06 Apr How to Focus on what is Going Right Through Gratitude
“No matter how good you are at negativity, you’re also capable of positivity.” – Barbara Fredrickson
Bad things happen. Things hit us the wrong way sometimes. Life has it’s own timetable. And while we may need to wallow in it awhile or have a meltdown occasionally, we then have a choice.
We can invest in the bad event, the fear, the terribleness of it all, where one thought leads to the next, pulling us in a downward spiral that’s hard to climb back out of. Or we can choose to reframe the event, investing in whatever piece of it we can be grateful for. The latter takes practice. It is, in fact, a daily ‘practice’ that can be developed.
I first learned the art of reframing from speaker and coach, Carla Rieger. This was during a particularly bad year where I had huge financial pressure and an uphill road to climb. The reframing process uses gratitude to replace the negative stories in our heads with positive ones.
It starts with taking note of appreciations you have about yourself and your circumstances, and noticing the things that are going right in your life versus those that are not. Through a daily practice of reframing in this way I was able to completely change my mindset about the situation, and go on to have my most financially successful year ever.
We all have more positive experiences and thoughts than negative ones, but the negative ones can be so potent that they can take over if we let them. Dr. Barbara Frederickson, principal investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina, suggests that we strive for a minimum positivity ratio of 3:1, meaning that we have at least three positive thoughts or feelings for every negative one.
Although more research is necessary for us to know what the exact ratio is, a rigorous review of the literature shows us that as positivity increases up towards and past the 3:1 ratio, oxytocin in the brain increases and people begin to see a more wide range of possibilities, increasing creativity and flourishing. Those people with higher positivity ratios tend to thrive and those with lower ratios tend more often to languish.
One simple way to move in a positive direction is to keep a gratitude journal. What I like about this practice is that it takes less than 5 minutes each day, but the impact can be transformational. It’s as easy as getting a notebook and sitting down each morning to write down three things you are grateful for in your life. Numerous studies have shown that those who practice this habit regularly have higher positivity ratios.
As positivity increases, we become more resilient, engaged, optimistic and creative, we sleep better and have more of a sense of purpose. Is this not what we want in our workplaces?
If you’re skeptical at all about this process, just try it personally for 3 weeks and see what happens. I committed to keeping a gratitude journal for an entire year and at the same time to observing and tracking any changes that occurred. What I noticed was that as the days went on, the gratitude got deeper.
But also, very unexpected things have happened. I saw very little change in the first few weeks, but then on day 15 I had a huge shift. I completely and unconsciously reframed a situation. I became grateful about something I had previously been feeling resentful about.
On day 16 (the day after the reframing happened) I had the most productive day I had had for a year or two. I began picking up on things I had been procrastinating on for months. It seemed that letting go of the resentment and feeling the gratitude freed up this incredible amount of space for movement.
Others write of similar experiences. Workplaces are implementing gratitude practices with great results. A 2014 study from the University of Florida found that employees’ stress levels and physical symptoms decreased by about 15% after spending ten minutes each day at work writing about events that they were grateful for.
Nurturing Gratitude at Work
3 Simple ways to nurture gratitude at work include:
- Providing each of your team members with a journal and some information/discussion on gratitude journaling. Suggest that they commit to it for 21 days as a start.
- Starting weekly meetings by asking people to share a personal or professional win from the previous week. Pick a name for your weekly meetings if you like such as Terrific Tuesdays or Thankful Thursdays, and ask people to share something from their weekly gratitude journal if they would like to.
- Creating a “Wall of Gratitude” in your office (on a physical wall or a website) where people can anonymously post things they are grateful for.
Starting a gratitude practice personally and nurturing this practice in your workplace may be one of the most impactful steps you take as a leader to improve the well-being in your organization. It is a simple, no-cost/low cost practice in helping individuals to re-frame and focus on what is going right .