We Know Gratitude Works: Here's How it Works for Work

With the arrival of Thanksgiving comes the final push of 2018, and the timeless celebration of gratitude. Grateful for the food we are about to eat, grateful for the people around the table with us, and for some…grateful for the deals to be found clawing through Black Friday.

It is not lost on many that gratitude is important. Important to be humble, to acknowledge the blessing we do have, to remember it ain’t that bad. 

I am going to save the rest of the reasons to be grateful for you to find on other posts this week. Today, it’s all about how gratitude works, why is it at the top of every guru’s list, and let me tell you…it is more than just being grateful because you should be. If embraced as a practice, it moves you forward in all aspects of your life.


Two States of Your Mind

There are two parts of your brain that do most of the heavy lifting. The PFC (pre-frontal cortex) located right behind your forehead, and the limbic system, basically behind the PFC, the middle chunk of your brain which is your emotional center.

The PFC routinely leads the charge. It houses our working memory and is our task master. When we feel scared, frustrated, on the defense, or that any perceived threat is around, it backs off and our limbic system takes over. Our field of vision narrows. our thoughts are dedicated only to what our immediate next action should be to deal with this threat. At this point, the brain emits a chemical called cortisol, often referred to as the stress hormone.

Far from an ideal place to be if we are looking to problem solve, goal set, plan or collaborate. 

Oxytocin is the chemical our brains release when we are happy, when we feel safe, when there are no perceived threats (emotional or otherwise). It allows for the acceptance of other views, brainstorming, possibilities, and envisioning the future. It is the ideal when we are coaching or collaborating. Basically, the exact opposite state of mind we experience compared to when we are in a threat state.

When you allow yourself to feel gratitude, you literally begin changing which chemical is being released by your brain. That’s a big deal. You control what is released.

Ground rule: It is impossible for cortisol and oxytocin to be present at the same time. That’s gratitude’s other gift. Plain and simple. It chemically alters your emotional state for you. Your wish is its command. 


Gratitude as a Tool

Often, we find ourselves in situations where we are stressed, let down, frustrated, or beat up. It’s completely normal to allow ourselves to feel these feelings, it’s important to have that emotional experience. October was a helluva month for me. There were many times things did not go the way I wanted them to. I was frustrated to the point of almost wallowing in the defeat, I wanted to sit there and sulk. But as much fun as that sounds, once that funk takes hold, 1-it’s really hard to come out of, and 2-we ain’t got time for that. 

So, what did I do? I remember feeling hopeless and helpless. I didn’t know what to tweak anymore, what new approach to go after, and was crushed. I really didn’t know what to do to fix my mood. The only thing I could think of was to sit in gratitude for a while. I remembered it’s what every teacher I look up to offers as guidance when you feel this way, it was literally all I could think of. And, as you would expect from this post, it is EXACTLY what worked to pull me out of that hole.

Because while you may want to indulge your sad-side, gratitude simply won’t allow for it. It’s kind of like when you are sad and someone teases you not to laugh, you can’t help but crack that initial smile. Same thing when you are in gratitude. As you start thinking about your thankfulness, then move to feeling it, you can’t help but feel better. It simply feels better and your brain is doing its part by flooding you with oxytocin, to move you forward.

After sitting in gratitude for about 10 minutes, I came around almost full circle. I wasn’t doing cartwheels, but I was able to smile, to let go of the pain, to level out.

That’s using gratitude as a tool. And the more you practice gratitude, the easier it is to call on it to help you.

Not Just a Home Remedy

Think about this: The next time someone responds to an idea of yours negatively (potential for threat: judgement), you know that 1/2 second where the comment registers in your head, it kind of lands there as you digest it? Well, that 1/2 second time is your brain giving you an option: How do you want to respond? (oh, and 1/2 second is eons in brain-time). Rather than recoil in defeat or jump down their throat, use that 1/2 second to conjure the same state you feel when you practice gratitude. It immediately will center you rather than disarm you. Will take you to a toward, collaborative state rather than a stressed, threat state. Then, you can navigate their input in a way that showcases your leadership skills, show that you are not easily flustered, and truthfully are able to accept other views.

That’s taking your response out of ego and into collaboration. Your poise will be noticed and you have set the tone for people to feel safe and share their opinions, positive or negative. Which is ultimately what you are looking for and what they need.

Thank you, Gratitude.