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Entries Tagged as 'change'

The Power of Pollyanna–How Gratitude Can Improve Your Health, Happiness, and Well-Being

November 2nd, 2010 · 1 Comment

Pollyanna, the title character in a 1913 best-selling novel, has been given a bad rap.  The plucky little orphan played “The Glad Game,” and found something to be glad about in every situation. When she was sent to a cold, barren attic room by her stern aunt, she marveled at the view out of her window.  When facing possible paralysis,  she was grateful to have legs.  Eventually, Pollyanna transformed her whole New England town into a happy place.

Today, we use the term Pollyanna pejoratively, to mean a naïve person who refuses to see reality clearly, or whose optimism is ridiculously excessive.   It’s just not cool to be “Pollyannaish.”

Sometimes, we worry that if we focus on what’s right in our lives, we’ll get complacent.  We falsely believe that focusing on the negative will motivate us to change, and we’ll be more likely to create a better life, find a more fulfilling career, or a better relationship.  We tell ourselves that being happy right now with what we have is tantamount to giving up.

Nothing is further from the truth.  Turns out, Pollyanna was right!  The positive power of gratitude has been overwhelmingly proven by science. People who are consciously grateful are more energetic, more determined, think more clearly, think more methodically, make more progress towards goals, have more resilience during tough times, and are more optimistic, enthusiastic, and joyful. As if that wasn’t enough proof, the grateful are have fewer illnesses, greater immune response, and even exercise more.

If you want to make positive change in your life, aren’t those exactly the qualities you’d want to have on board?

Here are some simple suggestions to increase gratitude:

Write it down.

Take a few moments each day to write down a few things for which you are grateful.  Just before bedtime is a good time.  Note what made you smile or touched your heart, or contributed to your life.   After each item, jot down why you appreciate that thing or person.  This simple exercise has been proven to produce dramatic results.

Say it out loud.

Be generous with expressing your thanks. Tell the people in your life that you appreciate them.  You can be specific, “Thanks for inviting me to lunch,” or you can be as general, “I’m so glad you’re in my life.”  Do it in unexpected places.  It feels really good to thank the cashier at the grocery store for her help.

Be a gratitude artist.

Use your creative imagination to find new opportunities to be grateful.  Aren’t you grateful for cheap long distance telephone rates? When I was in college, I had to wait for the one pay phone in the dorm hallway, and talk fast, as long distance was a precious commodity.  Now, I pay a small monthly rate and use long distance all day long.  And with Skype, I can talk to people all over the world, for free!  I love my long distance and Skype; I’m truly grateful for these technologies.

Where can you be grateful in ways you haven’t thought of?  Are you grateful for the hot water in your morning shower, your breakfast, the refrigerator that keeps your food cold, and the internet which allows you to read this?

Love those thighs.

Instead of talking trash about your body, how about being grateful for it?  Your legs are magical and deserve your appreciation for taking you so many places.  How about appreciating your fingers which do such marvelous, magical things for you?   Can you appreciate your heart?  It never forgets to keep ticking.   Can you be grateful for the gym which is available even when you’re not enthusiastic about going there.

Play the Glad Game.

Challenge yourself to find reasons to be grateful for things that annoy you.  When you do this, the corner gas station is transformed into a marvelous and convenient source of fuel, water, and sweet snacks.  When you notice all of the safe driving that goes on in heavy traffic, your commute becomes a wondrous ballet of weaving cars.  Cars themselves are incredible forces of power and transportation.

Start slowly, then challenge yourself.

Finding appreciation and gratitude intentionally and in new ways may seem awkward and even silly at first.  Start with the easy, obvious places, and then gradually challenge yourself.  Be patient and allow yourself to get better with practice.

The payoffs are huge.  With gratitude, we can more easily create the lives, the careers,  and the relationships we dream of having.  Our energy soars, our creativity blossoms, our intelligence and our ability to problem solve increase. And, as an extra bonus, expressing gratitude to others has been proven to motivate them to treat you better.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time of year to explore gratitude and appreciation.  When you get into it, you’ll realize how many people don’t commit crimes, how often you don’t fight with your partner, and how delicious silence is when the dog next door isn’t yapping.

So go ahead.  Give it a try.  Discover for yourself the Power of Pollyanna.

Tags: change

Aha Moments Can Lead to Powerful Changes

August 10th, 2010 · 1 Comment

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Don’t you just love them?  Those “aha” moments when everything falls into place as if by magic.  It can happen when you solve a problem, when you figure out the perpetrator in a whodunit movie, or, best of all, when you get a powerful insight into how to change your life for the better.

There’s a good reason “ahas” feel so good.  At the moment of insight, our brains release a surge of energizing chemicals and give off strong gamma-band waves, signals that the brain is literally dancing as it makes new brain-wide connections.

This is learning at its very finest, and we are called to action from the deepest parts of our hearts and minds.  In the dramatic clip from the film, The Miracle Worker, posted above, Helen Keller figures out that the random hand movements her teacher has been making were a symbol for  water.  She instantly got it, and understood that there was a way to communicate beyond the isolation of her dark, silent world.

In The Story of My Life, she described it this way:  “Suddenly … somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.  I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand.  That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!”

But what do you think would have happened to Helen Keller if, after that momentous day, she didn’t do anything more?  No doubt about it—without repetition and reinforcement, her insight would have soon faded.  Instead, as Helen tells it, “I did nothing but explore with my hands and learn the name of every object that I touched; and the more I handled things and learned their names and uses, the more joyous and confident grew my sense of kinship with the rest of the world.”

Brain scientists put it this way: “what fires together, wires together.”  That’s another way of saying “practice makes perfect.”

The energy surge and resulting intense motivation we feel after an “aha” can pass very quickly, and we can soon forget about it, unless our learning “wires together.”  That’s why follow up and practice is crucial.  We must reinforce our insight with attention and repetition, to help our brains remember and apply our insights in future situations.

Here are some ways to help you use ahas to create lasting change:

1.    Write it down. The action of recording your insight will itself help strengthen the brain’s new connections and help you remember it.
2.   Return to your insight often. Post-it notes on the mirror and your computer screen really can strengthen your brain’s new connections.  Repeatedly bringing your attention to your “aha” will reinforce your learning by strengthening the new connections in your brain.
3.    Keep your attention on the solution, not the original problem. If you got an insight into how to stop procrastinating, for example, gently redirect your attention to the insight you got whenever you are tempted to procrastinate, rather than reminding yourself of your challenges with procrastination.  Again, this strengthens the brain’s new connections, rather than the old ones.
4.    Take easy action. As you move your insight into new, real-world behavior, it’s important to take action in small, easy steps.  This will minimize the brain’s stress signals, which will occur if you try to do too much too soon.
5.    Be generous with yourself. Remember that you didn’t learn to walk the first 500 times you tried.  Allow yourself to try and fail at your new behavior.  The very fact that you are trying is enough to re-focus your attention on the solution, and will strengthen your new insight.

With time and patience, you’ll see  your “ahas” gradually transform into “no-brainers”—automatic behaviors that hardly take any conscious attention.  So have fun, enjoy your ahas and happy learning!

Tags: change