The Gratitude Challenge
Imagine you’re at work. It’s lunchtime and you’re hungry, but there’s a problem. In your rush to get out the door you forgot to grab your wallet. You have no food and no way of paying for anything. Luckily, you’re friends with a few of the people you work with and you decide to ask them if they could spring for lunch.
So far this is a pretty straightforward scenario; chances are you’ve been in a situation like this. What would you do next? Let’s say your coworker agrees and gives you money to buy some food. Would you express your gratitude by saying thank you?
Here’s where things get interesting. What if you told this person “thank you” before he or she answered your question? Does this strike you as odd, maybe even wrong? We’re conditioned from an early age to naturally express our gratitude after an event. This is a useful model in our day-to-day interactions, but limited when it comes to creating real and lasting change in our own lives.
You’ve probably heard of the word “hack.” What started as computer lingo has come to describe an alternative way of accessing information or a system. That’s exactly how I want you to think of emotions like gratitude and appreciation. By opening yourself to these feelings, you’re hacking your state of being, raising the level of energy in your body and exposing yourself to new possibilities.
How is this possible? We know the limbic brain is the emotional seat of the body. The autonomic nervous system, which runs your subconscious processes, is also housed in this part of the brain. Over time you’ve developed a familiar set of habits that lead you to the same experiences…which produce the same chemicals, which create the same emotions. You’re in a constant loop of accessing your system in the same way.
What happens when you get what you want and you feel gratitude? You’re likely happier and more receptive to the world. At that moment, the elevated emotion you feel has pulled you from your predictable routine. But if we can feel this way after the fact, there’s no reason it can’t happen beforehand.
How do we tap into this energy and use it to create change? First, start with a clear intention. What is it that you want to see happen? Maybe you’d like to get a new job that pays better and gives you more control over your time. Create that inner world; fill it with rich detail. Be specific about what you want, because this helps create the necessary elevated emotion. If you review the details of your creation enough times, your mind should instinctively create a symbol to represent your desire. That image will be the cue for you to focus on.
Next, ask yourself how you would feel if you got what you wanted. How would you feel if you got that new job? Probably happy or excited, but you’ll need to dig a bit deeper to find the sponsoring emotion. A good way to consider this concept is by asking yourself why you’re looking for a new job in the first place. Your reason could be anything from respect to financial security. This is the feeling you want to focus on and manifest in your brain and body. The combination of creating a clear intention and harnessing a sponsoring emotion results in a new state of being.
Once you create a new state of being, the next step is to mentally rehearse the choices you will make, the things you’ll do, the experiences that await you, and how you’ll feel. If clear intention focuses on the “what,” then this step focuses on the “how”—in this case, how you will go about creating the change necessary to get that new job. Soon, your body and mind will respond as if the event or experience has already happened. You’ll be flooded with the same chemicals that are released when you feel grateful, only this time you’ll be drawing the possibility to you. You’ll know you are doing it properly when you feel like the event has already happened—that’s gratitude! Don’t try to control the outcome: If you do, you’ll be drawn back into your old habits. You will get that new job, but the how and when are yet to be determined.
I want to challenge you. Now that you understand the concept, it’s time to put it to work. Start with something small: This is a new way of experiencing the world, so it will take time. Focus on being grateful for getting a compliment you haven’t yet received, or maybe a sunny day that hasn’t happened yet. Use the outline I provided and see where it takes you.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #46.
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