There’s something I’ve done every year, for the last 15 years, that’s radically transformed my life for the better.
So, what is this magical “thing”?
Well, before I tell you what it is, let me tell you why I’m such a big fan of it.
1) It’s totally free and anyone can do it
2) Doing it can supercharge any goal or intention you have
3) After doing it you can’t help but to be filled with a deep sense of joy and peace
Sounds great right? And yet, as magical as this “thing” is, I’ve found that it’s so often overlooked as a tool to help us recenter.
What am I talking about?
I’m talking about the act of intentionally sitting down and practicing gratitude as a mechanism for reflecting on our life, seeing how far we’ve come, and reminding ourselves just how much love, joy, meaning, and potential surrounded us.
Today’s newsletter topic is a deep dive into a workshop that I created many, many years ago called The Gratitude Hack Workshop.
We Need Gratitude Now More Than Ever
These past two years in particular have been challenging for so many, there’s no denying that. There’s been a ton of change, stimulation, uncertainty going on in the world, and that’s exactly why we need to take a moment to ground ourselves. Not just to bring ourselves a deeper sense of peace, but to also remind ourselves why we’re here on the planet.
Everyone needs a reminder, including me. It’s just too easy to get distracted by the negative momentum of life which is perpetuated by the media and even social media. But if we get stuck in distraction long enough, we run the risk of projecting the negativity we are subjected to everyday onto the future goals and dreams we have for ourselves.
This is exactly why I created my Gratitude Hack Workshop, to help remind you of everything that’s true, which is easy to forget if we let the external world (media and social media) determine how we feel about life, our potential, and the future.
Now, before I talk about my workshop and how it works, we need to take a step back and understand how our brains work and why they were designed to focus on the “bad” and forget the “good.”
How The Negativity Bias Hijacks Our Brains
Millions of years of evolution have conditioned our brains to focus on the negative. It’s how we survived. If we were confronted by a life-threatening situation (classic example: being chased by a tiger or bear) and came out of it alive, that experience was programmed into our brain forever.
And if it were to ever happen again, we would know exactly what to do to keep us safe. Whether it was hiding, running away, or creating a distraction—that survival behavior stuck inside of us.
Fast forward to the present day and we’re still using those survival skills to keep us safe, but this time the threats are to our mental health and emotional well-being. This is how we are programmed, to hold on to the past to protect ourselves from pain or disappointment in the future.
Dr. Rick Hanson, a psychologist, and past podcast guest has an amazing quote about this. He said, “The mind is like velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.”
We just don’t remember the good as much as we remember the bad. We are programmed to prioritize bad experiences and deprioritize our good ones.
And this, of course, comes up in so many different areas of our lives. The negativity bias affects our relationships, our work, our perspective on the past, and our outlook for the future.
Dr. John Gottman from the Gottman Institute illustrated this idea in his work with couples. He found that for every one negative interaction a couple had, it needed to be offset by five positive ones to have a happy marriage. Five! That just goes to show how much more negativity sticks with us. There needs to be a 1:5 ratio of bad to good experiences just to overcome it.
Negativity is so deeply rooted in us that, in most cases, it’s holding us back from setting out on the path to becoming the best version of ourselves and living our best life. But we don’t have to carry the negative energy from the past into the future. We can look for evidence to prove our brains wrong by focusing on what’s right in the world.
When we do this, it changes the vibration of what’s possible. One of the best ways to do this is by practicing gratitude.
Good Vibrations, The Power Of Gratitude
Gratitude is the act of acknowledging the goodness that exists in our lives.
Expressing gratitude helps us focus on those times where we felt good. It also helps us cherish those deep feelings of connection, satisfaction, and fulfillment with ourselves and the people in our lives.
The positive energy that’s produced from expressing gratitude is so powerful that it can actually imprint our DNA, rewire our brains to focus on the positive, and change the trajectory of our lives, redefining what’s possible for our physical and mental health.
The best part? It’s free, super effective, and anybody can do it. Below are a few studies that represent the profound power of gratitude.
The Science of Gratitude
In a randomized controlled trial, participants asked to write a daily gratitude list for two weeks had higher subjective happiness and life satisfaction than those told to focus on negative or neutral experiences. As an added bonus, the gratitude group also experienced less negativity and overall depression at follow-up (1).
In another study, folks practicing gratitude had better emotional regulation and self-motivation than those fixating on negative experiences. This effect was seen using magnetic resonance imaging that showed changes in the connectivity of brain regions that are responsible for emotional and motivation-related behavior (2). That means regular gratitude practice can actually rewire our brain to think more positively.
Sleep quality, blood glucose control, and inflammatory markers are also positively affected by gratitude (3). This could be due to lowering our stress, which also lowers blood pressure, making it protective against heart disease as well.
As if that wasn’t enough to double down on what’s good in life, expressing gratitude to the people we love can improve the quality of our relationships. Even if you already know you are grateful for your partner or loved one, taking that extra step and expressing it can have a greater impact than you might think.
In one study, couples found that individuals who expressed gratitude for their partner felt more positive and comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship (4). Communication is key, but so is authenticity. Conveying gratitude to your partner needs to be matched with deep appreciation and genuine authenticity so that they feel truly valued (5).
Carving out the time for regular gratitude practice is critical. It’s your portal to seeing the beauty in your world and letting it shine through. Shifting our vibration to one that’s positive is essential when we start to look ahead and think about what’s next. We can project that into the future and embody what we set out to do.
If you’re here, chances are you want to make a difference in the world, or at least leave it better than when you came. Reflecting on how far we’ve come, no matter how big or small, is key for bringing energy to our goal setting for the future.
You see, if we don’t take the time to retrain our brains to focus on the good, then we run the risk of projecting those negative experiences from our past onto our future. When we only can see what’s wrong or what’s not possible, we end up artificially limiting our potential.
