Why Jennifer starts (and ends) with gratitude

Several years ago, I was preparing a webinar on strategic planning and stumbled upon a business parable called “The Gardener’s Badge.” In the story, employees at a thriving landscape store always seemed to have a positive outlook and wore buttons that said, “Business is great!” Through economic cycles of ups and downs, the business persisted along with the wellbeing of those who worked there. People around them assumed that the shopkeepers and tenders were happy because they ran a successful business. Instead, the moral was a twist: that their positive attitude contributed toward the success of the business. When pressed for details, they always had something they could appreciate: connection with their customers, companionship of their coworkers, learning new things, and the basic acknowledgement of having a job. 

At the time I read this story, I was going through some personal challenges that left me feeling, well, less than great. To be honest, feeling “less than great” was a state of being that was familiar and comfortable to me. But I was also curious to try an experiment (as a social scientist, I love trying small experiments in my own life). I remembered the maxim “fake it ‘til you make it” from the acting classes I took in my teenage years. And though it was not second nature for me, I decided to try keeping a gratitude journal.

Every night at bedtime, I mentally scanned through my day and challenged myself to list five things that I could appreciate and express gratitude for. On some days, the list flowed easily and I even surpassed my minimum of five. Other days it was struggle, but I did it anyway. Sometimes I felt like I was just going through the motions. I did it anyway, even on the most stressful days, even if it was just being grateful for the fact that the day was over and it was time to go to sleep.

After a few months of this practice (yes, months!), it seemed like there was a shift in the world around me. In reality, it was more likely a shift in my perspective. Research shows that attention and mindful practice change neural pathways. Specifically, the more you practice a certain pattern of thought, the easier it is to access that pattern of thought in the future. Over time, it can become second nature to find things to appreciate rather than complain about.

In particular, gratitude is associated with regions involved in social bonding and pain relief. In addition to the mental and emotional benefits, gratitude is associated with a host of effects on the physical body and relationships, including:

  • Better sleep
  • Heart health
  • Improved relationships
  • Reduced stress
  • Less aggression
  • Sense of wellbeing
  • Work performance
  • Positive effects on every major organ system
  • Structural and neuro-chemical changes in the brain

Dr. Robert Emmons describes gratitude as an affirmation of “goodness” and a recognition that the source of goodness comes from outside yourself. My experience of gratitude is as a state of being that allows me to be more connected, creative, and curious. It’s not just a matter of finding the silver linings and turning my back on the challenges. Instead, gratitude gives me a solid rock to stand on in a flow of life that inevitably includes turbulence. It allows me to take a broader perspective rather than getting stuck in the negative (our nervous system has a “negativity bias” which makes it easier to tune into perceived threats).  

The effects of gratitude practice take time, but have fundamentally transformed my relationship with life. Fifteen years later (yes, years!), I’ve explored various ways of practicing gratitude. Here are some practices you might consider:

  • Write thank you notes (even if you don’t have anyone to send them to).
  • Express appreciation in the moment when things feel like they are working out well.
  • Start with gratitude when you feel stuck. When I don’t know how to move forward (on a project or a decision), I take a pause and make a list of what I appreciate. Paradoxically, instead of slowing me down, it often creates a new pathway forward with lots of momentum.

Want to learn more?

With gratitude,

Jennifer

PS – Watch this 6-minute Gratitude Short Film by filmmaker Louie Schwartzenberg. It always fills me with awe. 

Why Tara Wants To Be More Like A Navy Seal

Part of the approach we use at Emerging Perspectives involves slowing down to create space. If you visit our website, you’ll see this at the top of our Approach page:
 
SLOW DOWN TO CREATE SPACE.
BE OPEN TO WHAT EMERGES.
MOVE FORWARD WITH CLARITY, INTENTION, AND COURAGE.

And yet, I often find myself trying to rush toward the finish line. In the back of my mind are items to check off my to-do list. My life is busy, just like yours. I have family, work, errands, chores – people, pets, emails, appointments, dishes and laundry vying for my attention.
 
So, why, then, do we at Emerging Perspectives emphasize the value of slowing down? Surely faster is better?
 
Aside from creating unnecessary anxiety, rushing through work doesn’t create better results. In fact, the opposite is often true. I sometimes think that more effort will take me further, but this isn’t always the case. Paradoxically, slowing down often makes us faster (and more effective) overall. For swimmers, a slower stroke makes them more streamlined and helps them go faster. When evacuating a building, exits clog when people move too quickly. Slower movement gets people out to safety faster.
 
