behavior. He has identified compassion, pride, and gratitude as an essential trifecta. Gratitude in particular, based on a 2014 study, seems to influence behavior in ways which might not seem immediately obvious… it might have the power to enhance our integrity.

DeSteno’s findings suggest that, when measured and compared to two other emotional conditions (happy, neutral), gratitude had the largest impact on the subsequent experiment, which measured integrity.

If participants were grateful, they were less likely to cheat on subsequent tests.

Turns out the deliberate creation of this grateful state has a cascade of positive impacts. No matter how busy you might feel, it is worth making time for gratitude.

On an organizational level, this seems like a worthwhile priority. Encouraging people to slow down, begin a brief wellness practice that expands their bandwidth, increases their creativity, and positively influences demonstrations of integrity within the company seems like a solid choice.

Once you decide that a gratitude practice belongs in your life and on your team, check out the 5 Keys to a Successful Gratitude Practice below.

Dr. David DeSteno, “The grateful don’t cheat”

5 Keys to Successful Gratitude Practice

Stanford Professor Andrew Huberman produced a healthy distillation of gratitude research in Episode 47 of his podcast. Teachings from Dr. Huberman, Dr. DeSteno, and other gratitude researchers have identified some essential keys to a gratitude practice. There are countless ways to personalize this process, but here are 5 key steps.

  1. Intentional breathing and reflection on things you are grateful for.
    • Breathing first, always. Then, go big to small reflecting on things you are grateful for. Big things, like family and the opportunity to work with good people, might get you going. Then go smaller, like your first cup of coffee in the morning or the light coming in through the window nourish the plants on the sill.
  2. Recall a time someone was grateful for you.
    • Based on the research of effective gratitude practices, reflecting on the feeling of someone being grateful for you is more powerful than reciting those things for which you are grateful. For some, this can be a challenge. Maybe you gave someone a gift, supported a colleague through a tough time, or returned a lost dog to its owner. Think hard and find a poignant moment.
  3. Start with a story.
    • Turn the story of someone being grateful into a story. If there’s not a powerful one in your life, there are two things to do: create one by being good to others in a way that makes them feel grateful, and search out similar stories – even stories that you are not involved in can stimulate neural correlates of gratitude.
  4. Connect it to feeling, add a mantra.
    • Pay attention to how the story makes you feel. Name that feeling and bask in it. Use a simple mantra, a word or short phrase, to remind you of the story. “The surprise party for grandma” or “the final scene of Armageddon” – something to remind you of the story and the state of gratitude.
  5. Return to it regularly.
    • Like all things, practice makes permanent. The more often you take time to practice gratitude, the easier it becomes to reenter that grateful state.

Do it on your lunch break. Do it between classes or on your drive to work. Develop a fitness for it and you will have a way to mitigate stress and prevent it.

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”

Cicero (100 BC)

One hundred years BC, Cicero intuited the power of gratitude. DeSteno and others are collecting scientific research to confirm it, and billions of practitioners have benefitted in between.

No matter how busy you might feel, there is always time to slow down and be grateful. If you’re grateful to have found this article, please share with someone who could benefit from a gratitude practice.

Finding time for gratitude in the modern workplace won’t always be easy, but it will always be worth it!

James (Jim) Davis works with teams and individuals on leadership development, culture enhancement, and performance psychology. He studied Human Development and Psychology at Harvard University and is a sought-after speaker, author, and coach. In 2020 he received US Marine Corps’ ‘Excellence in Leadership Award’. To work with Jim, CLICK HERE.

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