A Move to Mindfulness and An Attitude of Gratitude | Learn How to Rewire Your Brain for Positivity
It’s Monday morning, 6:15am. Your chest is tight, breathing shallow, mind in a million places except the present moment.
You’ve already changed two diapers, refereed three tearful tugs of war over the new dollar store excavator, and customized four breakfasts while your toddler grips your calves for balance.
You had set the alarm for 5am the night before with best intentions to steal some solitude before the predictable 5:15am shrieking. But your toddler crying at 2am for an hour forced your finger to press “snooze” and sacrifice serenity.
You still need to shower, get both kids to daycare, and appear presentable for an 8:30am meeting. The overwhelm avalanche approaches.
Here we are . . . again.
Your wish to move through the morning mindfully seems to have escaped you once more. What would it be like to start a day without the racing thoughts, without feeling “in your own head” constantly?
As you scan your messy house, now-stained shirt and erratic children, a feeling of failure starts to seep in.
And yet, the fledgling hope to do differently tomorrow remains.
With the arrival of a new school year comes new beginnings and the opportunity to consciously recommit to living mindfully and with gratitude.
How can this be achieved?
- Desire to rewire: set an intention for the day
Believe it or not, you’ve already started this first step by reading this article. Too easy, you say? That’s just your negative thinking getting in the way, according to neuroscientists. By choosing to read this content and engage with positive subject matter rather than, perhaps, the negative news story on your Facebook feed, you’ve oriented your mind towards a more positive perspective. In neuroscience speak, you’ve engaged your “executive” and more evolved prefrontal cortex brain, rather than your reptilian “fight or flight” thinking. The now-mainstream field of neuroplasticity sees the brain as something that can be rewired. The more we consciously choose what we want to experience, the more often those self-selected brain neurons will fire to rewire.
Tip: Set an intention at the start of your day. You might say, I want to bring compassion into as much of the day as possible or I want to see the difficulties in my day as an opportunity to grow. You can set your intention before you get out of bed in the morning, in the shower or you can text it to yourself. When you notice yourself inevitably (because you’re human) consumed by a negative thought, remember your intention and really connect with it again. For example, when your child refuses to get out of bed for school, rather than getting stuck in irritability, take a deep in and out breath and remember the intention to, for example, see the humour in difficulties. Humour will be much more restorative for both you and your child throughout the day than exhaustive negative thinking.
- Acceptance: build resilience through discomfort
Oft-confused as passive in approach, acceptance is one of the most radical actions we can take. Acceptance is not about feigning happiness. Rather, it’s about identifying what can change and what can’t change in any given moment. Everything in us wants to resist discomfort: we will overeat, indulge in judgmental thinking, or procrastinate with social media . . . anything to avoid the unease. When we allow ourselves to just be with the discomfort rather than try to change it, we notice that the discomfort has a beginning, middle and end, and that it eventually passes.
Tip: Cultivate an attitude of curiosity in your day when you feel tense, annoyed, bored or tired. When the afternoon slump hits, allow yourself to “be” with that uncomfortable feeling for a few seconds and then label it before distracting yourself with Pinterest or high-sugar snacks. This exercise builds resilience and, ironically, the more resilient you become, the more okay you will feel with discomfort.
- Gratitude list
Adopting an attitude of gratitude not only makes for a better mood almost instantly but it also strengthens higher functioning in the brain. When we take even a few seconds to shift our attention toward something for which we are grateful, we increase activity in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain directly related to stress management. Feelings of gratitude also activate parts of the brain associated with dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter.
Tip: Take two minutes to write out ten things you’re grateful for today. Try texting the list to yourself while waiting in line for your coffee, for example. Perhaps you’re grateful for your health, to live in Canada, for goodbye hugs at school drop off, for the sun, etc. It may feel forced at first but, given the scientific evidence to back it up, why not give it a shot? Watch as your mood and the mood of those around you improves with your natural daily dose of dopamine through gratitude.