Happy 2017 – A Year for Cultivating Gratitude

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
― Thornton Wilder

_________________________________________________________________________________

Happy New Year! I think the general consensus is that 2016 was a rough year for most people, on so many levels.  But in this post I don’t want to focus on politics or difficulties, but instead on cultivating gratitude. A new year is the perfect time to be cultivating gratitude and a renewed focus on what you appreciate. And 2017 is in particular a great place to start because from a numerological perspective, 2017 is a “one” year. (In short: 2+0+1+7 = 10 = 1+0 = 1.) Numerology looks at time in nine-year cycles, in which a “one” year begins a new nine-year cycle of creativity, learning and growth. It is a time of intentions and planning for the next phase. The intentions and foundations you build in 2017 can help shape the upcoming years. A “one” year is the perfect time to set intentions and goals for yourself.  It’s an important year to take time for yourself and clarify the direction you want to travel. And a perfect time to focus on gratitude for what you have.  My new years message talks about this and about the importance of silence in your routine. You can read more about that here in my newsletter.  And if you want to read more about the science of silence, you can read about that in my article in Thrive.

Cultivating gratitude is so important as we enter 2017.  Psychology Today defines the benefits of gratitude as:

Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to, for example, a consumer-driven emphasis on what one wants. Gratitude is getting a great deal of attention as a facet of positive psychology: Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition, gratefulness—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy.

Another good reason to cultivate gratitude is:

“Your experience of life is not based on your life, but what you pay attention to.”

screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-08-30-37

And when you pay attention to what you are grateful for, that becomes your experience. It becomes your experience that life is good and full and wonderful.

I have often quoted Melody Beattie here but it is so appropriate, I have to do it again.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

 

In Japanese Psychology, on a wonderful site, The ToDo Institute,  seven principals for cultivating gratitude are given:

  1. Gratitude is independent of our objective life circumstances
  2. Gratitude is a function of attention
  3. Entitlement precludes gratitude
  4. We often take for granted that which we receive on a regular basis
  5. Gratitude can be cultivated through sincere self-reflection
  6. Expressing gratitude, through words and deeds, enhances our experience of gratitude
  7. Our deepest sense of gratitude comes through grace, with the awareness that we have not earned, nor do we deserve all that we’ve been given.

If you are looking for a way to focus on gratitude as 2017 unfolds, I suggest getting a ‘Gratitude Journal’ – and start by just writing down 3 things you are grateful for every morning before you even get out of bed. And if that feels too hard, then just think of 3 things you are grateful for before you get up. That’s a great start!

If you are feeling more ambitious, I can suggest a wonderful course on Daily Om! It’s a new course I have authored and it’s available here.  The course is offered with the option of selecting how much you want to pay. No matter how much you pay, you’ll be getting the same course as everybody else. Daily Om believes that people are honest and will support the course with whatever they can afford. And if you are not 100% satisfied, they will refund your money.  So what have you got to lose? It’s a great way to start the year.

I’ll close with a YouTube clip describing the course so you can get a better idea of what it is about.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about how you cultivate gratitude and it’s impact on you.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Power of Silence

“Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.”

– Francis Bacon

_________________________________________________________________________________

Silence. What does that word bring up for you? Does it bring up fear? No TV, no internet videos, no talking! Or does it bring up a craving? No distractions, no barrage of noise.

I’ve been thinking a lot of about silence and sleep lately because of some neuroscience studies I’ve read about recently. Research shows that sleep and silence are much more important for our brains than we imagined.

Much of this research corroborates the research I did for my Creative Positive Reframing (CPR) process. In this process there are three main steps: Identify, Reframe and Embed.

Identify the negative – and then do some ‘Synaptic Pruning’

Reframe with positive messages

Embed with visualization, meditation and silence

We all have lots of negative, limiting beliefs about ourselves and our abilities that exist in our brains.  One of the best ways to stop these beliefs from having a free reign in your brain is to stop focusing on them and focus on something positive instead. But once we are able to stop focusing on them, how does the brain get rid of those negative thoughts that exist in old neural pathways?

Our brains get rid of old pathways with a process scientists call ‘Synaptic Pruning’

“Imagine your brain is a garden, except instead of growing flowers, fruits, and vegetables, you grow synaptic connections between neurons. These are the connections that neurotransmitters like dopamine, seratonin, and others travel across.

“Glial cells” are the gardeners of your brain—they act to speed up signals between certain neurons. But other glial cells are the waste removers, pulling up weeds, killing pests, raking up dead leaves. Your brain’s pruning gardeners are called “microglial cells.” They prune your synaptic connections. The question is, how do they know which ones to prune?

Researchers are just starting to unravel this mystery, but what they do know is the synaptic connections that get used less get marked by a protein, C1q (as well as others). When the microglial cells detect that mark, they bond to the protein and destroy—or prune—the synapse.

This is how your brain makes the physical space for you to build new and stronger connections so you can learn more.”

Perhaps you are not as interested in the science, so suffice it to say, that the more you use a neural pathway, the stronger it becomes. But the opposite is also true, when you use it less, it gets weaker.  So once you identify the negative belief system, STOP focusing on it! But then the brain needs time to do some clean up, getting rid of the old synaptic pathways.

Our brains need time to prune a lot of those old connections away and build more streamlined, efficient pathways. It does that when we sleep. Our brains do this clean out when we sleep—your brain cells shrinking by up to 60% to create space for your glial gardeners to come in take away the waste and prune the synapses.

And in fact, you actually have some control over what your brain decides to delete while you sleep. It’s the synaptic connections you don’t use that get marked for recycling. The ones you do use are the ones that get watered and oxygenated. So be mindful of what you’re thinking about.

So be mindful of what you are mindful of. Replace the negative with something positive, Reframe it. Be conscious of what you focus on.

There is a saying in neuroscience that neurons that fire together wire together. This means the more you run a neuro-circuit in your brain, the stronger that circuit becomes. Rick Hanson explains this well in his article in Greater Good.  So if you want to take limiting beliefs and creatively transforming them so that they become supportive rather than destructive, this is how you proceed. Hanson explains that ‘You can change your mind, to change your brain, to change your mind for the better!’

Then finally we need some silence to help embed these new neural pathways. Visualization and meditation are key factors. I often talk about the power of visualization and meditation in this blog. So much has been written about it, there is no question that both of these practices are hugely beneficial to the brain and to life!  But what about silence?  More and more research is showing just how important silence is for our brains.

 A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons. “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system. In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.  The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence.

I’d like to close with a wonderful TED Talk by Nick Seaver called The Gift of Silence.

I hope you’ll take some time today and give yourself the gift of silence, and the gift of a great sleep as well. I’d love to hear about your experience with silence.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.