Change Your Life with One Simple Practice: Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving, my loves!

I hope you all had something special to do yesterday, with the people you love most and lots and lots of yummy food. This year was an extra special year for me when it comes to the things I am most thankful for. Like most people, I’ve always taken a few moments during the holidays to reflect and count my blessings. But this year is different: I have so much to be grateful for that my heart is bursting at the seams. 

In hindsight, I can see that I have always had plenty to be grateful for. I know that I’ve been fortunate in more ways than I could ever list. But one year ago, I decided to stop “counting my blessings” on Thanksgiving, and committed to start each day by making a list of the things in life that I’m grateful for. While it sounds like a pretty simple thing, the impact it's had on my life is so profound that I will never look back.  

What if I told you that you could change your entire life and significantly impact your health, with one simple daily practice? If you’re skeptical, I will admit that I too was doubtful at first. It certainly took a little dedication in the beginning, especially on the (many) days I woke up with a pit in my stomach, feeling paralyzed with panic, acutely aware that I was 33, recently divorced, living in a little 1 bedroom apartment while my friends were starting families in pretty new homes, and wondering how the *%$# I would pay rent as I transitioned from a 6-figure career into a new one with an income that then mirrored my first year out of college. I knew I had to fight hard to push through the doubt, the victim mindset, the shit-I’m-so-screwed outlook, and truth be told, I tried this approach as a desperate, last ditch, attempt to turn things around.  

So I committed to listing 5 things I was grateful for each morning. It felt good, so I kept going. Over time, it became a habit. Today, it’s second nature, and I am acutely aware of the richness that continues to grace my life. 

You might be wondering how this is related to health, being that this is, after all, a health coaching blog. 

For most of people, poor dietary and lifestyle choices and mindless eating come as a result of not feeling fulfilled on some level. Whether it’s hating a job, feeling lonely or scared, not loving ourselves, stress, even plain old boredom - eating momentarily numbs that discomfort. When something in our lives is lacking, many of us turn to food as a temporarily distraction. Outlook on life and overall health are hugely interconnected, and adjusting your "primary food" can have a more significant impact than any diet under the sun. But how do you switch your focus away from what you don’t have, in a world that is so happy to regularly remind us that we need more? 

Several years ago at a work convention, I heard a talk given by a real estate coach whose advice has carried over into countless areas of my life. While he was speaking, he used the following sentence, and it has stuck with me since:

“What you focus on, expands.” 

This simple concept has the capacity to change lives: it's a short sentence, but it’s power is immeasurable. Taking a few moments each day to be grateful for something - anything - has the power to change the way you view the world. To state the obvious, it’s near impossible to feel like you don’t have enough, when you’re focusing on things you profoundly appreciate, even if just in that moment. So even just in that moment, it's a powerful exercise. But when you begin to shift your focus toward constantly recognizing what you have, the more good things start showing up in your life. And the more fulfilled you will feel from living in a state of appreciation and abundance, the more the need to seek fulfillment from unhealthy alternatives is diminished. 

This isn’t necessarily spiritual, it's also science: A brain function called reticular activation perpetuates awareness and recognizing examples whatever you are focused on, in day to day life. 

My own coaches recently likened it to buying a new car (we’ll call it an Audi A4). While you probably didn’t pay a lot of attention to cars whizzing by in the past, now that you’ve bought a new car, suddenly you notice Audi’s everywhere. It feels like a whole shitload of people went out the same weekend and bought new Audi A4’s, too - but the reality is, you’re now aware of their existence because they have become meaningful to you.  The same concept applies toward finding things to be grateful for: when you begin to focus on the good each morning, you’ll begin noticing even more good things happen throughout the day. And your entire attitude will begin to shift. 

As you begin consciously feeling grateful for more and more things, new things to be thankful for will seem to appear out of thin air.  When start truly living in this state of gratitude,  you will experience a snowball effect that doesn't end. Begin feeling grateful deep in your soul, and the result is feeling fulfilled at a much deeper and more satisfying level - a level of fulfillment that no food (even pizza) could ever come close to providing. The need to distract ourselves from that lack of fulfillment, will disappear.  

If you want in on this and are looking for a good starting point, try waking up each morning and jotting down 4 or 5 things you are thankful for. Some days, that might just be coffee or a roof over your head, and thats ok (cheers to caffeine and shelter). Some days, you won’t be able to stop writing. I’ve had days where I've gone felt downright euphoric afterward, and days where I begrudgingly I scribble out the list, and only feel a little better…but always better, nonetheless. The vast majority of the time, I’m able to start the day with a mindset of abundance, gratitude, and with a strong reality check that I am one lucky girl - and that has taken me to a place that I never realized existed. I can tell you this much: the simple act of saying “thank you” daily, has literally changed my life, and it can change yours. Gratitude has become my religion. 

My wish for each of you (from whom I am so deeply thankful for) this holiday season is that you will be able to recognize the abundance in your lives, feel the pull to begin seeking out more, and feel fulfilled not just today, but all year long. Happy Thanksgiving, and much love to each of you.