It can be tempting to focus on the mistakes, disagreements, and unpleasant surprises that have popped up, as they inevitably do, during the year, but to do so would be a mistake. Instead, many scientists and experts now agree that one of the most important things you can do for your health and wellbeing, as well as your creativity and innovation, is to practise gratitude.
Gratitude can be defined as recognising that good things exist in our lives, despite the challenges we all face.
As humans we are programmed to focus on the negative, and with the stress of the holiday season and pressure to wrap up projects before the end of the year, the idea of gratitude can feel forced, frivolous, and superfluous. However, before you dismiss it, you might want to consider the fact that gratitude has been shown to make people happier and less stressed – and happy people are more creative and innovative.
This means that gratitude has important implications for your career or business.
According to Pete Sulack, founder of StressRX.com, expressing gratitude taps into the limbic system, an ancient part of the brain responsible for the “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” responses in humans.
When you experience long periods of stress, the “fight or flight” response becomes permanently activated, wreaking havoc on your nervous system and other systems of the body. This puts you in survival mode, making you revert to familiar tried-and-tested behaviours, and limiting your ability to think creatively.
In order to enable creative thinking to take place, you must first address your stress responses.
You may not always be able to control your external circumstances, but you can control your response to them, and gratitude is an excellent way to reduce stress and produce positive emotions. This, in turn, enables your brain to work more effectively, favouring outside-the-box thinking and the ability to find common threads between seemingly unconnected ideas.
According to the HeartMath Institute, “the greater your capacity for sincere appreciation, the deeper the connection to your heart, where intuition and unlimited inspiration and possibilities reside”.
So, how can you put it into practice?
Simply setting the intention to shift your focus and notice things to be grateful for at work can change the way your brain works. For example, instead of focusing on the negative aspects of a particular challenge, be grateful that you have the skills or resources to resolve it. Gratitude is like a muscle; the best way to strengthen it is to train it every day, and many experts recommend setting aside time each morning or evening to focus on what you’re grateful for, no matter how big or small.
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