The Transformative Power of Gratitude

Holidays are often times we put effort into acknowledging things we are grateful for. I still remember the joy of making Thanksgiving cards in second grade.

Outside of celebratory times and achievements gratitude may seem trite, but there is growing research that shows expressing gratitude transforms our brain and enhances mental, physical and relational wellbeing. Being grateful also impacts our overall experience of happiness, and these effects tend to be long-lasting.

When I started diving deeper into the subject of gratitude, I was apprehensive that taking time during my day to share something I was grateful for would accumulate into anything greater. The act felt like a minor gesture.

The truth is, a few small moments of gratitude are capable of triggering a longer lasting grateful mood. In other words, gratitude triggers positive feedback loops.

Making a conscious effort to practice gratefulness helps us notice more things to feel good about throughout our day.

Gratitude doesn’t remove all pain from our human experience. Yet, it certainly influences our happiness and changes the way we relate to unpleasant experiences.

Think about how you relate to rain. It’s something out of our control that is necessary for our survival. Yet, it often causes us to complain and be in a sour mood. Gratitude is an antidote for the irritation that may swell up when it rains and during other parts of our lives that cause us to complain or feel resentment.

Boredom is another experience which transforms to gratitude. If I’m sitting by myself with nothing to do, and no device to distract me, I might have the urge to do something or feel like I’m wasting my time. But bringing attention to how my body feels, the sensation of breathing, sounds, lights, colors all open me up to the preciousness of the moment. Right now there are zillions of things taking place in my body to help me survive and thrive. Gratitude allows me to realize how much of a miracle simply being alive is.

Gratitude is even in our struggles. I’m not suggesting that we need to rejoice for the problems in our lives. But gratitude can turn challenges into teachers. It can help us notice opportunities for growth and appreciation in the midst of pain.

Taking a few minutes each day to write down or think about things we’re grateful for is a small act that has been shown to have transformative effects. Gratitude helps us find love in the chaos.

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3 Simple and Quick Exercises to Find More Calm Today

We live busy and fast-paced lives. Our minds are constantly being pulled in many directions by work tasks, social engagements, relationships, the media, future planning, past reflections, and all of the other things our day gets filled with. This constant scatter often leaves us feeling stressed, anxious, and on edge.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem like we can take a moment to relax. However, it’s important for our well-being that in the 24 hours we are granted each day we take at least some small moments for ourselves.

We may not feel like we have the time to sit down for a 20 minute meditation session, but the following simple and quick mindfulness exercises can help us de-clutter our mind and find some calm during our day.

1. Mindful Breathing

This exercise can be done anywhere at anytime because we are always breathing! Whether you’re standing, sitting, around people, by yourself, on the train—you get the point. With this exercise all you have to do is be still and focus on your breath. Maybe it’ll just be for 10 seconds; maybe you’ll choose to do it for one minute.

Start by bringing your attention to your breath and then deepening your breath. Let your breath flow effortlessly. Inhale fully into your abdomen and exhale from your abdomen. Each breath should last for about 6 seconds.

Let go of your thoughts and the other things you have to complete that day. Allow yourself to be still and just breathe for a few moments.

2. Mindful Observation

When we’re running around we often overlook the beauty in our natural environment. This simple exercise allows us to slow down and connect with what’s around us.

Choose something natural around you and focus on watching it for a short while. This could be a tree, flower, insect, person, water, the clouds or something else in your immediate environment.

Observe this thing with curiosity and let yourself be present in the moment. Relax into harmony with it for a few moments.

3. Mindful Awareness

This exercise brings more awareness and appreciation to everyday tasks.

Consider something you do everyday. Perhaps it’s turning on a light, opening your computer, or thinking a thought.

At the moment you turn the light on, stop to acknowledge your hands ability to turn on the light, your eyes ability to perceive the light, and the fact that you can access light at the flip of a switch. Similarly, the moment you open your computer you can appreciate the ability of your hands and your brain’s capacity to understand how to use a computer.

Check out Stoplights are Reminders to Take a Deep Breathfor ways you can bring mindful awareness to seemingly mundane or irritating moments.

Also check out 10 Ways to Defuse Negative Thoughts for ways to bring more mindful awareness to your thoughts.

More Than Just a Minute of Calm

These exercises allow us to cultivate more present moment awareness, which helps us to better notice and cope with our thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

Through regular practice of mindfulness exercises, we can spend less time on autopilot, where we’re led by previous negative experiences and fear of what the future holds. Instead, we strengthen our ability to root the mind in the present and approach life’s challenges with more clarity, calm, and intention.

Moving Courageously Into Uncertainty

February of 2017, I reconnected with a college friend at a crowded cafe in Greenwich Village. Shortly after meeting, we decided to go for a walk. I asked for his thoughts on matters that really I could only answer. I was considering leaving my research internship and forgoing my plans to return to school. Thereafter, build a startup.

The decision was hard. On one hand I had a sense of security and a path. On the other hand, I had an idea with little understanding on how to execute it. However, it comes with a great deal of uncertainty. Ultimately the idea won. The first week after my pivot, I had trouble sleeping. I was anxious about the unknown, and I ended the week throwing darts at all the possibilities.

Fortunately, I’ve grown to work with the uncertainty in more productive ways. And while I have a vision I’m expanding on and goals I’ve put in place, I’ve accepted that nothing is guaranteed. Really it’s come down to a mix of faith and self-trust that I’ll find a way to work with whatever happens.

Of course uncertainty can still be challenging and the prospect of failure can be intimidating. The following things have helped me manage it all more gracefully:

Define Fears

We usually procrastinate when we’re fearful. Doing something safe that makes us unhappy or complacent can be easier than taking a risk on something new. I’ve made the most progress on my goals when I take the time to define what scares me. I’ve noticed that most of my blocks stemmed from fear of others judgement or fear of failure.

Once I define the fear, it’s much easier for me to determine how rational it is and weigh the risk of taking the action versus not taking the action. I can also consider what the worst case scenario would be and plan out how I’ll respond if that does happen.

Healthy Habits

We’re often taught that happiness lies on the opposite side of achievements. Unfortunately, it can lead us to place our value in the hands of external sources that are out of our control. Prioritizing habits that help me maximize my joy, energy and creativity has been crucial for working with uncertainty. For me those habits include meditation, exercise, sleeping 7 hours, practicing gratitude, reflecting on things I’m proud of, and limiting sugar, salt and processed foods. Whenever I fall off with one of the habits, I have a noticeable drop in my mood, energy and overall effectiveness.

Get Support

It’s been necessary for me to have people around me that I can trust and get feedback from. I still struggle with asking for help. But the times I’ve sought out the right help have proven to be super valuable.

Infinite Learner

Doing something you’re uncertain about means there’s a lot of learning that needs to take place. Reflecting on each experience and each iteration, requesting feedback, listening to podcasts, reading, talking to peers, and getting mentorship from people with more experience has been really important for me. The more I’ve learned, the more I’ve been able to take calculated risks, avoid pitfalls, and connect helpful dots.

It’s also been helpful to keep in mind that uncertainty is a part of life, and there’s risk involved in both following through on something I want to do and in not taking action.

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