The Most Powerful Gratitude Practice
Leadership Coach, Front of Room Leader and Systemic Change Guide

Last week we shared the health and relationship benefits of receiving a heartfelt gratitude. For this week, we’ve promised that you don’t have to wait around for someone to express their gratitude to you if you want to set yourself up for a healthier, less stressful and happier life.

If you want to immediately set up your gratitude practice, scroll down to the end of this article. If you’re interested in the science that backs this up as truly powerful for both your social outlook on the world and your health, then these findings from neuroscientific studies are for you.

1)   Receiving gratitude is more powerful than giving it: When study participants read out gratitude lettres to their colleagues, the receivers’ brains showed a bigger positive effect than the givers’ brains.

2)   Brains connect through story: When different people hear the same story, the same brain areas light up during the same parts of the story, and their heart beats synchronise. This is even true when the people listen to these stories at different times and in different places. In other words: We can experience someone else’s experience as our own through story. However, this only works when you resonate with the story you hear, when it impacts you emotionally.

3)   We cannot trick ourselves into believing that a bad experience was a good one: Take mice. Mice love running on treadmills. They cannot get enough of it! However, when a mouse suddenly is forced to run on the treadmill, because another mouse gets to determine when it happens, then the powerless mouse has a profound stress reaction. Likewise, we respond differently to our experience, depending on the context. So if we’re afraid of public speaking, we cannot just trick ourselves into believing that our nervousness really is excitement. In the same vain, a thanks must be sincerely given and sincerely felt.

Given these three findings, Stanford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman suggests the following preparation of your gratitude practice for maximum lasting impact on your emotional, cardio, and brain health.

1)   Remember a time when someone shared a genuine, wholehearted gratitude with you.  This is the story you’re going to use for your regular gratitude practice.

2)   Write down a few reminders of the experience:

  • What state were you in before you received the gratitude?
  • What state were you in after you’ve received the gratitude?
  • Anything that adds emotional weight to this story for you.

Every time you do your gratitude practice you use these short notes to connect to the story as your brain’s cue for a sense of gratitude.

For about 1-2 minutes, feel into that genuine experience of having received gratitude.

Do that about 3 times a week.  

If you cannot think of a wholehearted thanks you’ve received, you can think of a story where you witnessed someone else expressing a heartfelt gratitude.

How about making a gratitude practice part of your team meetings? This quick practice activates the brain regions that shift you from the defensive neuro-circuits to the pro-social neuro-circuits of your brain. A shift that you and your team need during our times of uncertainty and loss. And it has demonstrable health effects.

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