My Gratitude Hack Workshop is a simple palette cleanser that’s designed to help you transition from that negative bias to a positive one.
This practice helps us remember what we’ve accomplished this past year, it helps us look for evidence to prove our brain wrong and show ourselves what’s possible. It shines a light on the areas in our lives that we’ve often overlooked, what people did to support us, and what we’ve done to support other people.
Note: We’ve written up exactly how the workshop works below, but if you’d like to listen to a past podcast episode recording that describes this workshop you can find that here.
Here’s how it works:
I. Gratitude Hack Workshop. For this workshop, you’re going to need a notebook or journal to write your answers in, or you can use this Gratitude Workshop Template pdf I put together. Feel free to print it out and write on it directly while you go through and answer the questions.
Looking Back: A big part of the workshop is looking back on the prior year to see how far you’ve come. Humans have terrible abs often selective memories, so we need prompts to help us step into the past and remember just exactly what happened. That’s why you’re also going to need your diary or calendar nearby to help jog your memory. If you don’t keep a calendar, here’s a little hack. You can take your smartphone and go to your photo album to look back on your year. This is a great way to remember what was happening at that time in your life.
Now that you know what you’ll need…here’s how this thing works. Again, if any of this is confusing (we tried our best) just listen to the audio version here.
1. Dedicate about 1 to 2 hours to doing this workshop. (I know that sounds like a lot, but trust me, that’s why this shit works.)
2. Set aside an intentional space and time with a friend, partner, or loved one. You can do the workshop by yourself, but it’s a lot more fun when you do it with someone else! It’s actually an incredible tool for bringing two or more people closer together.
3. For every month of this past year, ask yourself the following three questions (starting with January 2021 then going on to February, March, April, etc.) :
- Question #1: No matter how big or small, what’s something tough or challenging that I did or accomplished this month?Note: This question is super important especially for people who are hard on themselves or don’t know how to celebrate their wins. Slowing down and asking ourselves this question is a great way to step out of our negativity bias and step into how much power we have.
- Question #2: No matter how big or small, who’s someone that did something for me?Note: This is a big one. A lot of people don’t feel like they have the support they need in their life. It might be challenging at first, but I promise you, you’ll be surprised what you remember. It could be a stranger, co-worker, partner, or family member—it doesn’t matter who. What’s something somebody in your life did for you? Who supported you? Who helped you with something? Who congratulated or encouraged you?
- Question #3: No matter how big or small, what’s something I did for someone else?Note: This is an important question for those who have a tendency to forget just how much their life and efforts matter. Service is a huge part of having a sense of purpose and we’re all making a difference in the lives of others. When we recognize that, it gets us excited to do more of it.
- Reflect and Share: After asking all three questions, and writing down your answers, take a few moments to reflect. One of the best ways to do this is to share what you wrote with your friend or loved one. It’s super important that we speak our answers out loud and not let them live just on paper. When I do this with my wife, I’ll read the first question out loud and then give her time to answer and share what she wrote. Sometimes, after she shares, I’ll ask a follow-up question or I’ll acknowledge the power or beauty in what she communicated. After she’s done, then she’ll do the same for me and then we move on to the next month.
That’s it. Those are the questions. Simple, right? Yes, super simple… AND you’ll find that answering these questions for every month in the year actually takes a decent amount of time. When I do this workshop with my wife or friends, I find that we all need at least 10 to 15 minutes to come up with honest answers for every month and another 5 or so minutes to share our answers with each other. Now you can see how this workshop can take about 1 to 2 hours, but again, that’s why it works!
Every time I complete this workshop I’m left with a deep sense of joy, peace, and gratitude. Not only have I stepped out of the rat race of life, but I’ve also stepped into the reminder of the unlimited potential that I truly have. That’s the power of gratitude.
Concluding Thoughts on Meaning and Purpose
When I see people get stuck in the downward cycle of the negativity bias, I notice that they momentarily forget the answer to this key question:
“Does my life have a unique meaning and purpose?”
When we feel down sometimes the only answer we can come up with is “no.”
It’s worth remembering that this feeling isn’t new. It’s worth remembering that we’re not alone.
From the beginning of time people have questioned their place on the planet and wondered about this topic. Our ancestors stared up at the same stars, and asked themselves the same questions we ask ourselves today.
Do I matter? Why am I here? Will my life leave a mark? What’s my purpose?
These are important questions, but their answers are layers deep and can’t be rushed. We need to live our life, learn lessons, and have experiences for them to show up and reveal themselves. And often that just takes time and perspective.
I know everyone on social media looks like they have it figured out, and that can leave a lot of us feeling like we’re “behind” in life, but we all know that isn’t the truth.
I find that when we don’t practice gratitude and we put too much pressure on these questions, we drive ourselves into feeling stuck. We’ll hold off building new things and taking new risks. All because we’re waiting for the right moment to show up or until we’re finally ready or good enough.
But the thing is, there have been so many times that our lives have been touched by the work of others. And you know what? Those people that touched our lives didn’t have it all figured out. They didn’t always know if they were headed in the right direction. But their work still touched us. They still left an impact.
What would our life be like if those who impacted us held back? What would our life be like if they kept their gifts hidden from the world?
I think it’s great to think about life and meaning, but, and this is key, if we can’t see the deep meaning that our life is having right now, no matter how big or small, it’s hard to find meaning and joy moving forward.
If there’s some part of you that feels stale or stuck, give my Gratitude Hack Workshop a try and let us know how it went.
Just remember, we’re all counting on you. There’s someone out there that needs your work. There’s someone out there that needs you to show up in only the way that you know how.
In health and gratitude (for you, this community, and all the good things in life!),