Everyone’s thinking about what they’re grateful for and in a few weeks, we’re all gonna be thinking about what we want in the New Year.
It’s a beautiful cycle. These are two important steps - Gratitude and vision. Gratefulness in the present and intention for the future we want.
This is typically how it goes:
Make a list of what you’re grateful for that you already have. Check. Make a list of everything you want that you don’t yet have. Check.
But… What about when gratitude doesn’t work?
What about when goals don’t work?
But that leaves us with a list focused on what we don’t have. Good intentions, for sure, but that list of resolutions or desires can feel like a bucket list of lack. Take it from me, nothing kills hope and momentum quite like that scarcity mindset.
You gotta be hella gritty to push through and achieve despite feeling that gap of insufficiency.
How goals affect your brain
Our beautiful human brains are wired to avoid risk and scarcity - it’s how we all work and it’s helped us survive as a species. Additionally, the more scarcity we perceive, the more we avoid a particular stimuli and the more reinforced those neural pathways become. For more on this awesome science and how our amygdala works - check out the work of Dr. Kay Tye (Nature, 2015).
Intention setting FAILS when you focus on what you don’t have
What this means in your life is when you think of something as a failure, a gap, a deficit, or scarce, your brain circuitry gives you the go-ahead to actively avoid it. (Hello dropped New Year’s resolutions, circa always!) And, the more you avoid that topic/ action/ task/ unopened bill/ toxic coworker/ gym/ public speaking, the more your brain reinforces that you’ve made the right decision and the easier it is to never do the thing!
Case in point: The path less traveled had a poem written about it. No poem about the common path is nearly as renowned - why? Because it’s easy to take the common, worn path. No big deal. It is MUCH harder to take the less traveled path. Enter grit: where deliberate action meets intention, “passion meets perseverance”.
But now! You strategic diva, you see it coming. Let’s short circuit that discouragement dip and start with a simple re-program of the way we do our Thanks Giving and Intention Setting.
I made an Intentional Gratitude mindfulness exercise for you >> get it here.
How gratitude affects your brain
Here’s what you need to know about gratitude...
Gratitude is NOT comparison. Gratitude is not recognizing that others are worse off than you. Just like intention setting is not about focusing on what you don’t have.
Gratitude is an appreciation for the positive aspects of what you do have.
As for how gratitude plays in your brain, it triggers dopamine - the amazing chemical responsible for feeling “reward” (think: happiness, joy, peace) and for initiating action (NIH, Zahn et al., 2009).
What this means in your life is that the more gratitude you can practice, the more rewarding emotions you feel and the more likely you are to take actions to protect, reinforce and strengthen what triggered that feeling.
SO… What you practice being grateful for, you are more likely to endorse with your actions.
TAKE HOME: Gratitude can hot-wire your brain for success. Joy-full success.
Here’s how: Intentional Gratitude >> get your guide right here.
Intentional Gratitude means you deliberately practice gratitude and you practice gratitude for what you intend for your future (like resolutions).
Now, think of all that you want and intend for the future. The next year. The rest of this season. Make a list of what you want that you don’t have and for every item on the list, add something you want that you already have - and give thanks for that too.
(Get the guide here)
Make a list of your wishes for the future. Alternate on every other line, list a wish for your future and alternate the other lines and list something you wish for the future that you already have in your life (can be a person, routine, thing, habit, etc.).
Be grateful one by one. One by one, go down the list and think: What is it about that item that you are grateful for? What do you most look forward to about having it in your life?
For your future intentions: Actively imagine having it already - right now - in the present tense. Feel it. Appreciate how amazing it is. Imagine experiencing it in the present tense. What does it look like, feel like, sound like - imagine that it’s already integrated into your day and life - imagine a day with it already real. Go through every step and recognize how much you like it and are enjoying it. Feelings create thoughts (which reinforce those neural pathways in your amygdala!).
Continue these grounding thoughts for what you already have: Remember the first time you interacted with it or them? Remember the last time? What do you love about it? What does life with it look like? Feel like? Sound like?
Go forth and do with ease and the simplified neural path. These Intentional Gratitude steps reinforce your neural pathways in ways that make it easier for you to achieve your desires and work from a place of joy and abundance. You are literally hot wiring your brain to help you succeed.
With love, joy & gratitude,
PS - This little exercise is inspired by The Life Coach School and Brooke Castillo. I’m a fan. Follow, listen and absorb - if you want to nerd out together about all the amazing wisdom shared, hit me up on email @ firstname.lastname@example.org.