My husband has said to me on more than one occassion that I’m negative. When he says that I can feel my defences go up and retaliate with “no I’m not and you’re not exactly positive all the time”.
I decided to get honest with myself and started to pay attention to my thoughts and just how negative they actually were. What I noticed was that they were pretty negative and that there was a direct relationship between my negative thoughts and my feelings of worry and anxiety. It was like I was always on high alert and was feeling threatened.
When I came across Dr. Rick Hanson’s article Contronting the Negativity Bias I was relieved to learn that there’s a reason why we tend to gravitate to the negative and why it has a greater impact on us than the positive. As he explains, “understanding how your brain became so vigilant and wary, and so easily hijacked by alarm, is the first step toward gaining more control over that ancient circuitry. Then, by bringing mindful awareness to how your brain reacts to feeling threatened, you can stimulate and therefore build up the neural substrates of a mind that has more calm, wisdom and sense of inner strength”.
Armed with greater awareness and the facts about the negativity bias I decided to do a little experiment and introduced a formal gratitude practice into my life.
When I first began to practice gratitude on a regular basis, I found it was mostly an exercise that occurred at the level of my thinking mind. I would mentally review the things I was grateful for but didn’t naturally feel gratitude. I could think grateful thoughts, but had a hard time cultivating the feeling of gratitude. I didn’t know how to make the connection between the head and the heart.
That’s when I decided to begin my gratitude practice with a shift in focus from my head to my heart. That was a difference that made a difference. I noticed that gratitude wasn’t an intellectual process rather than a feeling process and I could feel the shift in me.
When we can cultivate feelings of gratitude, it turbo charges our ability to attract more things into our lives to be grateful for.
When it comes to gratitude, the idea that what we focus on expands is a powerful realization. The more we focus on what we’re grateful for, the more we will attract into our lives those things that we’re grateful for. We know this to be true, but the challenge for many of us is that we need to become mindful of our thoughts, notice what we’re focusing on, and then shift our perspective when we’re focusing on the things we don’t want as opposed to what we do want.
In addition to building gratitude into my meditation practice, I would pause frequently throughout the day and have mindful moments that I called “instant gratitude”.
In these moments, I stopped what I was doing, paused and directed my attention away from my head and into my heart. I noticed what was going on in me and around me. I focused on the pleasant things but also the not so pleasant things.
One morning I was feeling anxious. You know that feeling where you have butterflies in your stomach. My stomach had lots of stuff going on and in that moment, I paused, shifted my focus and instead of pushing the anxiety away I said “thank you” for the awareness that something in my thoughts is triggering this anxiety. I realized that I was feeling overwhelmed and the need to control things.
I “leaned into” the discomfort and with the awareness I was able to shift my thinking, the anxiety dissolved and I let go of the need to control.
These moments of “instant gratitude” are about being grateful for the moment that our minds aren’t focused on the past or the future. The gratitude is felt because we can experience the moment, whether it’s a pleasant feeling or an unpleasant feeling. Being fully aware and present for each moment in our lives, is a powerful focus for our gratitude.
I am grateful for the role that gratitude has played in my life since I’ve become more aware of it. I’d like to say that I’m never plagued with negativity anymore but that wouldn’t be honest. I DO know that I’m more aware of my negativity and able to accept it and then shift into gratitude.
I’m also grateful that gratitude is a practice and a habit that can be learned.
If you’d like tools to help you on your journey from negativity to gratitude, you may be interested in the “Ignite Your Inner Sparkle” kit which includes a guided heart-felt gratitude practice to do at bedtime. You can download it HERE.
Please share your comments below to inspire and encourage others.
Meditation and Mindfulness Coach