The Navy Seals have a saying: “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”
 
When you slow down, you’re more intentional and things go more smoothly. Smooth means high-quality and better progress in the long run.  Aside from making fewer mistakes, slowing down allows space for innovative and creative ideas to emerge.
 
And, yet, slowing down is hard sometimes. I frequently have to ask myself, “What’s the rush? Is this truly urgent?” Given that I’m not a first responder and have never had to rescue anyone from a burning building, the answer is almost always no. The sense of urgency is all in my head.
 
Slowing down is something I have to work at. Maybe it is for you, too? One way I do this is by trying to only do one thing at a time. Or I remind myself to pause and re-read an email before hitting send. And when I feel my body speeding up, I try to do the opposite and slow my breathing. Slow and steady.



Want to learn more?


Sincerely,
Tara

movement and the mind

Here at Emerging Perspectives, we enjoy learning about the ways our brains and our nervous systems contribute to both personal and professional well-being. Understanding our “operating system” helps us create habits that align us with our goals and sense of purpose. Since each of us also values physical activity as a component of a meaningful life, it’s been exciting for us to follow the emerging research on the profound impact that exercise and movement can have on the brain. In this TED Talk, neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki talks about why she believes that exercise is the most transformative thing you can do for your brain. 
 
For years, researchers have touted the many physical benefits of exercise on the body. Now, the list of mental, cognitive, and emotional benefits is becoming extensive. For example, physical activity improves mood, focus, energy, memory, and reaction time. For most people, a single 10-minute walk releases mood-boosting chemicals in the brain and body. The American Psychiatric Association now even recommends exercise as a treatment for depression. Research has shown that thirty minutes of movement, including walking, dancing, swimming, running, or cycling can improve focus and other cognitive benefits for at least two hours after engaging in the exercise.  
 
The Body-Brain Connection
Our brains are constantly receiving signals from our bodies. As a result, physical activity can change the structure and function of the brain. Exercise and movement creates new brain cells in the hippocampus, which increases memory and promotes long lasting increases in good-mood neurotransmitters (a chemical that transmits nerve impulses in the brain). Physical activity also protects your brain as you age. Your pre-frontal cortex and hippocampus, the areas most susceptible to neuro-degenerative diseases and normal age-related decline, get bigger and stronger with exercise. In other words, exercise can help us create new brain cells and connections as we age rather than lose them.
 
While the benefits of sustained physical activity are clear, physical activity does not need to be aerobic to be beneficial. “Non-exercise” movements can help us be more mindful. It can balance our nervous systems, enhance our perspectives, and slow down our racing minds to help us be centered so that we can be more present in our interactions with life. We’ve used gentle movement activities in meetings to energize people and create a sense of embodiment in the work we’re doing. 
 
Finding the Motivation to Move
Learning about the benefits of exercise can motivate us to start something new, but it often isn’t enough to keep us going long enough for it to become a habit. Finding a form of activity that you enjoy and your own intrinsic motivation can help. For example, each of us has different reasons that keep us moving. For Robin, her morning run is her chance to clear her head and start her day on the right foot (pun intended). Swimming and hiking have brought KKaye a sense of challenge and adventure over the years. Jennifer notices that, for her, short movement breaks throughout the day can help her relieve tension, boost creativity, and often lead to breakthrough ideas. Tara finds that listening to podcasts helps add pleasure to long walks or runs. 
 
Move when you can—the minutes and benefits add up
Whatever form of physical activity works for you is a great place to begin. To achieve cognitive benefits, you can start by aiming for 30-minutes of exercise, 2-3 times per week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity (where you can talk but not sing during the activity). Scheduling activity in your calendar helps to create the time, space, and commitment.
 
For added benefit, get active outdoors in the morning. Viewing sunlight within the first hour of waking up triggers cortisol, which puts your nervous system into a more focused state for the day. It also benefits your immune system and your sleep cycle. 
 
We know that many people and organizations are going through big transitions these days.  Whatever you are working on, we encourage you to find some time to make movement part of your care practice and to invite those around you to join you. 
 
If you want to learn more about how Emerging Perspectives can help you or your work, contact us or explore our website